August 2006
Competing in the new market
Printing has changed, but sound strategies can still give you a winning edge
The past few years have been challenging for the printing/graphic arts business in Canada. Every company, regardless of size and product mix, has been affected by the realities of a changed world. New competitors seem to appear daily with installations of yet another digital press for short run, variable imaging, or an eight-, ten- or 12-colour perfector. And while the ongoing expansion of the Internet brings easy access to information and data on every company, product and service imaginable, the number of print jobs being done has probably shown little or no growth for a number of years. Even if the amount of printing has not declined, there can be no argument that over the past few years run lengths have decreased. Every printer, from the well-documented challenges facing the likes of a Quebecor World, to the small- and mid-sized plants that make up such a huge percentage of this industry, has been affected. The challenges of the changing marketplace have been felt throughout the industry.

It’s interesting how different companies are adapting to this changed business environment. Many organizations are frankly doing nothing in the hope that their business will return to the good old days when there was more work available, pricing was not as great an issue as it tends to be today, and there was some degree of customer loyalty. My guess is that we will never experience these utopian days again and that the sooner industry leaders come to grips with this reality, the sooner the industry can start to think about the changes required to earn a decent R.O.I.

I’d like to offer some suggestions that might help to compete in the changed world of printing.

Retrain employees to gain an edge in business
There are some very fine organizations and people that can help retrain your employees to better understand how to cope in today’s business environment. With all the changes in this industry, it’s not a stretch to say that if you’re operating much as you did five or ten years ago, you will have little or no chance for success in the much more competitive and demanding environment of business today. An underlying benefit of initiating some training within your organization is that it gives your employees confidence that you are committed to the business and their futures.

Leverage your specialties
Take a hard look at your product mix and determine the type of work in which you have some competitive advantage. Then determine the potential for this type of work, assess how much of the market you currently have, and project how much you might capture. It’s quite possible that you have several profitable product lines, which will create an even broader base from which to build. Also, look upon this as an opportunity to rid yourself of some accounts you’ve been servicing for years because you need the volume even though you have been losing money on every order and there is little or no chance of ever putting through a significant price increase. When Arthurs-Jones moved into its new plant, we had to make some decisions about what our new operation would look like, and this meant deciding what equipment we would take to the new location. After much discussion, we decided that, going forward, our operation would consist of nothing smaller than a 24" 2-colour litho press and no letterpress. We had had multis and had offered die cutting and embossing in-house for years, but decided that we would use the facilities of our suppliers who were better suited to this type of work and certainly more competitive than we were. It was a good decision.

Amalgamate your shop with other printers
Seriously consider consolidating your organization with another printer whom you respect and determine if a combined company offers greater opportunities than trying to make it on your own. The capital and the human resources needed to be successful in business today are very substantial and amalgamating complimentary companies can prove beneficial for everyone, including the customer. It’s worth remembering that 50% of something is much better than 100% of nothing, and we’re all familiar with the many companies that have closed their doors during the past five years.

Find star performers in-house
Virtually every printing company needs more sales. While I have mentioned this in previous articles, do not discount the fact that within your organization there might exist a future superstar sales rep. This person could be in administration, production or working in the plant, and on careful examination, you notice that there is some spark or competitive edge that indicates this person could be an asset in your sales department. If you have such an individual, and my guess is that most organizations do, get some psychological tests done to give you some assurance that you’ve chosen a person with the required profile to make it in sales, and coach this individual on how to be a professional. Many of the most respected and successful reps that I worked with and competed against, came from this background.
This is my final column for Graphic Monthly Canada. I have enjoyed sharing some of my thoughts and experiences with you during the past seven years. I sincerely hope that some of you have benefited from what I’ve written. My two final thoughts, which I have expressed in several other columns, are the necessity to continue to be proactive with your customers, and to constantly bring them ideas and thoughts for doing work faster, better and cheaper; and the need to commit to exceeding the customer’s expectations in everything that you do for them.
Duncan McGregor was president of the former Arthurs-Jones Inc., a Toronto-based, award-winning commercial printer. He led the $5 million-a-year firm to a five-fold increase in sales. He is now a consultant to the printing industry and can be reached at (416) 487-7666.
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