Archive for March, 2010

Printers and Brokers — What’s Your Favorite Printing Story?

Wednesday, March 24th, 2010
My $52,000.00 Payday

The biggest print order I ever handled was a mailing package for cable TV. The package consisted of nine different elements and it went to one million customers. The total print billing was over $650,000.00. Now that in itself wasn’t the incredible part. Many who might read this blog work for, or have worked for large web plants that could easily handle this job. I didn’t. I was employed by a small sheet-fed printer. Our “biggest” press was a 25″ 5/color with a CPU. At the time presses with CPU’s were just coming into the market and we were darned proud of ours.

Never Overlook the Unlikely

The customer was an unlikely advertising agency that was so small it wasn’t on anyone’s radar. They were located in my area, but not in my regular path of travel. Anytime I found myself near them, once a month, or so, I’d dropped in to say hello and see if they were anticipating any printing orders. The answer was always no.

An Estimator Can do More than Sit in the Office

One day out of the blue they called. Over the phone they described a job so complex that I felt I needed help with the specifications so collared our estimator and took her with me. I was glad I had the estimator because she had been a former press operator with our company and came up with some suggestions on the spot to simplify the job.

Persistence Beat Price

Within a few days we submitted our bid. I didn’t think that there was a ghost of a chance we would get it, but I had to see it through. When the bids were in, we were second. The lowest bidder was a well-established 40″ sheet fed printer in town. I never saw their price, but it was close enough that the agency decided that I should be rewarded for my persistence in calling on them.

Thank Goodness My Sales Manager Didn’t Hear What I Said

That’s when I said something that my sales manager would have kicked me for if he had heard it. I said, “I would love to do this job, but it really belongs on a web press and not sheet-fed.”

My customer responded with this question, “Will a web press give me better quality than sheet-fed?”

I told him, “No, but 95% wouldn’t know the difference.” Actually the 95% figure was a bit low. Without a side-by-side comparison I doubted that anyone would know.

What Made the Sales Manager Strut Like a Goose

To my surprise we were awarded the job. The next hurdle was collecting a half-down. To offer the bid we did it required the purchase of a great quantity of paper. We settled on a $360,000.oo figure with the balance due on completion.

I remember the day I went to the agency to pick up the check. Their customer had given them a cashiers check made out to us. I brought in the dough and gave it to the sales manager. He balanced the check on the upper frame of his glasses and leaned it back against his forehead and then proceeded to strut through the office, the sales bullpen, and the shop inviting everyone to see the biggest amount of money ever seen by our company.

It isn’t Over ‘Til it’s Over

Later the estimator who had been so helpful asked me, “Bill, you don’t seem very happy about this, what’s going on?”

“I am happy, but more than that I’m concerned that we’ve bitten off more than we can chew. It is going to be a nightmare around here until this project is finished. I’ll be happier when it’s done.”

Pinned by the G.A.S.F.

I wasn’t wrong. To this day I think the customer should have heeded my advice, but I got 8% commission on over $650,000.00 so in the end I have to say I did okay, and a few months later I was presented with a diamond pin for achieving the highest annual sales award given by the G.A.S.F. The money, except what went into my IRA, is a distant memory, but I still have the pin.

Note: If any reader would like to add their own favorite printing story, just go to “comments” at the bottom of this post and share it with all of us.


Printers When Your Business Fails — Thank China

Wednesday, March 17th, 2010
I thought it was time to move off the China subject and go to something else, but there have been a rash of comments on this site and on my printing groups on LinkedIn that I’m going to post another China related blog in an attempt to address those other concerns.

Are American families, homes, and jobs worth defending?

Sometimes I can’t believe my ears. What has happened to America? Americans used to fight for their rights, but now our fight begins by laying down our guns. Our motto seems to be “why try; it won’t do any good anyway.”

Chinese printers market their low ball prices in the United States aided by two main things:

  • Their costs are one-tenth of ours. How did I arrive at that figure? It was easy; I know how much minimum wage is in the US. Remember this wage is mandated by the government. Employers have to pay it. They also have to pay matching Social Security, so the real figure is much higher. I also read an article in Reuters that discussed how much the average factory worker earns in China. Without matching Social Security, they earn 1/10th.  Suppose you are a Chinese printer marketing to the US, how difficult would it be to come in at half the price when your labor costs are less than 1/10th? Who is making the real money here? The Chinese workers? Ha!
  • China plays hardball when it comes to International Trade. They are members of the WTO, but you don’t have to look far to see filing, after filing, after filings of Chinese trade violations for anti-dumping and anti-subsidies. Some states have a three times you are out law to penalize career criminals. If we held China up to this same standard they would right now be serving several consecutive lifetime sentences. They can import some products to the US for 2-5% duties. We, on the other hand, have to pay some 24% to sell there. It is wrong, it isn’t fair, and it is killing the US economy.

Since our government won’t help, and the business elite are benefiting from cozy relationships with foreign countries, there is only one thing left to “we the people,” and that is our collective buying power. If enough of us refuse to buy Chinese, Pakistani, Indian, Mexican, or any other products made from cheap labor we can turn the tide.

Some say that it is unfair to blame these countries because it is the American consumer who really controls the prices. Of course I want low prices, but not at the expense of putting myself or my neighbors out of work. I don’t know about everyone else, but if presented with two identical items and one is made in the US and the other in China I would rather buy American, even if it was a little more. I would not choose Chinese industry over American.

What about the automobile business, didn’t the Japanese do the same thing? No — they didn’t. They didn’t compete solely on price, although they used price at first to get our attention. What they did is build a better vehicle than the crap being pumped out by Detroit. I hate it that we lost this giant industry to foreign competition, but we deserved to lose it. Not because of the workers but because of the fat cats at the top who left the office every day counting their lavish bonuses while steadily guiding their companies into bankruptcy. Bonuses for bad leadership — whoever thought that was a good idea?

We are experiencing a 10% unemployment rate in the United States right now, primarily because of a few bankers who used vast lobbying power to influence congress. Our government systematically deregulated the banking and financial institutions until we got chaos. Those who believe in free markets, take note, without some control everything goes to hell, quickly.

There is an axis of evil to coin a phrase from George W. Bush. Americans are being crushed economically by Wall Street Bankers, the US Congress, the Insurance industry, and unfair foreign competition. Until these four entities are brought to task it is going to do nothing but get worse. Do you hate 10% unemployment, reduced wages, and increased working hours? That is just a start. Over the next few decades we will see 25% unemployment, salaries cut to the bone, and typical working days of 16 hours. Once Wall Street has us where they want us, poor, starving, and desperate we will be competitive with China, because we will be reduced to their level. Welcome to the new America, the one world government, the one fashioned by the true axis of evil.


Was I Being Unfair in Sharply Criticizing Chinese Printers?

Wednesday, March 10th, 2010

Where's YOUR money going? To China, my friend. To China.

If you thought my recent China post was more of a rant than an article, you are right. Offshore printing is an issue that gets me boiling.  I hope that I wasn’t misunderstood. I am not anti-China, nor am I anti-Chinese. What I am is anti-slave-like labor, anti-poor-working-conditions, and anti-business-profiteers using low prices to destroy the competition. In 1890 The Sherman Antitrust Act recognized the illegality of using low prices as a means to force out competition. If Sherman could be used against companies like AT&T, Microsoft, American Steel, etc. why can’t it be used against Chinese printers to prevent their unfair competition?

Someone wrote that I am just upset because China is doing to us what America did to Europe. It is not the same. America became a strong manufacturing and trading country because of innovation. We invented the assembly line, the steamboat, and the cotton gin. These innovations made products cheaper because they could be manufactured faster and get to market quicker. Other than in Taiwan, what has China invented in the last century to change the world? And I’m not too sure of Taiwan.  Oh sure, they may have come up with a product improvement here or there, but I’m racking my brains to think of anything new. So, they compete solely on being cheaper, and they accomplish that by underpaying workers, disregarding environmental impacts of their products, and keeping workers working in sweatshop conditions. Maybe that is China’s contribution, the sweatshop. Way to go China, you get to take credit for the sweatshop. Now there’s something to be proud about.

I have a business associate who is familiar with the situation of workers in Chinese print shops. He tells me that they stay in dorms during the working week because they put in 14 to 16 hours a day on the job. They also stay in dorms because it takes a half-day to travel to their homes. So a typical work week is 84 to 96 hours with one day off, and that day is spent largely in travel.

Those living high-on-the-hog business people in China, and anywhere really, who get away with being able to offer ridiculously low prices by taking advantage of poverty conditions in their countries should be brought to task. By engaging in this behavior they hurt their workers, and lead the world economy in a downward spiral. If the only way to compete is to duplicate their working conditions and wages, we can look forward to a very bleak existence. If you want to know what the future holds for America in 50 years, just look at where China is now. Do you like what you see?

It is true that American business people were once allowed to be as ruthless as the Chinese are now. It took many bloody union wars to force better working conditions and wages. There was a time when they were desperately needed and were run by dedicated men who truly were on the side of the workers. Will the unions be able to prevent the coming collapse of the middle class? It’s doubtful. Unions steadily lost ground through corruption and vilification by the ruling class. The upper 2% has almost total control over Washington, the Unions, and apparently the Supreme Court based on their recent rulings giving corporations and foreign entities unlimited rights to promote their political agendas. Look out China, your unfair competitive edge will dissipate when American’s standard of living drops to your level. Trading will then be equal, but sad, very sad indeed.


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