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AMERICAN QUICK PRINTER: A GAME OF STRATEGY

Apr 1, 1999 12:00 AM


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Compared to what any of us could accomplish, we are nearly comatose, claims centuries of human research. We only exer cise a teeny part of our physical and mental resources. Now apply this reality to the marketing of a quick print shop.

"From my own experience, there are two ways of 'being' inside this industry--reactive or proactive," testifies Kenny Frazier, owner of Cowtown Printing in Forth Worth, TX. "Reactive is running an ad in the yellow pages, mailing out a few coupons and then sitting back and hoping people will come in and buy something. That's what I did for years and I was going under. Once I became proactive--actually going out into the community and picking the people I specifically wanted as clients, sending out regular mailings and following up with phone calls--I was amazed how things turned around."

Now with a staff of seven to match his seven years in business, Frazier insists that ongoing, aggressive marketing is as important as rent or payroll or equipment investments: "If you don't market, you don't grow. If you don't grow, you eventually go out of business." Indeed, the common excuses of "I don't have enough money" or "I don't have enough time" inevitably spell a quick printer's demise when you consider the statistic that says small businesses lose 10 percent to 15 percent of their existing clientele annually. Add to that today's stiff competition.

"The painful truth is that most printers are 'too busy' to get marketing done," says Mike Stevens, owner of Express Press (Fargo, ND) and founder of Ink Inc., an ad agency that sells direct mail materials to printers. "Think of this--only an average of one printer out of 40 does a mailing. Talk about a marketing opportunity. Everybody knows that--so you wonder what the heck is going on that these owners don't get it. It's like blowing your own foot off."

From the perspective of marketing savvy quick printers, direct mail--including newsletters, postcards and special promotions --remains the most effective marketing tool no matter what a shop's size or finances. The key, though, is to do them regularly, preferably more than once a month.

"Direct mail is the most effective way for me to reach my target audience," asserts Bill Hathaway, owner of PressMark Printing, a six-employee shop in Marietta, OH. "What you say in a direct mail piece is not as important as being consistent, getting your name and work out there over and over to say, 'Hey, we're here! Look at the quality work we produce.' "

Hathaway's shop produces its own process-color newsletter called On the Mark. Not only does the staff graphic designer do the layout and graphics, but he writes stories profiling customers and employees alike.

"There's a certain bandwagon attitude with others when you feature your customers and employees, showing how proud you are of them and the work they do," reasons Hathaway, who mails the newsletter to businesses he's targeted throughout the greater Marietta area (40,000 pop.). "It's all about giving the sense of personal relationships and making others want to be a part of a successful operation."

Simply, winners want to deal with winners and a wealth of free publicity can be gained from clients bragging to non-customers about how they have this great printer. Stevens' line of six different direct mail products, including two educational newsletters, a general mailer and a postcard directed at selling high-speed copies, are currently being used by quick printers in 200 cities. For an average of $60 a month, printers can gain exclusive rights to a zip code (an average of 1,500 businesses). They simply drop in their own logos and other pertinent information on CD-ROM, print it and mail it out.

"A lot of printers will do mailings irregularly, every two or three months or when business is slow. That's a disaster," stresses Stevens. "You'll find that the printers who are busy and growing are the ones who do several mailings a month, reaching different markets. For instance, when I started a second mailing just to sell high-speed copies, my sales for that service went from $10,000 to $40,000 over two years."

Frazier, who uses Ink Inc. and Prairie Moon Advertising's direct mail products (starting at $30 a month), testifies that when he started doing one mailer a month without fail, his business picked up respectively. It picked up more when he went to twice a month. There was another jump in sales when he went to three times a month. Among his mailbag offerings is a "joke" newsletter and an inspirational newsletter. This past Christmas, he received an "overwhelming response" to a Christmas letter personalized through high-speed mail merge. He used window envelopes with "North Pole" as the only return address on the back flap.

"What is extremely critical is that you mail something with perceived value," stresses Frazier. "A lot of the canned newsletters out there are really nothing more than huff and puff about the printing business, which most people don't care to read, so it goes straight in the trash can." Frazier also likes to include an occasional giveaway item in the mail. In-house-produced freebies include a calendar and a monthly day planner, both stamped with the shop's name and phone number. "Ultimately, the key is name recognition," says Frazier.

Calendars are one of the most popular freebie items used by printers. The thinking is people will be reminded of the printer on a daily basis as they look at the date and pencil in appointments. Of course, it's important to emblazon your logo, address and phone/fax number in a visible spot. Also, make sure it's attractive and useful enough that people will actually want to hang it. "You can't do any better than having your name staring clients in the face each and every day," reasons John DeNoyer, owner of Riverside Graphics Corp. (Chicago). He is already planning a light-hearted "Y2K Compatible Calendar" for 2000.

Ted Hochstatter, owner of LazerQuick in Yakima, WA, has had good success with an in-house produced "Tax Calendar" listing all local, state and federal tax deadlines most businesses are expected to remember. The 2,000 calendars mailed out for 1999 can be seen displayed on the walls of businesses across town.

Coinciding with the use of promotions and mailings for name recognition must be the commitment to following up with phone calls to prospective clients, agree many successful quick printers. "It's what I call relationship selling," says Frazier. "After a mailing, you call for an appointment to see them, telling them how much you want their business and how you're going to take care of them. Ask what you can do differently from their current printer to get and keep their business."

Consultant Tom Crouser, who places sales calls alongside direct mail as the only heavyhitters for selling printing, advises printers to buy a database of customers within five miles of their shop and identify about 250 prime prospects. After bombing them with direct mail, "sell them toe-to-toe."

"It's not very glamorous but it works if the printer does," he says. "The problem is that 95 percent of printers don't really sell and of the five percent that do, 80 percent of them just think they're selling. Many are delivering (end products) and calling that sales. It's not. Sales is getting in front of new customers for new business or old customers for new business. Either way, it's an effort to get new business."

Linda Nix, co-owner of Nix On Time Printing (Columbus, GA), along with her husband, Roy, names in-person cold calling as one of her favorite sports. She stresses that you must be someone who truly enjoys meeting and talking to people and are unafraid of rejection. "I like walking in and surprising people and walking out with an order," she testifies. Her favorite trick is to make an impromptu on-site visit to a brand-new business in the weeks before it opens its doors to the public.

"When I see a new business going in, I make it my business to find out exactly who's going in and what type of operation it will be," Nix explains. "It's very important you make contact with them before they've already set-up their printing suppliers. What you find is they often haven't had time to think of all the details that go into starting a business--business cards, letterhead, sales forms, grand opening flyers and gift certificate. The key is to make a [surprise] visit because when they have got construction workers and electricians running around, they're too busy to talk to you on the phone or schedule a time for you to see them."

Incredibly, Nix reports a 90 percent or better success rate using this method of marketing. The best part is as the new business grows, so does its printing needs.

Both Linda and Roy, who have backgrounds in sales and marketing and had their own ad agency before getting into the convenience printing industry a decade ago, are big believers in name recognition's role in making a prospective client want to listen when a sales visit or phone call is made.

"We also learned from our years of selling that if you already have a good reputation when you walk in the door, your odds of getting an order increase dramatically," says Roy. The marketing mix at Nix On Time includes direct mail, 30-second radio spots, colorful posters in the lobby listing services, printed handouts with buyer tips and vehicles painted with the company's alarm clock logo on the side.

The radio ad consists of a telephone ringing and Linda's voice answering with, "Nix on Time Printing. We're more than just printers. This is Linda, how may I help you?" Consequently, when Linda introduces herself to someone in the community, they often respond with, "Oh, you're the one who does the commercial."

Creating greater name recognition must be combined with the commitment to educating customers and prospects alike on the extent of services offered. A recent survey of 250 quick printers by Lyra Research shows 61 percent of them believe better marketing and sales of existing services is more crucial to continued success than investing in new technologies/services.

Most printers also agree one of their biggest stumbling blocks is making customers aware of the variety of products in order to cross-sell services.

"I hear people say all the time, 'Gee, I didn't know you did that,'" says PressMark's Hathaway. "Consequently, we wonder ourselves sometimes, 'How could they not know?!' " Stevens recalls the jaw-dropping moment years ago when he asked one of his top 25 accounts for his envelope business. "You mean you do printing too?" the man responded. "I thought you were just a copy shop."

One solution Stevens' Ink Inc. offers for about $10 a month is a prerecorded educational phone message cassette tape for customers who call in and are put on hold. Interspersed with music, the messages, which are altered monthly, offer a mixture of trivia and current holiday greetings along with services information. Hathaway uses another on-hold service produced by Robert Free Productions. The company has various templates printers can choose from to best promote their services. For an average of $300-$400, a personalized CD, with varying messages, is supplied that can be easily hooked into the printer's telephone system using a CD player.

"Some printers spend the time and money to make their own personal tape but I don't think you need to," says Stevens. "In seven years I've never had anybody say even one time, 'Oh, you never say Express Press.' "

Deb Loeser, owner and founder of 17-year-old Classic & Associates (Rochester, MI), has also gotten into the business of offering marketing services to fellow quick printers. Called BusinessCorps, Inc., the sideline venture includes designing tailor-made brochures for quick printers pinpointing niche services. Coming soon is a comprehensive monthly marketing kit that includes newsletters, advertisements, postcards and other promotion ideas.

"I truly believe there isn't one brochure or one piece that covers all your services or even should try," says Loeser. "We don't have big, deep pockets to keep up with all the technology out there and so we're forced to choose where our niches are. Why not use that same concept in presenting yourself? Marketing materials should qualify whether someone should call you or not. This is part of how you make sure you get the type of clients you need."

As part of BusinessCorps' consultant services, a representative may even visit a printer's shop to look for obvious and not-so-obvious missed marketing opportunities and provide a written briefing to help formulate the firm's personal marketing campaign. The cost for a typical brochure as part of the campaign averages from $1,500 to $2,500.

For her own shop, Loeser has been offering a free two-hour marketing seminar every other month as a way to market her services. She invites customers and their friends into her shop for tips she presents on better marketing, specifically in the area of printed materials. Many of her tips, Loeser explains, have come from attending NAQP and PrintImage conferences and she simply "repurposes the advice into language for my clients."

"It's not that it's anything new or anything they couldn't find from some other source," she explains. "But what it does is get them out of their place of business and into mine. I make myself the 'expert' on marketing as it pertains to printing. The idea is successful people like to do business with like-minded people."

And their learning how to better market their business through quality printed items can only serve as another marketing device for the printer as both parties' business increases. As Loeser puts it: "It's a win-win for everyone."