On Doing Business in Changing Times by Mark Coudray

The  industry has been through economic fluctuations in the past. We’ve  seen ups and downs based in the general economy. We’ve also see the disruptive impact of new and emerging technologies. Those of us who’ve been around for a while can remember some really rough times back in the late  70’s when t shirts were on allocation from the mills and they were often sold out. Distributors were few and far between and the price of preNAFTA shirts was actually higher than we can buy them today thirty years later.

Generally we’ve had it pretty good for the last six or seven years. With the exception of post 9/11, the economy was robust and there was pretty much plenty of work to go around for those willing to put some time and effort into their business.

Now times have changed and almost everyone I know and talk to are challenged with a serious impact to their business.  I want to make it clear I’m not talking about the parttime one man shop or the Mom & Pop who work out of their home or garage. With businesses who have total annual sales of less than $100,000, there’s still a pretty good amount of work that can be found simply by word of mouth and past customers.

It’s the companies with 5 or more employees and revenues above $250,000 who are struggling. It seems business has just evaporated. Recently I was looking at last year’s sales numbers and over a 6 week time frame over 80% of the business we were doing is gone. Customers have gone out of busines, events have been cancelled, corporate promotions axed, and whole segments (eg construction companies and contractors,) have been pretty much wiped out. So what can you do to pick up the pace.

Right off it’s important to realize it’s not the same game. The rules have changed. What was driving business before may not drive it today. If you relied solely on what came through the door on it’s own, you’re going to be in a rough spot. There simply isn’t the same traffic we had before. For the first time, many are having to do real marketing, and it’s trial by fire. That means, it’s gotta work the first time or you may not be around if the situation doesn’t change.

So here are a few things to ask yourself.

  1. How do new customers find  you?
  2. What makes you different and better than the competition?
  3. What are you bringing to the table that others aren’t.
  4. What are you offering that makes you a compelling choice, clearly above the competition.
  5. What are the reasons why your customers want to do business with you?

I hope you don’t respond with “I’ve got the best price.” That’s a game you can’t win and you shouldn’t even be playing. While there are times when you want to be the low cost provider, it positions you in the riskiest, lowest profit place you can be. Worse yet,  you can almost count on having to replace that business when the customer finds another printer who’s cheaper than you.

The key thing I’m after right now is how to find your voice. By this I mean, how can you be seen and heard above all the others out there. Being a great printer isn’t enough. Being technical and producing a product is only a part of it. There are tons of other companies out there who can do a reasonably good job. To the untrained and unknowledgeable customer, you may not be seen as anything more than more or less expensive than the other guy.

Think about it. Think about why you do business with the companies you choose. What makes them different to the point where you’re willing to write a check for their goods and services. Then, think about how your business compares to that. Are you taking advantage of the same buying mechanism? How can you change it up so you are?

I’ll be writing more on this over the next few days. In the meantime, Follow Me on Twitter @markcoudray.

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Industry presenter, author, and speaker. Over 300 published articles, columns and papers. Past SGIA Chairman, Parmele Award winner. Member Academy of Screen Printing Technology.

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