Quick Consultant: Social Media is No Substitute for Service

I must be showing my age, but as each day passes my distaste for smartphones grows. First and foremost, I believe smartphones (and now iPads) are responsible for a significant decline in social manners. It’s bad enough that most teenagers lack basic social skills and table manners, but their parents are quickly catching up!

I am old fashioned enough to believe that good manners and respect for others are still important, and should play a major role in both our personal and business lives. Unfortunately, I think I am in a minority these days.

The other night Mary and I went out to an expensive, high-end steak restaurant in Tampa. Mary and I have been married 44 years this month and we continue, as always, our practice of going out to dinner on Friday nights.

Believe it or not, we always have something to talk about, even after all these years. We might talk politics, or it might be about a bumpy flight from Melbourne to Tampa, or we might end up in a discussion about some bargain cruise Mary found earlier in the day.

As much as we still had to talk about, I actually think we were the exceptions at the restaurant. Most of the people sitting around us were just too busy sending tweets and texting others rather than talking to their table companions or guests.

Sitting nearby was a table of four young adults, probably in their mid-20s. During the 45 minutes or so that I observed them (I get obsessed over this kind of stuff), three of the four adults were using smartphones. Two were texting and the third was attempting to have what appeared to be a romantic conversation with someone at the other end of the line, this despite the fact that his date was sitting across from him.

His date seemed to be practicing napkin folding, since it was obvious that was the only thing she could do since the other three at her table were using their phones. Had it been me in her place, I would have gone ballistic at some point, throwing water at everyone at the table and then walking out. “Hello there, is anybody listening? Do you want to talk to me, or are you all just too busy to even see me sitting here?”


Clandestine Messages to…

Just a few feet away sat another young couple. They made a beautiful pair, and they should have had a thousand things to talk about. Instead, they each held their smartphone in one hand, while the fingers of their other hand moved furiously over their miniature keyboards sending messages to unknown recipients.

I could only imagine the clandestine messages being exchanged. The guy: “Hi, sweetheart. As soon as I drop Carla off at her apartment, I will be over. Do you want me to pick up some wine?” The woman: “All he talks about is himself. He is so boring; I can’t wait to get home. Maybe we could meet Steve and Bob at the hot tub later?”

Yes, I know lots of things have changed these past 10-15 years, and I am certainly not opposed to new technology, but just because technology is changing doesn’t mean we have to change the basic rules dealing with good manners and courtesy to others. While I don’t believe there is anything inherently wrong with texting or tweeting, it is simply impolite to send or read text messages or tweets while in the presence of others.

Folks can rationalize all they want, especially the younger generation, but if you stop a conversation with me to read an incoming text or you suddenly decide to post a tweet while in my presence, you are simply being discourteous and demonstrating poor manners.

Well, that’s my rant and I am sticking to it!


Marketing and Sales 101

As Mary knows well, even a small incident can send me into a 20-minute rant. Although I am no longer involved in the day-to-day operations at Paragon, I can’t help but hear what is going on since my office adjoins the front lobby.

Last week, I was ranting to anyone who would listen that printers in this country aren’t failing because they don’t have a Facebook page, don’t know how to tweet, or don’t maintain a presence on LinkedIn.

Printing companies are failing for far more basic reasons! In fact, Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn don’t even show up on my radar as anything other than background noise. And I challenge those who disagree to give me some proof to the contrary.

The primary causes of failure in this industry have little to do with social media acumen. And the reasons for business failure remain pretty much the same as they have been for more than 25 years:

• A growing inability to consistently deliver – on a timely basis – high quality, competitively priced products, and

• Failure to monitor and react accordingly to aberrations in key financial ratios

As simple as these two causes of failure may sound, they are violated every day, to one degree or another, by thousands of companies in this industry. Below is a very small, yet good example of reason #1 above.


Two Sets of Business Cards

Mary received a call from an architectural firm in a nearby community. The caller asked how soon she could get 500 each of two full-color business cards for two gentlemen in her office. The caller said she already had the basic artwork and just need the names and titles set.

Mary told the woman we could get her a proof in two or three hours. If we received the OK that afternoon, then we could have the cards ready for her the next day – probably around noon, but sooner if necessary. By the way, not once during the conversation did the subject of price ever come up.

The customer shows up the next morning and picks up her cards. The total charge for both sets was $106 plus tax. The cards were set 10-up (five each of two names) and were produced on the KM 5000. Total click and stock cost was less than $8. However, pricing is not, and never was, the issue in this case.


The Story Behind the Story

“Now for the rest of the story,” as Paul Harvey used to say. When the customer picked the cards up the next morning, she told Mary she had sent the same artwork to a nearby printer 10 days prior. When she called the printer (a day before she finally called us) and asked nicely about the status of her job, she was told the proof was not quite ready, but they would have it soon.

On hearing this story I thought to myself, “We could typeset and print the Guttenberg Bible in less than 10 days, and that would include time for proofing by the Apostles.” How is it possible, I wondered, that a printer in this day and age – especially considering the fragile economy – could be so disorganized, take so long on a job, and still not have it ready?

If the above was an isolated example I wouldn’t be mentioning it in this column. The reality is that this type of service, or lack thereof, is quite common in our industry. Being late on a job is bad enough, but blatantly lying about its status is an even worse offense in my book. If it isn’t lying about the status of a job, it is knowingly putting a job off to the side because it lacks some detail or requires clarification prior to going into the back shop. Many employees, rather than solving these types of problems, tend instead to put them off for others to solve.

Meanwhile, these jobs just sit around in their plastic job jackets, until the inevitable happens. The customer, not hearing from the printer in the past 10 days, places a call to the printer and inquires as to its status. Sometimes the job has been sitting around so long that owners and CSR’s look at each other with shoulders shrugged, as if to say, “I haven’t the faintest idea about the job, do you know what she is talking about?”

Monitoring Key Financial Ratios

Earlier in this column I mentioned two causes of failure in this industry. The second reason was failure to know and react accordingly when an owner discovers that one or more key financial ratios are out of kilter with the rest of the industry.

Below are some ratios developed from a special sort of data extracted from the 15th edition of the NAQP Financial Benchmarking Study. I sorted the data using the following criteria:

• Sales between $750,000 and $2 million

• Owner’s Compensation greater than 25% (these would be the top tier firms)

• Firms offering primarily digital printing vs. primarily offset

Whether a firm specialized in digital printing or it relied on offset printing as a primary source of income, the level of profitability remained almost identical, despite the fact that the distribution of key expense ratios varied significantly between the two groups. Here are some key ratios you should aspire to if you want to be a profit leader in this industry:

Digital Firms

Average Sales $1,127,066

Percent Offset Printing 21.5%

Percent Digital Printing 46.5%

Cost of Goods 20.1%

Payroll (excluding owner) 23.1%

Overhead Expenses 25.2%

Net Owner’s Comp. 31.6%


Offset Printing Firms

Average Sales $1,228,080

Percent Offset Printing 42.1%

Percent Digital Printing 8.3%

Cost of Goods 25.9%

Payroll (excluding owner) 27.2%

Overhead Expenses 18.2%

Net Owner’s Comp. 28.7%


My Conclusions

You can be a profit leader offering either digital printing or more traditional offset printing services. Virtually all of the differences in the key ratios noted above can be readily explained or justified based upon product concentration.

What is most important to note is that the key ratios presented above are from real-world companies in this industry, and they are indeed attainable, even in what we may term a fragile economy.

If you are curious about other ratios or other comparisons including the impact of outside sales reps or sales volume on profits I strongly suggest that you contact NAPL at www.napl.org and ask about purchasing a copy of the 15th edition of the Financial Benchmarking Study.

Senior contributing columnist John Stewart is president of Q.P. Consulting Inc. Contact him at 2110 S. Dairy Road, West Melbourne, FL 32904, call 321-727-2444, email qkconsult@aol.com. Be sure to check out John’s blog on his website at www.quickconsultant.com.