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Full Court Press: an emphasis on community

Jun 1, 2002 12:00 AM


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Ed Symbol and Jerry Sands launched Full Court Press four years ago in Westbrook, ME. Neither partner had experience in the printing industry — they were local businessmen who simply wanted to run a small business, not only for their own benefit, but for the benefit of the Westbrook community. “Our downtown has been decimated by large malls and one-stop stores,” Symbol says. “There are several projects in the works to get small businesses to relocate downtown.”

Full Court Press has grown from what Symbol describes as a “bottom-feeder — taking any and all business at whatever price we could get” — to a multi-faceted operation with a strong strategic plan.

Full Court Press specializes in printing two-color newsletters that require quick turnaround. Sales staff target businesses with 15 or more employees and minimum annual print spending of $2,500. “We recognize that we are a local printer, however, and we will certainly continue to service smaller businesses,” Symbol notes.

The company is proud of its service efforts, which extend beyond its business plan and into the greater community. It has been formally recognized by the governor of Maine and the Westbrook Chamber of Commerce for outstanding involvement in community service.

WHAT MAKES YOUR COMPANY UNIQUE FROM COMPETITORS?

We capitalize on our strengths. First of all, we have an exceptionally strong staff. We have been able to attract a diverse group that can handle the heavy stress of the business. Secondly, as owners, we have a strong desire to grow the business, and we take opportunities as they present themselves. Risk is an integral part of capitalizing on opportunities. And lastly, there is autonomy of functions — Jerry and I know our roles and are able to capitalize on each other's strengths.

DESCRIBE YOUR ACCOUNT-DEVELOPMENT EFFORTS.

The printing business relies on one-on-one relationship building to get the sale. Old-fashioned cold calling is still performed, albeit the manner in which it is done has changed. Our sales staff uses the Séan McArdle system of selling: a focused, letter-sending, phone-calling system that guarantees appointments and gets results.

In 2002, we will send out 1,200 letters, get 240 appointments and net 48 new customers per salesperson. That represents $240,000 in new business from this single program.

HOW HAVE YOU MANAGED THIS GROWTH DURING DIFFICULT ECONOMIC CONDITIONS?

We are committed to a “guerilla” marketing philosophy. We send weekly faxes, monthly flyers and a tabloid-size quarterly newsletter to customers. In addition, we hold quarterly design seminars for our top 100 customers. We hold a biannual “Business After Five” function in conjunction with the chamber of commerce. Our delivery vehicle is covered with our logo and phone number. And, we thank our customers continually for their business.

HOW DO YOU FORECAST YOUR MARKET?

We look at last year's orders for the upcoming month and focus our marketing efforts toward that customer base. We do a market survey of our top six competitors twice a year to make sure our prices are in line with the market. It is amazing what you can learn about a competitor by asking for a quote.

HOW HAS YOUR BUSINESS CHANGED OVER THE PAST FIVE YEARS?

Our business has gone from $5,000 per month to $5,000 per day. We have gone from handwriting proposals, using the Franklin estimating system, to using Printer's Plan. The biggest change has been the addition of hardworking staff members.

WHERE DO YOU SEE YOURSELF FIVE YEARS FROM NOW?

We will have grown into a $5 million business, or we will have merged with a larger competitor. We should be able to consistently sustain a 15 percent to 20 percent growth rate each year of operation, not including any future acquisitions. (We currently have a pending purchase proposal for a smaller shop.) Businesses often test the waters for new vendors, and we will be the benefactors if we correctly position ourselves in front of the right people.

WHAT HAS BEEN YOUR COMPANY'S BEST INVESTMENT?

We believe strongly in and are committed to the town of Westbrook. The offshoot is that we inevitably get business. If you go into any of these types of events for business as the sole reason, however, you will be seen for what you are: a disingenuous fraud.