Gord Gripes
June 2010
The other shoe, dirty old men, nude models, and the new normal
Reflections and ramblings on the printing industry from a golf course in Arizona
It never rains in Scottsdale, where I’ve spent part of the year. However, when one of my colleagues came to visit this winter it rained for four days. Besides golf, we had rambling discussions about bigger sales forces for printers, more women driving print, new ways to grow print sales, firing estimators, target costing, and the swimsuit edition of a well-known sports magazine. But more about all that later.
Before we go on, a word that this is my last column in this space. It’s time to move on and devote more time to other projects I’ve got on the go. So here, then, are my final ramblings.
The new normal
The “new normal” is a phrase I hear more and more. The car companies are selling cars at half the rate as the good old days. Is the new normal an economy that’s stabilizing at a lower rate of business? Another phrase I hear is ‘we’re expecting the other shoe to drop’ as the doom and gloom guys talk about the economy taking a breather while warning us of more bad news to come. I’m a born optimist so I give the Canadian economy the thumbs up. However, I can’t give the printing industry the thumbs up. In the past when the economy improved, people spent more on advertising and the demand for print grew. But not this time.
Dirty old men
While there are indications the economy is turning around, there’s also a concern that it may be a jobless recovery. I think this may be a “man less” recovery. Women seem to be better than men at keeping their jobs in tough times. If you think about it, the image of the print industry has always been that it’s dominated by men—men with ink on their fingers. Many of them are getting older. So have we become an industry of dirty old men?
On the bright side, digitization is starting to attract younger sales people, especially ladies, who seem to do well in this sector. As large print contracts fade and customers want shorter runs with more variable options, the six figure sales commissions are disappearing. Printers who are ahead of the trends are putting more women on their sales forces because they seem better at handling many small and often complex orders. I’m also noticing more and more of the marketing and communications executives these days are women. Is this the new normal for the print industry?
No silver bullet
Over the last twelve months I’ve seen printers clamouring for help to grow sales—most eagerly sign up to find how to get a 20% boost. However when they find out what it takes, they gasp in horror! It can’t be done, they yell! Sorry there are no silver bullets. Building sales takes time—often more than in the good old days.
Specialists in lead generation and sales appointments tell me it now takes seven to eight calls to get the person you want on the line for the first time, up from five to six calls, and if you’re really good you can land a new large client in 22 months, compared to 18 months a few years ago. Most printers don’t use specialists who make 15 to 20 calls an hour, all day, every day. That’s 500 to 800 calls a week. How many cold calls did your sales reps make this week? If this is the new normal for your competitors, what are you doing about it?
Target costing
For the commodity end of the market, it’s time to learn from the car companies. The way to survive is by ‘target costing’. This is not a common phrase in the print industry but it’s coming. There are websites now where you can enter a print order and get quotes in seconds. The marketplace is dictating price so you have to find a way to profitably print at that target price or you’re out of the game. Like car companies, printers are facing ever-declining prices for commodity work. So it may be time to fire the estimator and spend money on your costing staff and advisors and find a way to make money with a given price. Now that sounds like the new normal!
Swim suits  And now back to the swimsuit story. You’d expect that guys are the target audience for the swimsuit edition of this sports magazine. What you may not know is that an estimated 22 million women use this issue as a shopping guide each year. WOW! And it also has its own TV show, videos, calendar and you can download swimsuit pictures to mobile phones using special bar code technologies. This year the magazine is deriving 60% of its revenues from print, 30% from digital and 10% from events related to the swimsuit edition. If this is the new normal, how are you going to persuade your customers to top that?
So these are my final ramblings. Thanks for the great support and feedback over the last year from friends in the print business. Thumbs up, Canada! 
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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