Why Selling Colorants Alone will be the Death of Dye/OBA Companies

Do you remember Strathmore?  Champion or Union Camp?  How about Hammermill or even Weyerhaeuser as a supplier of paper?

Many employees worked for those companies, and for many more the names of those companies were synonymous with quality grades of paper.  The Hammermill brand still exists in the International Paper line of products, but the original Hammermill Paper mill in Erie, PA is long gone.  The original Union Camp mill in Franklin, VA closed completely before starting to make fluff pulp. Abitibi and Bowater first merged, had financial troubles, and then emerged as Resolute Forest Products.

Most of the companies named above are now only memories.  The paper industry has evolved.

Dye suppliers (dyes, pigments, & OBAs) need to evolve too.


Selling colorants is no longer enough, either!  Crable Engineering LLC recognizes this.

We accept that good profit margins are more difficult to make simply by selling dyes and OBAs, and customers are harder to retain.  Colorant suppliers need to sell a more involved service to clients. They need to start providing extra services that can provide a higher profit margin for mills.  These are value added services, and they extend throughout the papermaking process from Stock Prep to the Machine to the Lab and involve interaction with mill personnel at every step.

Colorant suppliers who change and start selling value-added services will create a new type of relationship with clients. Customers will be prepared to engage with these suppliers. Such paper companies will be in better control of their profit margins; they will be better placed to achieve the right results that they need.

Dye/OBA companies that keep selling only those products and nothing else fail to form good customer partnerships. They will simply be regarded as commodity product suppliers. They have little control over their profit margins and will struggle even to stay in business.

Here are three ways in which these services change the way in which the buyer treats the dye supplier.

Dye companies are no longer seen as commodity suppliers

Instead they are seen as service providers. They are seen as business partners that help their clients achieve their business goals. They help their clients carry out their business more efficiently or more cost effectively.

These companies can also set themselves apart from the competition more easily.

Buyers are willing to work more with those having better skill sets

The type of sale changes when dye suppliers offer value added services. Most buyers assume that a dye company will offer good service and good quality. So they choose on price.

However, if the colorants supplier is offering a value added service such as inventory management or onsite troubleshooting assistance when problems arise in meeting optical property specifications, the situation changes. The buyer sees the skill levels of the dye company as making a real difference. This is because they are looking at services where they will measure return on investment.  Before, they were thinking in terms of commodity manufacturing.

Suddenly it is a lot easier for a dye supplier to stand out from the competition. But they do need to sell their skills better.  This also changes the buyer’s purchasing paradigm.

Lowest price is then not always the main driver

Price will always be an important decision in the purchasing process. However, in terms of dye and OBA costs the buyer can simply compare a like for like specification. When looking at services a buyer can be encouraged to consider return on investment rather than just looking at cheapest price.

Offering value added services can make a real difference to a paper company who is already running short-handed.

So does this mean that all dye companies should become experts in pumps and dye delivery systems, for example?

Not necessarily. There are a wide range of value added services that can be offered. Many colorant suppliers will already have some in-house such as expertise with laboratory spectrophotometers for measuring color, brightness, fluorescence, and whiteness.

Dye system retrofits are certainly one strategy but not the only one. Let’s focus on the groundwood paper sector.

Here’s how one dye supplier put this strategy into practice

In the US, one dye supplier looked at the challenges that were facing many of their newsprint/book paper manufacturing customers. And the challenges lay not with the dyes, but in how to tackle delivering them in neat (undiluted) form with precision and improved response time.

So they developed their own dye delivery system which allows their clients to pump and monitor dye flows to the paper machine easily. Their systems also have redundancy built in for the dye metering pumps. This has allowed discussions to move away from price matching. Many clients are now interested in having their colorants supplier also be the provider (and backup troubleshooter) of their dye/OBA delivery systems. So the lowest print price is no longer the only important factor.

Each company needs its own action plan to create value added services.

Here are three action points that need to be addressed at every customer meeting:

  1. Ask your customers what challenges they face;
  2. Offer or create the service which addresses these issues;
  3. Develop the sales message which focusses on the services you offer, rather than just putting dye and/or OBA in paper.

Remember Crompton & Knowles – C&K?  How about Bayer Corporation, Ciba, Rite, and now Clariant?

Well, they have exited the paper industry or sold off their colorants businesses, some after eliminating most of their field sales and technical support staff.

Quality product is a given today; without that one is not even in the game.

Service is now essential, and the type of service to be offered is well beyond what colorant and OBA suppliers have generally extended to customers in the past.


To get the type of customer with whom you can create such a relationship, talk with the production management and reliability groups at the paper company.  Let them know that your goal is their goal – no problems with the colorants, getting them into the paper, or making A1 quality paper with your assistance.