Thursday 2 December 2010

That in-drawn breath

My interpretive friend Norm was talking about customer reactions the other day. "It's the indrawn breath I find interesting - noisily, over the teeth", he said. He gave a brief demonstration sounding like a car mechanic. investigating a rattle in a 1962 BMW.

"Of course it's all psychology really", he continued. "It depends on what construction you want to place on it.

Print buyers seem to be trained from birth to do it automatically. I reckon they'd still do it if you tried quoting them a tenner for 3,000 letterheads, so it's obviously a reflex action. Despite that, most printers seem to take it as a cue for them to reduce their price and give money away from their back pocket.

"That's why I eventually evolved my own strategy for dealing with it. No matter how much mark-up you've built into it, I always respond to that indrawn breath by saying `Yes, that's pretty good, to-plate technology, see, isn't it?' It's wonderful - it completely wrongfoots them and, before they realise what's happening, they've agreed with you and you've got the order."

"Of course, now I've got Printpak, I know exactly how close to the bone to pare my prices without losing money, so it sort of gives me the whip hand these days. Now I can play these `so you're in printing for the benefit of your health' johnnies at their own game. Mind you, I've got a pretty good line in humbug-sucking impressions to use on my own suppliers."

It's a funny old game, printing, isn't it?

(If you want to make sure that you're not `anybody's mug', why not give try downloading Printpak? Don't believe anything you hear unless you've tried it for yourself.)

Wednesday 7 April 2010

The perils of giving up

Last week I was surprised to find my usually unperturbable friend Norm looking rather pale and agitated. To my concerned enquiry he confessed that he had given in to the combined pleading of his wife, children and doctor, and had agreed to give up cigarettes for Lent.

"I just can't seem to get on with a pipe at all", he confessed. "They even gave me one of those big Meerschaum ones for Christmas."

"Of course, quitting smoking has often been the making or breaking of print companies", he added, with something approaching his usual twinkle starting to reappear.

"How on earth can you make a connection between giving up smoking and running a print company?" I demanded.

"Well, you see, if a printer is a bit disorganised and also a smoker, he will tend to do his calculations for estimates on the backs of fag packets", he replied. "We all know it's not a good idea, but as long as he doesn't lose the fag packet he is usually OK. And a fag packet is much easier to find in a waste bin than a crumpled sheet of A4 paper. But when he gives up smoking he is faced with a new problem - what shall I do the calculations on now?"

"But don't people use specially designed fill-in-the-box job sheets?" I asked, trying hard to show off my little knowledge. "Yes. And they some-times fill them in accurately." Norm answered guardedly. "But the job sheets, useful or not, are lost as frequently as the fag packet was thrown away. So it's back to square one !"

"What about computers?", I proffered. "Yes, you don't tend to throw them away", he laughed. "But if you're after a system to calculate and record everything properly for you - you have to try it out thoroughly first. It's a minefield out there. You wouldn't catch me buying a car without driving it first! It's the same with MIS."

It's a funny old game, printing, isn't it?

Test drive Printpak yourself, whether you've given up or not. Download a copy from

Thursday 14 January 2010

I bumped into my hippophilic friend Norm last week outside the refreshment tent at Kempton Park racetrack. He was rather mournfully examining the print quality of a Tote ticket before tearing it up.

"Why the Tote, and not the bookmakers?" I asked.

"It's to do with minimising risk" he replied. "Not that it made much difference in this case" he added bitterly, nodding towards a horse that was limping slowly back to the unsaddling enclosure.

"Printers are usually pretty bad at assessing risk, too", he continued. "They think that any added value left after paying the external costs must be all bunce. What they never remember is that any job can go wrong, and any customer can go bankrupt. So if you have to lay out 40 per cent of a job to buy the stock and outwork, you are risking that 40 per cent on the chance of gaining the remaining 60 per cent. In horseracing terms the odds are 3 to 2 on."

"But when you include your internal costs, if 10 per cent of the total is net profit, that gives you 10 per cent return for 90 per cent layout, which is precious little. If just one job like that goes belly up, you've got to do another 9 to pay for it. Yet some printers will even discount jobs just to keep the presses rolling'."

"It's a very a sobering thought", I said. "How about a beer to compensate?". He agreed.

Its a funny old game, printing, isn't it?

(To keep an eye on the added value, net profit and risk of your print jobs, why not download a free copy from

Monday 23 November 2009

My festive friend, Norm, was gazing blankly at an Oxford Street window when I came across him. "Shopping early for Christmas?", I enquired. 

"Just pondering over the odd bottle for one or two of the best customers", he grunted. "Don't want to overdo it. I give them a good service all year round. It's just a little personal touch."

"I thought finding ways to cut costs was all the rage for companies at the moment", I jokingly added. That seemed to spark Norm off.

"Not in printing", he retorted. "You can't cut costs easily without risking production efficiency. Sure, you can buy materials cheaper, or at least try. But printers do that anyway as a matter of course."

"So how do you deal with it?" I tentatively posed.
"By recovering costs!". He spat out the sentence with an aggression unusual even for him. "Every pound recovered is worth ten times that and more in sales terms. It's all net profit. You've done the work. Just charge for it."

My suggestion that printers should do that automatically was met with yet more scorn. "They forget or are too timid to charge for corrections, new film or plates, proofs, sealer - the list seems endless. It is amazing what some printers fail to reclaim. I remember Alf taking a job with one printer - he introduced a good MIS system, mind - he recovered the thick end of £100,000 in one year."

"Don't worry about me spending a few bob on some presents. A lot of printers' customers must think it's Christmas all year round." It's a funny old game, printing, isn't it?

(I wonder which MIS system Alf installed? Make recoverable costs easy to identify and justify with Printpak.  You can even download a free copy.)

Wednesday 21 October 2009

Recovering your costs

My pertinacious friend Norm was clucking over a competitor's quotation during our last meeting. "Look at this", he chortled. "He's done it again, underquoted on the job to try and nick more of my business..." He nearly choked on his coffee, adding "It's helpful that this customer shows me any competition I might be up against."

I asked Norm if he was going to cut his price to get the job. "Not on your Nelly", he replied. "My customers know what they get from me, a good service at a sensible price. That's what I sell."

"This is a nonsense", he went on. "Two months ago this printer sacked its salesman for lack of return. I know. The man came to me for a job afterwards and I checked him out. Looks like the new one is up to the same trick."

"It's simple", he explained. "Your salesman cuts the price by putting a very low margin on the paper, laminating or other external costs. You win the job, but the commission cripples any real profit left."

I asked him if there was any way to safeguard against such occurrences. "Of course there is", he retorted. "It's the added value you should pay the commission on, not the invoice total. And, even if you don't have a salesman, any sensible printer must recognise that the risk is huge if the job goes belly up. Too many printers go bust through risk alone."

My next question seemed to excite Norm even further. I naively asked him how you cut out risk in printing. "Just recover your costs properly over every activity. It's not rocket science! Even the best printers go under if they're bad businessmen"

I didn't ask him if he was a good businessman. Already he had his jacket half on and was making for the door.

It's a funny old game, printing, isn't it?

(Why not try the best system for ensuring your profitability and cutting your risk? It's Printpak. You can even download a free copy . We know your business. And what's more, we do our best to make sure you do too!)

Wednesday 26 August 2009

My swinging friend Norm was in an expansive mood the other night. "It's all very well complaining about bigger printers under-quoting you for all the best jobs", he said, "but it often depends on how inventive you're prepared to be".

He went on to describe a job he once quoted for a local PR company.

"It was a pack of small advertising cards. There were twenty four of them. Fitted nicely on B2 board, 24 up. We hadn't got a B2 press, so we had to double up on the plates and run it 12 up. We lost the job to Harry up the road. I found out later that he'd printed it on his old Kord, just like ours, not even used his fancy new B2 presses ... "

"Eventually, over a late-night coffee, I figured out how he'd undercut us. If you swing the images around and print it 25 up, on a five by five matrix, you can do the job on SRA2 board with one set of plates. You just chuck the spare one away! Saves on materials as well. Crafty devil, no wonder he got their contract."

"It was obvious really, but so is anything once it's pointed out to you. `Course, if we'd had Printpak back then it'd have suggested the answer immediately. Instead of which, I only thought about it after Harry had got the job."

It's a funny old game, printing, isn't it?

(If you'd like to see what Printpak MIS can do for your productivity, why not download a free copy of the Printpak Community Edition and try it now?)