Archive for November, 2009

Credit is Our Lifeblood, Usury is Our Deathbed

Wednesday, November 18th, 2009

Transparency is the word of the last couple of years and will probably be the word that defines the decade. Everyone is promising to be more transparent, but do they really mean it? Complete transparency would not be good.  I don’t want to know the minutia of a company’s operations anymore than I want to see a patient splayed open on an operating table.

Well there is transparency and transparency. The kind of transparency I’m talking about is really just another name for honesty. I want to know if the companies I buy from are committed to fairness. Recently our bank sent us a letter telling us that they were doubling our interest rate. In the letter were a half a dozen checks we could use just like cash. In the small print we learned that should we use one of these checks, we would be agreeing to triple the interest rate.  We called the bank and asked why they were doing this to us. Had we suddenly become a dangerous credit risk? No. Had we missed or been late on any payments? No. What did we do to deserve this treatment? Nothing. We were assured however, that it was all for our own good. Huh? How can these people, who are people just like the rest of us, peddle this lie and do it with sincerity? It’s like spanking a child in the morning because they might do something wrong during the day. Or this is more like it, you did something wrong and because somebody has to pay, you find a patsy to suffer the punishment. In the case of banks it is the consumer. They are making us pay for their foolish behaviors and bad gambles.

I found the following example of a bank’s idea of a customer bill of rights posted on the Internet. Do you agree with it? Does it provide real protections for the customer or is it more of a public relations white wash?

1.      Our customers are entitled to be greeted with a smile and treated with friendliness, courtesy and respect by all of our employees.
2.       Our customers are entitled to be served by employees who are people-oriented and have a passion for providing quality service.
3.       Our customers who prefer to use online banking are provided with a state-of-the-art, secure website.
4.       The following groups of individuals and organizations are entitled to receive checking accounts free of any monthly service charges:
*      ALL senior citizens
*       ALL United Way agencies
*       ALL churches, synagogues and mosques
*       ALL charitable organizations and foundations
*       ALL political subdivisions
5.      Our customers are entitled to receive prompt service. For example, thanks to local decision-making, our response to a loan request shall not exceed five business days.
6.       Our checking account customers are entitled to use any ATM, anywhere, free of service charge, up to six times per month.
7.       Our customers are entitled to free and convenient parking when conducting bank business.”

I’m not trying to pick on the bank.  I’m sure they issued their Customers’ Bill of Rights as a way of appearing to be open, caring and considerate. It bears the tracks of  a legal staff that wants to protect the bank’s interests. In truth, it is a pleasing lullaby and I’m pretty certain you can hear this song sung, or one just like it, in every bank in the country.

What is it really saying? We like you. We will smile at you. We offer free no-fee checking accounts for certain groups. We have a secure website. We will waive a small number of ATM fees each month. We make quick decisions on loans. And finally, we have convenient parking.

What would I like them to say?

  • We promise to always engage in, and be guided by, the highest moral and ethical standards.
  • We guarantee that our officers and directors will be fairly rewarded for superior performance but never at a rate that is more than 50% of their annual salary.
  • At year end, no bonuses, stock options, or other remunerations will be issued if the bank has lost money.
  • Our employees are all well-educated and highly trained. Nepotism is never practiced here.
  • Never will the bank issue a loan to a customer who does not possess the means to repay it.
  • The bank will turn its back on creative financing schemes because we know that they rarely work out in the long run for the consumer or the bank.
  • Should an employee be found guilty of ethics violations, in or out of the bank, they will be immediately suspended, and subjected to dismissal pending a thorough investigation. This rule also holds true for officers and directors.
  • Just because we are allowed to arbitrarily increase interest rates on credit cards, we promise to hold the line and increase them by the least possible amount and only when absolutely necessary.
  • We promise to treat each customer according to their history with the bank and not punish one for the misdeeds of another.

I invite any reader to add to this list. A universal bank customers’ bill of rights is desperately needed. Let’s start a movement.

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When it Comes to Paper, Mind Reading is Not Practiced Here

Monday, November 9th, 2009

As a printing broker one of the most difficult challenges I face in trying to determine bid specifications is paper. Why paper? Because most people have no idea how many different kinds of paper are available. Usually I have to resort to questions like, “Does it feel about the same as the paper in your office copier?” Or, “Is it more like poster board?” These questions at least get me in the ballpark. Then maybe I can start pinning it down by asking about the surface of the sheet. “Is it smooth, or textured?” “Is it shiny, or flat?” “If you scratch it with your fingernail does it leave a shiny spot?” “If you hold it up to a light source can you see a watermark?” Anyone in the printing business will understand what I am talking about. It’s like a game of twenty questions, particularly if we’re speaking on the telephone.

Here is something funny–I was discussing a job with a customer the other day–and to help me determine the weight of the paper, he flipped the corner of the sheet over the mouthpiece. When I asked what he was doing, he half-seriously said, “You [Bill] have been in the business for so long that I thought you’d be able to tell how much it weighed by the sound.”  That was a first. I’ve had customers expect me to read their minds, but never has one asked me to identify the weight of paper by the sound.mindmatrix

Of course, the easiest way to figure out what kind of paper a customer wants to use is to have them provide a sample. Usually the stock will become immediately evident, but then there are those occasions when it is not a domestic sheet and importers don’t carry it either. I had that problem once with a local company who represented a skin care line of products manufactured in France. They produced a paper sample that neither I, nor three different paper merchants could identify.

Some of the problems come from the paper industry itself. Paper has been around a long, long time. Just like a foot became a length of measurement by the King’s shoe print, paper weight had rudimentary methods of comparison. How many shovel-fulls of this or that went into the mix. For example here is a list of some weights you may encounter when buying printing: Cover, Text, Book, Bond, Ledger, Tag, Duplex, Blanks, Bristol, and Index. To make it more confusing you can buy 80# Cover, or 80# Text but they aren’t the same thing–not at all. 80# Cover is heavy more akin to poster board, and 80# is similar to your office stationery but probably a little heavier. People will often say something like the paper is  eighty pound and be sure they answered the question, until I ask, “Cover or text?” That’s when they get stuck.

Most stationery is printed on bond and you can often recognize it by a watermark. A 24# bond sheet weighs about as much as a 60# offset. Confused? We haven’t even gotten started yet. No wonder customers can’t figure out what they want the printing/paper industry has made it impossibly difficult. Not on purpose, but there it is.

If your job requires interaction with printers, I have some recommendations to simplify communications:

  1. Always try to provide a sample of the paper you would like to match.
  2. Create a paper sample book. Put various papers in a binder and label them with their weight, finish, and color. By doing this you will have a ready reference to help you.
  3. Watch for paper that crosses your desk. It might be direct mail, catalogs, or invitations. Slip them into the pocket of your binder if you like them and have your rep identify them later.
  4. If you find a paper that you particularly like and want to use it often, ask your print rep to get you a swatch book to keep with your binder. The paper mills put them out to display their wares and they will show you all of the weights, textures, and colors that the paper comes in.
  5. In many markets, the paper merchants will conduct seminars to teach customers about various aspects of paper like weight, thickness, surface, and brightness. Ask your printer if there are any learning opportunities like that in your area.
  6. Avoid using phrases like, just regular paper, something cheap, you know what we like, or something like we did last time. Honestly we want to help, but most of us in the printing business are terrible at reading minds.

If You Don’t Want to Get Cut–Don’t Walk on Broken Glass

Sunday, November 1st, 2009

What you don’t know about printing can hurt you. Not physically, although there are rare times when people have been hurt physically. Printing presses, after all, are unthinking machines. The rollers, just like those in old-fashioned washing machines will pull through just about anything they can grab. I once heard a story of a woman with long blond hair carrying a baby through  a printing press exhibit. The over-eager press salesman instructed her to lean over for a better look at the working parts. You guessed it, her hair caught in the rollers, and quicker than you can imagine she was pulled into the mechanism. The foolish salesman panicked and instead of either taking the baby, or turning the press off, went screaming through the display floor shouting for help. Cooler heads rushed over, turned the press off, and held the infant while the mother was painfully untangled. No serious damage was done, but do you think the young mother was disposed to recommend buying that particular brand of press, even after collecting her settlement money?

I could go on reciting injuries caused by presses or bindery equipment. I once came within a millisecond of losing a hand on the folder of a cold-web press. Fortunately, the lead pressman was alert and hit the big red stop button before the tip of my right index finger was totally smashed to a pulp. Yes, I got nipped and that nip taught me to respect the heavy iron.

The kind of hurt I’m referring to is more insidious. It isn’t like getting smacked by a baseball bat; it’s more like catching a virus. The baseball bat delivers immediate pain, but the virus doesn’t show itself until days or weeks later. By then you may wish you’d been beaten by a ball bat instead of having the flu or worse. In the case of print buying mistakes, results may not show up right away. It may be years before you discover that there was a better way.

Let me give you another example. I was introduced a few years ago to a retail clothing firm specializing in the large and tall market. They had established friendly ties with a printer just around the corner. It was a good relationship that extended back some twenty years. The problem was the clothing concern had grown over twenty years and honestly, had outgrown the capabilities of the printer. It’s not that the printer was doing a bad job; they just weren’t the right fit anymore. It was like putting a 50 XXL customer into a size 48 regular suit.

It didn’t take me long to see the problem and I got bids from printers and mailing houses  better equipped for their current needs. They were shocked when the price came in $3,000.00 less and we cut the turnaround time by two weeks. It was difficult for them to say goodbye to their old printer, but saying goodbye was a no-brainer.

My customer was upset when they ran the numbers and discovered how much they could have saved over the years, but whose fault was it, really? The printer got the blame, but the printer didn’t twist any arms to get the work. There was an implied question; can the printer do the job? Of course, they could. Bucket brigades can put out a fire, but a modern pumper truck is more efficient. If all you have is a bucket brigade, and your living depends on the bucket brigade, you will do your best to meet the need. If what you have will get the job done, use what you have.

Broken Glass

Broken Glass

The bottom line is don’t trust your current printer to tell you if there is a better way. They have a business to run, press payments to make, and employees who need to put food on their tables, turning away good business runs counter to common sense. Don’t blame the printer if you don’t have enough business acumen to make better decisions. If you walk across broken glass barefoot, you can’t blame the glass when you get cut.

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© Bill Ruesch, Talking Through My Hat, 2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Bill Ruesch, Talking Through My Hat with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.