Posts Tagged ‘Small Business’

Who’s Stepping on the Printer’s Necks?

Wednesday, January 6th, 2010

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?

What’s Next–Debtor’s Prison?

Saturday, September 26th, 2009

Okay posts on printing and Self-Publishing are going to have to wait once again. It seems that the last post, We Sure Swallowed the Health Care Lie, I seriously stirred the pot. If you go back and read my post and the attached comments, you will find that sentiments are all over the place. The truth is we don’t know what to do about the corporate Godzilla’s wreaking havoc in our lives. We know who they are, and there is plenty of finger pointing to go around, but our backs are against the wall and there isn’t a rescuer in sight.

Does this sound a tad dramatic? It is, but unless we see the monsters for what they really are we won’t muster the will to fight them. Tracy commented on my post, and I quote, “I emphatically agree with you regarding your views on health insurance…perhaps because I, too, am self-employed and have been for 31 years. My Blue Shield plan just increased about 3 months ago by 22% and is going up another 18% in December (when I enter a new age bracket). I worked in the housing industry and my income is down 90% while my health insurance will have increased 40%. I have been charging my health insurance premiums since January of this year because I am afraid to cancel it because, as you stated, it will be impossible to get health insurance then. Something has GOT to change!”

Tracy’s example is representative of the trouble many of us are finding ourselves in; let’s look at the the history of the unholy trio: US Congress, Health Insurance Companies, and the Financial Industry; and discover the careful step-by-step path that led us into this unconscionable position.

  • 1920’s Health Insurance created by Blue Cross/Blue Shield.
  • 1929 estimated annual average health care expense for American families totaled $108.00.
  • 1933 Federal Government passes Glass-Steagall Act wherein “banks, brokerages, and insurance companies were effectively barred from entering each others’ industries, and investment banking and commercial banking were separated.” Post by Kitty Wampus
  • 1940′s saw the entrance of commercial insurance companies into health insurance  after seeing the success of Blue Cross/Blue Shield (source EHNet).
  • 1960 Health Care expense rose to an average of 6.6% of a family’s annual income. It was no longer a luxury–it was now a necessity.
  • 1973 the last year middle-class and poor Americans saw an increase in real earnings–only the top 20% saw gain–the bottom 80% has been stagnant for 36 years.
  • 1980 congress passed Depository Institutions Deregulation and Monetary Control which broadened lending powers and banks rushed into real estate lending and speculative lending.
  • 1980 Ronald Reagan elected president, took office 1981 (note: Regan didn’t start banking deregulation).
  • 1981 Economic Recovery Act spurred a boom in real estate.
  • 1982 Garn-St.Germain Act authorized money market savings accounts in banks and savings and loans. Seriously undermining their security.
  • 1999 President Clinton, Republicans agree to deregulation of US financial system effectively nullifying all of the protections of Glass-Steagall Act of 1933.
  • 2001 Health care insurance premiums risen three times more than wages. With company health care the average person paid $2,827.00 including premiums and deductibles. Health Reform.Gov
  • 2005 Bankruptcy laws changed to protect banks at the expense of customers. Banks who encouraged consumers to participate in reckless free-spending credit card lifestyles feared to face the results of their own actions.
  • 2006 Average spending on health care including premiums and deductibles rose 30% in five years to $3,744.00. For those without company sponsored group insurance the costs were even more.
  • 2008 ushered in the biggest financial failing since the Great Depression. US Government offers bailout money to head off economic collapse. Banks promise to renegotiate home mortgages, instead raise credit card interest rates by double or more

So here’s the bottom line as I see it:

  1. The way to unimaginable wealth is to create and market a product that becomes a necessity, like cigarettes and cocaine. The health insurance industry did just that. How? By allowing costs to spiral up. Since medical providers have had unrestrained ability to charge outrageous fees, i.e. the ten dollar dose of Tylenol, ancillary costs and services have skyrocketed too. Who now can afford treatment for even simple procedures without insurance? Furthermore, should a policyholder contract an illness or suffer an injury while covered, their options of changing insurance companies becomes impossible. Pre-existing condition clauses keep people stuck. Drop your insurance with a pre-existing condition and you may never qualify for coverage again.
  2. The financial industry has manipulated the government into lifting all of the protections that were implemented to prevent the collapse experienced during the Great Depression. What happened? Is it any surprise that the country is experiencing a deep recession? It is okay with the CEO’s because they take their bonuses whether the company makes money or not. It is the workforce and small businesses are hit hardest. Big banks are recovering nicely because of bailout money, higher credit card charges, and tougher bankruptcy laws.
  3. People like my commenter, Tracy, find themselves charging their rising
    New & Improved Card

    New & Improved Card

    health insurance costs on credit cards that can, and do, double interest and fees without restraint. If she can’t find another way to pay those usurious interest rates and outrageous policy premiums she will lose everything she has.

  4. Congress, the health insurance, and financial industries have us just where they want us. We have become slaves of the system just as surely as blacks were plantation slaves over 200 years ago. If you want proof, just try to get away without paying income taxes. Go to a hospital without an insurance card. Refuse to pay exorbitant credit card fees. Do all of those things and see what happens.

What’s next, debtor’s prison?

Will Offing the Middle Class Kill Small Business Too?

Wednesday, August 19th, 2009

80% living on 20% leftover’s

Déjà vu?

Déjà vu?

I learned just this year that the CIA (Central Intelligence Agency) publishes a report (link) on the Internet about the United States. I was reviewing the section on the economy that was updated on August 13, 2009. In the middle of the report is this statement, “Since 1975, practically all the gains in household income have gone to the top 20% of households.” Furthermore, “The onrush of technology largely explains the gradual development of a ‘two-tier labor market’ in which those at the bottom lack the education, and the professional/technical skills of those at the top and more and more, fail to get comparable pay raises, health insurance coverage, and other benefits.”

No middle class–no small business

For 34 years the American middle class has been steadily shrinking. Where will we be when the middle class is gone? Will we be safer, healthier, or wealthier? When you think about it, small business, the backbone of the American economy is in serious danger. As the split widens between the haves and the have nots, who will buy the products and services of small business? It won’t be the big corporations, that’s for sure. What will this country be like when the splitting stops and 20% of the population control 80% of the wealth, and 80% have to live on what’s left?

Americans slipping slowly down the drain

The CIA report also says, “Long-term problems include inadequate investment in economic infrastructure, rapidly rising medical and pension costs of an aging population, sizable trade a budget deficits, and stagnation of family income in the lower economic groups.”

Printers probably the first to go

Why do I bring this up? My career has been spent in the printing business. Most printing firms in the United States are small businesses. When the middle class is gone, and small business owners disappear, what will happen to printing? The answer is obvious.

How can government help turn the tide?

  • Educational Needs. Provide educational opportunities to all citizens who want it. A college education shouldn’t create a lifetime burden of student loans. Free education would benefit us all.
  • Health Care. Make sure all citizens have access to good health care. We have the most expensive health care in the world and some of the most unhealthy citizens. One reason is because care is delayed until the need is critical.
  • Ban Lobbyists. Cut access of  corporate lobbyists and make sure they have only the same access to lawmakers as any other citizen. Our survival as a nation depends on fairness for all. Special interests cannot be allowed to rule. When special interests rule, the public loses.
  • Regulate Compensation Packages. Create an Executive compensation commission to review and regulate public corporations. Companies who are vital to the national interest and deemed too big to fail have to be subjected to intense scrutiny. Just as the SEC requires annual reports, compensation must be examined and regulated if necessary, to protect our common interest.
  • Recover Pension Funds. Create a collection mechanism to recover money from executives of corporations who raided or otherwise harmed vested pension programs. It is unconscionable that an employee be left penniless after working a lifetime for benefits, while the upper echelon retires comfortably.
  • Banking Transparency. Make sure publicly held corporate executives cannot secrete their fortunes in secret accounts. Transparency in banking is necessary only for those who have the power to wreak havoc on the economy and cause recessions.

I know, some of these suggestions will strike some as being un-American. Maybe you are right, but when any sector has the power to harm the whole, it has to be considered a public threat. The demise of the middle class is a public threat and must be treated as such.

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