Gord Gripes
April 2009
The printer vs the business person
How you perceive yourself will determine
This is the first time in my life I have ever written a column for a magazine—a new experience!
My background is in the graphic arts industry, including printing, packaging, and marketing services as an operator and owner, and working at senior management levels in both Canada and the United States.
Today I am a principal in a company called BRSJump whose role is helping companies that are not performing up to par and suggest solutions to improve their performance before the investors or banks get involved. I believe that there isn’t a company that can’t be improved. Also, I’ll be on a few advisory boards within and outside the graphics industry.
So much for who I am.
I would appreciate input from you on subjects for this column, or questions on which you would like an opinion. Is it technology—who is spending and who isn’t—the economy; the financial health of your customers; web to print developments; how technology can help a special product line; the effect of trade shops on the market, etc. What topics would you like covered?
I’m told one of the reasons I was asked to write this column is because I say it like it is! But, writing it is different than saying it. So, on the more controversial subjects, my preference would be to provide my perspective on questions you submit.
This month, I’d like to ask: are you a business person, a printer, or both? I don’t need the answer but you do. Score yourself on the chart below. Give yourself one point for each question in the chart, either in the column marked Printer or in the column market Business Person. There are no right or wrong answers, but some interesting perceptions we’ll discuss once you’ve completed the scoring. Your score will probably comprise some attributes of a printer and some of a business person.

  • Focus on the equipment
  • Measures using schedules
  • Maximizes volume through the presses
  • Goes to printing conventions
  • Upgrades when new technology is available
  • Relies on key people in the organization
  • Loves talking about printing
  • Chases the orders
  • Looks at the financials when necessary
  • Looks for ways to improve quality at all costs
  • Best equipment
  • Focus on the market
  • Measures using financial statements
  • Maximizes profits
  • Goes to customer conventions
  • Upgrades when the current machines are maxed out
  • Relies on good processes more than employees
  • Loves talking about customers
  • Develops long-term customer relationships
  • Watches the bottom line every day
  • Looks to keep costs down with consistent quality
  • Best people
So what does this all mean? Well, I’ve found that owners or managers tend to fall into one of two categories that are often related to the size of the business. The owners or managers of smaller print companies seem to focus on different things than those of the bigger shops. For example I’d expect the owner of a smaller printing business—let’s call him Adam— to score a 10 in the printer column and a one on the business person column.
I expect Adam has built the business by being very hands-on, knowing the equipment very well and relying on a few key people to get things done. However, as Adam’s business grows, the very things that were his strengths to get the business to $10 million become weaknesses. If the business is to reach the $50 million mark, Adam needs to focus on different things or hire someone to do it, otherwise it will be very difficult to grow the business to that level.
Why $10 million in sales? This is the threshold where you find many companies. A company this size provides a good bonus at year-end; the owner doesn’t have to build in many controls or processes; he has a set goal in his mind and a comfort level operating at this size.
It’s like the sales rep who makes $90,000 a year and it’s enough for him. If he loses two accounts, he goes and gets two new accounts to continue to earn the $90,000. That’s ok, but it’s always been a frustration of mine that they don’t get six accounts. I guess the secret is to hire people who need $180,000.
For contrast, a printer who owns a larger shop might score a nine in the business person column and a two in the printer column. He focuses on the market instead of the equipment, goes to customer conventions, relies on good processes, more employees and looks for the best people.
people vs equipment
One of the areas I have always found interesting is the debate between best people versus best equipment. Usually, if not always, best people win. They will get you the best strategy and the best customers that usually end up getting you the best equipment. “Build it and they will come play” is winning less and less as margins decline. Both printers and business people, I believe, see the value of having the best people. However, there is probably disagreement as to where they are positioned in the business.
Another area where the printer and the business person connect is in measuring, although they could use different tools. The printer, if he or she has run the same business by monitoring the scheduling load and pricing, probably has a good feel for the month’s results. On the other hand, the business person might measure docket profit and equipment utilization to do his or her forecasting. As an aside, if you can accurately forecast the month’s EBIT in commercial printing, you should patent the secret.
In today’s difficult economic environment, it is extremely critical to your success as an owner to begin acting more like a business person and less like a printer. Your continued success depends upon making the right business decisions.
Gordon Griffiths is a graphics veteran who currently is a principal in BRS JUMP and can be reached at 416-374-0587 or gordon@brsjump.com
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