The PN Advisory Board Weighs In

With the changing economy, the changing face of the print industry, and heck, the changing weather here in the Northeast, we at Printing News decided to chat with our Advisory Board to get advice for printers struggling to survive, as well as their perspective on what the landscape will look like as the year progresses.

Rich Schielke of Mohawk Paper, and Andrew Fetherman of Muller Martini responded to the call, and had a few great things to say.

PN: Can you make five suggestions on ways printers can return to profitability, or grow profits, in 2010?

RS:

  1. Expand service and creative offerings—be sure to have the right digital printing equipment that will help your customers and prospects grow their business.
  2. Expand direct mail marketing and printing efforts; yours and your customers. We are seeing signs of strong growth in this area.
  3. Focus on environmental sustainability in your business—focus on environmental savings will result in financial savings and still matters and appeals to many corporations and print buyers. Target sales and marketing efforts toward new buying influences like the Corporate Sustainability Officer or the Manager of Environmental Affairs.

    We have seen new decision makers with titles like titles like Sustainability Coordinator, Environmental Resource Coordinator, Sr. Community Affairs Manager, Mgr. Corp. Governance & Compliance, Sr. Manager Environmental Risk, Corporate EHS Manager, Mgr Corporate Responsibility and Director, Global Corporate Citizenship come on to the print buying scene. Major corporations, educational institutions and nonprofit organizations have found that progressive environmental practices resonates with customers, shareholders, donors and regulators.
  4. Go social media—cruise Linkedin and Linkedin groups and be part of the action—there are so many people looking to hook up in a buy or sell or knowledge needing/sharing mode. I can't believe the blogging on Face book & Twitter. The next generation of decision makers are entering our industry here.
  5. Strategic planning—get back to long term one- and two-year planning—not the day by day week by week planning. Specialize—be a pro in one or three industries—be the go to printer for a few specific industries/market segments. Be the expert.

AF:

  1. Invest in digital printing technology—Whether you are in the book manufacturing, newspaper, direct mail, etc. market, every printer must already have or very quickly implement a digital strategy for their operation. The downstream benefits of digital technology are creating a high demand for this type of workflow. The customers that quickly implement solutions will benefit greater from the demand.
  2. “Right size” the company—Since many operations have experienced a slow down over the last 18 to 24 months, one must look at the current size of their organizations compared to the current and projected future revenue streams. This exercise will in many cases create a need to “right size” the organization to better match the resources (equipment and people) with the now potentially smaller company size from a sales perspective.
  3. Diversify into new, comparable markets—During economic down turns like the current one, companies should look outside their existing core markets to find new business opportunities. However, one should be cautious about looking into markets that are completely dissimilar to their current product offerings. Many times a product offering can be modified to fit another comparable market that may be experiencing growth. For example, a commercial printer may want to look to the packaging market for growth opportunities.
  4. Take advantage of low interest rates—Companies should look to consolidate some short-term debt into longer-term notes to take advantage of the current low interest rates. With the prospect of interest rates rising in the near-term, this will provide them with lower debt costs now and into the future.
  5. Invest more in marketing—As the economy continues to improve, investing more marketing dollars promoting your key advantages from a product and services perspective can make you more visible to clients looking to place their new business. While this seems strange to invest money to increase profitability, you need to make sure you capture the work before you can improve your bottom line.

PN: Do you see the business climate improving in the next 12 months? Why or why not?

RS: Yes—although activity was slightly sluggish in late February. We get a very unique look at trends and projections from the upscale premium high-quality spend perspective. Quote and order activity is improving for premium grades which indicates general recovery.

AF: Although the business climate is already improving in certain market segments (e.g.: packaging, digital book manufacturing, etc.), we still have some time before the overall market experiences consistent gains. There is still an overcapacity of equipment availability in the market that will continue to pressure profit margins as companies fight to fill their equipment.

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