Archive for the ‘web printing’ Category

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.


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.

Is Witholding Information the Same as a Lie?

Saturday, March 14th, 2009

I am, and have been, a self-employed print broker for twenty years. I began doing this because I believed then, and still do, that customers need to know what their options are. It all started for me when I was working as a sales representative for a small sheet-fed company. I was very good at my job and when my company announced that they were buying the best new press on the market I took that as a signal to get customers lined up to try it. The biggest advantage the press had was it was the first in our area to come equipped with a CPU (Computer Processing Unit). Until then all ink setting, plate adjusting, and other corrections were done by hand, by the lead press operator or one of the assistants. This really was the dawning of a new age in printing. If the press could get dialed in sooner, more jobs could be printed in less time. Wow.

Did it work? It sure did, and today some 30 years later, you would be hard pressed to find a multi-unit press without a CPU. Was that the only advantage of the new press? Well, no. The press had perfecting capability. Perfecting, by-the-way doesn’t mean that everything coming off the press was perfect, it is a term used in the industry that refers to the ability of the press to turn the sheet over and print on both sides in one pass through the press. Most sheet-fed offset printing still prints one side at a time.

Perfecting was not new technology, it had been around, but it was new to us and it was new to most of the customers. It has taken me awhile, but now I’m getting to the point of this story. I was asked to bid on a job for a political candidate that would print 2/2 (two colors, both sides). Almost a perfect fit for us. I say almost because the quantity was large enough that it should have printed on a web-offset press instead. I knew that we would get the order because the other two printers bidding on it didn’t have perfecting capability, and weren’t web presses.  I was feeling guilty because I knew a better way to do the job that would cut costs by half, so I went to management and asked what I should do.

I was asked, “What is your job here?”

I said, “To sell printing for this company.”

“Which company?’

“This company.”

“Right, so why do you want to send the job to someone else? Forget about your qualms, go get the job, and bring it in.”

What choice did I have? None, so I did as I was told and felt uncomfortable ever since. We got the job, we printed it, delivered it on time, and it was a nice piece. The customer was none the wiser, so all’s well that end’s well, right? Not really–not when it sticks in your craw.

At that time I started to look toward becoming a print broker. I never again wanted to be stuck in the position of  withholding information that could make someones printing job easier, better, or less costly. I always try to provide the best of my experience and knowledge with every job I handle. Does that mean I’m always the low bidder? No, I will always be competitive, but in addition to finding good prices I manage the job for better results. Now I can hold my head high, because I know that I did my best for the customer whether they know it or not. Here’s a shout out to all my customers. I appreciate your loyalty more than you know. Thank you.

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