What Makes a Printer Successful?

People often ask what sets successful printers apart. For 20 years, I’ve been compiling QP’s Top 100 list and writing shop profiles, so I’ve had plenty of opportunity to observe all kinds of printing companies. I’ve interviewed many owners in depth about their business practices, and have come away with a few that apply across the board. I should probably write a book about it, but these are the basics.

Identity. The most successful print owners know what sets their company apart from the competition. They know because they are the ones who conceived it, designed it, and brought it into being. These owners are not shaken by the tumultuous changes that constantly buffet this industry because they understand how to leverage their company’s strengths and how to grow in keeping with their own vision. This is almost never based on technology because these owners know that technology, by its very nature, is constantly changing.

Customer communication. Successful printers know their customers. They don’t just know their names and where their companies are located, they really understand what makes their customers’ businesses tick. They know because they talk to their customers on a regular basis—not just when they are trying to get an order. You can’t forge a real relationship via social media, direct mail, or email. You have to get face-to-face with your customers and really engage with them. This relationship building sets the top printers apart from those whose customers see them as just another vendor.

Selling. How many times have you read it in these pages? Successful print owners actively sell on a regular basis. Virtually every columnist who has ever written for this publication has worked to drive that message into the industry. If those iterations haven’t yet sunk in, listen up now. If you want to succeed in this business you must go out and sell something to somebody. Yes, you can hire outside salespeople, but in an entrepreneurial business, there is no substitute for a selling owner.

Marketing. Successful owners have a well thought out marketing program. They don’t cut marketing efforts when times are tough because they know that consistency is what makes marketing work. Also, maintaining your marketing program when everyone else is cutting theirs makes your company look strong and gives you an edge in brand awareness.

Employee relations. Every truly successful printer I’ve ever interviewed has made a point of saying that their employees are their greatest asset. Owners who do more than give lip service to that concept have loyal staff members who stay with them for years. When you hire good people, keep their training up to date, and cultivate a company culture based on respect, you build a foundation that can see you through just about anything.