We Go to the Ends of the Earth to Find New Readers

Here’s a brief promo for Printer’s NW Trader magazine. If you’d rather read musings, please choose one of my other posts. Thanks for humoring me…

SMALLEST TOWN IN THE MOST REMOTE PART OF THE STATE

Printer’s NW Trader goes where regular salesmen dare not go — remotest snow-covered Alaska, the deserts of Arizona, the mountains of Colorado, the rainforests of Washington, and small towns everywhere in our growing 14-state coverage area.

Many readers are small in-plants, garage shops, broker-printers, and mom-and-pop outfits who aren’t on the radar of the big equipment salespeople. Yet they are buying equipment and supplies and using trade partners to fill their needs.

Often the Trader is the one and only way these people stay in touch with our industry.  

Yes, it is expensive for us to mail this way. Postal discounts are given for saturating a zipcode, not finding the one lone printer in a small town in a remote part of the state.

But it’s important to us, and beneficial to you, to find these readers . . .  and to keep them.

Even if our competitors could find these readers, which they can’t, it’s not worth their while to pay extra for postage or to cater to a party of one.

PARTY OF ONE

This is the area where we really differentiate ourselves as a magazine for the printing industry. Each of our readers really is a party of one to us, and we know most by name.

We give them referrals, they tell us their challenges, we hear how they are fighting City Hall to put up a sign, they call to run ideas past us on transitioning their business, they ask how the business climate is “out there,” and much more.
When they move or leave their companies to join new ones, they let us know. Where other magazines might let a subscriber fall off the map, we track them down and make sure their Trader finds them wherever they land.

STABLE IN A SHRINKING MARKET

For this reason, our subscriber base has stayed stable in a shrinking market. Our readers consider their copies of the Trader to be indispensible. They keep them on their desks — reading, highlighting, and using them all month long.
Many people at one location might be referring to the Trader: owners looking to see who has installed what, estimators looking for vendor partners in the Trade Directory listings, sales managers looking for leads, and production managers looking for new and used equipment.

PEOPLE ON THE MOVE OFTEN ARE INFLUENCERS & DECISION MAKERS

Another phenomenon we are seeing is that, due to financial necessity, some of our most loyal readers are taking jobs in other industries. However, they are keeping their subscriptions so they can move back when a job opens up.

In addition, we all know that many job changers are risk takers. By the nature of their personalities, they are influencers and decision makers, whether or not they are owners or managers.

They are the type of readers you want on your side, reading and internalizing your ad messages, and supporting you. Your presence in this challenging time will be remembered by these loyal readers.

To our hundreds of advertisers, thank you for your ongoing support.  Your success is our success! 

P.S. Advertisers! Are you on LinkedIn! I invite you to join my network. Please view my
profile and send me an invitation at www.linkedin.com/in/sandyhubbardpublisher

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7 Reasons I Want my Competitors to Thrive

As I wrote about last month, Graphic Art Monthly magazine has ceased publication. Some readers called to congratulate me: “You’ve knocked another one out of business!” I had to laugh at that mental picture. I am sure the Trader is not even on their radar. Plus, their magazine did not close due to financial problems or lack of advertisers. The parent company simply wanted to divest itself of a couple dozen titles (magazines and other products), and those serving the printing industry were among them. It was purely a business decision. Nor did the magazine close for any lack of editorial quality, since it had stellar editors, writers and contributors.

It’s probably hard to believe that I want my competitors to thrive. Here are a few reasons to consider:

1. First, your competitors are out there selling what you do. Talk about maximizing your sales force! They are selling the benefits of your product or service. When you make a call on customers who have heard from the competition, you don’t have to start at square one to educate them. You only have to dazzle them with why you’re a better choice.

2. Second, having lots of competitors keeps your product or service at the top of your prospect’s brain. We all know that repetition and multiple touch points help close the sale. Use competitors’ awareness-building campaigns to your advantage.

3. When your prospect is thinking about buying, no matter who he is thinking about buying from, it is a good thing for you. Getting prospects in the mood to spend money is hard. Let your competitors do some of that work for you!

4. Having someone to sell against keeps us all motivated. How boring would it be to be the only game in town? Competition creates excitement and keeps our edge.

5. Your competitors can be your allies. If you don’t believe me, look at the most successful print companies in our region. Their owners and key employees attend industry events, network with peers, travel to trade shows together, share ideas, and help each other out. Read David Archer’s article in this issue for more on this subject.

6. Having lots of competitors validates your existence. If there are lots of you, you must be a necessary thing, right? Without your competitors’ presence, you’d be spending a lot of time showing why your product or service is even viable. Let others help you do that.

7. Gives you a ranking. We all know it’s important NOT to say bad things about our competitors. However, we can certainly say with humility and generosity that our competitors are “very good” but we’re “better.” There can’t be a better or a best without someone to compare ourselves to!

Which brings me to my next point. Now that we’ve figured out that our competitors can be an advantage in our selling process, now we must figure out how to be the best, or among the best. And that’s a sales strategy as well. Being the best is hard, hard work. Being among the best sometimes is sufficient.

One way to do this is to change who your competitors are. It’s hard to be the best four-color printer in any market. But if you have a niche within four-color, you are going to reduce your number of competitors. You are also going to reduce the number of jobs you will be quoting, so you’ll have to make sure your closing percentage is higher. 

I believe it is easier to have a niche that targets a specific kind of customer rather than a certain kind of product or process. For example, it might be easier to wrap your head around selling to investers of private cardiac clinics than to think about selling forms to hospital chains. You can really visualize yourself walking into a clinic and having a successful meeting, catering to all the various needs of an affluent investor and a busy surgeon. Those happy customers network with their peers, and their referrals are golden. Carrying a bunch of samples into a hospital and tracking down a purchasing agent (who never networks with anyone) — that’s a tough sell! Being the best in that losing situation won’t win the job; only being cheapest and most willing to turn control over to the customer will.

So I am hoping you will entertain a new outlook about your competitors and where you stand in the pack. I am always happy to brainstorm with you on making your business more successful.

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The Many Faces of Screenprinting

Screenprinting offers dimension, accurate color, uniformity, tight registration and brilliant effects which are often easier to achieve with this process than by other methods.

Many people associate screenprinting with T-shirts. But screenprinting on textiles is only one of many aspects of screenprinting. Every day we come in contact with screenprinted items — the drapes in your living room, a suntan lotion tube, your fishing registration, the rear window defogger on your car — but most of us aren’t aware of how they are printed.

The advantages of screenprinted items are durability, chemical and moisture resistance, vibrant hues, fade resistance, and protection against touching and abrasion. In addition, the size and the shape of the item — from a stadium banner to a tiny stick-on thermometer — are not barriers to the process.

What is screenprinting?
Refer to your Pocket Pal, and you’ll get a basic sketch of the process, one that hasn’t changed much since early Chinese and Egyptian artisans achieved the same effects with silk screens.

Today, the process is done by machine (automatic or semi-automatic) or by hand. Fabric or wire (usually a man-made material to minimize screen distortion) is stretched over a frame. Part of the screen is blocked with a stencil, and an emulsion is photo-processed over the rest of the screen, leaving an open area through which the ink will pass. On the press, the screen is brought down over the substrate. The substrate may be paper, glass, cloth, plastic, wood . . . or any of a thousand possibilities. A squeegee draws the ink across the screen. The design is formed where ink is pushed through the screen.

Screenprinters often specialize in one or a few categories which may include decals, point of purchase displays, advertising and promotion materials, industrial or electronic applications, containers, or outdoor advertising including banner and fleet signs.

Signs and banners
From a single counter card to a series of giant banners, screenprinting is not limited by materials of varying rigidity or size. A giant sheet of metal which could not contort through the rollers of an offset printing press can be screenprinted easily.

Screenprinters who specialize in signs and banners often offer complementary services such as steel rule die cutting, laminating, mounting, punching, drilling, collating and packaging.

Advertising specialties
Novelty items given to customers as a promotional aid are often screenprinted with aggressive chemical and abrasion resistant inks. Fingernails, watches and rings — as well as the natural oils on people’s hands — can damage conventional inks. Screenprinting enhances the durability of items which are subjected to constant handling, scuffing or extremes in temperature or moisture.

Decals
Produced in a variety of styles in any combination of colors, decals can be applied to most surfaces. Application defines the type: from slide-off to varnish-on to dry-release or pressure sensitive. Large or small, screenprinted decals — with their heavy deposits of ink for durability and vibrancy — can reproduce very fine detail.

Bottles and containers
Remember those milk bottles on your front porch, way back when? Even today, fired-on decals are practical, as they eliminate the need for relabeling and can withstand the container being reused. The container retains the desired glossy or matte appearance of the decal, even after washing, sterilization and exposure to acids and alkalis.

Fine arts and serigraphy
Serigraphs are screenprints produced by the artist, usually in a limited quantity with each print signed and numbered. Multicolored prints require the artist or his chromist to prepare separate screens for each color — using often up to 30 different screens.

Industrial and high tech
When tight quality controls are combined with flexibility and durability, screenprinting meets the demands of computers, circuitry and electronics.

Textiles
Any pattern with a variety of colors can be screenprinted, from your carpet to your pajamas and underwear. Screenprinted designs are bright and durable and can withstand many washings without losing brightness.

Outdoor advertising & transit graphics
Screenprinted billboards not only offer vivid colors (visible from a distance), they also provide durability against weather and sunshine, and can incorporate special effects such as backlighting. Transit graphics include interior and exterior signs on buses, subways and taxicabs.

Summary
Screenprinting is a sensible alternative to other imaging processes for many applications. Today’s screenprinting is an up-to-date, competitive and sensitive graphic arts process, oriented equally to mass production as it is to limited runs.

Copyright 2010, Printer’s NW Trader, Sandy Hubbard, Publisher, 1-800-426-2416. No portion of this article may be re-printed or re-used without crediting Printer’s NW Trader. Special thanks to Jim Wakefield at Cascade Graphics, a trade screenprinting firm in Bend, Oregon, for assistance in preparing this overview.

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Consoliation Hysteria

Much ado about almost nothing

Acquisitions of local companies by large multi-company conglomerates have been the focus of media attention lately.

In the past, companies were acquired without much fanfare. Today, there is quite a bit of hysteria over the activity of “consolidators” — large firms who intentionally go out looking for companies to purchase. Many of these national consolidators are looking to diversify their offerings to print buyers. Rather than just specializing in envelopes, for example, a company would look at acquisitions as a way to reach a larger share of the entire print manufacturing market. Others are looking to diversify geographically to reach more customers, rather than more sectors.

While we hear a lot about the encroachment of the consolidators (after all, they can afford to hire publicists), the acquisition game really constitutes a very small share of the total number of printing businesses being bought and sold.

I’m not saying the movement of the consolidators isn’t significant, however.

Competition is a good thing in our industry, and it is compromised when these behemoth companies are able to negotiate for better deals from suppliers.

Furthermore, they can snag a print buyer who’s buying one type of item and then service him with their subsidiaries when it comes time to bid on other items. On the other hand, massive companies just don’t maneuver as deftly. Sometimes that can work to a smaller company’s advantage.

Either way, I would say the consolidation “trend” is worth watching but not worth worrying about too much.

In any event, I personally know how distressing is when your own company gets acquired. No one talks about how psychologically destructive it is to play the waiting game, wondering if you will be one of the employees chosen to continue on with the new company. Certainly, there are phases of the acquisition that must remain confidential. Still, employees often hear rumors and begin “stressing out” long before the sale is completed. Once the new ownership is in place (often with assurances that all employees will be retained), the not-so-gentle process begins — that of weeding out the people who “just don’t fit” into the new organization.
What do you think? Are the consolidators sending their shadow over the industry as they crest the horizon? Or are they much ado about nothing? I would enjoy getting your feedback.

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Another Good Day

A tiny tale about trade printing  
by Sandra Hubbard

   It would be a good day if it was cut into a “plus,” bad if it was an “X.” He held his breath as he unfolded the waxed paper and spread it flat. The sandwich sat there—whole, no cuts. They knew they were supposed to cut it into fourths. And lettuce! What was going on? He tried to slip the offending leaf from between the slices, but it clung to the mayonnaise. In a bold move, he pulled out his penknife and sliced into the sandwich—top to bottom, side to side. No diagonals. There, he thought, I’m master of my own fate: it will be a good day.

   He hoped he was right.

   Last night he dreamed that his customer had seen the trade printer delivering the job, hopped into the truck, and drove off into the sunset with him.

   “That’s not how it works,” his daughter Amy had told him. “Why would a trade printer want to steal your customers? You are his customer.”

   He hadn’t been convinced when Amy had suggested using a trade house to do work that was too big for his presses. She had timed it perfectly to coincide with one of his famous “That’s the last time I send a job to a competitor” speeches. His tirades usually led into a saga about how he couldn’t afford bigger presses with more color capability. This time she was ready.

  “I checked references, years in business, quality of work,” Amy had said earnestly about the trade printer she had chosen. Then she had dazzled him with that “you-can-trust-me” smile he knew so well.

   I’ll try it, he thought as he bit into a fourth of his sandwich, just this once.

   Of course, if everything went smoothly, getting the trade discount would mean he could make a nice little profit on the markup. And, having a trade printer do the work—or part of the work—opened up markets he couldn’t serve before.

   “I want to meet him, face to face,” he recalled saying.

   He and the trade printer had discussed the menu of services, who was responsible for what, how the job would get from point A to point B, turnaround, discounts, confidentiality . . . and that he would call the trade printer when he was ready. (“I don’t want you bugging me all the time, man,” he had said. Amy had rolled her eyes.)

   When he finally made the call, he was pleased to discover that the trade printer had a lot of experience with the type of job he was bidding.

   “You’re lucky,” the trade printer had said. “We see this type of work at least once a week. When we first started running these things, we had a heck of a time with scuffing. But, all the bugs have been worked out already. You should have it late tomorrow.”

   Later, the trade printer had called back with suggestions on how to set up the job more efficiently next time. “It’ll save you a little money,” he said. “By the way, we can score it for you. But it’s your call, man,” he chuckled. “I don’t want to bug you.”

   So, here he waited, chewing a sandwich that had horseradish on it, for goodness sake. Were the people at the deli on drugs?

   “Boss, you gotta see this,” someone yelled from the loading dock. He tried to swallow, but the sandwich was dry, so dry.

   He looked out his window at a wrapped skid, sitting by itself as the rest of the job was being off-loaded. He had a fleeting thought that it looked like a giant sandwich.

   “Dad, phone,” murmured Amy as she headed down the stairs to the dock.

   “This is Connie at the Sandwich Store. Honey, ya’ll probably think we’re crazy. We delivered the wrong sandwich. We got yours right here, cut just the way you like it.”

   He looked out the window at Amy, down on the loading dock and waving a press sheet triumphantly. It was going to be a good day.

   For a list of trade professionals in your area, consult the Northwest Trade Directory in every issue of Printer’s NW Trader magazine. The Northwest Trade Directory lists a wide range of trade services including trade printing— which can be found under the “Litho Trade Printing” and “Letterpress Trade Printing” headings. This story is fiction by the way, but it could be true, couldn’t it?
  

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A Nickel a Word

“Newer, faster, better, improved.”

The folks who write press releases don’t choose one word to describe their products, they choose them all.

Each year, when we research the products for our Annual All Products Issue, we slog through stacks of press releases written by PR hacks for a nickel a word.

Some marketing professionals are great. They know who they are because I have told them what a relief it is to read their material.

Others, however, believe quantity is better than quality.

Their masterpieces include:

• Superlative-laden, man-on the-moon product descriptions

• Non-specific performance ratings (we love the phrase “up to” a certain number of impressions per hour. That could include one impression. Or none.)

• Protracted (and entirely fictional, in my opinion) quotes from corporate mucky-mucks who drone on about the company and its market position. Zzzzz.

And what’s the deal with product re-releases?

When manufacturers aren’t drawing enough attention with old products, they add a geegaw or doohickey, put a decimal point after the product number (version 5.137435A) and hold a press conference.

Or how about the PR writer’s favorite: the product “launch.”

I envision the Queen Mum, in white gloves and a floppy hat, christening the machine with a bottle of champagne.

What would I like to see in product announcements?

• Truth.

• Crisp, clean communication.

• Interviews with the behind-the-scenes inventors or developers, not the CEO.

• Down-and-dirty quotes from the folks who beta-tested it, not from the marketing department.

• Realistic assessments of how easily it can be incorporated into your workflow, not an engineer’s fantasy of super-compatibility.

What would I settle for?

• Short.

Put it this way, if I were paid a nickel a word for what I read each month, I could share the wealth, and we’d all be happier.

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Pressroom Villains and Heroes

(With apologies to the paper industry)

Zap! Boom! Pow!

When it comes to Ink, Paper is the considered the Arch Villain. It used to be that Ink’s nemesis was Water. These days, Water is simply Paper’s sinister sidekick.

Yet Paper is not inherently bad.

He had a normal upbringing, nice parents, a good education. But he got into trouble when he started hanging out at the printing plant. It got worse when he stopped doing acid. (He heard it would make him more attractive and give him a longer life . . . )

Somewhere between seven and 14, he changed his pH and began a wave of headaches that would plague all aspects of the printing industry, from cutting (and dulling precious blades) to printing (and affecting the formulation of the fountain solution from one end of the run to the other, causing toning, tinting and emulsification — not to mention cussing).

And then there’s the color issue.

When Paper fills out the “optional” portion of his voter’s registration, he checks the box marked “caucasian.” But he’s really 40 shades of white, some bluish, some yellowish, some grayish, some “off.” Ink doesn’t stand a chance of correct matching unless he knows exactly what shade of white Paper is going to be today.

And what about this: Paper has the audacity to have varying opacities!

A lightweight or not-so-dense sheet can make Ink look washed out. With the right tools — calibration, color proofing, densitometers, paper samples — we can overcome this audacity . . . I mean opacity.

And did we tell you about finishing school?

Yes, Paper can be coated, uncoated, or even (nightmare!) coated-one-side. Ink goes crazy, absorbing into the sheet on some jobs and refusing to dry on others — or doing one thing on the front of the sheet and something else on the back. And when Paper is feeling “dull,” his matte coating causes Ink a new set of problems. As Paper absorbs Ink’s solvents, varnishes and waxes, the pigment is left on Paper’s surface — causing smearing or scuffing. Ink gets blamed for the mess!

Should we even bring up the subject of hickeys (and the equally disgusting-sounding word “picking”)? Yes, sometimes it is Ink’s fault (tacky, tacky, tacky). But other times, these problems are caused by Paper dust, Paper surface material or poor pressroom housekeeping.

Luckily, Ink has some tricks to fight back. Your ink manufacturer can guide you on specific inks, formulations or additives that can help with these problems, as well as guidance on the proper measurement of paper opacity and other paper characteristics.

What does Paper have to say about all of this? Stay tuned for the sequel … in the never-ending battle between Ink and Paper.

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