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Peer Groups — Strength in Numbers

November 2007 By Erik Cagle
Senior Editor
IMAGINE JOINING an exclusive business group that requires members to undergo a virtual audit of their finances, a club where you’re expected to share detailed information about company practices. Picture wanting to host a meeting where your facility is given a white glove inspection, followed by a brutally honest critiquing session by the other members of the group.

Some people might respond, “Oh, I get the joke. This is what happens when you cross the IRS with a proctologist, right?” Nope, it’s what a company encounters when it joins the Print America peer group.

Print America is a tightly knit fraternity of 12 privately held printers that each generate in excess of $10 million in annual revenues. The group, which celebrated its 25th anniversary in 2007, meets in person three times a year to discuss best practices and issues confronting their respective businesses.

Two of the meetings are hosted by member companies, with a third taking place at an industry event typically held by the PIA/GATF or NAPL. The group also gathers on a monthly basis via Webinars, where individual companies provide, among other things, demonstrations on their area of expertise.

The meetings hosted by member companies feature the aforementioned white glove inspection followed by a thorough analysis of those findings. The soul-baring exercise is hardly limited to the meeting host, according to Dennis Castiglione, executive vice president for Modern International Graphics of Eastlake, OH, and Print America’s executive director.

The financial statements of each member are recorded side-by-side on a quarterly basis, allowing the group to compare and contrast the figures. The numbers are also held up against the PIA Ratios to provide analysis on how companies not only compare to the group, but to national averages.

Disclosure is a deal breaker for member applicants who object to the open airing of financial undergarments.

“You need to be very ‘open book’ with the members,” Castiglione says. “We can look at numbers line-by-line and see who’s doing what in a given area. Members can ask questions like, ‘How did you manage to keep that percentage down? Why is your cost in this area so high compared to other companies in the group?’ They get to talk about what works and what doesn’t, what are the best business practices, etc.”

Not About to Fade Away

Castiglione believes Print America has devised the ideal chemistry to keep members interested long after most peer groups have faded. Members are firm but fair and pull no punches when they discuss their various challenges or offer responses to other members. Their technology philosophy is bleeding edge, and participants are decidedly risk takers. Membership has allowed each of the companies to flatten the learning curve in a number of areas.
 

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