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September 2001: Volume 43, Number 9

Creative Marketing: Websites Offer Low-Cost Alternative to Custom-Printed Items
by David H. Martin

We've read how computer word processing would result in "the paperless office." But, instead, quite the opposite has happened. While the mountain of printed documents generated by computers continues to grow, the problems involved in printing more sophisticated, printed marketing desktop materials are also increasing due to the incompatibility of different computers, printers and copiers.

And while email electronic messaging is a fast and cost-efficient way to reach out to customers, it hasn't replaced the dealers' marketing need to supplement and integrate these messages with high quality, custom printed literature and direct mail pieces.

Digital revolution

Four color commercial printing is in the midst of a digital revolution. The "magic of bits and bytes" is making traditional print preparation and expense dwindle dramatically. That's good for commercial digital printers and dealers since the costs of traditional (not digital) print preparation account for 20-40 percent of the total print price. How can water improvement dealers take advantage of this trend, without leaving the office?

Not long ago, it was predicted manufacturers would electronically send high quality literature and direct mail pieces to dealers to be printed out at their desktops, ready to mail, at substantial savings in preparation time and expense. That's great in theory. But the reality is, inside staffers have been frustrated by how much time they spend coding an electronic document so that their in-house printing software can understand and process it. What's the alternative? Many small companies have turned to web-based mediators, innovative service providers who understand the digital craft.

Web-based suppliers

In the last three years, dozens of web firms have appeared with innovative business models, where a print order is placed by pressing the "enter" key. Unlike many of the "high hopers" of the New Economy that have collapsed or struggled, web-based printing has become a flourishing Internet business. Recently, I conducted a web search to identify some of the key players in web-based custom printing and imprinting of a variety of dealer marketing tools-from stationery to T-shirts to umbrellas to yard signs and large vinyl promotional banners. One source (www.Pitney Works.com) offers a "golf tournament promotional package" that contains everything from custom tee signs to awards and giveaways, at attractive "package" pricing. Delivery from date of orders averages from seven to 10 working days.


In early 1996, IPrint Inc. was the first online company to make the whole print preparation process disappear into the hard drive of its server computer in Mountain View, Calif. Recently, Interactive Week placed the web print shop on its list of 500 most profitable Internet companies. Competitors are now turning up everywhere with niche concepts that are making waves in the vast commercial printing market.

IPrint doesn't actually print marketing materials. As a "virtual printing shop," IPrint.com has none of the brick-and-mortar overhead your local printer has. The company claims to negotiate "low" prices, based on their volumes, not on the individual customer's buying power. Since customers buy online from their desktops, they save valuable time driving to printers to place and pick up printing orders. Orders are processed on the same day received and are "100 percent satisfaction guaranteed."

Iprint.com is electronically connected to commercial printing companies who handle the actual printing and imprinting of materials, including business stationery, full-color postcards, promotional banners, T-shirts, magnetic business vehicle signs and even custom refrigerator magnets. Here are some samples of their very competitive pricing:

Item IPrint price

1,000 4-color business cards...............$114.99
1,000 single-color business cards...............$45.99
1,000 business letterhead...............$104.99
1,000 #10 business envelopes...............$129.99
(4" × 6") 4-color custom postcards...............$349.99
(42" × 14") 2-color poly banner...............$33.99
(120" × 34") vinyl banner w/grommets...............$179.89
Screen printed 50/50 cotton blend T-shirt...............$6.59 each
........................................(4-35 shirts)
1,000 "house shape" refrigerator magnets...............$339.99
Set of 2 (8" × 12") magnetic vehicle signs...............$41.99
...............(includes company logo and message)


Sir Speedy, with 1,100 copy centers in 23 countries, is one of the first brick-and-mortar printing chains to allow itself to be carried along by the digital revolution. This well-established neighborhood printer believes its website is the future by serving small businesses. Online business has been at the heart of the company's business since the company presented itself on the Internet with a new service-oriented website last summer. At www.sirspeedy.com, the customer creates his own folder in which he/she designs and organizes printed business materials-such as business cards, letterhead and even company stamps, all online.

With letterhead, for example, the website presents a selection of a dozen layout proposals, with the customer entering the specific data from his/her desktop computer. All other printed materials (envelopes, business cards, etc.) then appear with the same design!

That isn't all. In its website's "My Design Center," even large custom designed documents can be sent with photos and graphics (for brochures or catalogs) directly to the Sir Speedy server by the customer, in electronic form. The website serves as a "digital reception point" and is an archive in which the layouts of all documents are standardized. For example, the customer places product information in his/her catalog by simply calling up the electronic version and updating the document. Another click of the mouse and the catalog is printed and mailed. (Yes, it's not only an instant online printer, it's also a mailing service.) And, of course, "hands on" design help is always available at most of their stores.

Item price

1,000 4-color business cards...................$ 99.99
1,000 business letterhead......................$100.00
1,000 #10 business envelope....................$114.00


Pitney Bowes Inc. is a $4 billion global provider of integrated mail, messaging and document management solutions headquartered in Stamford, Conn. The company is best known for its postal meters and now offers online, Internet postage service.

PitneyWorks.com is a direct marketing service that enables small business owners to design a "professional-looking" direct mail piece that Pitney-Works will print, collate, meter and mail. In addition, a free "tracking tool" allows anyone to look up zip codes, track packages and compare shipping rates, providing the most cost-effective way to send a package.

The website also offers a variety of custom-imprinted marketing tools to help small businesses connect with customers. One example is ¼-inch thick corrugated plastic signs that are easily secured to windows, doors or walls, indoors or out. Optional wire, step-stake sign holders are $5 extra. Sturdier, black metal "A" frame sign holders are also available for the "coroplast" panels that measure 24-inch x 36-inch or 30-inch x 36-inch. Listed below is pricing on these and other promotion items that can ordered on PitneyWorks.com.

The tournament "tee" signs are part of a complete promotion package that helps dealers plan their annual customer golf tournaments. Dealers can promote specific contests and prizes at selected holes. Prizes that can be purchased in an online package include imprinted umbrellas, golf towels, shoe bags and even golf bags with dealer logos.

Item price

Coroplast signs (various sizes, colors)...............$ 30-90
(36" × 96") vinyl banner (no logo)...............$125.00
(36" × 96") vinyl banner (with logo)...............$145.00
(12" × 18" to 18" × 24") magnetic vehicle signs...............$ 75-135 each
(18" × 24") golf tournament "tee" signs
..............................(1-5)...............$ 24.95 each
..............................(6+)...............$ 19.95 each


While many web-based businesses have failed, web-centric custom printing services for small businesses are flourishing, offering excellent quality, pricing and turnaround times for small businesses such as water improvement dealers and the distributors that supply them. Check some of them out, when you plan next year's marketing budget. It could save you time and money.

About the author
David H. Martin is president of Lenzi Martin Marketing, of Oak Park, Ill., a firm specializing in water improvement and environmental marketing that integrates old and new media. He can be reached at (708) 848-8404, e-mail: newage@mediaone.net or website: www.lenzimartin.com

For earlier columns in this category, click on the link below or hit the 'List All' button.
Fools Rush In
Responsible Water Stewardship
Stop Doing It Wrong...
Uninvited Guests—Bacteria and Other Organisms Can Exist in Groundwater
Knowledge is Power
Introduction to Commercial Water Treatment
Taking It to the Next Level
Introduction to Arsenic Removal
You're Only Using It Once?
Swimming Safely with Ozone
Unity is Strength — Revitalizing a Stale Business through Collaboration
Ion Exchange Softener Design - A Gentle Introduction