Ever The Contrarian

I was reading a recent Dr. Joe Webb economic update – with heavy focus on unemployment numbers along with solid observations about industry trends.  If you enjoy wonky economic stuff, read this article on whattheythink.com – it’s good stuff.

On another note, ever-contrarian Webb had comments on the Paper & Packaging Board’s “How Life Unfolds” campaign.  Webb stated, “The most important way of increasing demand for a good or service is to be innovative in their application to the problems, wants, and needs of consumers and businesses. Campaigns strictly designed to make purveyors of those goods and services happy does not make the goods or services they offer relevant.

If you believe that there is unfounded marketplace sentiment against your product, you need to get into the trenches in direct combat and recruit like-minded allies on an incident-by-incident basis.”

Although I think the campaign “may” have some value, I have some concerns as to how relevant it is to our industry (Print Producers).  The $30 million a year which will be spent by the Paper & Packaging Board, will more than likely not shift the needle of print consumption a fraction.  It’s got be done in the trenches – and that where I totally agree with the aforementioned Joe.

Superbowl Week

Last Sunday I was on a plane headed to Dallas which began its journey in Charlotte.  Every third person seems to be wearing a piece of clothing showing a black panther and opining why their hero is maligned, or of why they’re looking forward to The Game. And this week, it’s going to be hours of incessant talk of football, astronomical costs of commercials, point spreads, failures, former stars, and of course, The Game.

Am I a bit jealous because it’s been twenty years since the ‘Boys have been there?  No, not really.

Although it has been decades since I’ve stepped on a field, I remember the smell of the turf, the pain of contact, and playing a game of orchestrated violence.  It was wonderful — even with all it’s potential for harm – mental and physical. Yet, with the advent of fantasy leagues and the billions of dollars spent on marketing to “enhance” the game, I have become concerned that many are no longer willing to play (at whatever form) the game, but would rather watch a surrogate, or play Madden.

I look at the craziness of college alums and the money they’re willing to spend to have a winning team, and it truly concerns me.  I look at what people are willing to pay to go to the Superbowl and it shocks me. I guess it’s a sign of the times regarding all of the professional sports.  Money has forever changed the “game” to entertainment.

For those who played for the love of the game; who were willing to work hard and get cut, and then work harder to make the team; to momentarily be a hero, or a goat; the game was a way to grow and understand a lot about ourselves.  We learned that winning is important, but knowing that you were willing to make the commitment to be on the field as a player, and accomplish goals you may not have thought possible – that made the game a life learning experience.  Something you don’t get by watching ESPN or FOX, or playing on your Xbox.


White Space

There’s a new phrase I ran across in an online article from Andy Plata’s Output Links – White Space Management.  Not one to get carried away with wonky management du jour philosophies, I started to ignore it and go back to aimlessly deleting emails.  Then, I thought, “What the heck is White Space Management?”

Per the article, “In business management terms ‘white space’ is a process management concept. It was described by Rummler and Brache in the 90’s as the area between the boxes in an organizational chart where no one is in charge, and yet is the place where an organization has the greatest potential for improvement.  In essence, manage the white space effectively and you can improve an organization’s overall performance!”

Okay.  It’s an interesting concept but given the size of most companies (small) in our industry, I don’t see it as a crucial management topic.  Then I continued to read the article, which was written by Crawford Technologies and directed readers to their blog – Reducing Document Production Costs is So Last Decade.  That got a bit more interesting.

Although the article is directed at corporate communication/inplant operations managers, and it’s a bit of an infomercial, there’s a lot of fodder there for folks in the commercial world.  It reflects the continual challenges large companies have with internal communications as well as messaging to their clients via transactional printing.

It brought to mind what a consulting friend of mine (non-print) stated in a recent conversation.  In a commoditized business (yes, that’s us), differentiation is crucial, and the role of consultative selling is vastly important, which means we need to know more about a client’s business than they do.  And more the reason to read this article, and peel back the onion.  There are potential nuggets of opportunities for a print provider if they expand the way they look at the world of print/paper.

It’s 2016!

Happy 2016!  Hoping everyone’s New Year has started well.  As many know, it’s a different world for me as I am now “retired,” whatever that means.  Regardless, my “Cup” will continue to overflow with various thoughts and ideas on print and “stuff” since I’m not really going to disappear.  More to come later.

The last few months have been pretty hectic and I realized earlier this week that I hadn’t posted in weeks.  So, I’ll start 2016 with one of my favorites – Affordable Health Care (what an oxymoron).

The Republicans were able to get a bill repealing the AHC out of the Senate, and the House quickly (along party lines) passed the bill, but of course it will be vetoed by the President and that’s going to be it.  For now.

As many of us who’ve followed this debacle for years understand, this whole move was about politics – the potential to truly overturn AHC in 2017 (assuming there’s a Republican in the Presidential Office) is really going to be difficult, if not impossible due to all the businesses which will be affected (HEALTH CARE!).  What I really want to hear over the next few months from the Republicans will be what they propose to “replace” AHC. It just can’t be more of “we don’t like it.”

Ah, 2016 was going so good until yesterday (anyone want to talk about the stock market?)


It’s easy to forget all of our blessings when we hear of the tragedies unfolding around us on a daily basis. Whether it’s a local break-in and mugging, or the fanaticism in the Middle East, it’s too easy to cast the glass half full.  Let’s not go there.

Rather, let us look at the beauty and hope which are part of this time of the year. We live in a bountiful time providing all of us wealth in ways not just measured in money.  We have access to communications unheard of a generation ago.  Our ability to travel anywhere in the world – regardless of the threats from fanatics – is exceptional.  The access to medical care for all its foibles is still excellent.  Thus, this coming Thursday, let us join our family and/or friends and be thankful for the bounty of our nation and times.  Happy Thanksgiving!

Finding The Future

I recently saw information about career recruiting from PGSF (Print and Graphic Scholarship Foundation) and it got me thinking.  PGSF does a great job of finding ways to attract young people who are going to college (I was one of those kiddos MANY years ago), but what about finding ways to attract the “blue-collar” workers who are the backbone of the industry.

In the four state region which I’m familiar (Oklahoma, Kansas, Texas, and Missouri), there are approximately 70 schools teaching graphics or print. The vast majority are high school programs (there are only four institutions offering a four-year degree).  The high school programs have limited resources and frequently are heavily focused on graphic design and job shop print production.  Thus, anyone looking for skilled technicians needs to understand that those schools don’t exist (and probably never did).  Yet, the students who are attending these programs are highly interested in print and graphics – and that’s a good thing.

The reality of finding new faces for the industry is that it’s going to take a grassroots effort and looking beyond the existing programs. PGSF has plenty of material, as do many of the regional PIA Affiliates, but that material has to be placed in the hands of schools and administrators.  Those “gatekeepers” have to be sold on the concept that there are career paths available in our industry, and that doesn’t get accomplished with a poster or brochure, especially when they know that print is dead and everyone must have a four-year degree to succeed.

So, how does one go about recruiting? How about finding a local connection with any local high school or community college?  Find ways to be involved with advisory committees.  Donate print projects and materials (everyone is always looking for paper). Provide plant tours to administrators and counsellors.  Volunteer (or have someone on your team) to provide career talks. Hire interns.  Hire part-time workers.  We have to remember that we are competing with colleges, other industries (all which are high-tech) and the desires of the student’s parents.  It takes a bit of commitment for the long haul, but how can you grow a future crop without a bit of work and nurturing?

Check This Out

When was the last time you used a check to make a payment?  Odds are if you’re under 40, it’s been awhile.  That trend is being reflected in the announcement made this week by Harland Clarke of the planned closing of their “base” plant in San Antonio.  A facility which to my knowledge has been in operation for over 40 years.

As we all know, it’s a sign of the times.  With the continued use of electronic tools and the internet, the day of the paper check is waning.  In Harland Clarke’s case, digital print engines are much more capable of doing the job that utilized legacy offset equipment.

Yet, for many there are still opportunities.  Visit Harland’s site and you see how the company has diversified and is no longer a “legacy” print company.  They were able to see a door opening when others saw doors closing.




I hate losing, and yesterday’s Texas Ranger game doesn’t sit well.  If you’ve played enough competitive sports (and isn’t business a competitive sport?), you’re going to lose.  Heck, a baseball team that wins a 100 games in a season, which is considered exceptional, is only winning 61% of the time.  So, not winning everything is part of life.  I get it.

But three errors in one inning, which then created an opportunity for Joey Bats to clear the bases, is pitiful.  Losing to a team (a competitor) who plays better than you — I’m good with it.  But shooting yourself (hmmm not a bad idea for a certain shortstop) in the foot, that just leaves a bad taste.

So, I’m going to go cry in my beer.  A nice Ballast Point Sculpin IPA.  That should make me feel better – at least until tonight’s game with the Dodgers and Mets.  Did I mention that I hate anything New York?

Good News. Bad News

As an astute reader of “Cup,” you’ve probably already determined that this article will discuss issues originating in Fantasyland on the Potomac – and you are correct.  Our legislators and regulators are hard at work creating more “stuff” which affects our industry.  So, let’s get the bad news out of the way – and it comes from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
For the past several years, various bodies have been litigating or threatening to litigate against the EPA because they feel that the threshold for low-level ozone is not low enough.  Many wanted to lower the threshold below 60 parts per billion because if lowering it to 70 was safe – 60 would be better.  Regardless that there were no hard facts to back up the supposition.  Now for the good news – the threshold is going to be 70.  Now the bad news – it’s 70.
What does it mean for our industry? The Dallas/Fort Worth area is already struggling to meet the previous threshold (75 ppb) and there are possibilities that San Antonio, Austin, Oklahoma City, Tulsa, and Kansas City will be affected, but it’s too early to tell.  Each state has to create models and then create regulations (based on theory) that will reduce the VOCs to the established level.  This can take up to two years.  More than likely, the result will be more monitoring, lower VOC solvents, and other measures which will have an indirect affect to many.  Oh, and vehicular traffic, which is not regulated by the Clean Air Act and one of the major generators of low-level ozone, will not be affected by these new requirements.
Now for some more good news – the Senate on October 1passed, by voice vote, the Protecting Affordable Coverage for Employees Act (PACE) (HR 1624).  What does that mean in English?   Currently under the ACA, the definition of the state-based small group markets is scheduled to change in 2016 from 50 to include employers with up to 100 employees. The PACE Act would keep the one to 50 definition in place, but states would have the option of expanding the definition of small employer to cover employers with up to 100 employees.  Employer’s over 50 still have to offer health insurance, but can participate in the small group exchanges (Small Business Health Options – SHOP).  Well, if that was the good news, we need to address the “other” news.
Per information shared by Printing Industries of America’s Jim Kyger, “According to a recent report, if the small group definition moves to 100, premiums could increase by approximately 18 percent for a majority of the mid-sized employers. As a result, many employers may choose to self-insure instead of remain in the small group market because those employers will no longer be subject to the various requirements of the small group market. This could further increase the premiums for those left in the newly expanded risk pool.”
Although I never believed the Affordable Health Care Act would be affordable, I’m concerned that much of the law that was not transparent (thank you Ms. Pelosi) is rapidly changing the behavior of employers, medical professionals, individuals, and the insurance carriers.  The result?  Unaffordable health care, and many of the millions that the law was supposed to help still don’t have insurance coverage.
So, let’s close on some ________ (fill in the blank) news.  We elect a new President and Congress in approximately 13 months.

Golf Is A Four Letter Word

If you have played, excuse me, tried to play the game of golf, you have heard that phrase countless times.  As a baseball player in a previous life, the idea of hitting a small ball that was not moving with a stick, made perfect sense and sounded relatively easy.  Yup, and pigs will fly in formation.

Although my skills are lacking, I remain fascinated with the game and the passion which it creates.  It was very apparent at the PIA MidAmerica Kansas City Golf Tournament yesterday.  There were nearly 200 folks, including volunteers, in attendance.  Many of them drove over an hour to get there since Smithville, Missouri is a bit off the beaten path.  As I’ve realized over the years, the game is very social for many, and it was apparent yesterday with the smiles and excited voices heard prior, during and after the round.  More important, it was seeing our graphic arts community coming together to enjoy the day and get away from the daily grind which made the day very rewarding for me and the PIA staff.

I’m going to miss these events, but the game of golf will still be there.  Maybe with a bit of free time and a bit of focus, my game will improve.  Now, what did I do with my niblick?