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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.

 

Small Printers Have a Better than Fighting Chance

 
Too often, it is common wisdom that the larger you are, the better and more successful you are as a printer. I think this is very wrong-headed, especially in today’s world of modern technology. I would much prefer to be a “smaller” printer with strong profitability and balance sheet, than a “larger” printer that struggles to meet payroll.

Those of us who grew up as quick printers and now play in the commercial/non-retail space have a significant advantage, in my opinion. We have always been accustomed to quick turnarounds and short runs. And now, digital technology automates this process—whether offset, toner-based or both. Moreover, smaller printers understand how to juggle a large number of jobs and meet customer deadlines with excellent quality...often dealing with well over 100 orders in-house simultaneously.

So what’s the point? The point is that smaller printers are in at least as good a position—if not a better one—to capitalize on the structural shift happening in the industry today.

Consolidation is happening at a rapid pace, but the companies that are going out of business are not failing because they are too small. Most often, it is because they have not adapted to digital technology or diversified into many of the new services that customers need. They become irrelevant. Marketing services, wide-format printing, mailing and online ordering (or Web-to-print) are now required, “base line” services and products that companies of all sizes should be providing.

Small businesses prefer to do business with other small businesses. Don’t worry about the definition of a small business. Just think about your core customers being about the same size as your business. You are probably better equipped to service those companies than your larger competitors, as long as your technology is staying ahead of them. And, consider looking for some new things to sell them.

Industry consultant Jennifer Matt has a good take on how to view the current market. In a recent blog, she wrote, “Many participants in this industry are trying to hang on to the business they have. I’m a bigger fan of offense. How do we individually and collectively increase the size of the pie?”

We definitely need to be on the offensive. We can increase the size of the pie by not confining our thinking to how we have always done business. We may need to shift to some of the services our customers are now buying, which may not be the same ones as in the past. Smaller printers can do that just as well—and I contend, even better—than larger ones. No one said it was going to be easy, but it can be fun.
 

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