Receptionists that Rule —DeWese
MY NOVEMBER column was my 25th anniversary column and I just slap-my-head forgot about it. Twenty-five years is a long time to write a 1,250-word column every month and never miss an issue. I have missed most of the deadlines, but never an entire edition. I should have remembered.
So this marks the first column of my next 25 years of writing a column for Printing Impressions. I'll be 92 when I celebrate my golden column anniversary. I sure 'nough hope I'll be able to remember that anniversary or, for that matter, still be able to remember anything at that age.
I wonder what Attila the Editor will present me for my 50th anniversary. Probably an engraved Rolex. But wait, there probably won't be Rolexes in 2034.
I could speculate on the industry changes that will occur during the next 25 years and try to paint a picture of the Star Wars technology. There will be dramatic changes to the mechanical, economic and demographic aspects of our industry. But I'll leave that futuristic thinking to industry geniuses like Ray Prince (NAPL), Andy Paparozzi (NAPL), Dr. Joe Webb, Dr. Ron Davis (PIA) or Frank Romano. Those guys are experts on the technological and economic sides of printing. I'm more into the human side of the industry, so I'll write about people.
First Impressions Count
Here's one special person I can write about—Karen Howerton. And, I'm betting that no matter how much technology advances, Karen's role will be as important, and maybe more so, in 2034.
Howerton, fresh out of high school, was hired as the receptionist at Pearl Pressman Liberty Communications Group more than 42 years ago. Pearl Pressman is the largest general commercial sheetfed printer in the Philadelphia market.
The company is highly respected for its quality, professionalism, integrity and dependability. All of that starts with Karen, who has invested more than four decades perfecting her role as the face of Pearl Pressman Liberty.
Maybe she's not the face; maybe she's the handshake or perhaps she's the first impression of many impressions at Pearl Pressman. Oh heck, she's all three—the face, the handshake and the first impression.
It's worth it to call the company and hear Karen answer the phone. It's worth even more to visit the company and see how she greets people and attends to their needs while they wait in the lobby. There is no superficial or gratuitous inquiry from her about the weather or your health. Karen's remarks and questions are sincere, and aimed at making your day better.
This woman is beautiful and immaculately coiffed. She personifies all that Pearl Pressman is about and aspires to be.
And, Karen gave Pearl Pressman a bonus. Her daughter, Danielle Howerton, is the director of human resources in this large company, which was ranked 176th on the 2009 Printing Impressions Top 400.
It's About Service
I leave Pearl Pressman and drive across the river to visit a smaller company in New Jersey. It's raining—a cold, wind-driven Nor'easter rainfall. I arrive at Quadra Graphics in Pennsauken, NJ, about 45 minutes early, parking near the front door to minimize my exposure to the elements. I was delivering an important document for a meeting with the owner and didn't want it to get soaked.
I began making cell phone calls while I waited. I heard the call waiting signal. It was the company receptionist, Linda Harkins. She had seen me arrive, and was calling to tell me that the owner had become ill and left suddenly.
I told her that I had a package to drop off for the boss, so I would come in and leave it with her. She inquired if I had an umbrella and I informed her it was in my trunk. Linda insisted that I wait in the car.
In a minute or so, I heard a tap at my window. It was Linda, wearing yellow rain slickers with a matching yellow hat and carrying an umbrella. She took the package and, since it was a Friday, even volunteered to drop it off at her boss' home. She wanted him to have it, so he could study it over the weekend.
Linda Harkins has been giving this kind of extra service for her company since 1985. She does it with the same high-level class and panache as Karen Howerton on the other side of the river.
By the way, Karen and Linda don't get any commissions, despite all the work they help to influence with their positive behavior. They don't get ridiculous Wall Street bonuses like the hot shot MBAs at Citicorp, INA and Bank of America. You see?
They work for printing companies and, contrary to what the print buyers think, their employers have to bust it in order to generate even a measly 5 percent profit in good times, and these years now are bad years. But, as bad as things are, Linda and Karen keep smiling and continue to make other humans feel good.
And, if I'm buying some printing, I'm buying it where I can at least feel good.
There is a point to this column, so I'll get back to it.
During the next 25 years, graphic communications technology will change enormously. All of the terminology will have changed. The equipment will be different. The workflow will be different. All the differences will be the result of billions invested in the new technology.
On the human side—since humans will still buy and sell printing and all the new surrounding marketing services—there will have been little or no investment. Employees like Karen and Linda will have gone right on improving every year and making customers happy. Maybe our graphic communications companies in 2034 will be producing and selling something called Great Human Behavior, and Karen and Linda will be recognized as the Gutenbergs who invented it.
At the very least, Karen Howerton and Linda Harkins are now officially members of the Mañana Man's Receptionists Hall of Fame and will soon be receiving all the fabulous stuff that accompanies this recognition. Some of you long-time readers will remember that I founded my Hall of Fame about 10 years ago, and have inducted four or five new members every year for several years. Then, after Attila the Editor wouldn't give me the money for the Hall of Fame building in Palm Beach, I temporarily suspended new inductees.
I'm going to temporarily suspend this column so you salespeople can get out there and sell something! PI
About the Author
Harris DeWese is the author of "Now Get Out There and Sell Something" and "The Mañana Man, Books II and III," available at www.piworld.com/bookstore. He is chairman of Compass Capital Partners and also authors the annual "Compass Report," the definitive source of information regarding printing industry M&A activity. DeWese has completed 150 printing company transactions and is viewed as the industry's preeminent deal maker. He can be reached via e-mail at HDeWese@CompassCapLtd.com.