DeWese--We Have Met the Enemy
Balderdash! Phooey! Cow chips! "We have met the enemy and he is us."
All right, ya'll, get in here, sit down and listen up. I've got a hell of a lot to cover this month.
You probably are all wondering who first said the words and phrase at the top of this column. Well, if any of you illiterate slugs ever read your history books, you would know.
The late, great Sir Winston Churchill first said "Balderdash!" Sir Winston said it when Lady Astor observed that he was drunk. Sir Winston replied: "Balderdash. Tomorrow I will be sober and you will still be ugly."
The late Felix Anderson Crawford, my wife's grandfather, first said "Phooey" one night when he ran out of Tampa Nuggets and Seagrams Seven. He was left to roll his own while drinking a Coke.
The irrepressible Marvelle Stump was first heard to mutter "Cow chips!" when he spilled a long-neck PBR on his polyester britches one night at the Dew Drop Inn Lounge in Hot Coffee, Mississippi.
Finally, Pogo (star of the long-defunct Walt Kelly cartoon strip of the same name) was the one who said "We have met the enemy and he is us!" Pogo was the wisest of them all. I personally have learned the hard way that the enemy is always me. Think about it.
Your Mañana Man—that would be me—is the first semi-famous person, however, to orchestrate the three exclamations and one phrase and to publish them in this order. Pretty catchy, eh? That's one of my few talents: orchestration.
Those words are my reaction to all this negative talk about the printing industry. It's also my reaction to Internet companies and their grossly overvalued stocks. How can a dotcom company with no sales and humongous losses be worth enormously more than our printing industry's Mail-Well, Consolidated Graphics, Valassis or R.R. Donnelley? How can unprofitable company Dotcom Website Inc.—with teensy revenues and no profit prospects for the next 10 years—have a market capitalization that is $200 million more than say, Mail-Well, a $2.5 billion, profitable company with more than 120 plants in the United States, Canada and England?
I have an MBA from Emory University, and that, I have learned, will not get me a Grande Double Café au Lait at Starbucks. I tried, and the guy behind the counter laughed at me. My MBA does mean, however, that I am semi-literate financially, conversant with the economics of the stock market and, for that matter, the macroeconomics of the American economy.
My professors at Emory didn't teach me these crazy Internet economics. Oh, I understand: some companies will say they are going to have revenues, eventually, maybe. And when they eventually get these revenues, if they are large enough, they may just have some profits.
Well, you see why I'm on this tirade. I'm sick and tired of people in our printing industry saying that:
1. Sales are down;
2. The Internet is going to kill print;
3. We are a mature industry and are part of the traditional, newly so-called "old economy;" or
4. Real print growth is now slower than the Gross Domestic Product.
Here's my response. If you draw your paycheck from the printing industry, you need to brag about it every day to everyone who will listen. It is a great industry that gainfully employs somewhere between 800,000 and 1,000,000 people. It is a people-intensive industry and, because it's growing at more than 6 percent per year, it creates jobs. It's also a materials- and capital-intensive industry, so it creates hundreds of thousands of support jobs. Not growing? Balderdash!
I see hundreds of financial statements from printing companies every year. As a result, I can tell you that 97 percent of them had great years in 1999 and are having better years so far in 2000. I even know some companies in Chapter 11 that are having great years.
I see sales up among independent companies in a range of from 10 percent to 35 percent for 1999. It is true that some of the consolidators have sucked the entrepreneurial growth spirit right out of their companies; but, overall, this industry is growing nicely. Besides, in the past 11 years, the consolidators have bought out fewer than 600 out of more than 40,000 companies—and their few loser plants can't be dragging down the whole industry. If some people don't stop all their negativity, I'm going to do my own survey that will be unquestionably, irrevocably and statistically accurate, and I will embarrass the hell out of the naysayers. Sales in decline? Phooey!
It ain't dyin' due to no Internet. The Internet is creating new printing in order to fuel visits to their Websites. Order a book from Amazon.com and see how much printing you get in the box, and how much new direct mail you get. The printing industry is changing, but all industries are changing. Dying industry? Cow chips!
How can an industry that is so digitally dependent now suddenly be a traditional, "old economy" business? Maybe salt is old economy, but not our printing industry. Our companies can't buy new software and digitally based equipment fast enough. Old economy? Poppycock!
Now, if you are one of those whiners in sales, sales management, management or ownership who says, "The Internet is killing us and our sales are down and our competitors' prices are killing us and the dog ate all our samples..."; then here's what I want you to do.
I want you to march yourself right over to the nearest mirror, look into it and then ask yourself, "Have I done my job as well as I possibly could?" Do this, I beg of you. It's just you there in front of that mirror, so you can be honest. Do it because I'm telling you there are successful salespeople and managers in this industry right now who are soaring, zooming and making it happen.
Then, I want all of you to send this column to your nearest Wall Street analyst. Send a cover letter and say, "This is a great and growing industry, and we ain't afraid of the Internet. We're going to make use of it for our own prosperity and printing is not going away. Maybe they'll put down their Wall Street Journals and Greenspan binoculars long enough to really study our industry.
Next, tell everybody you meet how proud you are to be a printer.
And, finally: sell better, manage better, hold your head high, satisfy your customers, respect others better and smile more often.
I asked all of you to raise prices selectively across the board by 5 percent in my February column and I've been flooded with phone calls, e-mails and letters telling me, "Mañana Man, we're doing it. We're raising our prices. We're worth it."
Now, I want you to tell the world how good you are and how this industry is filled with thousands more just like you. Don't be the enemy. Get your posteriors out there and sell something!
About the Author
Harris DeWese is the author of Now Get Out There and Sell Something! (Nonpareil Books). He is a principal at Compass Capital Partners, an author of the annual "Compass Report" and specializes in investment banking, mergers and acquisitions, sales, marketing, planning and management services to printing companies.