Printing Impressions

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Carl Gerhardt

Business Sense & Sensibility

By Carl Gerhardt

About Carl

Carl Gerhardt is the chairman of Alliance Franchise Brands LLC, the parent company of Allegra Network LLC and Sign & Graphics Operations LCC, and a world leader in marketing, visual and graphics communications, linking more than 600 locations in the United States, Canada and United Kingdom. The company’s Marketing & Print Division, headquartered in Plymouth, MI, is comprised of Allegra, American Speedy Printing, Insty-Prints, Speedy Printing and Zippy Print brands of marketing, printing, mailing and Web services providers. Its Sign & Graphics Division, headquartered in Columbia, MD, is comprised of Image360, Signs By Tomorrow and Signs Now brands of sign and graphics communications providers.

Carl and his wife, Judy, owned and operated their own successful Allegra franchise for nearly 20 years before selling the $2.3 million operation in 2003. He is a PrintImage International/NAQP Honorary Lifetime Member and was inducted into NAPL’s prestigious Soderstrom Society in 2010 in recognition of his contribution to the industry.

 

‘Don’t Lose Customers’ Is the Best Marketing Plan Ever

 
For the first couple of years I was in business, the company grew a lot by picking up what my competitors “spilled.” Our industry has been notorious for not recognizing the lifetime value of the customer. At least, that was true in the growth years of the 1980s and ’90s. It may not be the case as much today, but it’s still the situation with too many companies.

We have a tendency to forget that, first and foremost, ours is a relationship business. Staying close to the customer and recognizing their needs before they do is a good rule to follow.

Here are a few additional recommendations to consider for your customer-retention plan:
  • Assign a primary contact person for each customer to help foster lasting relationships. The company owner should assume this role for the top accounts.
  • Contact all customers regularly, not only when they are buying.
  • Become the go-to resource for solutions to clients’ business problems.
  • Be quick to respond to all requests.
  • Go the extra mile when it’s not expected.
  • Make your direct customers look good to their bosses.
  • Know the bosses, but don’t go around your primary customer contacts.
  • Strive for operational excellence, and offer the safety net of a strong guarantee for quality and on-time performance.
  • Always make it right. Aim to exceed expectations when a customer is let down. Given the nature of our business, it will happen sooner or later.

Avoid wasting good money on a complex marketing plan until you have a strong customer-retention plan in place. I recall one study that said the average life of a printing customer is four to five years. That’s unacceptable and means annually adding 25 percent new customers, or you will soon be out of business. If you are good enough at selling, you might be able to bring in more new business than you lose, but that’s expensive and not a sound management strategy.

The first step is to cover the basics of “blocking and tackling” to keep your current customers loyal. Legendary Green Bay Packers Coach Vince Lombardi put it best. When meeting his team for the first time after taking the assignment as head coach Lombardi reportedly said, “Gentlemen, this is a football!”

The message was that they would get down to basics and not “spill” yardage or points to the competition before working out more complicated plays. Good advice!
 

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