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Coast to Coast, Help Far and Wide

Distributors Bring Worth

By Melissa Donovan

Many choices are available for print service providers (PSPs) to purchase products for their shops, whether direct or through a supplier. PSPs find value in shopping for media, ink, hardware, and software from distributors. Competitive pricing, strategic shipping locations, and quality customer assistance are all advantages. Distributors offer value-added services, essentially acting as an extension of the original manufacturer.


Trusted Partner

Dealing directly with a manufacturer is admittedly a valuable experience. But sometimes PSPs require a partner focused on more than one aspect of the print workflow, everything from print to finish. This where a distributor comes in, they offer value and ease of purchase with a one-stop-shop atmosphere.


“The only time I would expect a customer to buy from a distributor, over manufacturer, is when value is added. 360 Digital Imaging Solutions is a value-added reseller. Rather than just selling media, we integrate with a color workflow and print equipment,” says Clint Fox, president, 360.


CalComp Graphic Solutions, LLC also offers a value-added extension to a customer’s business by distributing and integrating large format printing systems, which include equipment, supplies, software, color management, and service.


“As a printing system is comprised of integrated hardware, software, supplies, and support, no single manufacturer provides a complete solution. When we provide a solution, we have the responsibility for the entire system and its components, becoming a single point of contact so our clients can focus on what they do best—delivering products to customers,” shares Don Lightfoot, partner, CalComp.


Conversely, D & P Media for Print, Inc. does not sell hardware, but solely focuses on media. Each product is tested in field by their customers prior to its availability. “We always take the time to recommend the product that best fits an application, including price point and quality. Requests are answered right away through email or direct phone call,” share Bill Lescarbeau, president; Eleanor Lescarbeau, VP accounts receivable and payables; and Dale E. Smith, VP sales and marketing, D & P Media.


Distributors specialize in efficiency. “While manufacturers are good at making products, they typically aren’t set up to ship one or two rolls of material to PSPs,” explains Stacy Clausen, VP of marketing, FELLERS Inc. With 65 locations across the U.S. FELLERS reaches most customers in one to two business days.


According to Kathy Clark, market development manager, Laird Plastics, Inc., the company offers local stocking and delivery, better pricing, and a decentralized business model that allows for dispersed purchasing for quick order turnarounds.


Likewise, LexJet Corporation provides tools for large format in one place with one day delivery to most of the U.S. with a flat rate of $9.99. “One of the biggest advantages a distributor offers is the ability to buy all of the components for a graphics project in one place, rather than piecemeal, which is far more efficient,” adds Dione Metnick, product manager, LexJet.


For example, Graphic Solutions Group (GSG) carries products in textile and graphic screenprinting, embroidery, commercial sign, and digital graphics. With its own on-site service department, online bill pay, and in-house screen room and color match, the company provides services to customers beyond the initial sale.


“Unlike direct manufacturers who typically offer one product line or a distributor with a linear focus on say wide format equipment, Global Imaging, Inc. offers new products, used equipment, parts replacement, substrates, ink, and financing to provide customers with a true end-to-end solution,” seconds Greg Lamb, CEO, Global Imaging.


Distributors are placed in special positions when leveraging partnerships with vendors. xpedx works with EFI to supply the company’s hardware and software. “Distribution has a high value when the print provider’s needs are broad and they do not possess the scale to meet requirements found in a manufacturer direct relationship,” adds Dennis Killion, marketing director, xpedx.


Focused on the success of its print customers, xpedx integrates products and services to meet current and future demand, streamline workflow, improve productivity, and enhance the impact of digital, flexo, offset, and wide format print applications.


Pitman, an Agfa Company, is in a unique position to complement the manufacturer’s products with a portfolio of media, ink, and non-Agfa branded solutions.


Super Savers

The word “save” is associated with distributors. Low inventory costs are transferred to the customer in terms of less expensive products. With strategically placed distribution centers, shipping is quicker, which also cuts down on a company’s expenses.


NuSign Supply admits that distributors sometimes choose to reduce their own profit in order to pass savings onto customers. The company provides a unique perspective on exactly what is needed to complete wide format print projects.


“Buying from a distributor allows the end user to leverage the larger volume buying power to typically get a better price and in many cases better options,” explains John D. Peterman, executive VP sales and marketing, Big Systems, LLC.


Saving also relates to time. “We educate our customers on technologies and the best applications that deliver reliable results, save time, offer efficiencies, and keep production running smoothly so they can provide faster delivery to their clients,” adds Jim Sause, executive VP, sales and marketing, Agfa Graphics.


Beacon Graphics, LLC is committed to exceeding customer expectations with customer service and technical support that aids in customers saving time.


“The greatest savings comes in the form of time spent making the purchasing decision and cost associated with getting the product to your door. A good distributor is effectively a one-stop shop where you can find what you need,” shares Danijel Farkas, sales and marketing manager, Beacon Graphics.


“A PSP buys items from one place versus calling many manufacturers when working with a distributor. Shipping costs are controlled with orders coming from one location rather than multiple,” agrees Sarah Kewak, marketing assistant, GSG.


Additional savings may not be as apparent. Most major manufacturers support distribution channels by offering promotional discounts and/or sales programs specifically through their authorized distribution network. “Instead of just looking for the lowest online price, PSPs should inquire about promotional and sales opportunities through authorized distributors/resellers and the value of bundled solutions,” advises Lightfoot.


The result of a distributor assisting a PSP in saving money—whether it be helping to acquire equipment at a third of the cost, get them the highest return on current equipment, lower substrate costs by several cents per square foot, or rolling a current lease into a new, single payment—is money is often left at the end for other business investments. Lamb points out this could be additions to the staff or more equipment to improve and automate workflow.


Geographic Outreach

Multiple distribution sites are essential to the success of a distributor. Sometimes, a company may not wholly own and operate all of the sites they are affiliated with. However, this does not prevent them from offering fast shipping and delivery at low prices.


“This is an advantage for the customer. Having warehouses geographically convenient for both coasts and somewhere in-between provides better service, faster delivery, and lower costs,” adheres Peterman.


360 operates out of San Diego, CA, but utilizes six additional warehouses throughout the U.S. based on its industry partnerships. The distributor helps expand an original manufacturer’s reach by acting as a full stocking distributor, which allows them to cut lead times to customers with just-in-time inventory.


With a warehouse in Branchburg, NJ, Beacon Graphics offers next day shipping at ground rates for most customers in the Northeast U.S. Partnering with major shipping providers allows it to offer discounted rates for customers outside of this realm.


Global Imaging provides up to 30 distribution locations, but only operates two—Denver, CO and Charlotte, NC. Master distributors throughout the U.S. run the other warehouses, allowing Global Imaging to keep costs low and still offer most customers one day ground shipping.


GSG has five warehouses located in LA, OK, and TX, and each delivers. Laird Plastics owns and operates 50 warehouses in North America.


LexJet keeps costs down by operating 15 distribution centers on its own and another 35 through its extended network.


With a warehouse in CA, Ordway Sign Supply, Inc. drop ships from manufacturers’ facilities. The company offers pick up and/or delivery to local customers and free shipping on most orders over $150.


Focused on product availability and on-time delivery, Pitman handles nine distribution centers located across the U.S.


xpedx operates about 100 distribution centers throughout Mexico and the U.S., bringing its selection of products and services closer to the demand.


Customer Service

Many distributors work as an advocate for the customer when servicing complaints, accepting returns, and fielding general inquiries. This requires 24/7 attention in the form of call centers and live online help. In addition, suppliers almost always support original manufacturer warranties and may sometimes extend once the original timeframe is completed.


360 provides warranty service on all of its equipment and is also able to repair certain printers. If a customer reports a problem, they call and the company tries to have someone on site in 24 to 48 hours. “With over 25 years of sales and service background in large format, our team of professionals answer questions correctly the first time, and offer cost saving tips and tricks to maximize profits,” shares Fox.


Beacon Graphics staffs several industry professionals that provide a hands-on, application-based approach to finding solutions for customers’ needs.


Big Systems implements programs that offer gap coverage and post warranty support.


CalComp honors original manufacturers’ warranties and supplements them in multiple ways. If an original warranty didn’t include labor, then they offer it. Also, CalComp often continues to provide service contracts on equipment even after the original manufacturer does not.


All of D & P Media’s products are offered with a performance guarantee, honored by both the distributor and the manufacturer. The company provides on-time delivery and tracking updates.


FELLERS understands that a customer’s time is valuable. Every call to its toll free order line is answered within 90 seconds. Orders are routed to ship the same day.


GSG provides a knowledgeable sales staff, online ordering 24/7, and same day shipping in most cases. It honors the manufacturer’s warranty on all products and also accepts returns on items that customers cannot use or don’t work for the application they bought them for.


LexJet provides easily accessible customer service representatives via the phone between eight a.m. and eight p.m. EST. Additionally online chat is available, tutorials via YouTube, and educational guides through the Learning Center on its Web site.


NuSign offers in-house service technicians that are knowledgeable about both printing equipment and the best media and ink to meet the needs of the buyer.


A specialized service from Ordway is a cartridge recycling program. Pete Ordway, president, Ordway, explains that the company pays to ship used cartridges back to their facility. In turn, customers are rewarded with up to five dollars credit on each returned ink cartridge.


xpedx Centers of Excellence is a focused group of individuals providing customer service. The company supports all manufacturers’ product warranties and also works as an advocate for the customer when servicing product complaints.

Original Branded Products

Distributors know a thing or two about graphic arts products. Many have branched out to provide original branded items, offering value and reliability.


While many distributors market their own materials, some of these are original equipment manufacturer items and rebranded as private label. “Private label products are less expensive than nationally branded products, which gives the cost-conscious customers options,” explains Clausen.


360 provides 360-branded inks. It also offers private label media and laminates. About 30 percent of its sales are generated from the private label line.


Beacon Graphics carries a full line of vinyl under the name Vector. The brand offers an alternative to larger competitors with the confidence that the distributor stands behind it 100 percent.


Big Systems develops its branded products and specialty media in partnership with several converters. For media and lamination, CalComp offers its Artisan brand.


Under the Panoply Supplies brand Global Imaging provides banner and adhesive-backed products, as well as alternative inks.


GSG sells its portfolio of StarTex ink, which is a plastisol ink product comparable to most major manufacturers.


LexJet manufactures a range of media, laminates, backers, fabrics, and adhesives under its own brand. NuSign offers NuFlex media, supplies, and accessories.


Ordway’s Private Label media is called Sol Media, formulated for solvent and eco-solvent printers. xpedx also provides its own media brands, labeled Endurance, Showcase, and TUFflex.


Quick and Knowledgeable

Distributors are not an alternative to buying direct from manufacturers, but instead a complementary means of purchase. Most companies work closely with original vendors. While each provides the same quality product, the beauty of the distributor is in its knowledge of the print process, which is made accessible to all customers.  


Click here to view the Graphic Arts Distributors Target Chart - an all-inclusive information resource!


May2012, Digital Output

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