The printing industry is entering an interesting time, one removed from the days when physical paper was the key to office communications and marketing. Existing in this market means updating all processes and internal preferences until your company takes on a new level of efficacy. Committing to a particular niche within the market is one way to save time and money today. Better use of data may also provide excellent results.

According to WhatTheyThink contributor Heidi Tolliver-Walker, your business could also benefit from adopting lean principles. She posited that when print service providers have the chance to automate their processes, they should probably seize that opportunity. However, sometimes it makes sense not to fully automate the workflow. In those cases, lean principles can effect a similar transformation on a more manageable scale.

Lean example: Standard Group
As proof that a lean approach can make a printer more effective, Tolliver-Walker pointed to the case of The Standard Group, which was dealing with an increasing level of client demand and expectations. The company found itself with customers asking for concessions in price, great service and undiminished quality of output. The printing business went lean to try to improve its product.

Small but pivotal adjustments on the production line included moving nonessential tools to the side and prioritizing items that are used every day. Furthermore, worn parts of equipment were strategically replaced. This means that instead of scrapping whole assets, the company prioritized based on which items are actually used the most.

The company's CMO, Tanh Nguyen, told Tolliver-Walker that the team has had high morale through the lean process. This is an important point to consider, as the author noted that adopting a lean mindset is sometimes associated with workers feeling stress and worrying about their job security. Instead of fretting, however, the employees have been thriving on the optimized and efficient production line.

The process is ongoing, and Nguyen hopes to increase production speed still further. But good signs thus far show just what a printing business can do with some relatively light changes to operational principles. Standard Group's team members didn't have to fully automate their processes to speed them up, nor did they sacrifice quality or lessen customer service.

Lean example: Great Lakes Label
In the label printing subsector, there exists another potent example of lean principles in action. Ink World recently profiled Great Lakes Label, a business growing by leaps and bounds through the adoption of a lean mindset. The company's founder, Tony Cook, explained that his organization really came into its own after switching to this set of practices in 2008. Production margins had shown a need for improvement, and lean operations tightened them up appreciably.

Cook's next move shows the potential cycle of value that begins with a lean transformation. He used the money saved by improving his margins to purchase new equipment. Now the company is equipped with both flexographic and digital presses, and makes high-tech printing techniques one of its selling points. He also points to his organization's customer service and quality, meaning Great Lakes meets the same three needs as Standard Group.

Great Lakes has also taken to providing marketing services and acting as an all-in-one promotional partner for companies. If this sounds familiar, it's because many industry thinkers have suggested that print service providers move toward such a business model. When print is the only thing on the agenda, companies may be easily replaced. Taking a hand in the creative side of print is a way to make an impression and become indispensable.

Evolve how you can
Certain factors will determine the kind of change that's right for your company, from the market you serve to the amount of capital you have in the bank. The key is to always look for ways to better suit your audience. Staying still can be a hindrance when expectations keep evolving. Lean can be one way to get back in touch with your clients.