Quick Printing
December 2007
Not worrying can be dangerous
There are some things your should worry about. Consider these four issues
Most people would agree that worrying is a bad thing. It consumes emotional energy and creates negative thoughts about perceived events that never actually occur. But what if there were some issues that really were significant enough to cause concern? This is what I call the “danger of not worrying.” I’d like to discuss four issues I think printers should worry about. Let’s begin with a topic that’s highly debated in the printing industry.

1. Will big-box stores and online printing have an impact on your shop? Many printers think there’s no need to worry about this. I recently saw a successful printer post his thoughts about this topic on an online news group. He said: “The main reason I’m not worried that VistaPrint, Kinko’s, or any of the big-box office supply stores are ever going to make a significant dent in our business or interrupt our steady growth is that they’ll never knock themselves out the way we do to provide customer service, because we’re small enough to care, and they aren’t.”

These comments are logical and true in many ways, but I think printers have to worry about how to compete with the big-box stores and big online printers. Kinko’s often provides poor quality and poorly trained customer service reps, but they also have a lot of convenient locations, a big advertising budget, beautiful stores that are well merchandised, and very competitive, low prices. I really cared about my customers, but I was painfully aware that no matter how much I cared, I’d lose customers to big-box competitors because they would sometimes make it easier for my customers to do business with them. Maybe the online ordering system and website was better, or maybe the store was only a few blocks away, while my location was 20 minutes away.

You can’t succumb to the danger of not worrying about big competitors because sooner or later they will lure some of your customers’ business away. Be smart and study ways to compete against them and defeat them before they defeat you. I believe the Internet has the potential of allowing the big guys to compete with you, in your backyard. Likewise, you can compete “big” with them if you have a good website like they do.

2. Do you worry about the amount of debt you’re carrying? Many printers see credit and debt as necessary evils, and continue slipping deeper and deeper into debt. My suggestion? Start worrying about it. I think credit card debt is especially troubling because it’s usually the result of funding daily operating expenses. On the one hand, that could be a smart thing if it saves time and you’re paying your balance every month. I had one credit card that I used this way, and charged more than $1.3 million on it. But I used it to get almost 50 free airline tickets, and I never paid a single penny of finance charges on that card. But, on the other hand, if your credit card is always maxed out and you’re paying those terribly high interest rates, you’re digging yourself into a hole you don’t want to be in.

My advice? Slowly stop using the cards. Maybe all you can afford to pay cash for is your gas, but that’s OK, pay for your gas. Next month maybe you can pay for your gas and your ink and toner. If you’re disciplined, and stop using short-term credit a little at a time, in a year, maybe you’ll be able to pay cash for all your paper. In the 23 years I owned my print shop, there were only three times I had to carry my paper bill past the 10th of the month, and I never let it go past the 25th. My printing firm had a perfect 23-year record of paying every single invoice on time. We avoided finance charges and the stress that goes with carrying a lot of debt. Incidentally, we got some serious preferred treatment from our paper supplier that our slow-paying competitors didn’t.

3. Do you worry whether you’re paying your employees enough money? I think this is a good thing to worry about for two reasons, although there are many. First, I believe that as employers, we have an obligation to pay a wage that is enough for someone to support a family. You’ll have more productive employees if they are free from financial worry. The second reason to pay a good wage is that you’ll have more loyal employees.

I have seen dozens of situations where a printing firm lost a key employee “unexpectedly” when she took a better job at a competitor’s print shop. Sure, it’s going to happen to you no matter how hard you try. But in most cases, having an annual wage-review plan that allows you to sit down and discuss pay with your staff can insulate your company from those dreadful and unexpected crises that occur when you lose an employee. I’ve seen printers literally go out of business within two years of losing a couple of customer service people, front-counter employees or sales reps. Paying a good wage is often the lowest-cost way to manage your business.
4. Do you worry that you’re gaining a little weight or not eating healthy enough? Well, you should. Here’s why. I’ll skip all the guilt-laden arguments for a healthy lifestyle you normally hear and shift the discussion to a business related focus. Have you ever considered the cost of lost productivity caused by your poor physical well-being and fitness? Well, neither did I until my beautiful wife was kind enough to sit me down and tell me that I was gaining so much weight it was affecting my energy and endurance. She was seeing me accomplish less, sitting more, and wanting to do fewer activities. I knew it was happening, but her intercession was a wake-up call. It rattled me and spurred me to action, and it changed my life.

Can I share some personal thoughts about the issue? Hopefully, instead of sounding like a guy bragging about himself, I’ll be able to convey how a lifestyle change improved my skills as an executive manager. I started to exercise and eat better. I tried to get rid of bad habits that impacted my health and fitness. It wasn’t easy much of the time, and I experienced many of those “two steps forward, one step back” kind of moments. But today, I tell you this: after 18 months, I’ve lost more than 65 pounds. I have muscles where I’ve never had muscles. I’m sleeping better. My blood sugar is way down, as is my bad cholesterol, pulse, and blood pressure. My good cholesterol is up, my body fat has gone from a death-defying 36% to 18%, and I’m often told I look 15 years younger. But the payoff business-wise is this: I accomplish more now. Lots more. I think more clearly and I swear I’m more creative. My brain is alert after lunch, when I used to work sluggishly on many afternoons. I can accomplish in an eight-hour shift what used to require a 10-to-11-hour day. When I go home—and this is important—I still have energy to do activities with my wife and kids instead of plopping down on the couch and watching TV until I doze off.
I estimate my productivity is up 50% across the board. It’s like I can do as much as 1 1/2 executives—at no additional cost or training. The downside is that I’m in the gym working out—hard—four or five times a week and eating a lot of foods I’d never even liked before. No one was around to encourage or help me. I had to learn to do it myself. But, the upside is that the time I’ve spent has created time and given me a better quality of life. I’m not a new person, but I feel like I am. It’s been so good for my confidence and self-esteem, and my business will be much more profitable as a result of the new mental clarity I have.

Maybe it’s time for a little time-out for you do some soul searching. Worry usually isn’t a good thing, but in the case of the four issues I’ve discussed in this column, maybe you can use a little worry as a catalyst for positive accomplishments.
Mike Stevens is one of North America’s most successful small printers. He owns Express Press in Fargo, North Dakota. Starting with sales of $10,900 a month in 1985, volume now exceeds $250,000 per month. You can reach him at mikestevens@expresspressusa.com or visit www.expresspressusa.com.
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