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.
If 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.