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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.
 

It’s OK to Give It Away

 
I am getting a little tired of hearing apologies for “giving away” what we used to call prepress or typesetting and, now with the advent of becoming marketing service providers, using marketing plans and campaigns as a sales tool falls into the same category. We complain that printers never charge what they should for everything, from designing marketing materials to fixing files. Moreover, they often give “it” away as a tool to attract new business just to get the printing (which has become a commodity.

The problem lies in the reluctance or timidity to charge what something is worth. This is very different than strategically using prepress or marketing plans as tools to land a new, large account. I have seen smart owners empower themselves and their sales staff to effectively use these “give aways” as sales incentives. As a matter of fact, I have done it myself many times.

The problem arises when it becomes common practice with the majority of the business, especially repeat business. One must have the discipline and courage to sell and charge full value when not using this practice as a sales tools. It is also critical to sell customers and prospects on the “true value” of what you are giving them. It’s important that they understand that value when you start charging them on future jobs.

Another problem is a failure to understand that one must be selective with the “giving it away” incentive. It makes no sense to give something away when dealing with a small, potential order, especially when there is no substantial opportunity for repeat, annuity business.

This has become more obvious to me as I have observed our Chief Marketing Officer, Bob Milroy, conduct Marketing Boot Camps as part of our Marketing Central certification for Allegra Network centers. He is the former CEO of one of the top 50 B-to-B marketing agencies.

When Bob points out that he used to capture $5 for every $1 we got as printers, it gets the attention of our franchise members. He could do it because he had the courage to charge “what it was worth” for prepress, design and, yes, marketing plans. Now he is teaching us how to do it.

I applaud owners that strategically, but selectively, “give it away” to land new accounts. I applaud them even more when they then have the courage to charge full value in the normal course of business.

Is it easy? No. If it was, we wouldn’t be beating ourselves up about it. Like anything else, it takes discipline and a strategic plan that starts at the top, meaning with the owner. And then, train your sales staff and let them know IT’S OK when they do it strategically, but selectively, when they get new, sustainable business as a result.
 

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