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Targeted Storefronts for Key Customers

When we think of online ordering, it is a safe bet that our minds wander to one of the mega sites like, Inc. At any time of day or night, you can order almost anything you wish with the click of a button.

By Kristen Simmons, Marketing Associate, Cyrious Software

As a business owner or manager, you have likely thought about offering the same ease and convenience to your customers.

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  • But think about what you produce - a lot of it may be fairly custom. Where are your highest margins? Do you want to sell everything to everyone? Probably not. Let's explore the idea of creating unique ordering websites for your key customers and future customers.

    Serving Existing Customers Better
    Online ordering is an extension of your customer service, not a replacement. If you are not actively planning to move your key customers (think: repeat buyers, large corporations, chains and franchises) online, you can bet your competitors are. We are witnessing customers move from established graphics partners to new online providers, lured by the ease of use, increased capabilities and real-time tracking within their business.

    Who are your key customers? Perhaps those that account for 20 percent of your total sales. Ideally, it is those customers who consistently reorder the same products (a somewhat finite product set) with templated artwork or with their own designs.

    These are typically the most attractive features of online ordering for your customers:

    • Branded interface to match the look and theme of the customer's business
    • Easy-to-use ordering portal to cut the time and effort to order by more than half
    • Online designer that balances simplicity with sufficient design capabilities
    • Frequently ordered products pre-loaded for faster ordering
    • Multiple templates per product to minimize customization needed
    • Artwork uploading and storage to easily access logos, commonly used images and templates
    • Easily editable text to quickly complete orders with slight variations

    As your customers begin utilizing online ordering, you will see a good customer turn into a great customer. Business with you is easier, so much so that they want to order everything from you online, even products you may not already be supplying to them.

    A Weapon for New Business
    With an online ordering system in place, you are well equipped to seek new business from multi-location businesses and franchises. These types of customers often require a solution that will manage the corporate approval process, maintain branding consistency as different locations place orders separately, and allow for different levels of user permissions.

    In situations where the orderer is not the payer, there is an approval process in place on the corporate level that involves a great deal of back and forth communications - emails, faxes and calls just to get orders approved for design and ensure the job is within budget before it can be released into production. Managing this communication process is very difficult, time consuming and can cause quite a few headaches.

    The role of the corporate location is to review details and artwork of placed orders, then approve, reject or request changes on those orders. Additionally, these users have control over who needs approval, add new customers (locations) in their customer group and browse all orders, past and current. Individual locations will customize artwork and place orders as needed.

    Vivid Ink Graphics of Baton Rouge, Louisiana, began using an online ordering system to enable their customers to place orders online. Initially, the plan was to service existing customers' expanding needs. There was not a focus on using it as a tool for winning new business. "We didn't anticipate being able to take that process and sell it to customers who had never come to Vivid Ink before for any printing. We had two customers in particular who approached us looking for a vendor that had more experience in multi location and corporate B2B business that had several locations under a corporate structure," noted Senior Account Manager Kimberly Boyle.

    She further explained, "These customers had up to 10 different printing vendors. Corporate did not want to lose all control of their branding when different locations could send the jobs out to anybody. Since we had the online ordering system and a process in place to develop these customers online, we were able to sell this product to a customer who had never seen the print side of Vivid Ink before."

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    Implementation: The Keys to a Successful Launch
    Before your fingers hit the keyboard to begin browsing and researching the ecommerce platforms available, determine the answers to two questions. First, what features does your team need to efficiently and adequately serve your customers? Second, will you build or buy the solution you need?

    The most requested features by print service providers tend to be easy generation of pixel-perfect PDF rendering for proofs, CMYK, PMS, and spot-color handling and support for vector file types, such as EPS. If you are serving customers with centralized approval and payment processes, look for a system that simplifies that communication process. Specifically, choose one that notifies corporate users when orders need approval, and then enables them to quickly login to approve for production. Also, consider the ease of use your team requires when uploading artwork and adding multiple new products.

    Once you have compiled a list of features that are most important, decide if you will have a custom e-commerce website built for you or buy a solution already available. Hiring programmers to develop a finely tuned, custom solution typically costs $50,000-$100,000 with a project timeframe ranging from six to 18 months.

    Vivid Ink faced a similar decision a couple of years ago. Although they had already implemented and used a custom-built e-commerce site, it was in need of major enhancements and at a high cost. Regarding this situation, Boyle commented, "The needs of our B2B customers were more detailed than anyone anticipated when we built the ordering site several years ago. We ran into several limitations with our own system that prevented us from customizing it like our customers requested."

    Additionally, she added, "The current volume of sales coming through the online ordering system was anywhere from $50-100K per month, which has doubled in the past year. Our site was no longer able to support that volume. We needed an option that would allow us to grow with our customers. We found ourselves at a crossroads with two options: Spend and invest more development into changes for the current site, or pursue a system that was built specifically for our industry."

    After deciding to use an industry-specific online ordering platform, Boyle noted, "We are now able to offer solutions to our customers that allow for customization of orders, different level of user permissions, different storefronts for the same company and best of all, our in-house online ordering administrator can easily set up products, users and everything because it's so intuitive."

    If selecting a readily available e-commerce solution is best for you, there are several options available, both generic and tailored to print service providers. Keep in mind that a basic understanding of CSS will be helpful when customizing these online ordering sites to match the branding of your customers. Also, plan to allocate the greatest percentage of setup time to preparation and organization of the artwork needed to create templates for the sites. Typical artwork preparation includes three phases. First, all text is removed from any existing artwork so that the customers can edit this directly online. Second, save the background artwork as a vector file. Finally, upload artwork to the site to add labels where the customer will be able to further customize text fields.

    As you prepare to offer online ordering to your customers, take some time to think about how you will effectively communicate the value to them. You will spend a significant amount of time building or modifying an online ordering site for them to use. In practice, if you give this away, no one on the corporate (customer) side will take ownership. We recommend charging an upfront fee of $1,500-3,000 to convey value to the customer and encourage them to take ownership. Compared to the value they will experience, this is a minor expense. This significantly increases the likelihood that the corporate location will ensure that the remote locations start using it. You will find that the customers that see the value and are ready to commit to use the tool will gladly pay the fee. The customers that do not see the value and likely are not committed enough to fully set it up and use the system will take time to evaluate this further.

    Once you have determined which solution is right for you, remember that patience, follow through and communication are critical to a successful launch. Then you will be ready to forge stronger bonds with your current large customers and attract an entirely new market of customers to your business.

    While leading the marketing efforts at Cyrious Software, Kristen Simmons aims to help print, signs and graphics owners and managers become significantly more successful.

    This article appeared in the SGIA Journal, September / October 2015 Issue and is reprinted with permission. Copyright 2016 Specialty Graphic Imaging Association ( All Rights Reserved.

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