Making 2015 A Better Year

From all reports, 2014 has been a good year for many in our industry.  Many companies are busy and many buyers are realizing print has value and a solid ROI.

 

Yet, as many of our company owners and CEO’s have discovered, good is not great.  The market has shrunk dramatically from 2008 and other competing media (specifically digital ones) have changed the landscape of competition.  So, how does one continue to thrive and survive in 2015?

 

Regardless of the challenges to do so, sales growth is crucial to success.  Many companies continue to expand their offerings (mailing, fulfillment, wide format, specialty products, and even marketing services), but the smart ones don’t just add capabilities (build it and they will come), they also spend time in training their sales force on selling those new services – and when necessary, adding (or replacing) players to ensure that the investment has an ROI.

 

Firms have to look at what the print management firms are doing and why they’re successful.  It’s more than just ink on paper.  It’s the willingness to provide unique service levels and negotiated pricing.  Its finding partners who fill in the gaps (wide format; mailing; web portals) to ensure that today’s print buyer sees our company as sophisticated as the “big” boys.

 

We also need to find ways to become more efficient in our operations and have financial tools which can help us understand the cost dynamics of our operation.  We can no longer afford “cost” systems which are historical in nature and don’t reflect the dynamic variables which comprise printed products, and our pricing teams need to understand the nuances of contribution and plant utilization.

 

We can no longer just focus on us (print providers).  We need to monitor what other competing medias are doing and the affect they will have on print.  Doors will open and doors will close – we just need to be sure we’re on the right side.

What’s Taking Benny So Long?

I think most folks will agree that Benny Landa is one of the industry’s most interesting – and creative – individuals.  Yet, I wonder if his revolutionary press is truly going to be revolutionary, or just another interesting solution that really doesn’t find a home.  Does anyone remember Dahlgren working on a waterless solution for printing?  I remember seeing a test version in the 80’s that was going to change the industry, but it was years later that the waterless solution became reality with the “Toray” solution – and it never got traction.  Is Landa going to end up in the same ditch?

In today’s Printing Impressions (PIWorld.com), they notated a blog article published by Landa on Tuesday (12/9).  Check it out.

Doing The Right Thing, Or Doing It Right

President Obama went on TV last night to announce his Executive Order regarding Immigration, “sticking [his] finger in the eye of the recently elected Republican Congress,” to partially quote Senator Lamar Alexander (R., TN).  While I may not like anyone in the Executive Office bypassing the legislative process developed by our Founders, I have to give Mr. Obama kudos for taking a step that may not help the Democrats politically (or the Republicans if they’re not careful), but is best for this country.

We have ignored the approximately 11 Million illegals in this country and that is not right.  People will cloak themselves in the righteousness of “they broke the law, we can’t excuse them” to the “we are a country of immigrants, we can’t ignore them.”  AND I agree with both sides.  Yet the reality is that over the past 30+ years a system has been created which allows (quasi legally) illegal immigrants into this country.  Congress has been irresponsible in not dealing with this issue and Mr. Obama is going to force the issue – and for that I give him credit, even if I did not vote for him or think he’s a model President.

By issuing this Executive Order, the gauntlet has been thrown.  It’s time to recognize that we cannot continue to ignore what many consider a insignificant amount of our population (3.7%). Yet, especially in the southwest, these individuals comprise a major part of our service economy, and there is a significant portion of these individuals who have been raised here, and have no future because of the actions of their parents wanting a better life.  Can we continue to ignore these 11 Million?

Is this an easy answer? NO.  But what many in Congress fail to remember, is that we’re dealing with people — not just numbers.  We’re dealing with economics and jobs.  We’re dealing with a future generation which will be ostracized and detrimental to our wonderful fabric of inclusion and diversity.  We’re especially dealing with developing a system to stop the illegal immigration (creating a police state within our border states is not the solution) AND allow economic growth.  Not an easy task.

What I’m afraid is going to happen over the next few months is a ugly political spat will break out and the real issue will be ignored.  Do we do the right thing?  Or just continue to ignore the situation, as we tend to ignore our gardeners, construction workers, laborers, and farm workers?

Back To School

Over the years I have taught numerous seminars and classes, but recently I had a “first-time” experience.  I taught a class to college students.  I really didn’t know what to expect since the topic I was covering was pretty dry —- costing and pricing in our industry.  Were they going to fall asleep? Text to all their friends?  Play Candy Crush?  Fortunately (for me) the students had been well prepared by their instructor Dr. Jerry Waite (University of Houston) and were very engaged and asked some great questions.

There were over 60 students in the class – all seniors at the University of Houston’s Digital Media department.  Nearly all of them have an interest in being a part of our ever-expanding visual communications industry, and about 1/3 wish to pursue a career path in good old print.  If ever there was a time for our industry to inject young and interested talent — it’s right now.

If your company has made a commitment to play in this new world of print, consider hiring a management trainee from a college which has a program focused on our industry.  It could be University of Houston; or Pittsburg State; or University of Central Missouri; or College of the Ozarks. Like many of us coming out of college, they may not have all the tools we’d like to see, but they have a real interest in the industry and could do very well when given the right kind of support and guidance.

Sales Is The Answer

Ask any successful business person what is the most important thing about their business and the answer will revolve around sales.  If you’re not selling something people want, the odds of success are dismal.

Sad to say that’s the dilemma many in the printing industry are discovering.  After hundreds of years of customers needing/wanting print, they have discovered other options – and print doesn’t have the same sizzle, or in some cases, it’s not as effective as new media.

Yet, many folks in our industry haven’t got that message.  They’re still out there trying to find the next print order rather than trying to determine what does the customer need and how can we deliver it.

Over the past few weeks, I have had several conversations with company owners – and their number one issue?  Finding ways to recruit sales representatives who think beyond print. More and more owners are discovering that very few of their “seasoned” sales reps are looking beyond the traditional rice bowl for their next meal. That style of selling does not portend well if firms wish to expand beyond the traditional sources of success.  As one owner said, “I’m a businessman and a printer, not just a printer. Thus, I’m going to find ways to expand my offerings and if it doesn’t involve print – that’s OK.”  Wow.  Heresy. Or is it?

Now What?

OK you political junkies, the Republicans have taken “control” of the Senate.  What does that mean?  The end of the world?  The creation of a brave new one?  Well, how about more of the same?

Although I hope there’s some movement on the nation’s crucial issues – tax reform and immigration reform to mention two important ones – there’s still politics.  Mr. Obama will probably want to make a stab of maintaining his agenda and make the Republicans look like a bunch of “say no” politicians.  The GOP is going to make sure the President (and his party) are the wrong choice in 2016.  Sad to say, that’s what I’m afraid we’re going to get.  Yet, there’s enough of a Pollyanna in me to hope for better. Who knows stranger things have happened – didn’t we just see the Royals in the World Series?

Giants Again?

Ok. I admit it. I’m a Giant Hater. No, not a person who has a large amount of hate. Nor a person who dislikes large people. I have a great dislike for the San Francisco Giants. Maybe because they’ve won 3 out of the last 5 World Series. Maybe it’s because they beat the Texas Rangers several years ago. No, it goes back further than that. Marichal. Roseboro. For old-time baseball fans, I don’t need to say more. Let me say if that incident had happened today, Juan Marichal would be doing time for assault and battery.

But having said that I am a Madison Baumgardner fan. Wow what a performance in Game 7. Heck the whole series. MVP that’s all I’m going to say.

Industry Trolls

It’s been awful quiet on the “CTP Patent Troll” front.  CTP is the firm which was pursuing license fees from approximately 30 firms in the industry saying they are violating patents on computer to plate technology.  The reason for things being quiet is the review that is being conducted by the U.S. Patent Office (USPO) based on a request from various industry manufacturers.  The manufacturers are trying to show USPO that the technology was already in place and a patent should not have been issued. And let’s hope that the USPO decides in the favor of the manufacturers.

Regardless, of the findings I truly rail at this type of bottom feeding behavior.  It’s a business at any cost mentality which hurts small business and the individuals trying to earn a living from their chosen profession.

And there’s the other issue.  This patent was developed initially by a printing company which then put it on the shelf.  That company is merged into another very large printing company, which sells the patents to a third party — or did they?  There are still many who think that the third party is just a conduit for the very large printing company to find a way to “punish” the thousands of smaller firms who “compete” with it.  Now there are court documents indicating that this company has the potential to financially gain from the actions of the Troll.  And I thought that trolls were the lowest form of life in our business world.

Read This Book!

First a disclaimer.  I’m an abashed Joe Webb fan.  Yes, some people seem him as a guy looking through dark and gloomy glasses, but Joe tells it like he sees it.  And over the past several years, he’s been more right than wrong.

If you are involved with sales in our industry (and who isn’t in some form or fashion), a must read is Webb’s most recent book which he co-wrote with Richard Romano.  The book is titled “This Point Forward,” and was just released last month.  If you don’t want to sink into a downer (or get your eyes opened), speed read (but don’t ignore) the first 58 pages.  Joe is in economist mode.  The heart of the book is Romano and Webb’s insights into the world of marketing and communications and what it portends long-term for our industry.

As the Joe and Richard state, we cannot wait for things to go back as they were.  The individuals making decisions about marketing budgets are digital natives and have never known anything but computer screens and mobile smart devices.  The insights which the authors provide us are from a perspective of individuals who understand our industry – but also see what the future portends.  As the book states several times, we cannot make decisions based on looking in the rear-view mirror, we have to be looking down the road.

So, get a copy of the book and study it.  It’s an easy read and keep in mind what Tom Saggiomo, CEO for the DG3 Group, says regarding the book, “Webb and Romano offer a compelling case for sound strategy development and a roadmap for implementation. Ignore this work at your own peril.”

U.N.’s Climate Summit

I have been reading about the recent U.N. Climate Summit with a jaundiced eye.  Was it going to be full of wild-eyed radical environmentalist who are willing to “save” the world at any cost, or believers that sustainability is going to take a lot of hard work AND compromise.  It seems to have been “all-the-above” plus major corporations like Wal-Mart and McDonald’s atending.   I will not, nor should anyone deny that globally we’re facing a changing environment and that industrialization has not helped.  I don’t deny that CO2 has an effect, the science is too strong, but it’s not just CO2 which is the culprit.  As scientist and environmentalists are discovering — it’s much more complicated.  It’s third-world growth vs. first-world wealth; it’s climatic cycles we don’t fully understand; haves vs have nots – who wanna-be’s; and a world that may not be able to sustain 7 billion people on the planet predicted to grow to 8 billion in 2024.

Let me focus on something a bit closer to home.

At this U.N. Summit, Wal-Mart and McDonald’s were two of the major signees to the “New York Declaration of Forests” which signals the vital role that forest (sustaining them) play in climate change.  I’m a bit concerned that this will bring another round of “save the trees – don’t print” reaction from many.  Now, is the time to make sure that we send messages to decision makers that paper production and print are SUSTAINABLE!  We need to clearly message that trees are being grown and protected to produce a crop called paper, and we are not indiscriminately cutting forests to produce it.  We also have to remind many of these decision makers that print is still positioned  as an outstanding communication vehicle and is as effective as always.

Spread the word “Print Grows Trees.”