Some New Year's Resolutions for 2004
I'm not the type who normally makes a bunch of promises to myself with the coming of a new year. I know better than to pronounce that I will start exercising more regularly as mid-life begins to take its toll—despite recent purchases of a deluxe weight bench (clothes rack?), fancy running shoes and a jogger-friendly "Walkman" radio. Nor will I be trying out the new South Beach or any other fad diet. I just keep track of my weight by how tight or how loose my pants feel around my waist. When they're snug, I try to lunch on a few more salads and a little less mashed potatoes and gravy.
Being that I lack the necessary willpower to improve my lifestyle, maybe I'll have better luck in making some resolutions for the graphic arts industry as a whole. Here it goes and, remember, I'm counting on all of you to help turn my wish list into reality.
Printers will differentiate themselves not just based on price. Intense pricing pressure is today's most vexing problem. Buyers play printers against each other to beat down prices, and our industry is quick to comply. Commercial printers that prosper in the new year will find profits by offering additional services that complement ink on paper. They may have to sharpen their pencils on the printing, but will make their margins through value-added offerings such as creative services, database management, mailing and fulfillment. And they won't be afraid to explore wide-format output, packaging and digital printing.
Merger and acquisition activity proves that our industry still holds high value. Some might argue that recent consolidation is strictly the result of a shrinking industry. Moore couples with Wallace, only to be merged into Donnelley. FedEx pays $2.4 billion in cash for Kinko's and its approximately 1,200 franchise stores. These blockbuster financial deals wouldn't have been possible without the blessing of shareholders, Wall Street and the investment banking community. And yes, there will be fewer printing establishments in the months and years ahead, but don't forget that our consolidation is no different than what's happening in virtually every manufacturing sector. Companies that survive the shakeout will be healthier in the end, and will be able to maintain stronger pricing power.
Print may be struggling now, but we can keep it a viable communications tool. The rules of engagement may be changing, but alternative media will not make print obsolete. Runs lengths will continue to shorten, cycle times will continue to shrink and true computer-integrated manufacturing will become a reality. We'll continue to drive down our costs of manufacturing through automation and better workplace practices. And since our lives have so quickly become inundated with forgettable television commercials, endless e-mails and hard-to-navigate Websites, the ability to read, hold and easily transport a nicely printed document truly becomes a refreshing experience. So don't count out the electronic information overload factor and the role it will play in future consumer and B-to-B marketing communications decisions.
Capitalize on the fact that our manufacturing industry has not gone overseas. One of the causes—and results—of the recent recession in America has been the widespread loss of manufacturing jobs, which have been lost to countries with cheap labor, government subsidies and more pro-business policies. Printing, on the other hand, largely remains a service-oriented, localized industry not suited for foreign production. With a large employment and taxation base, we need to better flex our muscles with politicians to spur more favorable legislation. This includes the need for extensive legal, worker's comp, health insurance and product liability reform.
We won't lose sight that our most valuable asset is human capital, not equipment. As a capital-intensive business, it's easy to become enamored with the latest machinery available and the efficiency improvements that it can provide. But smart printers will also focus their efforts on maintaining a well-trained and appreciated work force. They know that if you don't resolve to have everyone on board and empowered to achieve common goals, there definitely won't be much to celebrate during the new year.
Mark T. Michelson