How Closing In-plants is Like the Shell Game

Written by:
Howard Fenton
Senior Technology Consultant
I’m sure you have seen the Shell Game. It does not matter if you have seen it on TV, in a movie or in person – it is mesmerizing to watch. But, if you are gambling, the consequences can be painful.
The Shell Game
What is the shell game and why is it important you might ask. According to Wikipedia, a shell game “is portrayed as a gambling game, but in reality, when a wager for money is made, it is a confidence trick used to perpetrate fraud.” I am not sure we can say that closing in-plants is fraud, but it is like moving the money and not being able to find it anymore.
At the recent NGPA (National Government Publishing Association) show the opening speaker, Virginia Beach Deputy City Mayor Dave Hansen, who was supposed to make a simple welcoming speech, instead spoke about how the budget for printing had been cut in his city because of the availability of mobile technologies, and that this decline had resulted in staff cuts.
Fortunately, the keynote address by the Public Printer of the United States William J. Boarman took a different tack. Boarman explained that, as a printer, he knows many people make incorrect assumptions about the costs associated with in-plants. “I think [cutting staff] is a common misconception and a false positive by managers who get rid of print shops. They think that by moving a line item that is very visible they will save money. Someone in a city council can look at this and say, ‘There’s $1.5 M that we can save,’ but they don’t know how much they are going to save in the long run.”
“Often they lose track of the expense because it is broken out and into small numbers across multiple jobs and multiple vendors,” said Boarman, “and may take years before anyone realizes that the older way was the cheaper way to do it.”
This is why closing an in-plant can be like the shell game. It’s not that in-plants are always more cost effective or always providing great value. After evaluating a lot of in-plants it becomes clear that some are more effective than others, provide greater value than others and are more strategically aligned than others.
But one thing is undoubtedly true. Having an in-plant makes it much easier to monitor printing costs, especially if they also perform strategic outsourcing for the work they cannot do themselves. If the in-plant knows its sweet spot, or what it does better than outside sources and competitively buys products and services it does not do well, then it is very easy to measure its success.
Howard Fenton is a Senior Technology Consultant at NAPL. Howie advises commercial printers, in-plants, and manufacturers on workflow management, operations, digital services, and customer research. He’s a paid contributor to this blog.


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  1. Heath Cajandig October 13, 2011 -

    Howie, I think you make some great points and I think you are dead-on. Especially your last paragraph.

    One thing that many inplant managers don’t understand or “sell” enough of is how valuable their intimacy is with their organization and it’s goals. It isn’t about how many pages you print.

  2. William J.P.Smith, Jr. April 12, 2018 -

    A Xerox survivor of the ’60s with lots of memorabilia, I was wondering if you might take it off my hands, as it all deals with advertising, public relations and promotions. Just finished teaching at FSU, and recently moved to Penfield. Let me know, and I’ll bring it along.

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