Wide-Format Printers Talk About How They Are Thriving
At PRINTING United Expo, the editorial director for PRINTING United Alliance, Denise Gustavson, hosted a panel session taking a closer look at How to Survive and Thrive in Turbulent Times. She was joined by Jamie Herand, vice president of graphic operations, Orbus Visual Communication; Ann Marie Lentz, COO, Specialty Print Division, Serigraph; and John Rhodes, president, Colorchrome.
The panel started off taking a closer look at the challenges they’ve faced in the last few years — challenges that were echoed around the room as audience members agreed they faced the same issues. The panel generally agreed the top challenges they have had to overcome include:
- Customer needs have changed drastically, especially in verticals such as retail, restaurants, travel, and hospitality.
- Supply chain struggles — both in getting the right materials at the right times, as well as rapidly increasing prices — put pressure on margins that were difficult to keep up with.
- Staff turnover during the COVID years left shops with labor challenges they are still trying to overcome today.
“So how do we fix these things,” Gustavson asked the panel.
Rhodes noted that as far as supply chain is concerned, there is only good news to be had. “Now that everyone is back to work full time, the supply chain issues have eased,” he said. As far as pricing goes, at the height of the pandemic prices were as much as 30% higher than they were pre-2020; today they are only about 10% higher, a marked decrease. “It has really eased tremendously,” he noted. “Competition has forced them back down somewhat.”
On the staffing side, Herrand noted that her shop ultimately was forced to furlough most of the staff — most of whom decided not to return when things started opening up again. “So we ore or less started over with staffing,” she said. “So one of our focuses going forward is offering different training and courses.” Her company has hired a trainer, and has dedicated resources to creating documented instructions for different jobs and roles, for example. “There is still a long ways to go,” she said, “but we’re headed in the right direction.”
Lentz pointed out that her shop, which pre-pandemic was heavily into businesses in verticals such as retail and restaurants, was forced to pivot. “Challenge is a great way to describe the last few years,” she said. “This caused us to pivot into different areas. We invested in fabric printing to try and diversify.”
Actions to Take
Just agreeing that they have faced the same challenges as most other wide-format printers isn’t enough though. The panel went deeper, taking a look at some of the strategies that worked for them to overcome those difficult times, and advice they took away from it to share with others.
First, Herand stressed, its all about your people. “You are only as good as your staff,” she said. “You can have the best printers, and have the work coming in, but without the right team, you don’t have a business.”
Lentz echoed that, noting that “the staff you hold dear are looking for credible, consistent, clear communication from their leaders.” She continued, “They don’t expect you to have every answer, but if you leave a void of communication, they will fill it with the worst possible scenario. So make sure they can count on communication — make sure they know they will get a message.” For her, transparency is part of the company culture, and includes everything from an open door policy where individual employees can bring their concerns; to quarterly town halls to discuss the latest numbers; to weekly newsletters that do everything from celebrate specific employee achievements, to addressing rumors or giving updates on what’s next. The key, she said, is to make sure employees know to expect regular communication, so they don’t have to guess.
Rhodes noted that one things shops need to do is identify where in the process the breakdown is happening — “ Make sure you have focused on exactly where you want to be, and what you want to do,” he said. “Concentrate on that, and focus on something you can make a profit on. Focus on what you do well, and then get the sales team focused on going out and finding the customers who need it. That is how you turn around any business,”
Another piece of advice the panel offered is not to wait too long to make decisions. “In tough times,” said Lentz, “it’s easy to linger on questions and prolong the process — and miss out on opportunities. So my advice is to do your due diligence, but do it more quickly and push your leaders to make decisions quickly because no decision is still a decision.”
Finally, Herand said that every company should constantly be looking to improve, not just keeping ahead of technology, but also specifically talking to customers to find out what they like — and don’t like — about the services your company provides. “You have to approach it that you’re going to listen,” she said. “It’s easy to be defensive, but you have to listen to why they’re buying from someone else, what they want, what you can do to make their experience better. And then put in corrective actions. You will hear things you don’t want to sometimes, but then use that information to come up with a better way to do business.”