New Association Hopes to Bring a Different Value Proposition for Small to Mid-Sized Printers
For quite some time, many industry pundits—and a number of vendors to the industry—have been suggesting that we need fewer industry associations. We saw the successful merger of IDEalliance and IPA, as well as the merger of NAPL/NAQP. We also saw the failure of a merger attempt between NAPL and PIA in 2012. With the combination of a bad economic streak and the pressures of new media, our industry has been troubled. We continue to see consolidation, in terms of the number of printing establishments as well as in the vendor community.
Both our own Dr. Joe Webb and NAPL agree that Commercial Print, or NAICS 323 according to the Census Bureau, ended 2012 at a printing shipments value of about $79 billion, significantly down from a decade ago. But from there, their points of view diverge, with NAPL suggesting modest growth beginning in 2013, and Dr. Webb suggesting a continued downward trend to a forecast of $48 billion in 2018.
Whichever source you choose to believe, everyone agrees that we will never return to the glory days of the industry, at least in the form it was then, and that we have a serious task ahead of us in terms of reinventing our businesses to align with current market realities. Those whose heads are down and whose hearts are saying they will just wait it out till the “good old days” return are fewer and farther between. Some are out of business; others will be. Most hard hit have been the smaller independent businesses that often lack the resources to make the necessary investments to tune their businesses to the very different world of today.
This is where a new printing association, the National Print Owners Association (NPOA—www.printowners.org) hopes to make a difference. The name comes from a Listserv, printowners.org, which has been managed by Mike Stevens of WebSitesForPrinters.com. According the association’s website, Stevens is the association’s first official dues paying member, and has worked with the association’s founders to establish a cooperative arrangement with the Listserv that “serves the purposes of both groups” and gives NPOA the right to use the domain printowners.org. The Listserv has some 300 active members, many of them currently or formerly members of NAQP, and the association is offering discounted membership to them as part of this arrangement.
The association was officially incorporated in November with a soft launch December 21st to Listserv members and a formal launch in early January. The website says, “NPOA offers a viable alternative to those printers who are currently members of other trade associations, but are dissatisfied with the return on their investment. This new association also seeks to attract many other printers who have chosen not to join any association because none have appeared, so far, to satisfy their needs. We believe NPOA offers such an alternative.”
Nineteen printing executives came together to found this new association, whose executive director is John Stewart of QP Consulting, Inc. For many years, Stewart has prepared a number of research reports for NAQP (and later, NAPL), but that relationship was severed in 2012, likely spurring the decision to form a new association.
Stewart says, “We believe a new association can do more than an established association.” He plans to continue his production of studies for the new association. In addition, the association vows to keep dues low enough that even smaller printers can afford to be members. Regular members will pay $275 annually ($225 for the first year if they join during January 2013).
The group also plans its first annual spring conference for April 19-21 at The International House in New Orleans and plans to announce keynote speakers soon. The conference promises to focus on key areas that will help printers run better businesses and look for ancillary revenues in mailing services, sign making and large format.
When I spoke with Stewart over the holidays, he indicated the soft launch to PrintOwner Listserv members had generated more response than expected but declined to provide specific numbers.
I also spoke with Dr. Joe Truncale, CEO of NAPL, to get his perspective. He admits, “We have a lot of things to work through in a time when resources are more challenged than ever, not only for NAPL and the industry, but in general. This is an industry very much in transition, having difficulty defining and describing itself. There is a lot of discussion about whether ‘print’ should even be in the name of the association. Who will make the most out of all of this change is very much an open question, not just for printers but for suppliers as well.”
One thing the associations, old and new, seem to have in common is the desire to bring business skills to printing firms that, both Stewart and Truncale point out, are often operated by printing professionals who came out of world of production, rather than business. Truncale adds, “For NAPL, our biggest growth area has been in management consulting and strategy formulation. I am busier than I have ever been, working with companies at close range, and it is very exciting work. Our aim is to publish some of this work as case studies as a benefit for the industry overall.”
One example of success Truncale cites is a printing firm who has developed an ad agency business as an overlay to his printing company, saying, “His printing platform is kept busy not by selling printing, but through agency work. He told me that it is easier for a printer to get into agency work than for an agency to get into print.”
Stewart echoes similar thinking, saying, “The one constant is being able to run a business and run it profitably. There are a lot of basics that still need to be learned. The great failure comes if you can’t get them to concentrate on the basics.”
On the NAPL/NAQP merger, Truncale says, “What we failed to do, and what we learned in reflection, is that we never got to the point of saying ‘now what happens?’ What happens a year from now, three to five years from now? What are our expectations and aims? We were so concentrated on the elements of the transaction, what was left open to interpretation was what will happen next, and you can’t do that.”
It appears that NPOA was born out of that oversight, but it remains to be seen whether the association can generate enough of a following to be a success. Quite frankly, it remains to be seen what the final outcome will be with NAPL and PIA over the longer term as the industry continues to consolidate.
One thing I found interesting in reading through the NPOA materials and speaking with Stewart is that there is no mention at all of new media. The focus on mailing and large format as value-added services has been an industry mantra for some time, and one wonders whether it will be enough to save many of these small businesses, whose real competitors are likely not other printers or poor business practices, but rather, a drastically changed business environment that has shifted the role of print in the media mix.
In my humble opinion, whether you are a printing firm, NAPL, PIA or the new NPOA, the ability to articulate to customers—real customers, the marketers—where print fits and where it doesn’t, and to support them across all of their direct marketing media needs, is going to become increasingly important with each day that goes by. This will require good leadership and great examples in order to come to fruition. Where that will come from still remains to be seen.