California Dreamin’, the famous song, came to mind as an enthusiastic crowd of almost 400 people came to not only dream about the future of our industry but learn practical solutions at the Print and Publishing Industry Seminar series in Los Angeles and San Francisco, California. The discussions were lively and inquisitive. While all the commercial printers I spoke with complained about business, it was obvious this wasn’t going to deter them from finding out how to get business back on a profitable path.

One LA small printer who has been in the industry for over 35 years said his business is off over 30 percent. "I can’t stay in business with this trend." He is thinking of selling off his offset presses and go 100% digital. "I must try something different." Another monochrome duplication shop owner shared a similar urgency to change. "We live in a colorful world and I can’t make a living only doing B/W work. We are researching and seeking color solutions and new business opportunities to meet customer’s needs.”

A recurring plaintive discourse I heard in other parts of the country was repeated in California. "OK, I hear and understand what is happening to the industry but how do I get started with digital and value added services with little or no money since business is so bad?" As a consultant listening to this overwhelming concern, I want to reach out and help, so I offer this simple advice. Learn to crawl, then slowly get up and walk before you start entering any big races. There are many services you can start with very little investment except time (seems like this is something a lot of printers have a lot of these days). Here’s one idea - Go to your local post office and learn about mailing. These courses are provided free. Investigate the purchase of a postal software package like Bob Takacs of Nielson Company talks about in the seminars, BCC Postal software for approximately $2000. Mailing isn’t as complex as many think. Any company large or small can get started with very little monetary investment.

One 7 person print shop owner told me if the future of print is dependent on IT, "I am dead". No one in his company has any computer skills. Baloney, take an Access or any database program course at your local adult school and learn the basics. Hire a local college student who is studying about IT part time. Ask your suppliers for help. Remember when you are profitable and successful, so are they. Your vendors have a vested interest in your success. Sorry for the diversion, but the answers are all in front of you. Do a little homework.

One commercial printer was very agitated with the fact that many of the full color digital output devices capable of variable data printing start at $250,000. That is wrong! For around $20,000 a print organization can purchase a Xerox DocuColor 12 that will print outstanding, short run full color documents. If you add a KPG or EFI front end server for color management you will be able to do color proofing and enhance your color output quality, and if you purchase some simple level 1 variable data software like Atlas PrintShopMail or Creo’s Darwin an organization could get started with personalization. Add all that together and you are in business for $50, 000 or under depending on your negotiating skills. No more excuses.

Another recurring question is how do we get the sales staff to become educated in these new value added services? "Our sales people are only order takers." "They will never learn the new digital ways". Strange, but several people I spoke to in both California programs were account people eager to learn and were complaining that their bosses should hear this program.

A large population of in-plant facilities were represented in San Francisco. They were mostly there to learn how they could improve the services they provide for their companies. One woman said, "I have so many notes I won’t know where to start first with my boss." A few people represented the State of California. They related to me all the great ideas they just learned. They were concerned, however, that no one in the State would listen and understand what we (state employees) can do to improve the current document reproduction methods.

A print buyer from a large airfreight company gave another perspective. She was attending in San Francisco to identify new services she could obtain from her suppliers. She shared with me that her company now has a great challenge managing the vast array of worldwide content; if she could identify new methods to cope with this challenge this would be a win-win for both the vendor and her company.

On the publishing front, a book printing executive related her tale of woe. Business is terrible in the Bay area, could it be this way in other parts of the country? I assured her the Bay area was not unique. The entire North American graphics community is feeling the tough economic crunch. Her purpose in attending? "I need to find some new and fresh ideas to get us back on a growth path."

No more California Dreamin’.

Next stop - the South, Atlanta and Dallas, see ya’ll next week. See you there or the city nearest you!