Archive for January, 2010

Top 5 Reasons Print Brokers P.O. Printers

Friday, January 29th, 2010

Printers who let their hostility get the best of them are fools,

because printers who are likely to survive this recession and move successfully forward must find ways to reinvent their relationships with Print Brokers. Brokers hold the key to doubling or tripling your business without creating additional expense. The problem is that most printers don’t know what to do with print brokers. They aren’t part of the sales team and they aren’t customers either. What are they? Any attempt to pigeon hole them into either role will end in failure and frustration.

The first thing to do is embrace brokers and stop kicking them in the teeth.  I know this may not make sense to you. Some of you are going to accuse me of overreacting, after all your company doesn’t mistreat brokers — right? Some will say I’m whining, and some won’t consider the issue of print brokers at all. There are a lot of misguided printers who staunchly refuse to work with brokers. That might have been okay in the past, but it won’t serve you well in the future. You can’t afford to turn your back on sources of instant new business.

Haven’t you noticed how tough times are? Printing, particularly offset printing, has been besieged on all sides. I’m sure I don’t have to tell you how the pigheaded, self-serving banking industry has hurt all of us. Have you tried to get a loan lately? Nor do I have to explain about the impact of digital printing, foreign competition, and the Internet. You already know about these things. You are experiencing unprecedented cash flow problems and shrinking markets. Even your best customers have cut back with no real promise that they will ever be at former levels again.

I hear moaning from the Industry that good sales representatives are hard to find and that your sales people keep pressing for ever lower prices to make them competitive. You get upset and believe that they aren’t really trying. A really good sales rep can sell even under the most adverse circumstances — right? If you truly believe that why don’t you put on your salesman’s hat and find out for yourself? Maybe you did. Maybe you took a day, or a week, and went into the field. Maybe you proved to yourself that it isn’t so bad, but let me tell you, selling in this economy is like fighting an uphill battle day-after-day-after-day. It can wear down even the heartiest rep. Your sales team, is running on fumes, and another sales meeting, another motivational talk, and another seminar isn’t going to dramatically change anything.

What can you do? I would like you to take a moment, if you will, and consider re-vitalizing your sales efforts with the help of Print Brokers. Why Print Brokers, because they are FREE! Printers don’t have to house them, pay salaries, benefits, or reimbursements. That should be incentive enough. FREE, FREE, FREE — what’s better than that?

The problem is that most printers I’ve talked to either barely tolerate brokers, or despise them. Why? I think there are five main reasons for this:

  1. Print Brokers own their own customer list. The printer doesn’t. Suppose a house sales rep brings in an account, since they were working on the company dime the customer technically belongs to the company. This isn’t true with brokers. In fact if you go after the broker’s customer it can lead to a nasty fight.
  2. Print Brokers are legally a middle man. Printers fume if the broker can’t pay them because the customer didn’t pay the bill. On the other hand, how can you hold the broker responsible when they don’t receive the product? You don’t punish your in-house sales team like this. You must find a compromise. How difficult can it be to secure your interests in transactions without leaning on the party who is least likely to have the means to pay you? Think about it.
  3. Print Brokers can take the print jobs to someone else if they want. Usually they move things around to save money, time, or be more convenient, but they don’t even have to have a reason, they can just do it.
  4. Print Brokers are employed by their customers — not the printer. In the event of a disagreement the printer has little leverage over the broker. The broker knows which side his bread is buttered on  and is most likely to defend the customer’s point of view over the printer’s.
  5. Print Brokers are not constrained by territories. Printers often feel threatened by brokers because they see their own customers as potentially vulnerable to the broker. Sales reps especially are very protective and guard, as they should, from any possible threat.

In my next post I will give printers some ideas that will allow them to work around the conflicts and make better broker relationships which will benefit both printer and print broker.


Here’s to Flyboys, Printer Talk, and Web Breaks

Sunday, January 24th, 2010

In a previous blog post, I referred to catching the printing bug as having printer’s ink in your blood. There is something about printing that gets one hooked. You can stray away from printing, but eventually you’ll circle back around and find yourself umbilically attached.

In my case, my printing career began right out of high school. I heard from a friend that a newspaper printer was hiring. I was the second to lowest employee on the totem pole, just ahead of janitor. I was a jogger. I think the hourly wage in 1968 was around $.75, maybe a buck and a quarter, I don’t really remember for sure. A jogger’s job was to stand at the delivery end of the press and scoop his hand between the conveyor belts, gather a stack of papers, and place them on the string bundler. There was a kicker that would knock a paper a little askew every 50th signature. This way we knew how many papers we were stacking. When the right quantity was reached the flyboy, (another name for jogger) pressed the foot pedal on the bundler. Heaved the bundle by hand over to a pallet, and scrambled back to the press to do it all over again.

Soon, because I looked bright enough, I suppose, they began teaching me how to make plates, hang the plates on the press, shaft the paper rolls, and fill ink trays.

OMG -- that really smells bad, and not in a good way.

It was dirty work, and because I was still the low man, I usually pulled the dirtiest jobs. When I think about it, I can still remember the smell of the developer, the ink, and even the paper.   The developer fluid was the most pungent. It made the entire press area smell bad. With today’s presses, they’ve either done away with plates, or plates are processed in a totally contained plate processor that doesn’t smell. Not at all. Whew — I thank you, my nose thanks you, and my clothes really thank whoever invented that dandy machine.

Part of the reason I chose a career in printing was because I thought it was a stable industry. After all, people will always need to get things printed — right? What I didn’t count on were all the technological changes in the business. Now they happen so quickly that it puts a kink  my neck as I whirl around  just trying to figure out where they are coming from next.

Negotiate This

It feels like Han Solo negotiating the asteroid field in the movie Star Wars. When he found what he thought was a nice safe cave to land in, it turned out he was very, very wrong, and barely escaped with his ship, friends, and life. I’m not saying that printing is life threatening it’s just difficult to know which way to go.

I was doing a press check at a web offset printer the other day. The presses are ever-so-more sophisticated than in my cub days. Many of the adjustments can now be done off of a computer console which keeps the press operators from running back and forth turning ink keys or adjusting registration.

Other things have also improved, for example, web breaks were common in my day. A web break occurs when the paper coming off the roll snaps apart. Snap is the right word but it doesn’t do justice to the event. It’s like a starting gun was fired. Pressmen scrambled like the Keystone Cops to get to and whack the big red STOP button. The goal was to limit how much re-webbing they’d have to do. No one breathed until they found out how much tail was left to splice before the whole (*@#&) press had to be re-webbed.


If the broken web wasn’t caught fast enough, it would take precious time, and many four-letter, red-faced printer words to fix it. Mule skinners had nothing on printers, I can tell you.

Today’s web presses have sophisticated roll changing systems that not only automatically splice, but keep a constant tension, so that the web won’t suddenly jerk when a roll bump suddenly happens. Have web breaks been completely eliminated? Ha, it just means that they happen less frequently. Are there fewer emissions of printer talk? Double ha! Web breaks aren’t the only things that go wrong. I like to say that printing has so many things that can go wrong it’s a miracle anything goes right.

One thing that hasn’t changed though is the job of jogger. The joggers are still there at the end of the press scooping up the printed press signatures and taking them to the pallet. My hat’s off to joggers. At least something, so far, has remained the same.

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Who’s Stepping on the Printer’s Necks?

Wednesday, January 6th, 2010

I don’t know about you, but I feel dispirited when I drive down the street and see yet another small business closed. Yes, there are tough brave souls starting new enterprises. Their offices decorated with optimistic grand opening banners, but most often the signs nowadays are final liquidation, lost our lease, or nothing at all, just an empty shell where a business once thrived. I’m not trying to bring you down here. This is a sad topic and I don’t know else to put it.

I’m not saying anything new when I report that the printing and mailing industries have been hard hit. Earnings have fallen 40% to 50% over the last two years. When a printing company calls it quits, you might think that the remaining shops would benefit by having less competition and the possibility of divvying up some one’s customer base. You’d think that, but it hasn’t been the case.

Unless you are in the printing business, you may not understand why it is happening, nor care. But you should care. No business stands alone. Businesses are about people and small business employs the most people. Those people when paid sufficiently buy the products and/or services of other businesses. We are interdependent.

A  business is NOT the sum total of its assets. Just go to a liquidation auction and see how much those assets are really worth–pennies on the dollar.

Why is this happening? Here are three reasons printers fail in a tight economy:

  1. Printers count heavily on cash flow to pay operating expenses. No one I know has big reserves to tide them over. In fact it is nearly impossible to buildup a reserve when profits average 5% or less.
  2. Printers are usually highly leveraged. To stay, or become more competitive a printer must invest in expensive equipment. The multi-color whiz-bang press they bought when times were better carries a multi-million dollar mortgage. Banks don’t care if business is down, they still demand their due.
  3. Printing isn’t like the corner grocery. You can’t hire an employee for minimum wage and teach them the job in an hour. Press operators, for example, take years to train. Payrolls are relatively high because experienced people are necessary to fill critical positions. Just try to turn an inexperienced pressman loose on your whiz-bang press and at the very least you’ll be doing a lot of reprints. At the worst, who knows what costly damage could be done? I witnessed a press catch on fire one day. It didn’t do that by itself.

We are in a precarious position in the USA. Until we come to grips with the understanding that we are all in the same boat. One industry doesn’t fail to benefit another. When one suffers we all suffer.

I read in the latest AARP Bulletin that top executives especially in the financial sector are still getting increasingly lavish bonuses while at the same time cutting back on the retirement packages of other employees. I ask, who will take care of those employees when they are retired? Not the bonus babies, and not their companies. The burden will fall on all of the rest of us. A small percentage of the mucky-mucks will cruise along on their big retirements funded by extravagant bonuses leaving the worker bees to live on what the government can raise in taxes. Where does the tax money come from? The taxpayers, with the middle class carrying most of the burden.

Then New York Times in a January 9, post written by Louise Story and Eric Dash, entitled Banks Prepare for Big Bonuses, and Public Wrath, discloses the planned amounts of bonuses and  reveals that the bonuses were “earned” during 2009 when the taxpayers were bailing them out. When will we connect the dots and realize that their actions are not a victimless crime. And I think crime is the right word. They have taken away funds that could have made the country more prosperous for their own personal use. They have committed robbery by contract. If you think those zillion dollar bonuses don’t hurt you–think again. They do. Can’t we, for heavens sake, put a stop to this?

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