Quick Consultant: An Important Message from Our Lost & Found Department

As best as I can figure, 2010 will represent my 25th anniversary writing a column for Quick Printing, and I have to say it has been a blast. What other publication would allow me to have so much fun sharing so many rants and raves, so many funny stories, and so many sad ones as well?

They’ve been very good to me at this magazine. I can only recall one time in 24 years where a senior editor objected to something I had written. It was some reference to D-Day, and for the life of me I can’t recall what the details were.

Karen and Bob Hall have been fantastic folks to work with. The only time I ever had a run-in with Karen was when Larry Hunt and I hired her to edit our book “Print Shop for Sale.” A day after sending her the first draft, I could hear Karen yelling all the way from Charleston, WV, even without the benefit of a telephone or email.

She took a first look at our electronic file and almost had a heart attack looking at all the italics and exclamation marks Larry and I had used in our first draft. Every time we had something important to say, Larry or I would place it in italics. To us, everything was important, so we ended up with something like 7,000 words and sentences italicized and 750 exclamation marks (or something like that). She gave us a stern lecture about our overuse of these features. She was right, of course, and thanks to her we are in our second printing (2,500 books and counting), and we owe a great deal of gratitude to her for all her work.

High Payroll & “Zero” Marketing

If you’ve been reading my columns for a number of years, you’ve certainly noticed that I tend to split them up with small talk (like the copy above) at the beginning, and then follow up with something more serious. This is the serious stuff.

Recently I have been busier than ever providing business valuations as well as on-site consulting services. The combination of these two provides me with a sense of where the industry is headed and what many firms need in order to survive and prosper.

While I continue to share many of these insights about our industry and challenges in my monthly columns, I have also launched a new blog at www.quickconsultant.com/blog where I can address these issues on a more immediate basis. I invite you to visit my blog and leave comments or questions if you wish.

In the past six weeks I have encountered four firms with sales in the neighborhood of $450,000 and three with sales in excess of $1.2 million. All four of the larger firms (visit my blog for additional commentary) shared two things in common—huge payroll costs and a total lack of any consistent marketing program to promote the business and increase sales.

As for payroll cost, it remains the single largest challenge in this industry. In the case of the four firms mentioned above, the payroll ranged from 32% to 41%; making it virtually impossible to produce any sustainable, long term profits. To say that I am flabbergasted to encounter such extraordinarily high payroll costs is an understatement.

As for marketing efforts (or the lack thereof), at least in three of the four companies mentioned above had no marketing plan in place, whether it involved open houses, direct mail, monthly email newsletters, packaging, or for that matter, anything that would qualify as a marketing program. Zero…nil…nada!

Our Lost & Found Department

So with these observations in mind, I thought I would share with you just one advertising idea in this month’s column. It is simple, easy to prepare, and it will at least get you off to a start in 2010. It is what I call our “Lost & Found” letter.

This direct mail idea consists of a #10 envelope, a simple letter (personalized or not), and a 4x8.5" business reply card (BRC). The mailing is intended to be humorous, while at the same time getting former—or “lost”—customers to tell you why they left, as well as an invitation to give your firm another try. Obviously, you are free to modify, but if you decide to use this letter don’t send it to committee or subject it to over analysis because if you do it will never get done and still be on your desk a year from now.

First, the letter and BRC are intended to be mailed to customers who you have not seen in six to eight months. You choose the period of time. Such a list ought to be readily available from your estimating software. If not, then shame on you!

Second, you need to typeset and print a #10 envelope with copy that carries a message such as: Important Message From Our “Lost & Found” Department. Given the choice, I would probably imprint the message in red and use a typestyle similar to what might appear if it was a rubber stamp.

Third, is the letter itself. Personalize it if you want, but don’t discard the idea simply because you can’t personalize it. Here is the copy of the letter:

Dear Susan (or Dear Lost Customer),

Have you ever lost a set of keys, a credit card, or a cell phone and worried yourself sick until you found the missing item? Well, at Paragon Printing & Graphics we feel like maybe we’ve lost something far more important—You and your business!

We haven’t seen or heard from you in a number of months and we just wanted to check in and make sure that everything is OK. We also wanted to make sure that it wasn’t something that we did or didn’t do that has resulted in our not hearing from you.

So, Edgar Simpkins, director of our “Lost and Found”department, decided that we should take the bull by the horns and take two steps in our effort reach out to lost customers.

First, Edgar has decided that we should offer lost customers a special, 14% Off coupon that can be applied to any job, large or small. The only catch is that this coupon must be used within the next 60 days.

Edgar has also requested that we enclose a simple business reply card that can assist us in determining why it’s been so long since we last saw you. So, we are asking if you would please take 30 seconds or so and complete the enclosed “Lost and Found” inquiry card.

Edgar and I want to thank you for your time and we look forward to hearing from you and reading your cards.
Mary F. Stewart

Of course, you are free to use the above copy exactly as is, including our company name. Or just for fun, you might consider inserting your own company name where appropriate and using your own name under the signature.

The Response Card

Fourth, hopefully, you have a Business Reply Permit number on file with your local Post Office. Assuming you do, one side of the card needs to be addressed to “ATTN: Lost & Found Department,” followed by your company name, etc.

On the opposite side of the card, you need to offer three or four choices for responses. Remember, you need to keep the copy light. We’re not trying to write a thesis here or embarrass the recipients. Just give them a chance to check one or two responses. Here is some proposed copy:

Dear Mary and Edgar,

( ) We still consider your company to be our vendor of choice, but as you can imagine things have been a bit slow. But when business picks up we will be back.

 ( ) My nephew started a small print shop in his garage and my sister/brother insists we use him, even though he is color blind and can’t tell the difference between blue ink and red!

 ( ) To be honest, we had a bad experience the last time we used your firm and we decided to take our business elsewhere. Sorry.

 ( ) Actually, we are now working on a new marketing project and we would like to talk to you by phone or in person to discuss this project further.

( ) Other: _________________________________________

Directly beneath these options are some simple spaces where they will provide their name, company name, address, phone, and email address.

How many responses will you get? Who knows? Will it break the bank? It’s doubtful. Will much be accomplished? Once again, who knows? All I can tell you is that it has worked for us on at least two occasions in the past and this column has prompted me to attempt this same mailing again in January.

How about you? If you do try it I would love to hear about your results. Until then, have a Merry Christmas, a joyous holiday season, and a prosperous New Year.

Senior contributing columnist John Stewart is president of Q.P. Consulting, Inc. He is the co-author of the industry best seller “Print Shop For Sale.” Visit his website at www.quickconsultant.com or a website dedicated to the book at www.printshopsforsale.net. Contact him at 2110 S. Dairy Road, West Melbourne, FL 32904, call 321/727-2444, or email qkconsult@aol.com. This article is available as a podcast at www.quickprinting.com/podcast and from iTunes.