How Much Does Experience Count?

What’s more important, state-of-the-art equipment or skilled operators? That was the subject of a discussion I had with a very successful printer over lunch. I’ve always maintained that quality products are produced by quality employees. Inexperienced press operators make mistakes that they are often unable to fix.

For example, my brother Dan Ruesch, a top graphic designer, told me a story of a press check he attended where the PMS color was dingy. It just didn’t pop they way it should. After the pressmen tried everything they could think of to fix it, Dan remembered encountering a similar problem once before. He recalled that the solution was to change the paper wrap on a water roller.  So, of course, he made the suggestion to check it. The pressmen were surprised. Most customers don’t even know that there are two basic sets of rollers in a press, water and ink, and here was a graphic designer recommending a mechanical solution to their problem. Wow.

They took the suggestion, checked the roller, and found out that the paper wrap did need to be changed.  It worked, and they were able to go on and happily complete the job producing a printed product that both the company and the designer were proud to show.

Why did I tell this story? I told it to show what experience can do. Dan couldn’t run a press if his life depended on it, neither could I for that matter, but Dan carried with him years of experience from attending press checks. He had encountered a similar problem before, and remembered how it was solved. The press operator, had not come up against this particular difficulty before and was stumped. Experience vs. inexperience? I vote for experience myself.

This is my slant on the experience issue, the printer, eating his salad, disagreed. He believed if you bought state-of-the-art equipment with as many fully-automated features as you could get, you wouldn’t have to pay the wages of journeymen press operators. So, he hired less-experienced operators, and supervised them with a journeyman. His thinking was that they could call the guy over with the experience when they got in a jam, otherwise smart presses would take care of most of the problems.

Did this approach work for him? You bet it did. He was able to grow his printing company into one of the most prosperous firms in the area. Before he reached the age of fifty he sold it off, and retired. Boy, am I jealous.

What was my experience printing with his  company, you might ask? I’ll tell you. Despite all the awards he had hanging on his walls, and their sales literature that claimed they were the finest craftsmen in town, whenever I took a job there, it seemed to have problems. Not necessarily huge problems. There were difficulties getting the color right and holding it. Sometimes the trim or folding was off. The proof provided by the pre-press department couldn’t be matched on press. They came up short on the quantity. Things like this that could be worked around, but if he had paid higher wages for more experienced employees, would he still have this many problems? I don’t think so.

So, why was his business so successful? I believe that most customers don’t know the difference between excellent quality and good quality. If you don’t know the difference you won’t be able to see it even when right in front of you. The best work comes from people who know they are trying to please an expert. When I attend a press check, I carry with me a lifetime of press experience. They know it and will always strive to do their very best. If an inexperienced customer comes to a press check, assuming that they even know to come, their lack of knowledge becomes quickly apparent and they can be jargoned into approving anything. Remember a press operator has a vested interest in getting through the press check and running the job, otherwise they might be called on the carpet for lack of productivity. The number of press impressions per hour is important and if their numbers are down they will hear about it. If down often enough they could even lose their jobs over it.

My point? If you want to get quality printing, but you are not experienced enough to get it, don’t go into the print shop alone. Take someone with you who is experienced, but is not connected to the printer in any way. Someone working for the printer, and that includes their sales reps, has to protect the company’s profits. Unprofitable employees are invited to hit the bricks.  An independant print broker like myself is looking for a win-win, and that win includes getting you the product you need and paid for.  Since I am not paid by the printer, except through discounts, I stand by your side, like a free attorney. Isn’t that comforting?

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