Archive for the ‘ print suppliers ’ Category

After taking a call from the BBB and listening to a long, rambling sales pitch, I decided to reprint this article.
“The Better Business Bureau (BBB) is a scam, and hundreds of thousands of unfairly targeted small business owners have known it for years. Now, new publicly available evidence confirms that suspicion for the rest of the world, too.

The original “complaint forum”, the BBB has long represented itself as the impartial moderator of business disputes. Consumers with complaints about businesses would lodge their complaints with the BBB, and the BBB would send a letter to the business. If the targeted business responded to BBB’s satisfaction, then no damaging report would be made. But if the BBB was dissatisfied with the targeted business’s response, BBB would gladly provide that information to anyone who asked for it, and attach a rating of “A” through “F” depending on BBB’s own biases.

Many businesses live or die on their BBB rating. This is ridiculous, since the BBB has no actual authority whatsoever. Yet, for some reason, the public has long considered the BBB to be a reliable indicator of the experiences of the public with particular companies.

Now, the truth – long suspected by so many small businesses – is out. According to Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal, the BBB’s rating system (“A” through “F”, like a report card) can be manipulated by offering financial incentives directly to the BBB.

Example: One small company – Bayless Custom Homes – had an “F” rating with the BBB. Owner Gary Bayless had never been informed of the one complaint that led to the rating. Bayless says he contacted the BBB about the issue, and they agreed to change the grade to B+, or to an “A” if Bayless would join the BBB organization, which includes the requirement that Bayless pay the BBB.

Example #2: Deciding to test the theory of BBB irrelevancy, some L.A. business owners created a fake business name – Hamas, after the terrorist organization – and submitted a membership application to BBB. This fake business doesn’t exist and has never done business. Yet the BBB saw fit to give it a rating of “A-” with no more justification than the $425 application fee.

Note that the problem is not ONLY that the BBB is exchanging “good” grades for money. The bigger issue is that anyone trusts this utterly irrelevant organization to begin with. Bayless’ example is instructional there as well: The BBB targeted Bayless’ company and exerted undue and unwarranted negative influence over him without so much as a notification that they’d chosen to accept some random complaint against him. They then offered to accept what I believe is a tantamount to a bribe to remove their bogus negative rating that never should have existed to begin with.

The Better Business Bureau is an irrelevant, antiquated and probably fraudulent organization. “


It has always been my opinion and practice that unless you had patented technology or processes, it was beneficial to all industry parties to share practices, ideas and methods. In the last 4 or 5 years, I have switched my viewpoint in the polar opposite direction. Perhaps it’s because we in the industry are under such daily duress. Maybe it’s a case of trying to hold on to any edge whatsoever. Whatever the cause, I do believe I am doing a disservice to the company I work for and ultimately jeopardizing the jobs of all employees by sharing operations information of any sort.
I will no longer allow a competitor to tour the plant, nor will I allow a broker to do that either. People talk, use information against you and will try and emulate your processes and steal your clients. The industry was not like that (at least as prevalent) in the past. It is now. That calls for counteraction – close the doors and keep it that way. Sad but necessary.

We live in a society where a trend has developed that is very disturbing. I see it in the Federal Government, in the workplace and in the culture in general. It has been evident in the print industry as well. We seem to live in a world where everything is someone else’s fault, or someone else’s responsibility. “I should not have to commit to signing that document. It’s someone else’s fault I wasn’t productive today. And of course, it’s someone else’s responsibility to be sure I am successful.” Of course, people will not necessarily actually utter those words, but by their actions, that is what they are saying. What happened to us being accountable for ourselves? What happened to realizing that you alone are responsible for your productivity and actions? What happened to making decisions and living with the outcome – good or bad?

We’re in a huge flux in the printing industry. Things are changing every day and sometimes it’s hard to know where to focus. That also makes it easy to get overwhelmed. Many printers are desperate and will give a client anything they want, regardless of whether it is a rational business decision. BUT that does not negate the need for employees and customers to take personal responsibility and be accountable for decisions they make. Nor does desperation give you the right to make stupid business decisions. If you are faced with someone who fails to take personal responsibility, then you have an incompetent employee or a bad customer. Both have to be addressed-before you get burned.

Some people thrive on negotiation. Some cultures have it ingrained in their way of conducting business. I have heard anecdotes about buyers (of a certain culture) trying to change the house price at a closing, believing negotiations had never ended. Our industry is no different in some regards, although I believe there are more prices and services negotiated over now, than in the past. How does or should a print Salesperson negotiate with their clients?

1. Offer a compromise. Meet them half way in price reduction or offer something else for the same price.

2. Ask what their budget allows them to spend and offer alternatives within the budget.

3. Don’t take it personal, that you are “not worth an extra $500″. The client usually has a number in mind. If you ARE within the budget, and they deem
that you or your company are not worth the quoted price, you have another problem. Your sales skills or value propositions are broken or do not exist.

At some point, if the negotiating goes on too long, walk away. Unless you have a large contract at stake in the negotiations, you are wasting time on a sale that may never happen, or a future client that will drive you to drink…

Our company has been in business since 1953, and the industry has changed dramatically and undergone revolutionary technological changes during these last 59 years. However, not since the invention of moveable type has our media seen such dramatic changes, as during the last 10 years. Technological changes within the industry and outside of the industry have dramatically altered most printing business models. Printers that have not or did not alter their business strategies/models are either going to close or have already closed. What are the major causes of such a downturn in the industry? Allow me to list a few of the major reasons:
1. Over Capacity.
Every new press runs faster and the make-ready labor is less. Theoretically, that is a good thing. In reality, it has created a very high amount of underutilized equipment across the nation. Komori, MAN Roland, and Heidelberg “shoehorned” presses in printers’ plants on leases that eventually broke the printer and/or added to the industry-wide capacity problem. Much like Scitex did in the early 90′s, they saturated the market. As you can see, Scitex is no longer around, MAN and Heidelberg have been on life-support for 5 years or longer….Under utilization creates falling prices, as firms slash prices to try and build utilization.

2. Not Understanding Cost Accounting.
The sad truth is that there are ignorant printing companies that have no idea how, when and why they show a profit or a loss. Some are managed by marketing people who only think in terms of increasing revenue without any regard for cost or price. I have worked for a few of them…they left a trail of broken companies behind them.

3. Kindles, iPads and Nooks
Large publishing plants are consolidating or closing because of decreases in circulation or the elimination of a title. Reading devices are the major cause.

4. Advertising Revenue Decreases in Print Budgets
As advertising goes, so goes the printers’ clients that depend on ads. The printing slice of the ad revenue pie has been decreased, with larger amounts diverted to New Media.

What does the future hold?
How do YOU Survive? Well, you need to think about these three issues:

a. How do I become a low cost producer? What do I reduce? Materials? Labor? SGA? Buyouts? You better “slash” hard somewhere.

b. How do I make money (monetize) my digital product offerings?

c. How do I develop/educate my Salesforce so they can engage with a client in more than just print? If price is the only reason you hold onto an account, they will eventually move the business to a cheaper plant, even a foreign plant if it works for them. (Chinese printers are all over the printing industry marketplace, using Social Media as an entry point.) How can my Salesforce learn to engage with a client in digital/e-media products? Essentially, print Salespeople need to learn how to become Agency Account Executives – as printers become more like Ad Agencies.

We live in an age whereby Printers do not survive unless they invest in technology, employees juggle many duties and there is an emphasis on being a low cost producer. If a printing company has high prices – guess what? They go out of business. If their presses are 30 years old – guess what ? They go out of business. You get the idea – it’s really not rocket science.

But when we move from the private to the public sector, the dynamics change. “Government efficiency” is considered an oxymoronic concept. We are shocked when someone in the public sector seems to care about our problem, is competent and has a sense of urgency in their duties. That is very, very sad – but even more so, very destructive. The U.S. Postal Service is the poster child this year for a government agency no longer able to survive in the modern age.

Attempts are being made at restructuring, but what is the long term outlook? Yes, they have labor unions to contend with. But they also have other major problems with far superior competition (UPS, FedEx), and a huge volume decline; not to mention a computer infrastructure that is a joke.

For example, have you ever used the USPS tracking system? I have many times – and 90% of the time, the package is delivered while their system still
says “A label has been generated. No further information is available.” That is a workflow process that does not scan often enough (hardware issue?) or a database that never syncs with field data. Either scenario is from a flawed, and broken system. Compare the tracking to their competitor, UPS, whereby they can tell me on my Droid (with their own app) each and every step in the shipment. AND when it is delivered, I can see the signature in an email within 5 minutes after delivery. Now – is it any wonder that UPS Ground is a better choice than Priority Mail?

Have you ever visited a Post Office, and there is a like-new credit card reader sitting on the counter, but you cannot use it? It even has a sign on it that says “Do not Use” . The Postal worker has to take your card and scan it themselves – once again a broken system. AND taxpayer dollars were wasted on a project that did not deliver on its’ promises. Was anyone held accountable for the waste or cost? Why not? In the private sector, people lose their jobs when
millions are spent on failed projects. They actually have to have an acceptable ROI.

Why is the USPS broken ? I think it’s simple – no U.S. government agency can compete in the private sector, where efficiency and competency is required for survival. Capitalism is Darwinian, eliminating waste and rewarding smart capital decisions. Government agencies tolerate waste, bad decisions and Capital project cronyism. It’s not rocket science…

One of the absolutely worst ideas in Sales is to call on a prospect without an appointment. I was on the receiving end today of a bad sales call.The regional representative for an unnamed digital press manufacturer shows up in the lobby unannounced to see me. At the time I was on the phone, had a stack of pricing and proposals staring me in the face, a person in my office waiting to speak with me, a financial report due at 11 and we are short-handed because of employees on vacation during hunting season. The last thing I need is to waste time with an unannounced sales pitch. And to top it off, he says “tell him I am town for the day, call me so we can perhaps meet this afternoon.

Here is what this Salesperson fails to acknowledge or realize:
1. If you are fortunate to have a responsible job in the year 2011, you are doing the job of at least 2 people. YOU ARE BUSY!

2. When you call on a prospect in these circumstances, here is what you are saying: YOUR TIME AND SCHEDULE IS NOT AS IMPORTANT AS MINE.

3. “I am in town for the day – call me” WHAT? A clueless comment.

4. He/she damages their credibility in my eyes. If they do not understand why and what is wrong about their approach, how astute are they in any technical matters of a potential deal? Could they possibly provide any expertise we do not already possess as an organization? Do they bring anything to the table or are they as clueless about consultative selling as they are about prospecting?

Respecting your prospects’ time by making an appointment sends a much different message: “I know you have responsibilities on a daily basis, I understand and respect that, so let me be at your disposal when you think you can carve out an hour.”

Is Customer Service a Lost Art?

As I write, I have been on hold with Adobe for 29 minutes…I had a very simple, simple question which I needed answered. In order to get that answer I had to provide my name, software serial number, email address, version of Acrobat X, version of the problem software (Firefox 5). I also had to previously wade through a menu that did everything it possibly could to discourage me from talking to a live human being. When I finally did reach a “warm body”, the usual occurred: first, the impression that I am in a boiler room in Calcutta; then interrogate me for 5 minutes to verify my identity; ask me to define the problem; rifle through papers so they can find a canned script to fire back at me; put me on hold to discuss the problem with their “service team” (code for they are clueless how to fix the problem). Then, after returning to my call, ask me a few of the same questions I already answered. Bottom line: there is no fix for the problem yet. (Firefox 5 does not allow you to create a pdf from within the browser, as it did before with Acrobat X….). He could have simply told me that in the first 60 seconds after I identified the problem, if he was knowledgeable.

In commercial printing, if you “jerk people around” like that, you are out of business eventually. Why? Because I can hang up the phone and call another printer for a price or schedule or design help. Customer Service is very important for survival in this age of printing. In some cases, it is the only thing that separates you from your competition.
What about quality? Everyone prints well these days…
What about service? Deliver jobs in 3-10 days or your shop will quickly be empty.
Price? This industry is so cheap already I am amazed at pricing levels. With technology, prices have plummeted. A job that would have cost $10,000 in 1980 will now cost $3,000. Name me another industry where you charge 70% less for your product and you still survive (maybe electronics?).

Treat your customers well, and they will come back…and your customer service can be the difference maker, and possibly the only thing that separates you from your competitors.

FSC is at a Crossroads

Having been in the industry for 35 years, one tends to see many fads and fashions come and mostly go by the wayside. We have seen foil stamping become a “must use” design feature for high-end coated products, recycled papers spike and plummet in popularity and most recently the advent of certified paper, pulp and wood products. Based on my own observations, it looks like the FSC products are headed in the same downward direction.
I would say there are a few very logical reasons for this.

First, when the heart and the wallet collide in a conflict of objectives, the wallet wins 98% of the time. If a designer or publisher is faced with “being green” or not publishing an issue, they will skip going green. And let’s face it, many publications are barely hanging on by their fingertips, hoping to sell enough ad space to turn a profit.

Secondly, FSC is making it cost prohibitive for printers to continue to pay for an annual audit and certification without the benefit of an increase in Revenue. Once again, if I am going to lose a very small amount of business if I am not certified, why pay the expense in a down economy with predatory pricing?

Thirdly, many customers eyes gloss over when you try and explain how the process works. Other have not even heard of it. So – why should my Salesforce be educating the marketplace, when that should be the job of the certifying body?

The fate of certified papers is still undecided by the marketplace – but its’ prominence is diminishing daily.

Over the last 2 or 3 years, the amount of State and municipal work that is “Set a Side” has gotten out of control. “Set A Side” simply means that you cannot bid on the project unless your business is “small”, minority owned, female owned, owned by a handicapped person or a veteran. In theory this sounds very noble and altruistic to award business to such suppliers. After all, it’s a good thing – right?

Here is who these policies harm when they get so out of control and QUOTAS are mandated by the politicos:

1. They harm the TAXPAYERS. Why ? Because the taxpayer pays much more for printing. There are not enough “set-a-side” suppliers that can provide the thousands of types of printed products without them also sub-contracting and putting a mark up on it. Or, even if the business has the equipment, they operate in a non-competitive environment, which always results in higher prices! Price is no object when quotas need to be filled, and yet in the meantime 42 of 50 States are operating in the red this year-and considering how to make bankruptcy legal.

2. They harm society by BREEDING CORRUPTION. We once lost a nice multi-year contract that was converted to a set-a-side contract when it expired. I was told by the State Procurement official, that “there are quotas to fill”. We had done a great job for over 5 years and yet were left with no chance to bid. A week prior to bid opening, I received a phone call from a “set-a-side qualified” print broker who wanted to subcontract the job to us. I refused, since that was illegal according to the bid specs. He laughed and said he would certainly find 10 printers that would print for him. I told him to enjoy his stay in the state penitentiary.

3. They harm all the employees who work for “non-set-a-side” owned companies.
What about the employees who are not working for a “set a side” company? What about their desire and willingness to work hard and earn a living? They get harmed by enjoying less overtime, having to work reduced work weeks or having wages frozen: because revenue has decreased at their company.

Projects from the private sector are always awarded on the basis of price, performance, value added and quality. It is ludicrous to award them on the basis of class, race, gender. It is another example of a good intention gone awry. It provides no societal or economic redeeming value/benefit, it harms legitimate businesses, and breeds corruption. Our state and federal governments are in crisis situations with their budgets. It’s about time time we got rid of this wasteful and corrupt practice.