Progressive Thinking in a Regressing Industry
A pretty catchy headline, don't you think? I chose it for many reasons—some you might not have considered.
First, I firmly believe that printing, particularly in-plant printing, is viable and capable of amazing things. Second, if we are not open-minded with our planning, we will surely head down a road to closure.
Now in regards to a "regressive" industry, I am not referring to technology. What is regressing is the view that our customers and our administrations have of "printing." We are increasingly viewed with less regard as to our importance to the overall success of the organization.
On a secondary note, our industry is regressing as a viable career path for employment. My single biggest headache is trying to fill an open position for a craftsman-level operator. It is virtually impossible.
So, things change, people change, technology changes, administrations change and most importantly we must change. Because if we don't change, some talking head or heads will make a decision and that will be that. Right, wrong or indifferent, something will happen with no recourse or follow-up. That you can count on.
So with this doom and gloom on the table, let's talk about how we can keep this from happening. Hopefully you saw IPG in August. There was a nice article about my operation. Yes, I have a big shop, great staff, tremendous support from the administration, but the most important part of the article was the last sentence. Anybody remember what I said?
Yeah, like I expected anyone to memorize my little pearls of wisdom. (I don't have many, so I kind of wish you had.) I said "Others may hide in the basement; we don't."
Out of Your Comfort Zone
Progressive thinking requires you to get out of your comfort zone. That is not an easy place to be.
I started off as a teacher way back when, and I hated speaking in front of people, even little kids. I got over it. If you do nothing else this week, write down what areas you are weak in—speaking, marketing, planning, whatever. Then make and set a plan in motion to force yourself to do just those things. It will be tough at first, but it will get easier and better. The problem is that if you don't break out of your shell, the cost might be very high.
I frequently get asked what the most important part of my job is. I tell them it is to keep 100 or so folks employed. They are counting on me to do just that. Nothing is guaranteed anymore. If you believe you're set, you're probably sunk or sinking.
I believe we must immerse ourselves in the fabric of the organization. Be involved in everything: committees, social outings, educational opportunities, recruitment, athletic events, yada, yada, yada. And not just management, but everyone. Make opportunities available for training and committee work. Support fund raisers through donations. All organizations host conferences, so make note pads and pens something you stock and can deliver quickly. These are simple things, but they all make us visible, and keep our names in front of our customers.
Sales calls should be mandatory for all managers. Visit customers, deliver jobs, follow up in person. Be sure to take giveaways with you. Everyone loves freebees. We have about 10 different giveaway items we stock. All are printed on scrap paper or leftovers, and produced at slow production times.
Those are simple ideas and practices. Progressive thinking gets harder when you try to expand services. How many of you have started on a business plan only to see quickly that the ROI is not overly favorable? It usually dies right then, without a proper burial or anything. Big mistake. If you believe there is a need, then it requires that you find a way.
In this I am lucky. I have the means to take a chance on a service. If it isn't the gold mine I thought it would be, at least it's one more service I can offer. Maybe in time it will take off. I am personally struggling with this right now with regard to 3D printers. I feel the time is right, but the investment is substantial—quite a bit more than a few thousand dollars, although you can buy one for that amount. However, we have been successful on some lower dollar items like a round cornering device, laser engraving, trimming laminator and gallery wraps. I have stubbed my toe on several items like IR ink for the NexPress and to some extent online ordering. But there was always something to be learned.
Many of my equipment investments begin with a production flow problem. That leads us to a process or device that solves the problem and increases throughput. Faster and cheaper, that's the mantra, right?
An example of this is something as simple as business cards. We do a ton each day. More importantly, we were getting killed on them because of the cost to cut them down. We had tried smaller desktop trimmers and found them to be erratic. Finally the volume got so great we purchased a larger unit. The Duplo 656 was a life saver. Expensive? Yes. Productive? Yes! In fact, the device saved us approximately 10 minutes per set of cards trimmed. Multiply that by 30-50 sets per day. That is a huge time and cost savings. We had someone trimming cards two to three hours a day. At $50 an hour, that's $100 per day, $500 per week and $25,000 per year. That is a conservative estimate. So my ROI was 24 months.
That was a simple business decision, not overly progressive in nature. But it all started with a problem. Identifying where technology can make people's jobs easier and allow then to perform other duties is progressive. I say this because of a previous statement I made regarding the work force. If you can free up production time, it allows you to offer new services.
We all do wide-format printing, or at least I hope we do. A little free time could mean producing gallery wraps. They're simple to produce and very profitable. A small amount of time freed up in prepress can allow you to design and produce marketing pieces. Other ideas for new services could be and should be selling novelties. We generate over $400,000 in sales. I expect that to increase this year. Find a subcontractor and start talking to folks.
The same is true for laser engraving. It is really that simple. Excess storage space? Rent it out. Courier for pay? Big projects you're not producing? Offer to consult for free. You never know what might come as a result.
Build relationships within the organization. Maybe that is a weak area for you. Build relationships with colleagues and commercial entities. If we are to grow and be successful, we must address our weaknesses and turn them into positives. Our futures and our staffs' futures depend on it.