Print Manager
August 2009
Are you prepared for the recovery?
This has been an interesting article to write since it seems that every day brings new stories about where we are in the recession cycle. For example, on May 24, Angel Gurria, head of the Organization for Economic Development and Cooperation (OECD), said the economic contraction appears to be slowing and a recovery could begin at the end of 2009. I also met with my finance guy from HSBC and he said the data was pointing to a recovery being underway. 
So, this article shifted from how to survive a recession, to outlining what they should do to prepare for the recovery. Initially, I was going to use data from printers in Canada but I confess, I had real trouble getting local printers to share their strategies. So, I headed to the States.  
Diane Koch, director of educational services at Printing Industries of America did a survey on the cost cutting printers have done. Here’s what she came up with:
  • Direct labour cuts—up to 40%
  • Administrative salary reductions
  • Commission restructuring
  • Overtime reductions or elimination
  • Four-day work weeks
  • Suspending benefit programs
  • Eliminating non-essential operating expenses like travel and conferences.
These are all things that you’d expect prudent managers to be doing. But in addition here in Canada you can consider the Work-Sharing initiative from Service Canada. This is an adjustment program to help employers and workers avoid temporary layoffs when normal level 
of business activity slows down for reasons that are beyond the control of the employer. eng/work_sharing/index.shtml

Getting ready for the upturn
So, at this point, congratulations to you if you’ve survived the downturn. Now it’s time to start planning for the upturn.
There’s no question you should continue controlling big costs such as labour. But as the upturn gains momentum you’ll need to keep your best people on board. These are the ones that you want to invest in and are vital to your profitability. If you don’t have the right people, now is a good time to bring them on. 
Cash will continue to be king so make sure that your cash position and access to capital is in good shape. As much as we sometimes avoid it, you should also be keeping your bankers in the loop. Keep you credit and collections up to date to support the cash cycle.
This is a great time to take a real hard look at your business model and try some innovative approaches. Business models designed for times of plenty come to the test and smaller, more nimble players are often able to introduce new value propositions in times like these. For example, one of my clients took this time to install and set up an online storefront portal for ordering “price list” and general fulfilment items. He used RocketPrint, but there are many other products out there to look at. (
Suppliers are trying to survive as well, so talk to them and see if they’re willing to partner with you. Try to secure some longer-term supply agreements that give you competitive prices and possible volume rebates. These types of arrangements are good for you and your supplier.
Don’t overlook possible employee turnover at what previously seemed like impenetrable accounts. With these “road blockers” out of the way, you might be able to get your foot in the door. Keep on top of your sales staff about this.
Make sure you protect your core clients. You’ve got to know which clients and products are profitable and do everything you can to hold on to them. It’s essential that you don’t forget your unique value position with these clients and if you do have to play the pricing game, make sure you explain to them that you’re doing it so that you don’t run into permanent price erosion.
In times of crises like these, the need to make more decisions in shorter timeframes is crucial to your success. Rather than relying only on an annual planning cycle, make sure that you have the systems in place to scan what’s going on and make quick changes to your business. 
And finally, communicate, communicate, communicate.
The more honest and clear you are to the people in your operation the more focused your company is going to be. Make absolutely sure that everyone knows your vision for the organization, their role in addressing short-term issues, and the contribution they can make to long-term success. It’s been a tough year but here’s to the recovery.
Lorne Patterson saw managing director of Bowne's financiak printing operations across Canada. Since 2006, he has been a consulant to the printing industry. He lives in Vancouver, but heads to his second home in Puerto Vallarta whenever he can. Reach him at
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