Many print businesses have been forced to contract during the global pandemic. Depending on the market segments you serve, that contraction might have been extreme or incremental. Either way, you have been asked to modify your print business in response to an unplanned and unexpected event.
This is hard, it continues to be hard, and it looks like it’s going to be with us for some time to come.
It is also an opportunity. I have heard more than one print business owner tell me they are using this time to make massive changes in their print business, changes that have been met with strong resistance in the past. During a crisis, there is a natural opening to accepting change because it’s required—and not changing could mean the end of your employment or your business.
How many print business owners have been struggling with the adoption of print software technology for years and now have everyone relying on their Print MIS because they are working from home and can no longer track paper job tickets physically throughout the plant? How many are investing in online ordering because it’s available to their customers 24/7 from the comfort of their home offices?
Use this opportunity to make the changes that under normal circumstances would be met with lots of resistance to change in the form of “but this is how we’ve always done it.” Do you see how silly that statement sounds in the face of a global pandemic? It’s not a very strong position to hold. We haven’t faced a pandemic in our lifetimes so doing things differently now is pretty much expected.
Print businesses who come out the other end of COVID-19 will need to be leaner and, yes, that does equate to less people in front of production. I have been saying this for years on every trade show floor I walked on; observing so many printers looking to shave off minutes from printing and finishing when they have days being wasted in front of the press. The carpeted area of your business (thank you, Cory Sawtzki, for that phrase) is the place where you have the most inefficiencies. Sending 12 emails per customer order is not a process! Spending 3–5 days from initial inquiry to getting the job on press is not efficient.
The number of touchpoints you have with your customer is not customer service—it's a burden unless you’re adding value on every touchpoint. The majority of touchpoints with your customers are administrative and inefficient. That inefficiency takes its toll on your customers and your customer service team. How many printers track the number of touches with their customers? How many printers track the number of days/hours between the initial inquiry from the customer to getting the customer’s job on press? Too few.
When the contraction of COVID-19 is over and you’re rebuilding your print business, look at the carpeted area of your business in terms of real metrics that you can measure and improve upon. Creating efficiencies is not only to lessen labor costs but to deploy labor in a more fulfilling and strategic fashion. When customer service representatives are actually looking for ways to help your customers grow their business and not simply staffing inboxes of unorganized administrative tasks your business and your customer loyalty will improve. Many printers think deploying self-service tools reduces the customer service value; nothing could be further from the truth. Self-service makes your business easier to do business with and frees up your customer service agents for performing true “customer service” in the form of expanding the business your existing customers do with you today.
By Robert Godwin on Aug 19, 2020
We can only hope that your advice in this article is taken to heart and followed. Frankly, on many open forums in the past few weeks there is a nostalgic deceit that things will go back to the way they were pre Covid. A sea change is needed in the management ranks of most print operations, and in the way marketing professionals think about how print fits into channel marketing. You speak of touchpoints within a printshop's client interaction. The print managers also need to think about the touchpoints in a marketing program and where they can add value. Printer's need to be dissatisfied with sitting at the tail end of the decision-making process. Move upstream and add the value marketing programs need. Waiting for a text, email, phone call, or God forbid, a fax...well for those operations the end is nigh.
By Robert Lindgren on Aug 19, 2020
For very many firms, the sales contraction has been large enough to threaten their viability. Simply hoping that business will come back will lead to the death of many of them when their capital is gone--destroyed by continuous funding of operating losses. Survival can only be achieved by a meaningful reduction of overhead (plant, equipment and front office). This can be achieved by a consolidation of similar firms so that unnecessary overhead can be eliminated. How is this accomplished? Simply by identifying those firms in the printer's marketplace that are similar in terms of equipment and market focus, then reaching out to them and talking about merger. It's apparent to many that the status quo can't be continued--some serious thought and a willingness to rethink can make continued life possible.
By Robert Godwin on Aug 19, 2020
Merger with a company doing the same or similar work as you already do is one way... if the same ol', same ol' makes a new, exciting and new business model. I'll posit that merging/acquring a marketing company is a better choice. Creative production would round out the offering. The idea that consolidation and cutting costs will lead to a new attractive business profile is so much falderal. Offer value, grow business.
By Wayne Lynn on Aug 19, 2020
Another good article Jennifer. You've touched on similar points several times in the past few months and please continue to do so. Maybe the message will be heard. We have a few deadly habits as an industry. We shy away from self-service because deep down we think that fewer interactions makes us less "sticky". A business model driven by self-service actually makes us more sticky because we become more of a default if it's easy. The overhead costs Robert Lindgren refers to cannot be reduced until properly used software replaces a lot of people with bad habits. This and the sales function is where the cancerous mindset of "we've always done it this way" resides. Eighty percent of current sales people in the industry will have nothing to do if they can't take an order over the phone and personally deliver proofs. Rant over...just saying.
By Robert Lindgren on Aug 19, 2020
Robert Godwin's comments are well taken. However, people who are good at manufacturing are seldom good at the creative aspects that can add value. The path to sustainability is more likely through the overhead reduction that consolidation brings.
By Jennifer Matt on Aug 20, 2020
Only the most efficient pure print manufacturer can survive. Everyone else has to find another way to differentiate. All of the solutions point to extending your value proposition both in front of the print manufacturing (data services, personalization, etc) or after the print manufacturing (fulfillment, kitting, response tracking, analysis).
I of course see everything through the lens of software. The optimization of your software tools is what makes you efficient no matter what strategic path you embark on.
By Robert Godwin on Aug 20, 2020
Pure print. Hmmmm. If a bakery only makes pies, should it add baguettes as a growth opportunity? I agree the current management in most print operations do not have the 'chops' to sell creative, especially pure ideation. I would not expect them to play in that arena. However, production design, with brand guidelines already established is a rich opportunity. As for the digital marketing component, printers control many of the assets used in a campaign. Makes sense to service the channels that use those branded assets. Some PSP's already do this and can because they fostered the necessary client relationships and gained their confidence and respect. This, as I have briefly, perhaps clumsily, described is a path for success, not just survival.
By Chris Lynn on Aug 20, 2020
Good article and thoughtful discussion as ever. Two main threads emerge: changes that improve efficiency, and changes in strategic direction. Reducing overhead might be necessary, but it is certainly not a sufficient condition for survival.
I recommend this video to all printers forced by this moment to think about these issues: https://youtu.be/oNlzl37GLdA
By Cory Sawatzki on Aug 20, 2020
Thank you for the shout out! Still agree with you 100%. Great article.
By Robert Lindgren on Aug 20, 2020
Chris Lynn's comments are reasonable but the mismatch between sales ands overhead must be addressed and corrected of the business is finished. If this can be done by building new sales, that's great but if requires reinventing the business is may be unrealistic. It's unlikely that improving effiecentiation\
Chris Lynn's comments are reasonable, but the mismatch between sales and overhead must be addressed or the business is finished. If the sales can be rebuilt that's great, but if that assumes the reinvention of the business, it may be unrealistic. Improving order handling efficiency is useful, but it's unlikely to solve the challenge. The central challenge is too much overhead. The solution is much higher levels of utilization which are usually achieved by consolidation of facilities.
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