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What I like to write about

Sep 1, 2007 12:00 AM

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In 1987, John Favat, then publisher of AMERICAN PRINTER, approached me about writing a column. I asked him if he had a preference for subject material. Knowing that I had written an extremely well-read column as publisher of a competitive publication for the previous decade, Favat said simply, “Write about whatever you'd like to write about.” And for the past 20 years, I have. This month's column covers a myriad of subjects, and because much of the content is directed by readers who e-mail me to comment about previous columns, let's start with some of those.

Old times

Earlier this year, I reminisced about recent history. The response from readers was fantastic, and many suggested I write about the past 50 years of the printing industry, which led to a series of columns traveling down memory lane. The e-mails have been flooding in, and it appears that I hit a special chord. Dave Griffith of Rieger Inks in Lancaster, OH, e-mailed me to say he had enjoyed my articles recounting the past 50 years of printing. As a fellow Buckeye who once worked for the printer of the Ohio State Lantern, the school's daily, he thanked me for the nostalgia and wrote, “You have given readers a better insight while opening up many, many memories, most of which are good.” He also suggested I write a book or give lectures on the history of the printing industry.

Communication from editor Katherine O'Brien advised me that AMERICAN PRINTER is celebrating its 125th anniversary next year, and that longtime industry executive Bill Owens has suggested to her that I reflect on my days of working with Ben Franklin. Not many readers are old enough to remember that Owens also was one of Ben's apprentices back in the day.

How about a hug?

In July, I recommended you read a newly published book, “Typo.” Also in my e-mail box this month was a thank-you note from its author, David Silverman. Apparently, one of the benefits of his experience in this industry is that he's a reader of this publication and this column.

Speaking of reading, this is the time of the year when I usually review my summer reading list. Of course, “Typo” made the list, along with “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.” Several business books made my roster. Among them were “Marketing Outrageously” by Jon Spooelstra and “Winning” by Jack Welch and Suzy Welch. The former, you might remember, was the one-time chairman of General Electric. I agree totally with their thesis that employees are slotted into the top 20 percent, the middle 70 percent and the bottom 10 percent, and their belief that they need to be managed up or out. (Next month's column will discuss how to go about managing your good and not-so-good employees.)

But, the book I could have and should have written is one by Jack Mitchell, CEO of Mitchells/Richards, who heads up two of the most successful clothing stores in Connecticut. The book is titled, “Hug Your Customers,” with the subtitle, “The Proven Way to Personalize Sales and Achieve Astounding Results.” While it took about three days to read the final Harry Potter book, I was able to breeze through “Hug Your Customers” in less that three hours. If I didn't know better, I'd think Mitchell, too, is an AMERICAN PRINTER reader. Reading it, I found many familiar subjects that I had discussed over the years in this column.

I had purchased the book before it became a best-selling business book because of a quote on the cover jacket from Warren Buffet, who said, “It's a gem. I wish everyone at Berkshire would follow his advice — we would own the world.” Mitchell concentrates on customer service and customer knowledge, explaining that those two disciplines are a road map for successful companies. One observation he makes that had never entered my mind relates to constant improvement. Even if a company believes it's a well-honed organization, it must continue to strive for improvement. According to Mitchell, what's outstanding today is average tomorrow. It's a valid observation.

The appendix of the book features a workbook of sorts with 20 questions so you can determine how you rate on the H.A.T. (Hugging Achievement Test). If I've convince you to buy this book or even go to the library, make sure you take the test to determine how you are doing. By the way, last month's column mentioned John Dreyer, former head of Pitman, the industry's largest distributor, and now chairman of Presstek. Dreyer has followed much of Mitchell's philosophy over the three decades that I've known him. In fact, for the past 20 years, his vanity license plates read “Big Hugs.” And if you were at Graph Expo 07 and saw a big, burly guy hugging someone else on the show floor, it probably was Dreyer.

M. Richard Vinocur is president of Footprint Communications. E-mail him at