Keeping Print Relevant: Lessons Learned from a Bad Decision

Are you guilty of being a Monday morning quarterback for some key business decisions? I am.

A few years ago, I had to make a key decision of where to allocate funds to strategically grow a digital printing company. Similar to many, my choices were equipment, skill set, or facility. I chose equipment.

You must be thinking that I regret the purchase of equipment, in general, at that time, but I do not. The story goes on, that in that same year I had the opportunity to speak to the inaugural FESPA (Federation of European Screen Printers) conference held in the Miami. My topic was new technology in the American print market, and it was being addressed to leaders of POP (point of purchase) and packaging companies both in the US and around the world.


Other Viewpoints

Over the few days I spent at the conference, I got to meet a lot of really interesting and accomplished people, who were very forthright in sharing the tremendous opportunity in POP, specifically printing on rigid substrates. The paradigm shifts surrounding the advances in inkjet technology and the affordability of the devices have caused a renaissance in wide-format.

The moderators of the event did a masterful job getting everyone organized around and excited about one word: Innovation. The singular focus on that word alone is what opened everyone up to discuss business matters (financial, employee, capital requirements) on a level of granularity and detail that I have yet to participate in again to date.

Hearing all the discussions—and being an entrepreneur—I knew it was the right time to act and take a good hard look at POP. Moreover, everyone from industry pundits to the postmaster general was citing a precipitous decrease in direct mail for the near term. However, I was not able to shift fast enough.


The Decision

My temptation was a current model digital press that was marked down so low that I just had to get it. My rationalization was that I had another one similar to it and that it would help create the necessary scale to compete effectively for larger campaigns. The empirical data was clear, the pundits were saying focus on additional services and my instinct was echoing those sentiments, but I fell victim to my own rationalization.

POP was another space all together. The equipment was not familiar. I would need to re-train both production employees and salespeople to sell another service. These and others thoughts were all racing through my mind; and ones which ultimately forced the fumble.

In hindsight, I was forgetting one thing. My roots were in instant printing, and I received training in a segment like no other in graphic arts, one which teaches us that customer requirements can be as esoteric as fax services one day and a direct marketing package, complete with pURLs, the next. We knew how to be agile. We were not talking a Devin Hester-style 100-plus yard punt return if we offered POP, but rather building a few more plays for our special teams.

Ultimately, we did buy the used digital press in lieu of the new POP equipment, but our digital press, much like Donovan McNabb’s attitude, did not perform as expected and was sidelined. Excessive maintenance costs and general apathy from not getting the exercise to keep it on top of its game has led it to become an owner’s nightmare—an under-utilized white elephant.

Interestingly enough, and all too similar to Donovan’s situation, I am now unable to trade or recover my “too low to pass up” price on the digital machine. My only option is to waive it for a total loss or possible trade abroad, either of which will undoubtedly lead to frustration and drain valuable time.


The Analysis

The lessons learned here are many. The most important for me, is that I have to rely more on my “quick printing” roots, which have taught me that customer needs will always change (rapidly) and that marketing services, as long as they are financially sustainable, should reflect what customers are willing to purchase.

Let’s continue the conversation on Twitter @thinkvariable or connect with me at Until then, keep printing, my friends.


Sudhir Ravi is a serial entrepreneur in the marketing services industry who grew up in his father’s quick printing business. After successfully starting and selling two technology businesses, he started a variable data print practice within TVP Graphics in Streamwood, IL, in 2004. Contact him at or 312-772-3191.