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Struggling With Sales At Your Print Shop? Here’s Why (And How To Fix It)

Before you read…

Printavo is simple shop management software. We help you streamline your business, keep jobs moving forward and your team on the same page.

Scheduling, quoting, approvals, payments, customer communication, automation and more. With Printavo, you’ll work smarter–not harder.

This is an “oldie-but-goodie” issue of The Weekly, Printavo’s newsletter.


An evergreen topic for print shops.

We recently updated our post about 5 ways to sell more.

It’s what we’ve learned from observing the most successful shops.

But what struck us is just how “simple and difficult” the advice is.

Simple and difficult is a great way to think about sales, too.

After all, it’s simple: get someone to buy something.

But that simplicity makes it extremely difficult.

We originally wrote this article some time back in 2018.

In just three short years, life has been transformed. But much of the advice has stayed the same.

Sales is still a tough game even if technology has made it easier than ever. 


  • Make sales hurt less: get off the “hedonic treadmill”
  • Why focusing on your niche is like steroids for your business
  • How to actually think of your customer base
  • How the internet is changing business forever
  • A super simple trick for getting more sales in Printavo

…and a whole lot of interesting connections we made while revisiting this sales article.

Sales: a “hedonic treadmill”?

If you’re not familiar with the idea of the hedonic treadmill, here’s the gist: you will always default to some base level of satisfaction, no matter what you achieve.

People talk a lot about sales requiring a certain personality

Usually, this is a “gritty” person that’s comfortable taking no for an answer and being on the phone a lot. They can ride the hedonic treadmill and have the ups and downs roll right off their back.

People with these characteristics do exist, but it’s a “needle in the haystack” situation. 

How exactly do you test and evaluate someone on grittiness in a short interview, anyway? Besides…work environment and culture can literally change personalities. Sales skills aren’t something we’re born with.

This isn’t a problem you can tackle head-on. You can’t snap your fingers and make sales a smooth ride. It requires some diagonal problem solving and building a culture that actually works.

Riches are in the niches: focus in

Mark Coudray hammered home a profound point in 2019 at our annual Print Hustlers Conference. 

Most print shops get the lion’s share of their revenue from just 20% of their great customers. 

You can probably think of your “20% great customer” off the top of your head: a franchise, a college, or maybe something like a snowboard company? 

They’re the customer you know you can rely on to pay on time, order big, and make your life easy.

It’s the Pareto principle in action. Virtually all businesses have a powerful niche that powers a bunch of their yearly revenue.

The effects of the 80/20 rule are hard to overstate, and even harder to intuitively understand. But the net effect is this: chase your 20% customers hard. They determine your fate.

“It’s troubling if a startup insists that it’s going to make money in many different ways. The power law distribution on revenues says that one source of revenue will dominate everything else.” – Peter Thiel, PayPal and Palantir co-founder

Narrowing sales focus to those really impactful revenue sources slows the hedonic treadmill effect significantly.

The Internet Rainforest concept: big, or small?

COVID accelerated a bunch of trends by ten years or so, but internet sales in particular.

There’s this idea called the Internet Rainforest that every entrepreneur should understand. The internet eliminates the middle.

A rainforest has ample water, air, and sunlight. But how does life adapt there? It grows absolutely massive trees – and a host of small, specialized niche species adapted to life on the floor below. 

But there are few “mid-sized” organisms: things are very big, or very small, and the middle is mostly eliminated. Differentiation is survival.

The internet is a “rainforest for business.” 

Anyone can develop a niche and set up an online store, and more and more people are. If you’re in business, you should always have something for sale on the internet now.

But a few big trees (think Amazon, Google, Facebook, Apple) control much of the ecosystem. Their niche is being big, and they are very good at it.

The same logic applies when we preach that shops shouldn’t try to compete with Custom Ink. They serve a completely different type of “great customer” than you do.

Even if customers bring you something they sketched up on the Custom Ink designer, a great designer tool is not a replacement for a niche

“Pick one: print the most, print the best, or make the most money.” – Rick Roth from Mirror Image

Sales: service and sweeteners

Capitalizing on your niche is mostly about targeted service, not raw sales talent.

Developing that relationship is essential. We’ve seen this over and over and over: if you print for a niche that you really love, whether it’s motorcycles or cars or skateboarders or local hotspots…and double-down on that community…it pays off.

It’s difficult to disentangle sales and service and community building, even if they’re all separate departments: good sales usually facilitate better service. 

Sales, after all, are step one of the custom printing production process. 

And, like a flywheel…good service tends to make sales even easier.

That’s why we’ve always believed that service is really an opportunity for print shops. The majority of print shops run custom jobs that are more akin to what a local barber does than what a company like Amazon does.

Embrace that service-oriented niche: really top-notch service is your most achievable differentiator.

Sweeteners: an easy win

Sweeteners are no or low-cost goodies that you give to customers. That doesn’t mean just stickers or other trinkets. It means giving your customer dollars – or at least seeming like you are.

We love this idea from Jon Ladd at Terminus Tees: add a note to your Printavo Invoices that points out you’ve waived setup fees.

Did you really waive setup fees?

Maybe. That’s up to you.

The point? Provide some sweetener – some value – that’s blatantly obvious.  

Whatever you do, don’t be in the middle

The midwit meme is something you’ll probably see (or have seen already). It looks like this:

While the meme is based on junk IQ science, it’s really a joke about the Pareto Principle, power laws, and differentiation. The thing you’re mocking goes in the middle, while the “genius” and the “dummy” hold the same opinion. 

There’s some bizarre universal truthiness to this meme, particularly in an environment where joke cryptocurrencies are bringing in billions of dollars. 

Being a couple standard deviations outside of the norm can have tremendous, outsized effects. Just don’t be in the middle. Differentiate. 

This is all a really long way to say:
If you’re trying to be everything to everyone, you get stuck in the inhospitable middle. Your sales predictably become a stressful and unpredictable disaster.

But what if you go to either extreme? Focus in? Build the customer base? Say no more than you say yes? Implement structure and get off the hedonic treadmill?

You get out of the middle. 

A (brief) sales to-do list

There’s a lot to chew on here. 

So let’s just identify a few action items. 

Do one, or do them all. There’s value here.

  • ID your top 20 customers and focus on them hard. They get White Glove Treatment. Here’s how.
  • Set up a strong follow-up email sequence.
  • Incentivize word of mouth. It’s the most valuable form of marketing.
  • Sponsor an event. Low-cost, uncertain ROI, but huge if you can find the right event. Look at how it propelled The Yetee.
  • Firm up your Quote process. You can do this with Printavo. It’s absurdly powerful, and one of the first things we get shops to do when we consult with them.
  • Add a sweetener to your Printavo Invoices. Follow the lead that Jon Ladd at Terminus set. It’s a quick and easy change you can do right now.
  • Name your niche. Write it down. Firm it up. Everyone in and out of the business should know it. Make a list of the dream clients in your niche and figure out exactly what you need to do to land them – or serve them better if you already do.
About Printavo

Printavo is simple shop management software. We help you streamline your business, keep jobs moving forward and your team on the same page.

Scheduling, quoting, approvals, payments, customer communication, automation and more. With Printavo, you’ll work smarter–not harder.


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