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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.

 

It's Not Easy Being Green – But is it Profitable?

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Kermit the Frog famously concluded, “It’s not easy being green,” and I think plenty of graphic arts suppliers would agree. I was struck recently by an article questioning the importance of “green” in the marketing message. A print provider was quoted saying, “When we asked our clients if this was interesting to them, the overwhelming response: if it’s more expensive, we don’t care about being green. I don’t even market the green aspect to my clients.”

I suspect that the audience of both end-users and service providers would be split regarding the importance of being a green company. A vast majority would probably agree that it’s a good thing to do to protect the environment. The split happens when price and cost come into the discussion. At what price or cost does the value or marketing benefit go out the window?

FSC-certification has become an important criterion in selecting a print provider for some environmentally-conscious companies. However, those of us who have dealt with certification could get on a stump about the actual benefit to green initiatives versus the bureaucracy and cost involved for very little real “green” benefit. Some of our franchise members who have become FSC-certified have done so because one customer demanded it or would move their business. So yes, I guess you could call that a profitable decision to not lose the customer. We happen to have a process in place to help our members get FSC-certified at a reasonable cost.

From a strictly marketing and business point of view, here is where I come down: First know your market, your customer and prospect base. Again, we all want to be environmentally-conscious and should run our business accordingly. That said, we should do it pragmatically and keep the bottom line in mind. If you are in some areas of California or other states where the general population has a strong environment bias, your decision may be different than if you are in rural Texas. And yes, there is a political element attached to the environmental movement, and as business people, we all should understand how this can impact our business and marketing, regardless of our personal politics. I know some commercial printers that are making “green” a big part of their marketing message, even to the point of installing a large solar array on top of their buildings. And, it’s the first thing you see on their Website. Hopefully, this was a good financial decision both from energy savings and for their target market.

I think the lesson learned from Kermit is that it is okay to be green, and it can even be good to have it in your marketing message. However, if you are not competitive in the rest of the value proposition it is not going to put more on your bottom line. “It’s not easy being green” was an important part of Kermit’s brand and marketing strategy, and it worked for him. Don’t let the emotional attachment to being a part of the green movement take over sound business management and marketing.

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