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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.


Six Ways to Thrive or Die in the ‘New Normal’

Much has been written about how to succeed. But, I could not resist repeating what I consider to be six ways to either thrive or die as we continue to be in the valley of what Dr. Joe Webb once referred to as a possible L-shaped recovery—or lack of recovery from the recession. Consider this: Are we dealing with the impact of the recession, or is the restructuring of the industry more the culprit?

More and more, we hear that this may now be the “new normal.” The recession probably just accelerated the restructuring of the printing industry brought about by the Internet and everything digital. Does it really matter? I think not.

The better news is that a printing firm can thrive (or die) depending on the business approach it takes.

Thrive by being the one left standing; or die by being one of those gobbled up by the survivor.Strongly financed, well-managed companies with a good business plan can and will always survive. They can also thrive by recognizing that getting a larger slice of a pie that is shrinking can be a fine growth strategy. That does not automatically happen. One must aggressively be on the lookout to pick up the sick and wounded via acquisition/merger or landing the accounts before they disperse in a shutdown.

Thrive by diversifying into areas like marketing services, wide-format printing and more; or die by “sticking to your knitting” and not trying anything new. This one is easier said than done. But if you don’t grow by being the one left standing, you must find something new to sell to existing clients, while also landing new clients.

Thrive by becoming a first-class marketer of your business first, and investing in the internal infrastructure to provide these services to others; or die by promoting yourself as a marketing services provider without first having an honest value proposition for potential clients. The industry landscape is becoming littered with printers that first tried to make a halfhearted attempt at becoming a marketing services provider. It’s so talked about in the trade media, one would think everyone should do it as the best way to diversify. The fact is, only a few companies are being really successful and most do not have a clue how to go about marketing their own business let alone try to tell someone else how to do it.

Thrive by focusing on a niche market and becoming the best of class in serving those clients; or die by trying to be all things to all clients and not being really good at anything. What else is there to say? We tend to do whatever our customers need instead of being selective and transitioning our customer base to business/markets that we are really good at servicing.

Thrive by leveraging the assets of key trade partners to provide expanded products and services; or die by over-investing in a plant and equipment that you cannot fully utilize. The recent emergence of “gang-run” trade printers and others that specialize in certain capabilities offers a lot of things that can be sold along with products that a company “manufactures.”

For years, items like labels, business forms and thermography were completed by wholesale/trade shops that allowed good mark-ups for retailers. We often fail to realize that one of the most valuable assets of a printing firm is its client list and the relationships that drive what customers buy from it. Those of us who, in the past, were not excited about sending work out may need to rethink this opportunity.

Thrive by becoming a modern sales management professional by learning the new and modern ways of hiring, managing, compensating and motivating sales professionals; or die by sticking to the old paradigm of a print sales person that does not work anymore. This is probably the biggest “Thrive or Die” factor in the entire success equation. Duh! This may be obvious, but most printers in business today have not mastered this art and are loath to take it on. I contend it will be the biggest success factor in this newly restructured market.

The list could go on. However, these are the ones that jump out at me based on the shop owners I know and observe. We’re doing our best at Allegra Network to guide our franchise members through this restructuring and provide resources they may not otherwise have at their disposal. And, it’s working for those who are willing and still have the passion for the business like I mentioned in a previous post. Find something that will make you fall in love with your business again.

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