Case Study: Case of the $250,000 Blahs, Part 2

I have spent a lot of time with printing companies in the $250,000-$350,000 sales range since I started full-time consulting in 1985. In 1999 I wrote a piece about common issues and I recently wondered what had changed since then. As I wrote last month, our first problem still is the lack of financial information. So what else? Here’s more on my update.

Many companies of this size think they are different than what they are. Many think they serve a variety of customers over a wide area. In some 80 to 90 percent of these shops, 25 customers make up 50 to 75 percent of the total business. In 1999, we found shops that serviced customers who were hundreds of miles away. We still do. OK, so a good customer moved. Continue to sell to them, but develop other customers replace them. Sell first where you are, not where you’re not.


Web Expectations

Today, many printers try to build websites capable of selling to millions. Ain’t gonna happen! Sure, there’s VistaPrint, and perhaps you do have a brilliant idea. But the 20,000+ printers of this size should be focused on using the Web to service a focused group of customers.

Back in 1999, we called a big Yellow Pages ad “selling.” Today, we replace it with “networking events” that largely turn out to be, as one printer told me, “not working” events. Speaking of useless, many have focused their energies on social media while still avoiding selling something to someone. It’s the hint-hope method. You hint that you print and hope they will ask to buy.

A few do use social media appropriately and are seeing results. But you must understand it thoroughly, be able to write, and have a plan (a sales funnel, if you will). Otherwise, don’t waste hours avoiding asking someone to buy something.


Focus on What Counts

• Real business is found among those who need to buy what we do—whether it is direct mail or email broadcasting. Our job is to find them, visit them, and help them with their real work. They are readily identifiable, yet most of us still don’t have a database of prospects. Those who do often don’t have enough information.

• We still do work we shouldn’t. A printer had problems pricing 40+ sheet (signature) booklets because her bookletmaker wouldn’t do 20 signatures and there was no one to broker it to. Further, she priced it low because the customer needed a low price. Sell what we do, not what we don’t, and price it for profit always.

• We still organize around people and not functions. We hire someone who can only work from 10:00 until 2:00, so we settle and spend our spare time filling in for them. Organize around functions, not people.

• Avoid complex and convoluted invoicing systems. I don’t care how the bookkeeper wants to do it. And I don’t care if she’s your wife. OK, you care, but you need to work it out because if you are duplicating work that doesn’t need to be done, that’s waste.

• Analyze less and sell more. Analysis without action means spit.

• Make it easier to multi-task. Place functions nearby so the CSR can help with bindery and answer the phone at the same time.

• And finally, establish a daily minimum sales requirement. Post it on your bathroom mirror and don’t come home until you have reached it.

Let’s summarize. Companies at this level don’t have good financials and don’t work with a budget. As a result we gamble on expansion. Sometimes we win, but often we lose. Understand what our business really is and where our customers are located. Use our marketing and sales time wisely. Sell where we are, not where we’re not. Sell what we do, not what we don’t.

And, if our business is in trouble, then pledge to close it within two years unless we can fix it: meaning we will earn more money and have more time with our family than if we did anything else. And if we can’t, close it up and go do something else.


Tom Crouser is principal of Crouser & Associates, Inc., 4710 Chimney Drive, Charleston, WV 25302; call 304-965-7100 or visit He works with businesses undergoing transition and welcomes your inquiries. Message him at and follow all of his posts at or