Printers Helping Printers: Thoughts on the New Association

Just because printers agree doesn’t make it right. And just because an expert says it is so doesn’t make it right either. I’m reminded of all this as I see another group of printers beginning a trade association with the focus of printers helping printers. Don’t get me wrong. I’m all for it, as long as it is done appropriately. Unfortunately, I know of a number of times when the old NAQP got off track. Here are a couple of experiences, which I put forth in hopes that the new group can avoid similar situations.

My favorite example is the multiple times a good presenter came with a new marketing concept. Everyone is thrilled, but fails to ask if the speaker has actually put the concept into practice and had any measurable results, or if it’s still a concept. All too often, I find the speaker hasn’t implemented the idea past the typesetting stage, but really thinks it will work. What about the last “big idea”? “Oh, that didn’t work, so we don’t do it anymore.” I’ve heard that numerous times over the years.

Speaking of good presenters, years ago I was asked to recommend someone as a speaker to the old NAQP. The printer-member  ho was chairman of the selection committee said he wanted someone who could really help them make money. I had the perfect candidate. I worked with a printer who had real money—was earning 30 percent income before owners’ compensation—although he wasn’t flashy. Remember, I followed his financials over a number of years, so he was the real deal. Of course, I couldn’t say all that, but I gave him an enthusiastic recommendation.

The selection committee chairman said, “Isn’t he the quiet guy who sits quietly in the back of the room?” Remember, this is a true story. “Yes, he is.” I said. “Hmm,” the chairman said, “I was thinking of someone with a little more stage presence. In fact,” the chairman said, “I was thinking of John Doe in Georgia.”

Well, as coincidence would have it, I worked with John Doe as well. He didn’t have any money, wasn’t making any money, but did have lots of flash with a great looking shop and lots of stage presence. I think I said, “Well, yes, he’s nice to his mother.”

Anyway, the stage-presence guy from Georgia spoke at the success panel. Oh, yeah…he was out of business within five years and my friend from the Northeast is still involved in his successful business that he has since transitioned. And, as far as I know, he never made a presentation for NAQP. Hopefully, this new group will place more emphasis on real performance and not stage presence.

In New York, one time, a printer-leader of NAQP gave advice to other printers that was in direct contradiction of the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938. Hopefully, this new group will not allow members to get outside their area of expertise in advising others.

I’ve been to a number of seminars where sales-reluctant printers tell other sales-reluctant printers of the many things they need to do before actually making a sales call. This only ensures that neither the teacher nor the student actually makes a sales call. And in a professional version of the same thing, one national sales training firm has their students spend weeks in seminars and allows them to graduate without having made one sales call.

One industry trade association executive (a former printer who excelled in association politics), defied the entire body of finance education (not just printing, mind you), by insisting that a 1:1 current ratio is perfectly reasonable in our kinds of businesses. Balderdash!

Professionals aren’t immune either.

One professional told enthusiastic owners how they could use deferred compensation as a device to fund their retirement without considering the effect this might have on a transition to a son or daughter. One of the 10 siblings who called me immediately afterwards described it as, “a harebrained idea that allows me to continue paying Dad for years for work he doesn’t do.” Coincidentally, that son and his father parted ways about five years later.

A real favorite of owners was when one professional told them to just go home and fire someone. He said they could be indiscriminate because everyone usually has 10 percent more staff than they need. More famous was his “parking lot” story. That’s where an owner takes the whole staff out on the parking lots and says, “You’re fired, but I’m going back into the shop and when I find something I need done, I’m coming back out here and hiring someone.”

Well, we ran into a Florida printer who had done a version of the “parking lot story” 15 years earlier. We knew because every employee interviewed brought it up first as an example of how erratic the owner was. Interesting thing to me is that not one of the workers who are employed by him today was an employee when the incident took place. Rather, it has been handed down from worker to worker for 15 years and it was still fresh in everyone’s mind as if it happened yesterday.

But there are good examples of how printers can really help printers. Often, it is when a printer is facing both medical and business challenges and gains support and encouragement from other printers who have faced similar circumstances.

A real plus is when a peer learns about techniques and equipment from other printers. This is probably the best use of printers helping printers. Now, this is not to say that printers don’t have good thoughts on many topics; rather it is to say that just because peers agree doesn’t make them right. Instead, it takes a unique combination of printers and professionals to get to the root of best practices.

Anyway, those are some thoughts as the new printers’ association takes off. Hope this helps.