Executive Suite: Take Charge of Your Company's Future

Remember when we use to speak of printers by capacity—four- to six-color shops, the two-color entities, and then the speed printers and other smaller operations? Or by high price/high quality businesses, middlers, and then discount shops? Those were simpler times.

I write for executives and I propose we look at printing companies using a different company/status typology: Cutting Edgers, Pacers, On the Ropes, and On the Canvas.

Let’s look at each briefly.

Cutting Edgers

These companies are committed to leading the marketplace from the front. They see themselves as industry leaders. They are among the first to incorporate the newest technology, to explore the fresh buyer niches, and employ the latest marketing methods. They don’t just do this. They are committed to it. It is central to their very identity. It is who they are.


Pacers are more conservative, a few strides back on the diving board from the Cutting Edgers, but they are committed to keeping pace with the latest developments in the industry. Once something—whether it be technological or market-related—is established they will adopt it.

The future of printing belongs to these two groups.

Today you either keep up or head for the exit.

If you are in either group, know it, own it, and direct your future accordingly.

On the Ropes

Too many companies are just hanging on. They do not have pockets deep enough to keep pace and they are light years from industry leadership. They are trying to survive, by appealing to customer loyalty, cutting costs, lowering prices, and on and on.

What if your business is in this category? Well, you have lots of company. One thing in your favor is that you are now out of denial and realize your status. From here, you have to make some choices. You will be unable to remain in your current state indefinitely. You have to do something.

You need to look at options. Are their ways in which you can inch up into the Pacer category, at least with respect to some of your markets and products? Is that realistic? How long will it take? How much will it cost? Do you have the stomach for it? You always want to start with these questions. You may very well be able to move up from this survival level with a shrewd and sensible plan.

Another direction is to merge or sell. You may have a strong enough business book to be of value to another company. You may, in fact, be a complement to a nearby Pacer, making the new merged company stronger than either alone. Look at that. If you have any unique features, I encourage you to look at other companies that could use them.

But start the research. Discuss your status with key managers or employees. Have a drink with one of your trusted industry colleagues in your association. Contact a consultant who is on top of industry direction. You need a game plan, and the sooner you have one, the more options will still be open.

Do not delay. Time will not be on your side.

On the Canvas

This is the place you do not want to be—victimized by debt, deficient or antiquated equipment, and dwindling sales.

Most printing companies do not get here overnight or due to bad fortune. They get here after years of treading water and trying to do the same things they always did, only a little bit better. With fingers crossed, they relied on loyal clients and employees, hoping that would save them.

If you are here, make the best deal you can make, and get out.

The Point

So what’s the point of all this? First, know who you are. Take a fearless look at the unvarnished facts.

Second, if you are in either of the first two categories, direct your future carefully so you remain there. The industry has arguably changed more in the past few decades than it has since Gutenberg. Stay on top of the changes. Lead them.

Third, if you are in either of the last two categories, remain calm and look for an exit strategy—up or out.

Dr. David Claerbaut has spent more than 25 years consulting in the graphic arts industry. You can reach him directly at 702-354-7000 or email him at drdavid@fcbb.com. Learn more at MyPRINTResource.com/10746916.