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You have power. Use it.

By Noel Ward, Editor@Large

Back in bad old days of the Great Recession about 20% of printers went away. Some were acquired, some merged with other firms and some just pulled the plug. There are analysts who claimed the recession culled out businesses that were on the ropes or failing anyway; a needlessly cruel or unfeeling perspective. No matter the reasons behind a business closure, it should not be a trigger for cynicism, especially in an industry that is shrinking at an alarming rate. Sure, some that failed were in rough shape before the recession, but the failure still hurt people and our industry.

And here we are again. A variety of sources predict our industry will again shrink by as much as another 20% coming out of this economic downturn. This is hardly encouraging news, but the predictions do not necessarily mean the end result will be that bad or that your business has to be one of those that go away. In my opinion, the fact that you are using PrintPlanet makes it more likely that you will be among the survivors because you think about less about the business that has disappeared, and more about how you can be and do more for customers in the future.

So what about all the other (non-print) businesses that may be at risk? Some are your customers, and you can help them move forward, survive, and even thrive. You won’t be able to help every one of them, but the power to help is still in your hands. And it can help make your business be better, too.

The Power in Your Hands
I talked a couple weeks ago with the owner of a service bureau who, with over four decades running a print and mail business under his belt, is taking a pragmatic view of making sure his company and his people come out the other end of this tunnel. Because part of his business is transactional documents such as bills and statements he has been able to keep a few staff on, but has sent the rest home, making sure they receive full unemployment benefits and he plans to take them all back when he can fully reopen. Those on his team who are over 65 years of age have been furloughed and are getting regular paychecks. His direct marketing and non-profit customers have dialed back their work, but know his company is there when they need it. I know this guy pretty well, and this whole thing is not without pain. But he sees the road ahead and knows that there is a lot more value, both near and long term, in keeping his company alive and moving forward.

Essential Items
Other print businesses are also looking ahead. A local printer I frequent is promoting services to help customers “kickstart” their businesses. The shop is offering art and copy for a social media or Google business listing; five 12-inch square or circular social distancing floor decals; ten “We Are Open” signs for exterior display; and 1,000 6 x 11-inch postcards (including postage and handling), all for a grand total of $799.

There’s no magic to any of this. It’s just going after the business, showing the value and creating opportunities. The print shop’s offerings are essential items for many businesses and can be replicated by many printers but may be overlooked by customers and prospects—those executives and managers who are spread a little thin as they focus on resuscitating their companies. Such items are a good basis from which to follow up with more products and services targeting new and existing customers as reopening expands.

Sure, businesses that have good drive-by or foot traffic can hang out “Open” flags like my barber has done, but this only reaches people who go by the establishment. Not everyone is ready to go out and about just yet and it’s myopic to rely on social media to get the word out that a business is open. This means many businesses are probably sitting there hoping customers will return. Some will. Others won’t. Hope is not a great strategy.

Cover the lapse
Even as more places re-open, the lapse over the past few months has been long enough to change how, when and where people shop. Think about this from your own perspective. You have very likely changed some of the brands you once preferred at the grocery store. You may (as I have), started buying wine online instead of going to a store that perhaps had limited hours. You may have still bought from Home Depot but had items shipped to your house. Amazon may have gotten a bigger share of your wallet. Some of these choices will be permanent, but others are subject to change, and printers like you can help shift these patterns back, or at least in the favor of your customers.

Show the value
The most obvious way to do this is with personalized/customized direct mail to encourage new customers and bring old ones back in. OK, I know the vagaries of the USPS can make this challenging but learning what you need to know for simple items like postcards is not exactly quantum physics—you probably already have the software in Adobe InDesign or Acrobat. Your customers (probably) have names and addresses. Your designer or web jockey can probably help your customer with customized landing pages for the recipients of the cards so they can track response to the mailing. And your company winds up adding value beyond putting ink or toner on a page.

Jump start this by showing customers the value of the technology when you reach out to them. Send a personalized or customized offer, perhaps with a creative and unique landing page, so you can track engagement and follow up. If they don’t bite the first time, hit them again. And maybe again. Vary the message and graphics you use, especially for recipients within a single company, showing off a bit of what can be done. Follow up on every response with an email and a phone call. And Sales 101 still applies: Find the need, fill it, and ask for the order.

And a caveat: It won’t work every time. But it will work. And you’ll have more business coming in and probably a few new customers who will keep coming back. It’s worth the effort and beats waiting for business to come over the internet, walk in the door, or for the phone to ring.



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