How are you preparing for the future? Where should you start? My suggestion can be distilled to two basic points:
- 1. Define and clearly state your market niche. What’s your differentiation plan? Keep this in front of your management team at every meeting. Although this is an easy action item, surprisingly few firms actually implement it.
- 2. Consider the customer’s perspective. See your operation from their eyes, not yours.
Here are some additional observations gleaned from observing hundreds of printing operations and working with some of the best minds in our business.
Establish a benchmark. What do current and past customers think of your firm? A third-party customer survey should be your first step. The NAPL offers the EKG program; other consultants also offer this service. One caveat: The survey can identify problems—it’s up to you to develop the right culture or business model to address them.
Keep things clean. I joined a buyer of folding cartons on a visit to three plants he was considering working with. On our first stop, as soon as we entered the production area, he asked to use the nearest bathroom. It was filthy. Within two minutes we were on the road to see the next plant. I asked him why we left so fast—you can guess the answer. A plant tour is a chance to impress a customer and show off what you can do.
Offer premedia services at reasonable prices. Some of the largest printers learned this years ago. They will take a bushel of disorganized copy, design the magazine, and offer very reasonable rates to advertisers to design the ad, obtain favorable mailing rates and make your magazine look good. The poor firms say, “Give me a PDF and the specs, and we will do what you say.”
Look at your customer lounge. I asked a printer who his customers are, and he stated that they were female buyers and designers from colleges within 500 miles. The three customer lounges had high-calorie drinks, high-fat snacks and, for reading materials, Deer Killers’ Monthly. The Internet connection didn’t work. About five months later, I was in a plant on the West Coast that catered to designers. Its three customer lounges were designed by a designer. They featured baby cribs, large Mac computers, and even air-conditioned dog kennels.
Find ways to help your customers. One prepress trade house would bring together five designers to present a basic design for the customer’s project. The customer then selected one and proceeded to a final design. This trade house had access to 60 designers and wowed its customers.
Learn from the multidisciplinary teams at major medical clinics. Top-notch treatment centers will convene a team of their specialists to determine and communicate a patient’s options. For major print campaigns, bring your team together to brainstorm ideas and then have the team present them to the customer. We all like to save money or have a job come out better.
Go online. Look at some of the successful web-based companies and take a look at how they are making things as easy as possible for customers. It will inspire your own thinking.
MAKE TIME FOR FACE TIME
Finally, have lunch each quarter with your top 15 customers. If you take these thoughts to heart and take action, you will be prepared for the future!
Raymond J. Prince retired in December 2012. He is one the printing industry’s greatest champions and the nicest guy we know.