Wednesday 21 January 2009

We were talking to the BPIF earlier this week about our plans, and one of the ideas that their CEO, Mike Johnson was expounding was that there were four different 'levels' of print companies, representing ascending levels of success. In his model, level 1 was (all too familiar) the world in which price is king. Here, quoting and hoping is the way that business is obtained. In the second level the printer was concentrated on selling printing as a product. In the third level the printer was focused closely on the customer and his requirements, and in the fourth and 'top' level, as far as I could see, the printer had taken off his clothes and actually gone to bed with the customer.

I must say it was not a way of looking at life that I had contemplated before. I know that when we teach Printpak to people I do have a tendency to start a sentence with "Now there are 3 principal ways in which..." (and then usually think of a fourth when I'm half way through). And I've noticed that a certain type of person often writes it down as an important classification, which is unnerving to say the least, considering I'm usually talking off the top of my head.

But thinking about what he said, there is a basic wisdom here. Yes, level 1 is where a large proportion of printers are stuck - a sort of nightmare realm where everybody is undercutting everybody else, sacrificing all for the great god Turnover. We (I hope) manage to get most users to level 2, if only by making them aware of cost and profit, and boring them rigid with the necessity of walking away from the jobs with no profit. The way I normally put it is that if you take a job where you're making a 10% loss, you'll have to do another equivalent one with a 10% profit just to break even. So even by just walking away from loss-making jobs you can increase your profit while reducing your turnover.

It's the distinction between the last two levels that I had difficulty with. His level 3 I guess is addressed by our PrintPrices system which allows users a way into the running and ordering of their own jobs. Mike reckons though that there are 'fewer but smarter' competitors at this level, which I suppose is true.

But his final level, in which the printer is virtually embedded into his customer's operation, I would have thought was not really feasible. The type of thing he was proposing I think he would describe as a 'design house', but surely the reality is that the people who really get into bed with the customer are the advertising agency, who do the concept work and then use a printer to produce it. I'm sure that some printers are starting to blur that distinction by improving their creativity, but if it becomes their central expertise as would be suggested by Mike's model, I'm equally sure that they would start to put out their printing to the level 1 guys! Yep - that completes the circle OK! Like a circle in a spiral, like a .... etc.

By the way, having got sick of explaining to people what an MIS can do for them we've now set up a site containing "A few points to consider when choosing a print MIS". Its at I hope you like it.

Richard Fergusson

Saturday 10 January 2009

Happy new year, world!

Last Wednesday my nephew came to dinner with his Thai girlfriend, who is over here on a 10 day visit, and despite a bit of a language barrier - her English isn't that brilliant and we only got as far as French at school - we had a good time. She's a bookkeeper by profession or maybe an accountant (we didn't manage to track down the precise UK equivalent). Basically she manages the day-to-day accounts for a company in Bangkok.

Talking to her I suddenly realized how despite the wars and political rows the whole world is basically on a convergence path. Bookkeeping is bookkeeping the world over, and so, I guess are printing, print estimating and management.

Can you imagine the differences between the UK and Thailand back in the 19th century? I can't help thinking of 'The King and I', though I understand that most Thai people regard it as an insultingly inaccurate portrayal of their revered king, Mongkut. Yet even then the convergence had started. His son Chulalongkorn sent his son to be educated in the UK at Sandhurst and Oxford. While looking him up I found this wonderful picture of Chulalongkorn and (presumably) all of his sons (must have had quite a busy life!) going to the British Museum in 1902. Note the Eton jackets!

Anyway what I'm getting round to saying is that we have been amazed, since the launch of our new web-site, about how far flung are the people who now download and use our Printpak software. Apart from the UK and Ireland, just a quick look at the last 6 weeks' downloaders reveals a list containing (in random order) South Africa, America, Greece, Egypt, Nigeria, Israel, India, Finland, Singapore, Bahrain, Angola and Pakistan - there are plenty more but I got bored looking!

The thing is that all of you are joined in a common understanding of the printing industry, and how it operates, in worries about the economic downturn, in concern about whether they are working efficiently, about whether to take that job at a loss because it might lead to a worth-while contract, or whether to let some poor other sap take the risk. While 150 years ago maybe some of the concepts might have been there, I can't help feeling that today we are much closer to each other.

And yet despite this, or perhaps because of it, some people want to blow other people up? Its a mad world, my masters!

Have a happy and prosperous New Year.

Richard Fergusson