Who’s Stepping on the Printer’s Necks?

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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