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Cagle 12-03

December 2003
Bad Promos, Unexpected Surprises

By Erik Cagle

The flooor supervisor sat directly across from me, looked me straight in the eye and uttered, "We're no different than any other printer."

This response to a stock question, "What sets your company apart from its competitors?" confirmed two things: one, this is the last friggin' time I'm taking a road trip to do an onsite interview.

Two, in his wise-ass manner, this goof was at least half correct. Printers can have FTP sites to accept PDF files into sophisticated front-end systems that feed state-of-the-art presses with all the in-line accoutrements you can think of, finally fed into binding and various other finishing machines and stacked neatly into palleted piles that are carted off the docks.

If I can convince Harris DeWese to spot me $10 million or so up front from his bottomless coffers, I could purchase new and second-hand equipment in order to open my own print shop. Am I a printer?

Face facts fellas: You all use the same printing equipment, for the most part. Take all of that away and all that remains is...people. Not to mention a really large and empty factory floor.

People are what enable printers to stand apart from one another. Even more so, it is that ability to relate to those other people, the customers, that is the true differentiator. The people who don't get it, however, are far more fascinating (and entertaining). Read on:

DISPARAGEMENT: At the last service meeting, can you remember specific conversations as to how belittling and insulting were effective tools for keeping standing customers happy?

Take the case of a letter from the good people at a relatively well-known credit card company for a well-known chain of gasoline and gasoline accessory products retailer. Let's say that they once fancied themselves the "Star of the American Road," until a recent buyout by another well-known gas chain.

The letter was blunt and awkward, not to mention confusing. It noted that there had been a recent rash of activity on my account, yet I had only paid $25 toward the balance. The minimum payment was $10, and this was not an American Express card or any other company that discourages carrying a balance from one cycle to another. At the time, the balance was somewhere in the neighborhood of $225.

Given this, I was puzzled by the tone of the letter. I hadn't exceeded the limit, nor had any payments lapsed. The other shoe dropped toward the end of the query: "Seeing as you may have trouble making the payments, we are extending an offer of a $75 credit if you make a $50 payment."

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