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Want to save up to 1.4% of your turnover, simply by changing the way you buy paper?

Now that may sound like the sort of sales pitch you'd expect from a spam email or mailer but, in fact, it's the outcome of a study by the BPIF's Vision in Print (ViP).

Working with Paperlinx merchant Howard Smith Paper Group HSPG), ViP has set out to demonstrate how smarter paper procurement can shave pounds from paper bills.

The study, which followed the buying habits of five unnamed litho print companies, shows how everything from ordering the correct sheet size to buying in bulk can significantly affect the bottom line.

Yet only two of the five printers in the study had the technological means to implement all the measures without making some form of investment, and many argue that printers simply do not have the necessary estimating or paper-ordering processes in place to spot the opportunities on a consistent basis. So just how easy is it for printers to save money by changing their paper-buying habits?

The study assessed five B1 and B2 commercial sheetfed printers with 50-90 staff. Its purpose was to examine the effectiveness of the 'My Size' and 'Bulk Packed' services HSPG offers.

Under the My Size service, paper of a required size is delivered within 72 hours to a printer, while the Bulk Packed service delivers paper in little or no ream wrapping.

By avoiding ream wrapping, the study found around one minute of preparation, or press 'stop time', per ream could be saved, as well as, of course, the actual cost of ream wrap. In addition, overall material waste could be reduced by up to 0.3%. Buy-ing packed paper in bulk can save up when all paper handling and ream-wrapping charges are factored in. Nearly 4% of orders analysed in the study were over two tonnes, which, if ordered at the required bespoke size, would have saved an average of 15% in material costs.

"This 15% saving can help a printer win jobs it may otherwise lose, or enhance the margin of a job already won," claims ViP managing director Richard Gray. "However, many printers do not have an effective step in their estimating and paper-ordering processes to spot the opportunities consistently."

The key findings of the study, which also highlights how 'speedy drying' stock and the effective use of ecommerce can make a difference (see box), were revealed at the ViP Winning the War on Waste conference last November.

Feedback from printers is generally positive, but there are concerns. Devon-based litho and digital printer Kingfisher Print & Design has adopted a number of the measures raised in the study. However, while Kingfisher's managing director Ross Bellotti appreciates that the ViP ideas are great and can provide savings, he suggests paper merchants have a lot of work to do before such services become truly beneficial for printers.

One of Kingfisher's paper suppliers offers a bulk-packing service that the company tries to use as often as possible. Kingfisher also requests bespoke paper sizes.

"These practices are great when they work," says Bellotti. "However, we have found they don't always work out as planned."

Lack of lead time
According to Bellotti, the bulk packing facility in particular is difficult to manage as printers need to order by a certain time to be able to use it. Like many printers, Kingfisher orders on a just-in-time basis, and consequently Bellotti says there isn't always enough leeway to organise bulk packing.

Another issue is that not many paper merchants offer the service.
"If a customer specifies a range from a merchant that doesn't offer this service, there is nothing we can do about it," says Bellotti.

"There are also some paper ranges that don't come bulk packed at all, so, regardless of the quantity we end up getting ream-wrapped packets."

In contrast, Bellotti finds that the My Size service does work well, and the company only needs to allow three days to have bespoke sheet sizes made.

"This is very useful when clients order unusual sizes, and there is quite a saving to be made by doing this."

Alasdair Browne, director at Hemel Hempstead-based Abbot Print, generally buys his papers from reels. The company also buys some flat sheet, however, which is bulk packed when ordered over a certain quantity because it is priced cheaper. Browne says buying the paper to size would also make sense, provided the paper supplier does not charge for cutting. "They shouldn't charge as two tonnes is quite a lot of flat sheet paper," he explains. "When you buy reels you buy them in specific widths anyway."

However, Expert Print managing director Barry Pearson says his 11-staff business has lots of runs over 50,000 sheets, and so buying paper to size can save up to $330 per run, a hefty saving.

There are, however, alternatives to buying paper in bulk and to the correct size. Pearson says another option is to buy clearance, which can be just as good. "It's usually Chinese or Indonesian paper and it tends to be more bulky than that from European paper mills," he says. "I have never had any issues with so called clearance paper."

Simon Beard, sales director at Victoria Litho, says his business has been buying paper in cutter reels in a minimum of two to three tonnes for years. "We insist on material bulk packed on to pallets to be delivered to us press ready. Try unwrapping 10,000 sheets of AO 170gsm packed in 125s - our warehouse guy would lynch me."

The company can order between 1,000 and 250,000 sheets, and Beard says that some printers don't realise how specifying bulkier, lighter grades in the required format in paper can reduce the cost of a job by more than 10% in some cases.

Long or short grain
When quoting for jobs, another bonus is if you can buy the paper or board long or short grain as you can get more sheets from a reel.

"If the piece of print allows for finishing purposes of grain direction, folding, grain flute direction, again this can save you a tidy sum, because of the width and deckle you are cutting from the certain size of reels available," explains Beard.

Saving wastage on the reel that the paper is being converted from will also be reflected in the price paid per tonne. "But you will only achieve this saving if whomever quoting the job is talking to a knowledgeable person at the merchant," cautions Beard.

One printer, however, says he doesn't understand how ordering in a quantity of two tonnes saves 15%, as per the study's claim. "I think my merchant would have a fit if I said instead of 1.5 tonnes I wanted two tonnes at 15% discount," he says.

With a company turnover of around £1.7m ($2.75) excluding digital output, the unnamed printer - assuming he has no procedures in place already - stands to save $39,000 if all the measures in the report are implemented.

In terms of paper buying, the printer claims he is doing everything that would be expected of him. "We're buying carefully in the first place," he adds. "We're checking prices regularly, and buying stock that runs well with minimum downtime. We're also running with minimum waste and using waste for makereadies."

The merchants, however, are keen to emphasise that clever purchasing can indeed save money. Paul French, managing director of fellow Paperlinx merchant Robert Horne, agrees with the ViP study in that printers can make real savings in time and money. According to French, smart sourcing is all about finding the right material for the job and not just looking for a one-size-fits-all solution.

For instance, printers could look at grades that have fast drying properties and that don't require a sealer for most applications, which means they can be handled and finished almost immediately.

"Looking at lower-grammage papers while not compromising on quality or yield can also make savings," he adds.

Richard Champion, marketing director at merchant Antalis McNaughton, believes good planning and preparation for the job should be a given.

"Printers need to take the time to have a proper look at how the job will turn out, how the stock will convert, and whether it needs scoring or pre-creasing," he argues. "All of this saves time and money, and reduces costly mistakes further down the line."

For any printer wishing to investigate paper savings, ViP provides Snapshot Plus, a two-day consultation that can help identify cost savings. Thanks to the sponsorship from with HSPG, ViP says the cost of an initial diagnostic can be kept down to $ 1157.

There may be some scepticism about the logistics of printers being able to effectively implement these standards, especially in the case of time-poor SMEs, but the opportunity is there to make savings. It's just a case of doing the sums.