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Online Sales Cinic: You Need A Stable Core!

About a year ago, I added Pilates training to my workout regimen. Pilates is all about building a strong and stable core, it focuses on the muscles of the upper legs, hips, abdominals, and lower back. Like yoga, Pilates requires flexibility to get the maximum benefit. I actually started it because I want to increase my flexibility.

So what does this have to do with printing? To answer that question, I have to take you to a hotel lobby bar in Indianapolis where I was having a conversation with a couple of printers during a franchise event a couple of weeks ago. One of them asked me if I thought we were just starting a new cycle with all of the talk about transitioning to become marketing services providers, and whether we’d eventually come back through that cycle to the core products, printing and copying.

My answer: No, because those products don’t provide a stable core.

Less Ink/Paper/Toner

It’s pretty generally accepted that there’ll be less print in the future than there has been in the past. Print is not dying, as many maintain, because dead means that it will be completely gone. I don’t see that happening in my lifetime (although I just turned 61, so my lifetime probably doesn’t take us out more than 25 years, no matter how much Pilates I do.) The demand for printing and copying is certainly diminishing, though. The proverbial writing will not be on the printed page. That writing is already on the wall.

Now, that’s not to say that someone won’t be able to make a good living selling the old core products for the next 25 years, but it’s going to get harder and harder. So here’s your choice, to work harder and harder at selling what you’ve always sold, or to apply some of that effort to expanding your business into new products and services, specifically the marketing services. As the old saying goes, you can pay me now or you can pay me later. You’re going to have to work hard. Will that be to combat shrinkage or to facilitate growth?

What You’ve Always Sold

If you think about it, this is really all part of the evolution of the business. Bob Hall was a speaker at another recent franchise event, and I think everyone enjoyed his nostalgic look back at some of the products and services and technologies that have “been and gone” in the industry. How long has it been since you sold a rubber stamp, or called a customer to let them know that the fax they were waiting for had arrived?

Yes, you are facing a more dramatic change now than you probably have in the past, but it is still only evolutionary change. What does that mean? The good news in this situation is that no one’s going to flip a switch anytime soon and kill every quick/digital/small commercial printer who hasn’t completed the transition from print provider to marketing services provider. The bad news, of course, is that your printing/copying volume will almost certainly shrink as the demand for your current core products continues to decline.

So yes, there’s a threat, but there’s also an opportunity—to get out in front of the evolution and to arrive at the ultimate destination sooner. Here’s an observation. If the distance from “typical quick/digital/small commercial print provider” to “fully capable marketing services provider” is 100 units of measure, no more than 10 percent of the industry is farther than 20 units along. This is a wide-open opportunity to gain market share with new products and services.

Here’s some more good news. Marketing may have less demand for print, but businesses will have no less demand for marketing. If fact, there is constant demand for more effective marketing strategies and techniques. To put it simply, everyone wants to grow their business, but most business owners and managers don’t know how. That’s especially true in small business America, and isn’t that who makes up most of your customer base? Printing and copying do not provide a stable core, but every sign says that marketing services will.

You Are an MSP

Here’s a closing thought for today. You are already a marketing services provider, because printing is one of the marketing services. We’re not talking about developing a completely new core business here. Just like Pilates, we’re talking about strengthening—and stabilizing—your current core. And, like Pilates, some flexibility is required.

What does that mean? Very simply, open up your mind to the possibilities and to the opportunity. If you go into this thinking you can’t, you probably won’t. But someone else will.

Dave Fellman is the president of David Fellman & Associates, Cary, NC; a sales and marketing consulting firm serving numerous segments of the graphic arts industry. Contact Dave by phone at 800-325-9634 or by e-mail at Visit his website at