All too often, conference keynoters end up being non-industry, motivational speakers who attempt to rev up the audience with feel-good, but fleeting, platitudes that lack much in the way of substance. That was not the case in Monday’s keynote address to the approximately 360 Printing Industries of America 2011 Offset & Beyond and Binding Industries Association annual conference attendees assembled in Orlando. Michael Graff, president and CEO of Clifton, NJ-based Sandy Alexander, pulled no punches in portraying what he believes has contributed to several challenges facing our industry.
In an address entitled “Creating New Opportunities for Growth-Explore, Evolve, Execute,” the more than 30-year industry veteran recounted some of the unsustainable business practices that printers and their suppliers brought upon themselves for several years leading up to the Great Recession. Graff cited our industry’s equipment overcapacity fueled by no interest/no payment loans and the easy credit terms established by many paper suppliers. Printers were also slow to adapt to technology changes, he said, using his own organization as an example by recounting how revenues from Sandy Alexander’s prep business seemingly shrunk overnight.
Graff also chastised the consultants who promise print buyers savings of 15 to 20 percent by pitting one printer against another, in what is already a very low-margin business that cannot support those pricing structures. He took printers to task as well, for passing along the rebates from paper buying programs directly to end users, rather than keeping those funds for themselves.
Despite these past mistakes, though, the RIT graduate remains optimistic that our industry is evolving into the new market paradigms and still has a bright future. For example, Graff referenced a recent study conducted among the highly coveted 18- to 34-year-old demographic in which respondents expressed a two-to-one preference for receiving printed direct mail communication over online offers. The study found that this age group considers printed materials to be more credible than online messages.
He also described the importance of evolving your business in step with technology advances. Graff recalled how Sandy Alexander committed to System Brunner several years back, which ultimately led it down the path to G7 Master Printer color management accreditation. Establishing its environmental policy seven years ago also provided a sales advantage and helped the web, sheetfed, digital and grand/wide-format printing operation become more efficient.
Graff revealed that his company’s entire executive team maintains direct client contact (as CEO, he still personally oversees $5+million worth of business). Other nuggets of advice from Graff to successfully evolve your print business include:
- Never hesitate to partner with others.
- Change from being order takers to becoming problem solvers.
- Evolve from being a custom manufacturer to an integrated manufacturer deploying best practices.
- Go from being the last person in line to becoming a valued decision maker for your customers.
- Don’t become too comfortable. Remain on the cutting edge, always trying to learn something new.
- The advantages of a big shop are services. The advantage of a small shop is service. “Folks, (customer) service wins out all the time," he told the audience.
From an execution standpoint, Graff related how Sandy Alexander invested $7 million in establishing its grand/wide-format division during the height of the economic downturn. He also stressed the need for the entire industry to band together to dispel the false perceptions that print kills trees and is harmful to the environment.
All sound advice, offering ways to explore, evolve and execute strategies for success in a rapidly changing industry.
What do you think about Graff's take on the industry, and how are you responding to print’s evolving role in the overall communications mix?