Johnson's World: The Green, Green Pastures of Home

Sound management skills deliver success no matter what services you offer. Before you decide to ditch the "printer" label and become an MSP, look closely at how you manage the business you already have.

December 1, 2011

The year is 1985: Two plumbers are prowling the printshop installing new piping for compressed air. They’ve just entered my pressroom. The plumbers stare at the busy operation. “You mean these guys just stand around watching paper come out?” one says. “Gee, what a life!”

While the plumbers install copper tubing, a pressman approaches me. He has struggled all morning with paper more suitable for training puppies than for offset printing. “Look at those guys,” he says, motioning toward the pipefitters. “They just stick tubing together all day. Gee, what a life!”

The year is now 2011: A print broker sits in my office. “It’s rough out there,” he shares. “So, I’ve been doing research. It will be a lot easier to sell variable printing. That’s where the action is now. I hear the profits are huge!”

I smile faintly at this remark, the same silent smile I gave the plumber 26 years before. The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence. And the other side of the fence is generally in someone else’s pasture.

A great misconception haunts print. It returns as regularly as Haley’s comet, but wears a new disguise each time. The basic premise of the “green grass syndrome,” is that we can’t make money printing so we must make it doing other things. This belief lately masquerades under the “marketing service provider” moniker.

This misconception is as old as printing itself, dating back to the days when Ben Franklin became an almanac editor in the name of keeping his press busy.

Done properly, adding services works. But think hard before you jump the fence into those greener pastures.

Everything Has a Cost

Have you computed the true cost of services you are adding, or currently providing? Often ancillaries are given a “free ride” on the back of printing operations.

The thinking begins, “We have surplus office or prepress space. We’ll hire a sharp creative type and his salary will be our only expense. The cost of his space is already figured into our overhead, so any money we make filling it is just gravy. Clients will flock to us for creative services and won’t even question our printing prices.”

True, sort of, maybe. If your pricing is accurate, the cost of the empty space is being carried by your existing prepress, press, and bindery activities. That space isn’t free. Once you decide to offer marketing services overhead charges must be rebalanced. This means that your costs for print and bindery should actually go down! This isn’t price cutting, it is reallocation. The newly offered service must carry its full weight, making you more competitive on the press. That is the idea, isn’t it?

Driven to Distraction

Adding services is often a pet project of the CEO and benefits from high level involvement. Creative services won’t sell themselves! Any new initiative requires much time and attention from top management to succeed. Before proceeding, be sure this is a good thing. What if the owner dropped the idea of ancillary services and, instead, devoted his time to making the core business of print more profitable? Say, now there’s an idea.

What is Going to Be Different?

If owners can’t figure out how to make money in prepress or printing, what will be different about marketing services? There is no magic service or product line guaranteed to enhance profits. Any ancillary service, be it creative design, asset management, variable information, or inventory and fulfillment, can be rendered profitless by inept management. Conversely, if company leaders have the skills to make ancillary services profitable, why not bring these skills to bear on the company’s core business?

If the grass is greener on the other side of the fence, perhaps it is time to fertilize your own lawn.

Steve Johnson is president of Copresco in Carol Stream, IL; a pioneer in digital printing technology and print on demand. Contact him at [email protected].

Call Out: If the grass is greener on the other side of the fence, perhaps it is time to fertilize your own lawn.