Crazy moments from my life in print
Seven memorable episodes that may have lessons for your printing business
Ihow is your sense of humour? Because I’d like to share the seven craziest things that happened to me during my 25 years in the printing industry. You may think I’m stretching the truth just a little. I’m not. Everything is true. And besides, I’m not creative enough to make this up.
1 The crying mom A new mom came into our print shop one morning carrying a set of ultrasound pictures of her unborn baby. She asked if we could laminate them. My front-counter person said, “Sure,” and proceeded to laminate the images. The only problem was, the pictures were printed on a heat-sensitive thermal paper and the heat from the laminating machine virtually destroyed the images. They were irreplaceable. The distraught mom stood and cried at our front counter for three hours until her husband left work and came to pick her up. We all felt awful, but there was nothing we could do to fix the problem we had created.
2 Three giant accounts in 12 months These contracts took our monthly sales to $230,000 from $160,000. Amazingly we absorbed it all without buying additional equipment or adding personnel. Our profits skyrocketed to more than $35,000 per month! We worked a ton of overtime; it was crazy in a good sort of way.
3 The rest of the story Those giant accounts I just mentioned, well, I lost all three of them just as fast as they arrived. Within two years they were all gone. The first customer left due to reasons unknown. Customer number two—a non-profit organization—left because they felt they could convince donors to pay for printing in various cities where they provided services. (I was their single supplier.) And customer number three, well that was the worst. They were printing $30,000 a month with me and always paid on the 60th day, so they always owed me about $60,000. Then one day they just quit paying. They said “Be patient, we’ll pay you in 30 days.” I waited. They didn’t pay, but they did declare bankruptcy and I was left holding $92,000 of bad debt—probably the biggest bad debt write-off in the history of quick printing. Not one of my finer moments, and it just about drove my crazy.
4 The porn star interview I ran an ad for a graphic designer and one applicant, who worked for a big accounting firm in town, sent me the most creative job application I’ve ever received—a very clever resume specifically for the job. When she showed up for the interview, she looked like a movie star—a very sexy movie star. Very high heels, a skirt that was way too short, and a very tight fitting outfit that left my manager—a woman—and me stunned. Neither of us knew where to look! When she left, my manager said, “Mike, she’s great but we just can’t hire her. She’d be too big of a distraction.” We didn’t hire her.
About six months later, I was elected to the board of an organization in Fargo. One of the other board members was senior partner at the accounting firm where this graphic designer worked. When I brought up her name, he said she had turned out to be his worst publicity nightmare. He had discovered she moved to Fargo to escape her career as an adult-film actress. In fact, she had won the equivalent of an Oscar in the adult industry less than two years before I interviewed her. He learned all this when she quit to move to Denver and marry her fourth husband—at 27.
5 Direct mail advertising Some people thought I was crazy to do so many mailings. We had a stretch of 157 consecutive months without missing a mailing, averaging more than 4,000 pieces a month—more than 600,000 in all. It sounds crazy, but it worked. I made more than $5 million profit during the 23 years my printing firm was in business.
6 Supreme Court embarrassment A law firm came to us to print and bind legal briefs for the most important case they had ever argued—to the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington, D.C. Imagine our horror when one of the briefs was returned by the Court for a reprint because it contained an extra page advertising an anti-abortion clinic. My Xerox service representative speculated that static electricity “trapped” that one single page inside the copier and then randomly dropped it into the Supreme Court brief. I thought the lawyer was going to kill me.
7 The Walk of Fame Many years ago I visited Grauman’s Chinese Theatre in Hollywood. As I was standing on the sidewalk where celebrities had put their hands and feet into the cement, I thought about what a brilliant publicity scheme it was. Then I wondered if anyone had ever tried it in another city. Well, I went home to Fargo and got permission to start our own Walk of Fame. Even though Fargo is about as different from Hollywood as can be imagined, it worked. We had the time of our lives as more than 100 celebrities visited the “Fargo Walk of Fame” in front of my print shop. Garth Brooks spent three hours at our print shop. Aerosmith spent an hour in our print shop lunchroom eating candy bars; and George W. Bush even visited once. It was crazy, but a lot of fun.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.expresspressusa.com.