Pricing Variations Between Markets
A Myth Says Industry Pricing Expert
By John C. Stewart, Executive Director, NPRC
As Executive Director of the National Printing Research Council, and publisher of key industry pricing studies for the past 30+ years, there is one recurring question or comment I tend to hear repeated week after week and month after month from various printers around the country, and that concern deals with pricing variations from market to market.
The comments go something like this: “John, just received the latest pricing study and I really like it, but I couldn’t help but notice that many of the prices in the study are much higher in my market than what is noted in the study.”
Of course, I also hear the reverse as well, “John, just received the latest pricing study and it has been a real eye-opener, but I couldn’t help but notice that many of the prices in the study seem a lot lower than what is charged in my market area.”
When it comes to pricing practices, printers, like most folks, don’t like to hear the validity of their pricing assumptions being questioned. For 10-25 years, they’ve always heard statements like, “Hey, pricing is far different in my market” or “I could never charge those prices in my market. If I did I would be out of business.”
“I could never charge those prices in my market. If I did I would be out of business.”
Many printers simply make assumptions about pricing, as well as repeat things they’ve heard in the past. They will state things like, “Obviously prices are higher in densely populated markets than they are in smaller markets,” or they will note something like, “Prices on the West Coast are typically higher than other regions of the country.” The latter being pure conjecture on their part, and is lacking any substantive evidence to back up such a claim.
Do Prices Vary by Market?
Too many times I hear well-meaning printers claim that pricing obviously varies from one geographic market to the next as well as from markets distinguished by population density. While sincere and well intentioned, most of these comments are not based upon hard cold facts, but rather more so on “gut feel.” Labor costs may indeed be higher in one area than the next, but those costs may be offset by lower material costs.
The hard cold facts are, with rare exceptions, that you will find far greater variations in prices for specific products and services within a single market than you will find as you explore and compare pricing from one market to the next, or from one region the next.
“The hard cold facts are, with rare exceptions, that you will find far greater variations in prices for specific products and services within a single market than you will find as you explore and compare pricing from one market to the next, or from one region the next.”
So, when someone emails me as they did the other day and says he is from San Francisco and the prices there are much higher there than they are in other places in the country I politely tell him/her that unless he has already conducted a professional pricing survey and “shopped his competitors” that he will generally discover that his assumptions are simply incorrect.
Pricing Digital Envelopes
Here’s a perfect example of what I am talking about. According to one of our newest reports, the 2018 Digital Color Pricing Study, the national average price for 1M 10/24# 4C digitally printed envelopes is $291. The median price is $281.
According to the recent 2018 Digital Color Pricing Study, we know that franchises are about 11% higher than independents. We also know that when we look at average pricing based upon population density, we find that average prices vary between $271 and $294 for that specific product, or what amounts to 5% of the national average. If we examine average pricing for this product based upon geographic regions (Northeast, Central, Southeast, West, etc.) we find that prices vary by less than 5% from one region to the next.
However, while prices for these #10/24 digital envelopes will vary only modestly when looking from one region to the next, or from one geographic market to the next, we know the situation is far different when we drill down to individual markets.
We know for a fact that when we look at individual markets such as Oskosh, WI, Jacksonville, FL, San Francisco, CA or Greenville, SC or similar markets we will discover far greater (sometimes huge) variations in pricing for a specific product WITHIN each of those markets, than we will discover going from one market to next.
Small Markets & Pricing Variations
As an example, let’s take a relatively small town or city where there are 10 small format quick printing operations, and we survey the price for those 1M 10/24# 4C envelopes, we are typically going to find a much larger variation in pricing within this small market than we will find when we look at national or regional pricing for this product.
While we know the average price for 1M envelopes is indeed $291 with average variations in pricing running in the 3-7% range, if we conduct our local survey we will uncover pricing for this specific product varying between $175 (40% lower) and $350 (20% higher) among those 10 printers.
1M 10/24# White Wove, 4C envelopes (no bleed)
Average Price… $291
Median Price… $281
When we closely examine pricing variations within individual markets, we typically discover pricing variations of 20-40% +/- of what we report for national average price. Now, some of the erratic and inconsistent pricing can indeed be attributed to “real-world estimating mistakes.” However, the vast majority of pricing variations can more likely be explained due to dramatically different approaches to pricing by individual owners and the perceived value assigned to various products – as opposed to differences based upon market size, region, as well as differences due to material costs, labor costs and overhead costs.
Most readers who call or write us with questions regarding specific prices published in various industry pricing surveys tend to do so based not out of sheer curiosity, but rather as a rationalization for justifying their own prices, especially when their own prices may vary by 30-40% or more from what we report in our pricing surveys.
My Challenge Today
Surveying and capturing pricing for specific products is not for the faint of heart or for amateurs. If you want it done right be prepared to spend $400-450 or more!
If you have some misconceptions about pricing, or would simply like to confirm that you are indeed “in the ball park” in terms of pricing I would encourage you to consider hiring a professional price shopper to survey 10-15 printers within your own market.
For details on what is entailed in hiring a shopper click on the link below. Please, whatever you do, don’t take the cheap way out and hire cousin Susy, or have your press operator Bob call around for pricing.
For years I have told clients that, “If you’re going to survey customers, at least do it professionally,” (Go here to read more about these surveys.) Don’t grumble about the cost. Be prepared to spend $400-450 – my estimate of what you should be prepared to hire a “professional shopper.”
If you do act and hire a shopper I would love to receive a copy of their written report and your analysis. Thanks for listening. Send your comments, criticisms or questions to firstname.lastname@example.org