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DeWese--Print Buyers Speak Their Minds

November 1999
Wow! Am I totally excited!

I just participated in the most momentous printing event of this millennium!

Only 17 people were present: a court reporter, 15 print buyers and me. The print buyers work in the health care, education, financial services, advertising, automobile, consumer goods and agricultural industries. Collectively, the print buyers have more than 240 years of print purchasing experience for an average of more than 16 years each. As a group, they will purchase nearly $70 million in printing this year. If they bought all that printing from one company, it would rank 89th on Printing Impressions' Top 500 list.

There were no printers present in the room or within earshot. I was asked to facilitate this half-day focus group and lead them in a discussion of how they select their printers. The print buyers had agreed to have their answers and comments recorded by the court reporter.

Their answers were powerful!

I've attended dozens of industry top management conferences over the past 20 years. Sometimes, I've yawned while industry experts and highly paid (outside) speakers pontificated on everything from the future of the printing industry to strategic marketing for printing companies.

Never once at these industry functions have I heard a single print buyer tell us what they like and don't like about printers. Now I was in a room with 15 print buyers, and I wasn't going to blow the opportunity.

This focus group was a first-ever meeting of the Printing Industries of Michigan Customer Advisory Board. The meeting was in a conference room at the Skyline Club outside of Detroit. It could just as easily been at some executive club in Chicago, New York, Los Angeles or Birmingham, AL.

I was given only one question to ask the group and was told to spin my follow-up questions out of their responses to that question. The question was, "How do you select your print suppliers?"

One by one, around the table, the participants thoughtfully articulated the characteristics they seek and the criteria they apply to the printing companies they use. They didn't fumble for answers. They gave no incomplete answers. They gave in-depth answers and gave examples. They seemed to feed on one another.

This group of nine women and six men were obviously seasoned, veteran, print buyers who knew what they were doing. I would have to be at my best. They were smart. They had personalities. They took pride in their work. Several of the participants had worked for printing companies before becoming print buyers. Some had run presses. Others had worked in customer service, estimating and production.
 

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