Relax, Vistaprint Doesn't Want to Be Your Competitor
Our friends over at Printing Impressions recently scored a lengthy interview with Mitchell Leiman, vice president of strategy and corporate development for Cimpress, parent company of Vistaprint. The whole thing is worth your time—there's some great stuff on mass customization technology, for example—but where it gets real interesting is when Leiman talks about Vistaprint's status as a hated rival.
Here's what he told Printing Impressions:
In aggregate, local print shops remain the largest sector in our industry, accounting for about 80 percent of sales. But it is true that their market share is declining, while online print market share grows.
At Cimpress, we talk a lot about "coopetition" and specialization. The idea that by partnering with your competition on some aspects of your business, you can conserve resources and reduce waste, and spend more resources on what is unique and specialized about your business. This brings our whole industry up, and is better for our customers.
Local brick-and-mortar print shops could view partnering with online printers as an opportunity to improve efficiency while continuing to specialize in what they are good at. Maybe that is through in-person, high touch service, the convenience of local print shops, expertise provided to customers who don’t know exactly what they want or need—or even being the in-person pickup point for online print partners.
This is all very utopian, especially that last bit about local print shops working together with online printers. And maybe Vistaprint really does want to partner with smaller print providers in such a way. But the company hasn't done much, if anything, to show that's the case. And Leiman's comments contradict what Cimpress itself writes in its most recent, 196-page fiscal year report, where it lists (among many others) "suppliers of customized apparel, promotional products and gifts" and "online companies, many of which provide products and services similar to ours" beneath a bolded subhead labeled "Competition."
Beyond that, it's hard to buy into Vistaprint's talk of partnering with local brick-and-mortar shops when the company is already in the process of opening its own physical locations. In June 2017, Vistaprint opened its first storefront, called Vistaprint Studio, in Toronto. Here's what Vistaprint CEO Trynka Shineman said in a press release announcing the store's opening:
We've listened to and worked with our customers along the way to provide the best of both worlds in Vistaprint Studio—the efficiency and convenience of the online world with the engaging, personalized experience in-store. At Vistaprint Studio, we are offering exclusive services you can't find anywhere else, including free graphic design—services we heard our customers want and which solidify our investment in the success of their businesses, now and in the future.
And here's another bit from that same press release:
Further, Vistaprint Studio features complimentary real-time one-on-one design services—services business owners would have to pay upwards of $100 an hour for elsewhere.
That doesn't sound like a company that wants to partner with brick-and-mortar stores. That sounds like, well, even-more-direct direct competition. "Engaging, personalized experience." "Exclusive services you can't find anywhere else." "Real-time one-on-one design services." Those are cornerstones of the distributor model that have long provided the print and promotional products industries with some armor against online direct competitors incapable of offering that kind of hands-on support. Here, and with the not so subtle "$100 an hour" jab, Vistaprint is quite obviously positioning itself as a competitor, not a partner.
In June, Vistaprint said it had no definite plans to open additional physical locations. But it's hard not to view the Toronto store as a test location. If the store succeeds, why wouldn't the company open more? It'd be bad business not to, and Cimpress didn't reach $2.1 billion in global 2017 revenue (PDF download) on the back of bad business. Besides, Vistaprint's direct competitors are already proving that brick-and-mortar stores are viable options for online printers. Custom Ink, for example, now has 10 physical locations across Virginia, Texas and Nevada, with plans to open more.
Vistaprint already has a strange relationship with the promotional products industry. It's an open secret that the company sources promotional products from industry suppliers. And, overall, that's a good thing—more business for suppliers is a net positive for everyone. But how much longer will that relationship last? Cimpress acquired National Pen Co. in 2016, bringing production of one of the industry's largest product segments in-house. What happens if Cimpress purchases suppliers in apparel, drinkware and other product categories? That would give Vistaprint virtually full control over its supply chain, making it a competitor to suppliers and distributors alike.
This is nothing we don't already know. The print and promotional products industries have had to deal with Vistaprint for awhile now, and they're under no illusions as to Vistaprint's place in the market. And Vistaprint doesn't (and shouldn't) have to tiptoe around that. It's just business. That's why it's more than a little odd that Leiman is suggesting the company is anything other than a competitor.
Check out the full interview at Printing Impressions.
Related story: Vistaprint's Storefront Impacts Distributors In A Big Way