What Printers Can Learn from Bowling
I took two of my grandchildren bowling recently. When I sent them over to the ball rack to select bowling balls, they returned with two balls each.
This was a new one to me.
For those of you unfamiliar with bowling, here’s a (very) quick summary. Each game consists of 10 “frames.” In each frame you get two tries to knock down all the pins. In today’s modern bowling alley, after your first ball — unless you knock them all down on your first try — an automatic pinsetter picks up the remaining pins, sweeps away the pins you knocked down, then sets the remaining pins back in place. In the meantime, your ball is being returned to you on a conveyer belt underneath the alley.
It takes longer to return the ball than to reset the pins. That means the pins are ready for your second ball before your ball is returned to your hands. Hence, Jackson, 16, and Kali, 15, each used two identical balls. That way they didn’t have to wait the extra 10 or so seconds for their ball to be returned.
They didn’t dream up this idea themselves. They tell me that all of their friends play with two bowling balls. This is a sign of the times in which we live. Why would anyone wait longer than necessary?
Perhaps I shouldn’t have mentioned that Kali and Jackson are teenagers. This fact sets us up for a rant about how different millennials are from previous generations.
Nonsense. Everybody expects quicker service these days. Grandma eats at McDonald’s and grandpa has Amazon Prime. The only difference is that today’s teens have never known life any other way.
I telephoned the president of the company that owns the bowling alley, who also happens to be my brother Chris. The slight difference in our ages makes me a Baby Boomer and him a Gen Xer, but I don’t think that matters a whit.
He wasn’t aware of the “two-ball” phenomenon per se, but did sheepishly admit that he himself had been known to grab someone else’s bowling ball for his second throw because he was too impatient to wait for his own ball to return.
So you see, millennials didn’t invent impatience, they just formalized it.
When I started in printing, turnaround was measured in weeks or even months. Printers would patiently explain to customers why it was logistically impossible to work any faster. One market segment, which used to be called financial printing, did overnight what everyone else took two to four weeks to complete. Same equipment, same materials, but somehow they achieved “impossible” deadlines — and with great accuracy at that.
The old R.R. Donnelley Co. had both a book manufacturing division and a financial printing division. Same ownership producing the same physical product, but the book division took 100 times as long to deliver! This never made sense to me, and I’ve made a career exploiting this difference.
The most important question to ask is: Will making your customers wait longer add real value to the final product or service? In the case of bowling, some alleys are now charging by the hour instead of by the game, in which case, waiting time subtracts value. Bowling is a leisure-time activity that should be savored. The decision to slow down or speed up play should be options offered to, not inflicted upon, the customer.
In the case of printing, as in most business-to-business transactions, delay only lessens value. Time is money.
Your clients don’t want to wait 10 extra seconds for a ball return. Don’t make them wait even one extra day to receive their orders.
Steve Johnson, president and CEO of Copresco in Carol Stream, Ill., is an executive with 40 years of experience in the graphic arts. He founded Copresco, a pioneer in digital printing technology and on-demand printing, in 1987. Email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.copresco.com