Doing Business in a New World Economy by Scott Fresener


I vividly remember back in late September and early October of 2008 when the economy started to crumble and the stock market crashed. What I remember most is thinking “this will pass and life in business will go on.” Over the years we have all seen crisis around the world and we have become jaded to the effect it will have on us. “In a few months no one will remember.”

And, I remember telling a lot of people “the new administration will fix this.”  Boy was I wrong. And, if you are glad the GOP is back in power and thinking “the new congress will change it” – remember that everything takes longer than they promise.

It is now mid-November TWO YEARS after the crash and look where we are. Unemployment is still hovering around 10% and the housing market is no better. The commercial building market is ready to burst from all the properties under water and frankly I am not sure we will see major improvement for a long time. Those who know me know that I am not a cynic. I am one of the most positive thinkers there is around. But, the reality of how things have changed has gotten everyone to realize it is a new world economy and we need to adapt to survive.

The little “editorial” article is nothing new. There are no ground breaking revelations that have not already been written. I write them here just to remind everyone that if you have not re-evaluated how you do business – then now is the time.

I enjoy writing articles of a technical nature where there is a solid to-do list. This article is not technical but it has a solid plan that will help you kick start your company.

The business model has changed
The last two years have certainly been interesting. Business models that we all thought were perfect got thrown out the window. What worked two years ago now barely gets the phone to ring. It has been a wakeup call for all business people. Our industry has not been immune to a drop off in sales and a re-evaluation of how we do business.

I know what I speak of because I have been in the trenches for the last 1-1/2 years and I am now re-building.  Yes, even I was not above the fray and it was a good lesson. No matter how much you think things won’t change – they can and do. The real question is how do you get through it and is it over? And, the trick is to follow my suggestions below and not get complacent when you see a small sign of turn-around. You never know what’s around the corner. Who knew a volcano would erupt and cripple parts of Europe.

1. Get back to basics
If you  are in business then you have heard over and over about reducing costs, cutting back, taking a hard look at how you do business – and these things are all necessary. I have talked to literally hundreds of printer in the last year who have drastically downsized their companies. A common comment is “I went from 20 employees to none. I’m printing shirts, making screens and doing it all.” What is VERY interesting is in most cases that conversation ends with “and I like it.” Weird. But, personally  having gone from a high of 90 employees to now working as a one man company, I can say I understand. There is something liberating about not having the responsibility of lots of employees.

The problem with entrepreneurs is that as the business grows they start to get detached from knowing how to do everything. You have “people” for that (often a good thing).  You simply get away from your roots.  I have talked to many printers who also commented “I had to learn how to make screens again.” I was on the phone to an owner turned “artist” the other day who needed help with my separation program. He admitted he had to let his artist go and he had not run my FastFilms program in five years.

The point is it is good to get back to the basics. Get your hands dirty. Remember why you really liked this business. Start talking to customers directly. Learn about the process – again. OK, work a lot of hours but if you are really entrepreneurial you love the challenge. It is like re-building the company.

2. Start wearing lots of hats
While I am known as a screen print expert, now that I basically run a one-may show, I found I needed to learn IT skills to survive. When I had a large company I had an IT department. It was easy “I need a webpage for a new product by tomorrow.” Today I AM the web guy and the truth is I find myself asking “why did I need all those IT guys? I can outsource most of what they did for a lot less money.”

In fact you might be surprised if you actually did print a job, make some screens, and mix ink. You might be asking yourself “why do we do it this way?  Who made this decision?”

3. Reduce the bloat
Over the years I have done a lot of consulting and in most cases I was brought in to help companies reduce overhead, increase profits, and increase production. What I often found was bloat in companies. I had bloat in my own company. It is easy to justify “just one more employee” because you have to have someone to take out the trash. One day you wake up and realize you have an army but don’t have the sales increase to handle the extra payroll burden.

Don’t assume that if things start to get better that they will. We should learn from the past. Keep your company lean and resist the urge to add more people. Take hard look at who you need and what they do. When I was downsizing my company we found that people can wear a lot of hats if they feel their job depended on it.

4. Stop being the perfect company.
You read over and over about screen tension and the perfect way to make a print. Take a look at the waste in products (emulsion) and labor ($$) to print every job on 20 newton screens. Yes, it sounds like blasphemy but frankly, I have seen too many shops where they were led to believe it was rocket science and they would go broke if they didn’t make the perfect screen or perfect print.

Even the notion of “librarying” screens is scoffed at by the experts. Who says you can’t save a screen for a re-order? Lots of shops do it. Most printers are just afraid to admit it.

5. Innovate
If you went to FESPA in Munich this summer you would have seen that their theme was innovate! Stand back and ask yourself, what can I do better or different than my competition? Again, get back to basics. You are probably your best sales person but you now have a sales staff. Wasn’t it fun when you were the one making the deals and closing sales because it was your company. Do you still tell customers you won’t do one shirt? Why don’t you? Do you still stick to a ten day delivery time? Why? Your competition is now the online guys who will turn an order in 24 to 48 hours.

6. Diversify
This one might be hard to swallow. Are you a die hard screen printer and turn your nose up to direct-to-garment printing? You were my hardest person to sell to when I sold DTG machines. “I don’t  do short runs. The machines are slow. No one can make money with those. The ink cost too much money.” Meanwhile young entrepreneurs who saw that yes you can get $20 USD for a shirt and not have to make screens loved the process. Are you walking away from business by not looking at direct-to-garment? The market has changed and people expect quick service and smaller orders.

Conversely, are you a DTG owner who never ever wanted to get your hands dirty? There are thousands of direct-to-garment customers who discovered there is a large world of bigger runs. I have a good friend/customer in the US who has three direct-to-garment machines and a website selling “one off” prints. But, in the last year he started doing screen printing and is amazed at orders of 20 dozen, 50 dozen, 10 dozen that he gets all the time. He used to farm it out but now does it himself and loves it. By the way – he gets a lot of these customers because he did short run “one off” shirts for them and they came back for more.

The same goes for embroidery. You have a nice little niche but what if you could offer screen printing or direct-to-garment?

7. Don’t stop marketing and selling
This one is my pet peeve. I think traditional selling and marketing is a lost art. Everyone wants to build a website and sit back. No one wants to make the sales call – or better yet the follow up call. Now is not the time to let your guard down. Now is the time to set yourself apart from the competition and show the customer you want the business.

OK, money is tight. You have downsized. You have reduced your own salary. There is no money for marketing. Well….when you started the company there was no money and you got orders. You got out and did cold calling. You prospected. You followed up on leads. You did guerilla marketing. You ran news releases. You sponsored events. You got involved in charities. You did sample shirts for large companies to get their order (didn’t you?). Now is the time to get creative with your marketing efforts and NOT cut back on them.

8. Keep positive and never give up
This sounds easy for me to say. I know. I have been there. When things are crashing around you it is hard to not throw in the towel and just get a day job. But, don’t give up on your dream. With my new company I have a motto. “I am going to build this company one customer at a time.” You need to do the same. Remember the slogan “don’t let the bastards wear you down.”

9. Business 101
Dig out an old business book and refresh yourself on Business 101. Give good service. Throw in a few extra shirts. Deliver the order with a smile and send them a thank you note (a lost art). Remember how we use to do business before the internet, text messaging, email and cell phones. Now we send them an email asking for an order. In the old days we use to drop in and actually make a sales call. Times have changed. Get back to Basics and Business 101 and you will be surprised how things will turn around.

I would LOVE to have comments on this article. Tell us what you have done to change your business or re-think how you do things. Do you have a good story to tell? Comment here or write an article and I will publish it here. Share ideas with your peers.

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