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Carl Gerhardt

Business Sense & Sensibility

By Carl Gerhardt

About Carl

Carl Gerhardt is the chairman of Allegra Network, one of the world’s largest print, marketing and graphic communications franchisors, linking more than 500 locations in North America under the brands Allegra, Signs Now, Insty-Prints, and American Speedy Printing.

Carl and his wife, Judy, owned and operated their own successful Allegra Network 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.

How to Grow Your Business When Demand Slows

There are forces beyond a slow, uneven economy that continue to reshape the printing industry. Most of us have come to accept that in positioning a printing business for significant growth in the coming years, the owner must evolve his or her business with new service offerings to meet consumers’ demands and needs.

Emerging technologies command a rebirth of the printing industry and a change in the role of a print shop owner. The printing companies that are successful today are the ones that realize their responsibility is to keep an eye on technological breakthroughs and evaluate how they can be applied specifically to marketing strategies.

Printing businesses need to evolve into graphic communications centers and become professional marketing service providers that also print. As a full-spectrum marketing service provider, a printing business can grow and prosper even as printing demand slows in the digital age. Having a breadth of knowledge and experience ranging from traditional offset printing to the latest in personalization, mobile marketing, QR code technology and social media has become a prerequisite for a thriving enterprise.

We identified this trend a few years ago at Allegra Network and have since embarked on an aggressive plan to help our franchise members evolve their businesses. The latest National Association for Printing Leadership (NAPL) State of the Industry Report and a large study of small businesses conducted by InfoTrends have confirmed this trend. In light of these reports and the recent recession, we are even more certain this is the right path for the printing industry.

Now, you may be asking, How you can evolve your printing business into a full-spectrum marketing service provider?

The first step to take is to add “implementation services” to your capabilities so your business is positioned to execute multi-channel and new media marketing tactics with single-source efficiency. For printing businesses that target small- and medium-sized businesses with modest resources, it is critical to erect a low-cost-to-serve model. A fully integrated development and production service is also essential.

To add enabling technologies, some initiatives to consider include:

• Adding full mailing service capability and expertise.

• Upgrading of digital production equipment and software.

• Developing an online ordering system, which includes hiring an online document management and ordering system expert to deliver state-of-the-art Web-to-print and automated marketing programs via the Internet.

• Forging a strategic partnership with an e-mail services company.

• Partnering with cross-channel marketing software services that effectively and efficiently construct personalized URLs and QR codes for Web-based response and fulfillment services.

• Working with equipment vendors to provide cost-effective entry into large format capabilities for delivery of signs, banners, posters and POP materials.

• Providing web development capabilities.

The second step is to become familiar with everything from the basics of marketing to best-practices in copywriting, graphic design, direct marketing, online marketing and strategic plan development. Individuals can gain a better understanding of this through online courses and Webinars. Here’s a list of free online courses and Webinars.

Besides learning from colleges or online universities, you should also consider taking time to meet with other printing professionals. At Allegra Network, we have developed an online education resource stocked with training called the “Allegra Network University” (ANU). Once our franchise members earn marketing certification through ANU on-demand training, they earn access to a Marketing Resource Center (MRC), which is a professional, cost-competitive planning, consulting, coaching and implementation resource to help them develop and execute marketing programs and projects for customers. Independent printers who join the Allegra Advantage Program gain access to both programs and other resources we’ve assembled for our franchise members.

You can’t expect to become a marketing expert overnight, no more than new graduates from top university marketing programs are instant experts. As anyone in the business will tell you, it’s a profession that’s only really learned by experience. Hiring marketing professionals and subject matter experts will provide measureable marketing results for your customers and another outlet for employees to turn to for training or questions.

Already, throughout the Allegra system, we are seeing that the majority of our marketing clients are smaller and mid-sized businesses that are largely dependent on marketing to drive their businesses. It has been a diverse mix of business-to-consumer, business-to-business and institutional customers who were working with traditional ad agencies and freelance talent or had no previous marketing initiatives. With our initial successes, we have confirmed that this trend provides a large, unmet need for printers to fill.

The recession should have served as a great motivator to diversify a printing business with additional small business marketing services. Not just to ride it out, but to create a new growth engine that can lead a business out of the persistent poor economic climate.

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