Spec Reps: Your Personal Paper Elves

insight-spec-repBy Sabine Lenz

“One minute you’re on top of the world, the next minute some secretary’s running you over with a lawnmower.”

OK, maybe not a lawnmower, but Mad Men’s Joan Harris conveys my – and many other designers’ – feelings when thinking back to the good old days – in our case a mere 10+ years ago.

There was a time – and yes, it sounds like a fairy tale – when elflike creatures (let’s call them “spec reps”) would show up at your studio frequently. They’d ensure that you had the latest swatchbooks, take the time to explain the intricacies of a new mill promotion, and be a personal graphic art consultant for your printed projects.

The Elusive Spec Rep
Fast forward to today and I know many designers who cannot recall the last time they’ve seen a sales rep, let alone a spec rep, at their studio door. It is not their fault. The industry landscape has changed.

We work in smaller teams. We print less. We print smaller quantities.

Overall, mills and paper merchants had to adjust and thus, in many, many companies, the role of the spec rep has changed.

The traditional merchant distribution setup – where sales reps called on the print community, and the specification team called on agencies, designers and corporate end-users – got mashed up. On top of this, nationwide we now have fewer than half the reps we used to, while their individual territory has dramatically increased.

When Some Zig …
But wait, not all spec reps have disappeared. In fact, while most mills and merchants chose to zig – Dallas-based Clampitt Paper decided to zag.

Instead of reducing their sales and spec force they are – wait for it – increasing it. And they are broadening their brand by heading west – literally.

“We certainly believe that designers have a big influence over the final paper choice,” explains Carol Ott, business development manager west at Clampitt Paper. “Education has always been part of the mission at Clampitt. So we provide creatives with insight into the characteristics and the uses of paper and keep them abreast with industry trends.”

And to prove that they walk their talk, Clampitt Paper has, for more than 10 years, operated their creative center – a place where creatives and business professionals can gather, learn and be inspired.

Dreams do Come True
Ott and her nine fellow spec reps (yes, that is a whopping 10 spec reps all together) do exactly what you dreamed of.

“We ensure that the creative team is current and up to date on the products that are available,” she explains. “This includes swatchbooks certainly; print examples to show what characteristics are viable, new print techniques and technologies. Paper dummies …”

And as in the good old days, her goal is to consult with a designer when it comes to their paper needs and the printing techniques they might use. Yep, she is one of those elves.
“In an agency or studio setting we talk to the designers as well as the print production managers,” she elaborates. “In a corporate setting this might also include the marketing departments.”

Don’t Let this Service go to Waste
Whether spec rep or sales rep, their services are here for you to utilize. And best of all, these dedicated mill and merchant reps do it all free of charge.

Mad Men’s final season might be about to air, but spec reps are here to stay and help you along your printed way. And while they are here to support us, let’s make sure to support them as well. Tell your printer which spec rep specifically has helped you along the way. What goes around …

…..

sabine_120Seeing designers worldwide struggle to stay current with new papers and paper trends inspired Sabine Lenz to create PaperSpecs, an independent and comprehensive Web-based paper selection tool and weekly e-newsletter. Growing up in Germany, she started her design career in Frankfurt before moving on to Australia and the United States. Lenz worked on design projects ranging from corporate identities to major road shows and product launches. From start-ups to Fortune 500 companies, her list of clients included Oracle, Sun Microsystems, Deutsche Bank, IBM and KPMG. Lenz is a noted speaker and author on paper issues and educational topics related to the paper industry.

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