In-plant Confidence Dips Slightly
After the record high confidence score revealed in our spring In-plant Confidence Index, summer confidence levels at higher-ed and school district in-plants have dipped slightly, according to new IPG data.
The fourth IPG In-plant Confidence Index shows that overall confidence levels have declined from a score of 137.15 in the spring to 130.5 in August, a drop of 4.8%. This is still up from the 122.9 confidence score we recorded in the winter of 2017.
These results came from the fourth in a series of reports launched by IPG and NAPCO Research to measure confidence levels in the in-plant industry. We are tracking how confident higher-ed and school district in-plant managers are that they will reach their sales goals, add new business and add new services in the months ahead.
We conducted the fourth of our monthly surveys in August, and plugged the responses into a proprietary scoring algorithm, which weights each factor based on market significance and outputs an overall confidence score that educational in-plants will meet their sales goals and add new services. Though we were unable to conduct this survey monthly as originally planned, the new score still offers an interesting look at trends in the confidence level of in-plants.
Sales Volume Growth
In our previous report, we revealed that higher-ed and school district in-plant managers expected their overall sales volumes in May 2017 to be slightly higher than their sales during May 2016. On a scale of one to 10, with 10 being significantly higher than last year, the average response was 6.15.
Our latest report shows that average response dropping slightly to 6.05, on a scale of one to 10, indicating a barely noticeable drop in confidence that overall sales volumes in Sept. 2017 will exceed those in Sept. 2016. Though the largest percentage of respondents (34.2%) selected 5 (About the Same), an impressive 7.3% picked 10 to indicate they expected "Significantly Higher" sales next month.
Among those respondents who expected flat growth, some explained that since the number of customers and students has not changed, neither have their volumes. Budget stagnancy and reduction seem to have a lot to do with sales expectations.
"Department budgets were not granted an increase,” noted one.
"We've had several years of growth, but budget cuts this year, I think, will reduce our sales volume," added another.
The types of jobs they are doing are not changing much, some noted.
"We are seeing the same types of work repeated this year, with a few new print projects and a few old ones dropping off," offered one manager.
Those expecting higher overall sales volumes in May 2017 compared with May 2016 credited a variety of signs, including new marketing initiatives, new classwork, enrollment increases, price adjustments, the addition of wide-format printers and more work coming from other campuses and nonprofits.
"The institution is increasing recruiting efforts, which will cause more printed products to be ordered," noted one optimistic manager.
"Sales have been consistently growing at 27% for the last four months," said another.
One mentioned a very lucrative new service that is boosting sales well above last year's levels.
"Driving our increase is sales of promotional products — up 36% over same month last year," the manager said.
Those expecting lower overall sales volumes in May 2017 compared with May 2016 pointed to low enrollment numbers and the trend of moving documents online.
"More is being done online," noted one manager, "and scanning is being used more so less copies are needed."
Confident About Adding New Customers
The survey also asked in-plants how confident they were in their ability to add customers and bring in new business this month. On a scale of one to 10, with 10 being extremely confident, the average response was 6.2, a 3.1% drop in confidence from April's average of 6.4. Though 7.3% picked No. 10 on the scale to indicate they are brimming with confidence, the same percentage picked No. 1, revealing their complete lack of confidence.
When asked how confident they were that their in-plant would add a new service or capability in the next three months, managers' overall confidence dropped 13.2% over April levels. On a scale of one to 10, with 10 being extremely confident, the average was 4.8, compared with 5.53 in the spring. Only 14.6% of managers said they were “extremely confident” by ranking their confidence level at 9 or 10.
Looking at actual sales volume over the past month compared with sales volume for the same month last year, managers revealed a disappointing drop in sales. With 5 meaning “about the same,” the average score was 5.6, compared with the 6.2 tracked in April's survey.
Though budget cuts were cited by a number of managers, several blamed timing issues for cutting into last month's sales.
"The bookstore placed orders for the curriculum and textbooks later than usual, which will push some of the work to August," explained one manager.
"More jobs for a big event fell into this month than last month," said another.
Others noted different reasons.
"The volume was slightly less due to additional help not working as many hours as last year at this time," said a manager.
Those in-plants that said their sales volume had increased, cited campus outreach, new services, enrollment increases and price adjustments.
"This is our busy time of the year," explained one.
We will continue tracking in-plant confidence levels as 2017 progresses. If you are an in-plant manager at a college, university or school district and would like to participate on our in-plant confidence survey panel, please email us.
Related story: In-plant Confidence Levels on the Rise
Bob has served as editor of In-plant Graphics since October of 1994. Prior to that he served for three years as managing editor of Printing Impressions, a commercial printing publication. Mr. Neubauer is very active in the U.S. in-plant industry. He attends all the major in-plant conferences and has visited more than 130 in-plant operations around the world. He has given presentations to numerous in-plant groups in the U.S., Canada and Australia, including the Association of College and University Printers and the In-plant Printing and Mailing Association. He also coordinates the annual In-Print contest, cosponsored by IPMA and In-plant Graphics.