- By Carl Gerhardt

I received the notice about the newly-formed National Print Owners Association (NPOA) before the holidays from one of our franchise members who is active on the Print Owners list serve and is one of the founding members of NPOA. I also received it directly from NPOA Executive Director John Stewart. And, I read Cary Sherburne's article, “National Print Owners Association Launched” on Whattheythink.com. Up to this point, I have not commented on either document but now feel compelled to do so.

As I expressed to John Stewart, Executive Director of NPOA and Joe Truncale, CEO NAPL, directly, I have mixed feelings. While I can understand some of the viewpoints expressed by this group, I also have some concerns. My first reaction was that one of the last things this industry needs is another association when they should be consolidating. This group makes a contrary argument that causes some reflection. Having been on the NAQP board and chairman a couple of years before the merger with NAPL, I can see a whole bunch of issues in providing member support for a fledgling association with very limited resources. How will this serve the industry well by dividing resources even further? Regardless, the NPOA does seem to be attracting an audience with about 150 members already signed up.

From the view of a franchisor, I tend to see NPOA primarily as an alternative for those independent printers not in a franchise or wanting to join one. If it serves that purpose for those of like mind who want to get involved, then it may find a following.  I guess it's somewhat like NAQP was when it first started: an alternative to joining a franchise back when franchises were primarily focused on providing resources for starting quick printing businesses. However, the needs of all quick/small commercial printers have changed dramatically. My self-serving view is that they might be better served by giving strong consideration to joining one of the franchises. At Allegra Network our focus is on helping our franchise members successfully transition their businesses for long term success. And, we are succeeding. Several industry leaders have gone on record saying that many independent printers could benefit greatly from franchise affiliation. Shameless plug intended. We really don’t view the other franchises or independent printers as the biggest competitive forces in the market place. We have bigger macro-economic and competitive forces working against all of us than each other.

I have always believed the primary purpose of associations should be to provide the entire industry with resources not otherwise available, like:

  • Economic data, industry outlook, trends analysis – I think PIA and NAPL do a pretty good job of this. There is some duplication, however, and this is where a merger of the two would have made a lot of sense, in addition to consolidating management overhead. Andy Paparozzi, Chief Economist at NAPL understands the small commercial segment of our industry and has been doing a good job of giving more data for our segment.
  • Government lobbying/advocacy – We do need a strong voice in Washington. Again, I see PIA doing a fair job with this, although I am admittedly not very close to what happens. Want to join me in some political dialog? Let’s do that in another venue.
  • Industry issue advocacy – There is a great need in this area. Again, through NAPL, PIA and a coalition of franchisors, we have taken on Adobe, Xerox, Canon, HP, FedEx and 4Over on some competitive issues that have yielded some results. Those of us in the franchises took a leadership role on these issues in cooperation NAPL and PIA.
  • Consulting – NAPL has become more of a consulting organization in some ways than an association. Some PIA affiliates have as well, but they are very fragmented. Should this be in the charter for any trade association? Not in my opinion, but it seems that NAPL has found a market for those services with the larger commercial segment. Franchises do that in spades, or should that be hearts or diamonds, for our members. 

Running a trade association and providing member benefits is a huge undertaking. While the modest dues NPOA is charging are good to get participation, what do those members get if they do not come to conferences and actively participate? They already have the free print owners list serve for ideas exchange. Historically, only 10 to 20% of NAQP membership attended conferences. Will members expect newsletters, economic research, technical support, etc.? Will the executive director be full-time or part-time, and will he be compensated? Who organizes the conferences? These are all huge undertakings, and volunteers have their business to run and are not likely to have the time in the long run to perform these duties. Perhaps these things have all been thought through, and there is a strategic plan in place. I suspect the above issues may be very much under estimated.

I would contend that a better path to follow would be for NPOA and NAPL to try and reconcile their differences and come together. Can the personalities involved learn from the past and consider a plan to build on the strengths of what both can offer? Why did this not happen before this group split off? Regardless, it is not of much use to dwell on past issues.

The above isn’t intended to be comprehensive, but is simply some initial and personal observations. I hope others will join in the conversation as has been proposed by those that have commented on Cary Sherburne’s announcement of NPOA.  If there is a place for NPOA, I wish them well, as I do with PIA and NAPL/NAQP. I don't think it makes any sense to dredge up past baggage about the issues with NAPL/NAQP. That's looking backward and not forward. At the end of the day all parties should do what makes the most sense for the industry – today and tomorrow.