R is for the “rest” of the story…

The rest of the story is highly dependent upon the artwork provided by designers and their expectations of the finished product.

My most favorite designer to work with calls me while she is working on a project. She will say she’s thinking of doing this or that and asks how that would that influence the way the job would run.  She knows that we have a shop full of different size presses that have many different capabilities and tolerances. She also takes into account the clients budget and doesn’t over-design a piece that could easily be produced on a smaller press; but that also means acknowledging the limitations of that smaller press. The smaller press may not be able to carry heavy ink coverage so she will design around that. There is a level of understanding that makes her really good at her job and I am happy to be able to use my skills to assist her.

Another client has learned to take into account how he chooses color for his headers for a multi-page catalog. Colors made by CMYK that use very small percentages have very littler tolerance on press. Any small move to pictures below will send the headers off into different hues. Getting them to match up then from page to page is sometimes maddening and can create quality issues. He now chooses CMYK ink combinations that will include zero percentages of Magenta and Black that in turn will allow him to make color moves on his photos. It makes a huge difference acknowledging and addressing the real issues of machinery limitations.

I have a shop full of people who work hard every day to deliver quality jobs to our customers. We can do it more often if we’re included in the design stage of the job.

Q is for quality!

Quality is a subjective term relating to the expectations of the customer, printer and other professionals associated with the production of a job and whether the finished product meets those expectations.

I fuss about my customer’s quality expectations all the time. It is a personal and very subjective opinion, and every single client I deal with factors this differently. I’ve been told I’m over-concerned about quality standards by some, and then sometimes I get the impression that I’ve fallen short for other clients. What is quality to you and how do you determine it?

We mass produce printed products from automated equipment that can print, score, trim and bind at fast speeds. It is that automation or speed that allows us to print thousands and hundreds of thousand pieces quickly and efficiently. It is also that automation or speed that creates the need for allowances to be built into any job since all machinery has a tolerance. What I mean is that not every single piece of paper coming off an automated machine is going to print, trim or bind in the exact same way as the one before it. Go ahead and try to cut out ten pieces of paper by hand. If you take enough time you can most-likely get all the pieces cut the same. Now, fold each piece in half. Again, you might be able to keep all ten looking exactly the same if you spend enough time on the effort. Now, try binding some of the pieces together and I think you see my point. Every time you add another function to a job, whether it’s by hand or automated, the greater the odds become that the piece will have more issues that a client might associate with quality. Although printers have creeps and scores and other technical ways to ensure your printed pieces will turn out the way you want, there are other factors out of our control.

Tomorrow you’ll get the “rest” of the story…

P is for Product

I remember overhearing this conversation about thirty years ago…my dad was talking to my grandpa about concerns for the future. Most-specifically, that economists were predicting that we (the people of the United States) were developing into a country of lower-pay service jobs. I’m not an economist, but I think we have become just that. What has happened to the products we used to manufacture?

We all know that many corporations moved their product manufacturing overseas because growing countries have workers who are willing to work for less pay than Americans have come to expect. Our domestic manufacturing jobs provided good incomes that allowed Americans to buy houses, furniture and cars. This in turn kept home builders, furniture makers and automobile plants in business. Those middle-class jobs also fuel taxes that support and run our government and provide services for the poor. When big  corporations chase the cheap labor, eventually the economic structure weakens and collectively we all suffer.

We’ve had clients who we’ve supported while growing into larger companies. Sometimes when that happens all the hard work that has been put into developing their packaging and material becomes a commodity. Something that was created with late nights, overtime and worry, has now been reduced to a price on a piece of paper. Locally we’re no better than the big corporations who chase the cheap. We do it everyday and we’ll come up with our excuses too…just like they do. They have investors to report to, and we? Well, we report to our own bottom lines, but it’s not that different. So, what am I saying here? I don’t know, today I feel like I have a lot to say, but I don’t want to ramble on and on. I believe my point is that I’m happy to have my job and I like manufacturing. It’s sad to see people who are not thankful for their jobs, or who might just be tired. I get tired too but I also know that it is the sale of a product that pays my bills and I’m still thankful I have a way to do that. It’s not very glamorous and it’s certainly work. Is that what this is really all about? Do we want the services without the work? If the basic structure begins to fail, we won’t have enough jobs then to support the services. Again, I’m not an economist, but we all are a part of the structure and we all need to do our part of making it strong again.

There, I said it….now I’ll get down from my soapbox and get back to work.

O is for oleo

Why am I writing about oleo? This story goes all the way back to when I was a freshman in High School…yea, WAY back. I don’t recall the class and I don’t recall any of the classmates, that is, except Bruce Krueger.

Our test was to look at and taste two items, one was butter and the other was oleo. Every student in the class had to make that awkward walk to the front of the room while everyone watched them. After the first few students, it was well established by the group what was butter and what was oleo, but then, here came Bruce. Confident and calm Bruce tasted the products and then he did something that I remember to this day. He went against the group and announced that his choices were opposite what was already established as correct. Wow, he was either going to look brilliant or not-so-smart. You know what’s coming right? He stood his ground and he was…..correct. I obviously was impressed because I remember the event to this day.

I’ve had a few experiences in printing where the group determined what was right and what was wrong. It would be simpler if it only had to do with oleo.

N is for “not really”

If I’ve learned anything about sales over the years, it’s that you should try to establish a dialog using questions that can’t be answered by a simple yes or no. Questions requiring yes or no answers don’t give us enough information to be effective problem solvers. Maybe the client doesn’t have a problem, but then again, maybe there’s a process or idea they hadn’t considered. Early on in my career, I noticed some of my questions were answered not with yes or no, but with “not really.” After hearing that response a few times I considered its meaning. Try out these questions and respond with “not really.”

Doing anything fun this weekend? Will you have a marketing budget this year? Have you bought any printing lately?

When I had the aha moment that the answer “not really” translated to yes, but I don’t want to talk to you about it, I wondered why they opted to respond that way. It could be they didn’t want to lie and say no, when in reality the truth was yes, or perhaps they didn’t have the time to answer my question. One other option could be the person just wasn’t interested in having a conversation with me. Ouch…but that’s also sales reality. We’re not always going to be successful engaging everyone we try to connect with. Go ahead, you can ask me… does that hurt much? I’d answer, “not really.”

M is for marketing

I’m behind writing my blog because I’ve been working so hard trying to maintain my market.

My marketing strategy forms the structure that I need to sell printing. I know and understand the procedures involved and the target client who typically buys printing. Although I’m accustomed to the peaks and valleys that occur with the swell of consumerism and the subsequent correction, I’m concerned that we’re missing something significant this time. Are we dismissing signals of the true problem?

From a printing standpoint I think there are a couple of significant industry-changing events happening. First is the continued green agenda towards print, or propaganda as I prefer to call it. I’m still amazed at the computer giants who manufacture a significant amount of non-recyclable product (not to mention the energy and manufacturing processes involved) and who have yet to be called out on their lack of a green agenda. The second is the confusion over the reliance of a faceless internet to become the sales machine of the future. Are we relying on our websites and the promise of the cheapest product available to replace our marketing efforts?

So, for now, the marketing and sales of printed materials is a tough sell. I applaud and appreciate the true marketers; who, although support the internet, can still admit there is a need for the front line sales people. Not everyone is going to be successful relying on their websites for sales and market share. Are you brave enough to arm your sales people with the tools they need? I’m truly thankful to those clients who still are.

L is for learning curve

It was inevitable that computers would eventually replace all conventional layout and design on art boards. The learning curves we endured as an industry were astounding. Was there…is there, another industry that had to adapt so completely and so quickly? I can’t think of any. Besides the desktop publishing software and hardware, there were also a baffling amount of printers, storage units and other ancillary items that designers and printers had to invest in to keep up with the growth.

I recall loosing work from a designer after I couldn’t make our proofs look like the printed sample his desktop printer produced. He had gotten approval from his client based on mock-ups printed from his desktop printer. Once he completed his work and passed the files onto me, I couldn’t replicate the same color and look from his files in our color controlled and calibrated environment. I imagine this same scenario has happened to more than one designer, client and printer.

Occasionally I still see signs of frustration, finger-pointing and angst over color inconsistencies from one computer system to another. Now, not only do we deal with multiple computers and platforms,  but the increasing use of digital technology has provided us with additional challenges to maintain color consistencies. This has not always been successful and most clients have allowed for the differences.

The newest item in our shop requiring training is our brand new HP Indigo digital offset press. Oh, did you notice the word offset included in the same sentence with digital? Our new HP Indigo actually utilizes plates and blankets. We’re told the learning curve for this press is minimal due to its color replication when comparing to offset. We’re running comparisons now and from what I’ve seen so far…this “offset girl” is impressed.