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Printer fights economy with creativity, smart investments

Apr 1, 2010 12:00 AM

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Michigan has been hit hard economically, and Grand Rapids — a city of 200,000 residents — has a lot of competing print providers. In January, I asked the owner of a regional commercial printer, “How is the business going?” I expected a gloomy answer but instead heard excitement. In 2009, the firm had a good year with slight growth as it invested for the future, and the owner felt confident going into 2010. I had an opportunity to learn what this firm did in 2009 and what it is doing in 2010 to accelerate growth.

The SWOT analysis

The printer wanted to quantify customer loyalty, client share, product quality and service quality, as well as generate sales leads.

340 customers participated in a short survey. A strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats (SWOT) analysis of the results revealed that the printer's top strengths were: It continues to gain client share in each account, moving from 45% in 2008 to 54% in 2009 and 56% in 2010; customers from both acquisitions gave the company very high marks, and 95% of the new customers were likely or very likely to recommend it to others; and personnel, especially some new sales people, received glowing compliments.

Two weaknesses came up: Awareness of non-print services; and customers viewing the firm as a printer, not a business partner.

Opportunities exist in two areas: 36% of the customer base would seriously consider the printer for anything in the marketing area; and numerous customers look elsewhere to buy signage, promotional products and graphic design — three areas the firm is focused on expanding into. They now have qualified sales leads to pursue.

The top threats: Trying to be everything to everyone when it came to production, instead of selecting jobs they know they do well partnering to redirect other jobs; and weak web-based purchasing, which is leaving them open to online competitors.

Customer feedback is not something this printer collects and puts on a shelf. Management is deliberate about its process: Plan by first collecting customer feedback, do something with what is revealed, check by monitoring and measuring, and act by standardizing on new processes and rolling out new services. Staying close to your customers on a continuous basis is difficult, yet essential. Leveraging technology makes it easy for you and your customer to keep the lines of communication open.

Michael Casey is president and founder of Survey Advantage ( He is a strategic partner with NAPL supporting its consulting and research practices, he integrates project surveying with MIS systems and he is an approved supplier for several franchise networks.