Just When you Least Expect It


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Just When you Least Expect It

By Noel Ward, Editor@Large

Meetings of print providers have one thing in common: that there’s stuff missing. While many print providers talk about the equipment they have, the good and bad of various software, relate anecdotes about customers, and complain about how hard it is to find good employees (among other topics), many don’t openly—as in to their group as a whole—share the ideas, tricks, advice, experiences, and knowledge that helps make them successful. It’s almost as if they share a zip code with every other print provider in attendance and don’t want a competitor to know what they are doing.

But guess what. Your competitors, especially local ones, already know what equipment you have and what you’re doing. These days, competitors are not just down the street or a neighboring town but in a shop you’ve never heard of in another state. FedEx and UPS shrink delivery distances and times. Job files move electronically in seconds. The price you charge and the service you provide may be local differentiators and your delivery unique. But have you thought of everything? Maybe, maybe not.

You can’t win every job but having some other shops as partners can provide advantages that go beyond the volume of orders received. You may already share advice, tricks, and knowledge with one or two trusted shops, but suppose you were to expand this to select print providers around the country, perhaps through a trade association. You’d get smarter and maybe be willing to back each other up when things don’t go quite as planned. Let me relate a couple of stories.

Deep waters
A member of one organization I work with was in seriously deep weeds. Any of the group’s twenty-odd members would have rescued him and expected nothing in return. Yet he never picked up the phone, and quietly went away. One member later told me, “We had no idea he was in trouble. None of us. All he had to do was ask.” But he never called any of them.

In contrast, another member of the same group found his print plant quite literally in deep water following a massive storm. He had no plans in place for coping with having his digital presses in three feet of brackish water. With multiple deadlines approaching and SLAs in peril, his company was on the brink of collapse, beyond the reach of his insurance.

Fortunately, copies of his customer files were stored offsite. He began calling other members of the group he had joined a year or two before. One member 800 miles away took over printing and mailing of color jobs. Another, 1,200 miles distant, was about to turn in a few monochrome digital presses. He put them back in service running work for the flooded shop. A couple of SLAs were slightly affected yet given the scope of the disaster clients let those slide. The flooded guy paid the costs the other shops incurred. All the clients returned to him after the crisis was over. It was pretty good seat-of-the-pants survival.

Got backup?
So what’s your backup strategy for when velociraptors show up at your door? They may come disguised as a massive power failure, catastrophic weather, or any other show stoppers. You need a plan in place before bad things happen. Then update, test and verify your disaster plan annually. Did I mention testing? Will your job files run on their machines? Will the other shop have paper that matches your SLAs? Will color be acceptable? How will your work fit into the schedule of the other shop? How will payment be handled? Is your backup plan specified in written agreements with your customers? Are these disaster-recovery sites far enough away that they are unlikely to be affected by the same disasters that wrecked your day? Test and test again to smooth out any wrinkles in advance. Test annually, and ask about the other shop’s backup plan. You can doubtless think of several other things to ask.

You already back up your computers, servers and may rely on the cloud. You probably have a big generator. All good. But even with titanium-clad protection, things can still go sideways. I recently had a computer with a four-month old SSD die. My back-up hard drive failed an hour later. Fortunately, I had stuff backed up offsite so there was nothing critical that couldn’t be recovered. It still made for an interesting afternoon.

It's important to assume that things can and will go sideways. While physical dangers such as fire and extreme weather probably won’t happen you still need to be ready when things do go seriously wrong. Be realistic by assuming things will go south—and be pleasantly surprised when they don’t.


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