Eat this change for breakfast
The advent of e-commerce will restructure the nature of client communication
Nothing happens in our industry until that sale is made. I am pleased to start this article by giving Alexander Donald much credit for his salesmanship. His unrelenting pursuit to convert two printers into “authors” has finally come to fruition. I hope that his vision of having Duncan McGregor and this west coast printer share some of our experiences and viewpoints will hit home with you. I am certainly honoured to share this column with Duncan.
In the December issue, Duncan explored the consultative value that a sales representative can bring to the sales process. He stated that our products are much more than a commodity. I agree wholeheartedly that a knowledgeable representative can add a lot of value to the work we do for our clients and, ultimately, to the profitability of a project.
The printed products we are asked to produce today are often very complex, and the expectations of ultra-short delivery times challenge the best of us. Since the introduction of Macintosh computers in the mid-’80s we have witnessed responsibility for a range of traditional, critical production functions migrate from printers to clients and graphic designers. And, with that migration, we have experienced a serious erosion of the consultative relationship that exists between a sales rep and a client.
Every printer I know has experienced those magic disks coming in, often much later than expected, with contents that do not conform to the original specifications, while a big pile of totally unsuitable paper stock sits waiting for the plates. Fortunately, this is not an everyday occurrence and I dramatize a bit. But this scenario plays out often enough, in less dramatic forms, and reflects our inability to keep up with our clients’ needs. This is the reality: the industry needs to learn and adapt. Those wonderful art boards that gave us a perfect visual reference and a little more time to do the work are not coming back.
Hemlock is not the only company that took the initiative after the Mac appeared and put on client seminars focussing on how to build better files. We have made considerable progress since then, but the number of customer-supplied disks that go through the pre-flight process without hitting turbulence still falls short of where it should be. New software releases, and many new art-college graduates, will go on creating the need for educational seminars. The opportunities to provide value to the client while establishing a more predictable and profitable relationship are still there. It’s up to printers to recognize this need and capitalize on it.
This is the reality: the industry need to learn and adapt
Successful sales reps makes it their business to know what the client needs, not only for a specific project, but also in ways that allow a printer to enhance the client’s understanding of our work. It is a rewarding experience to see a new client progress and to see turbulence diminish with every job.
The arrival of e-com
Some companies that promise to smooth the consultative process are the new crop of e-com service providers. These companies were high-profile exhibitors at the trade shows in Chicago and Toronto and have received substantial media attention. Among the trendsetters in this field are Noosh, Collabria and Impresse. Elsewhere in this issue an article describes these and other companies in great detail. My spellchecker wants me to change Noosh into noose but I will not pay attention to that for now.
If the well-printed literature from these well-financed new businesses present an accurate picture of the print process, we live in a chaotic world. Their promos are sprinkled with phrases like “error-prone methods,’’ “turns into a nightmare for everybody,” “miscommunication is rampant,” and so on.
It is hard to imagine that the typical challenges facing our industry will magically be solved by these Internet-based services, but I recommend keeping a close eye on them. I believe that we are looking at early versions of major new trends for the coming decade. The rapid acceptance of the Internet and e-commerce during the last two or three years points to demand for more structured communication in the business-to-business sector. The sophistication of the online shopping sites is becoming impressive (www.chapters.ca is my favourite) and Internet banking has moved from a novelty to an everyday solution for thousands of customers. If the volume of venture capital flowing into these new dot.coms is another indication, we are looking at a massive influence.
But we’re printers; we have lived with massive change for about three decades now. We eat change for breakfast! We were trained on Linotypes and now run computer-to-plate devices. There’s not much that intimidates us about embracing technological progress.
The Internet, and all that it brings, may well become the biggest change we will deal with during our careers. The possibilities of enhancing communication with our clients, suppliers, employees and stakeholders are compelling. It is a great opportunity for innovative companies able to recognize that potential. My advice is talk softly, buy a computer for every desk, train each employee to use it and get a fast Internet connection.
Dick Kouwenhoven is the CEO and founder of Vancouver-based Hemlock Printers Ltd., a sheetfed printing company, with sales offices in Vancouver, Victoria, Seattle and San Francisco. He can be reached via e-mail at email@example.com, or by telephone at (604) 439-5001.