Posts Tagged ‘Sales Reps’

Re. Golden Eggs–Butcher the Goose!

Saturday, May 16th, 2009

On becoming a print broker: I dreamed I could serve customers best by leading their jobs to a printer who was the best fit, instead of attempting to force them to fit the printer where I was employed.

goldenegggooseIf you had a golden goose, in this case an employee that charged you nothing for their services, and you didn’t have to pay any health care costs, matching social security, expense reimbursement, or overhead either, wouldn’t you be dancing up and down with joy? You’d think so, but in the case of print brokers it isn’t true.

The golden goose is subject to be spat upon, derided, and treated, if not illegally, at least unjustly. Oh sure, when everything is going smoothly, that statement isn’t true, but in the real world, sooner or later some transaction is going to go south. That’s when printer’s bring out the steely knives and prepare to skin the goose.

For example, I have been doing business with a certain printer for approximately 20 years. Twenty years is the equivalent of an entire military career, to put it into perspective. For the whole 20 years they have been aware that I am a print broker. No surprises there.

The company was recently sold to a firm in California. It doesn’t bother me that the folks out-of-state don’t know me from Adam and are concerned about my business practices, they should be. What bothers me is that people I’ve worked with for twenty years aren’t defending me as hard as they can. In twenty years, the printer has never had to write off an iota of bad debt from any of my customers. Could any of their sales people boast the same record? I’d be willing to bet, not.

So what’s the problem? The problem is that the new owners want to make me as the broker, totally responsible for the customer’s debt.  Completely ignoring the fact that I neither receive the end product, nor gain any profit from it.  A generally accepted definition of broker is “A broker’s function is to arrange contracts for property in which he or she has no personal interest, possession, or concern. The broker is an intermediary or negotiator in the contracting of any type of bargain, acting as an agent for parties who wish to buy or sell stocks, bonds, real or personal property, commodities, or services. Rules applicable to agency are generally relevant to most transactions involving brokers. The client is considered the principal and the broker acts as the client’s agent. An agent’s powers generally extend beyond those of a broker. A distinguishing feature between an agent and a broker is that a broker acts as a middle person. When a broker arranges a sale, he or she is an agent of both parties.”

If I was a real estate broker and the homeowner defaulted on their loan would the bank attempt to collect from me? Of course not. That would be ludicrous in the extreme.

Why would a printer insist on making the broker personally responsible for someone else’s debts?

I’m baffled. I’m  particularly baffled at the reaction of friends who have worked with me for a whole career.

If someone could explain the logic behind this attitude by printers, I am all ears. As I see it, I bring printer’s work on a silver platter and it costs them literally nothing for my services. I do want a small discount. A discount equal to what they pay their sales representatives in commission. That’s only fair isn’t it? I ask for a level playing field, and for that I give up any benefits their in-house reps get. I know I’ve written about this before, but it’s a point so often ignored, that it needs to be hammered in. What is the real cost of matching social security, health benefits, retirements (401K’s), expense reimbursement, and overhead? If it doesn’t come to double or triple their commissions, I’d be surprised. My discount is the biggest bargain there is.

It is grossly unfair to demand that brokers pay for a customer’s obligations if their in-house sales reps aren’t personally liable too. But if they tried that one, the state Labor Commission’s would probably climb down their throats. Payrolled employees have safeguards. Independent contractors, like print brokers, are legally abandoned. There is no real protection for an independant contractor.

So why do they do it? Why do they try to kill the golden goose?  Because they can. I’ve had suppliers tell me that they work with other brokers and they don’t have a problem with the terms. I’m sad if that is true. If true it means that brokers are so used to poor treatment, that like the whipped dog, they keep coming back for more. It just doesn’t make sense. But then again, if business decisions had to make sense, the banks wouldn’t have been willy-nilly giving out non-disclosure loans for homeowners. Our whole economy has suffered because of that one.

In return, you might ask, what do I do to protect the printers? I have contracts with my customers stating that they accept the legal obligation the vendor. I have a contract, that if the printer doesn’t subbornly refuse to sign it, gives them third party rights in all transactions. And I provide any and all credit or other information, if terms are required. Do you still require my neck? Come on printers, stop trying to kill the golden goose. We are on the same team. Let’s work together.

Quality, Price, and Service–Pick Two

Friday, April 17th, 2009

Yesterday’s blog Keep Those Cards and Letters Coming spawned a response from Mel Edwards She observed that, “You make the same point several times, but with no solution. What should a buyer be asking or looking for instead of the big three that all printers claim to have?” Mel is right. I was making an assumption that the answer to the question would be obvious to the readers. Dumb assumption. Honestly I do know better and will strive to propose solutions whenever I pose problems.

To answer Mel’s question, I didn’t mean to imply that quality, price, and service were not the bedrocks of all printing.  The old printing adage is quality, price, and service, pick two. But, as a buyer of printing you should strive to get all three. The point I was trying to make was that all printers will claim to provide all three, but where does that leave you? It’s like insurance companies. They all say they are the best at one thing or another, and they back it up with volumes of statistics. If you get mired in the statistics you will never be able to choose one company over another. So, if you can’t rely on their advertisements or what their sales reps say, what can you do?

  1. Ask to see samples of work they’ve printed that is similar to your job. Keep in mind that you will only see samples of their very best. As it should be. I mean, who but a total idiot would give you a sample of a job that bombed? Look carefully at those samples to determine if there are flaws that were acceptable to the printer, but wouldn’t be acceptable to you.
  2. Ask other businesses who have used the services of that printer. If you ask, many printers are proud to give you some of their best customers to contact. They are often very excited about their customer list and want you to speak with their happiest customers. If they won’t tell you who to call, consider it a red flag.  Remember–your job will be to read between the lines. Since you’ll only be given the contacts that have an excellent relationship with the printer, it is imperative to listen to what they don’t say, more than what they do.
  3. Check with organizations like Better Business Bureau, or  Dunn and Bradstreet. This is just normal due diligence, but is it overkill? I don’t think so. Once you choose a printer you could be forming a relationship that could continue for years. How much do you think you could be spending with that printer, thousands, tens-of-thousands, hundreds-of-thousands or more?
  4. Continue shopping around or make sure your broker is getting multiple bids. Things change. Just because a printer has served you well in the past it doesn’t mean that they will always be the best choice. I like to tell a story about a local clothing chain that invited me in to work with them. The printer they had been using was a well-known, quality conscious firm, with a sterling reputation. The problem wasn’t with the printer it was with their equipment. Their presses were small and fit the needs of the clothing company when their customer base was smaller. Over twenty years the clothing company had grown, and grown. Print runs were now much larger. By switching them to a different printer, with larger presses, I was able to cut their printing expense by thousands on one job!
  5. Visit the printer’s plant. Take the time to go there and have them show you around and introduce you to people who will be involved in your work. A face they recognize is likely to get better service than someone unknown to them.
  6. Use your gut. What do your instincts tell you? If it doesn’t feel right, don’t do it.
  7. Consider employing a print broker. Brokers are not directly connected to any printer and often work with many. A good broker knows the printers and who would be the best fit for you.

Please understand that the printing business is very competitive, and operates on pitifully small margins. I once heard that nationally, the average printer earns 6% to 9% profit. That’s not much. Of course they are eager to secure your business. They have to keep those presses running. An idle press is a huge money drain. Currently in this unfavorable economic climate, printers are hurting. It’s been reported that in the US, the printing industry is down by 40%. What all of this means is that you will probably be contacted by more printers and more often than you have in the past. Each one of them will be saying they have the best quality, the lowest prices, and the finest service–I guarantee it. Don’t make rash decisions. If your printer or broker has served you well in the past be sure to give them extra points for service. Loyalty pays off. Just make sure your loyalty isn’t misplaced.

How Much Does Experience Count?

Tuesday, March 31st, 2009

What’s more important, state-of-the-art equipment or skilled operators? That was the subject of a discussion I had with a very successful printer over lunch. I’ve always maintained that quality products are produced by quality employees. Inexperienced press operators make mistakes that they are often unable to fix.

For example, my brother Dan Ruesch, a top graphic designer, told me a story of a press check he attended where the PMS color was dingy. It just didn’t pop they way it should. After the pressmen tried everything they could think of to fix it, Dan remembered encountering a similar problem once before. He recalled that the solution was to change the paper wrap on a water roller.  So, of course, he made the suggestion to check it. The pressmen were surprised. Most customers don’t even know that there are two basic sets of rollers in a press, water and ink, and here was a graphic designer recommending a mechanical solution to their problem. Wow.

They took the suggestion, checked the roller, and found out that the paper wrap did need to be changed.  It worked, and they were able to go on and happily complete the job producing a printed product that both the company and the designer were proud to show.

Why did I tell this story? I told it to show what experience can do. Dan couldn’t run a press if his life depended on it, neither could I for that matter, but Dan carried with him years of experience from attending press checks. He had encountered a similar problem before, and remembered how it was solved. The press operator, had not come up against this particular difficulty before and was stumped. Experience vs. inexperience? I vote for experience myself.

This is my slant on the experience issue, the printer, eating his salad, disagreed. He believed if you bought state-of-the-art equipment with as many fully-automated features as you could get, you wouldn’t have to pay the wages of journeymen press operators. So, he hired less-experienced operators, and supervised them with a journeyman. His thinking was that they could call the guy over with the experience when they got in a jam, otherwise smart presses would take care of most of the problems.

Did this approach work for him? You bet it did. He was able to grow his printing company into one of the most prosperous firms in the area. Before he reached the age of fifty he sold it off, and retired. Boy, am I jealous.

What was my experience printing with his  company, you might ask? I’ll tell you. Despite all the awards he had hanging on his walls, and their sales literature that claimed they were the finest craftsmen in town, whenever I took a job there, it seemed to have problems. Not necessarily huge problems. There were difficulties getting the color right and holding it. Sometimes the trim or folding was off. The proof provided by the pre-press department couldn’t be matched on press. They came up short on the quantity. Things like this that could be worked around, but if he had paid higher wages for more experienced employees, would he still have this many problems? I don’t think so.

So, why was his business so successful? I believe that most customers don’t know the difference between excellent quality and good quality. If you don’t know the difference you won’t be able to see it even when right in front of you. The best work comes from people who know they are trying to please an expert. When I attend a press check, I carry with me a lifetime of press experience. They know it and will always strive to do their very best. If an inexperienced customer comes to a press check, assuming that they even know to come, their lack of knowledge becomes quickly apparent and they can be jargoned into approving anything. Remember a press operator has a vested interest in getting through the press check and running the job, otherwise they might be called on the carpet for lack of productivity. The number of press impressions per hour is important and if their numbers are down they will hear about it. If down often enough they could even lose their jobs over it.

My point? If you want to get quality printing, but you are not experienced enough to get it, don’t go into the print shop alone. Take someone with you who is experienced, but is not connected to the printer in any way. Someone working for the printer, and that includes their sales reps, has to protect the company’s profits. Unprofitable employees are invited to hit the bricks.  An independant print broker like myself is looking for a win-win, and that win includes getting you the product you need and paid for.  Since I am not paid by the printer, except through discounts, I stand by your side, like a free attorney. Isn’t that comforting?

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