Written by Howard Fenton
Senior Technology Consultant
NAPLin-plant survival graphic

As I write this blog, I am just returning from the IPMA show for in-plant managers. The show was a huge success by any measure with 150 registered attendees , 40 exhibitors and  50 first time attendees. It is great to see both the ACUP (Association of College and University Printers) and IPMA (Inplant Printing and Mailing Association) shows return to success, just a few years ago that was not the case. But to use a boxing term, it’s too early to let down your guard.

The industry is still in turmoil. Honestly if there is someone internally who wants to kill the in-plant, then you have to defend it like it’s your life. And I can say from experience that if you have a target on your back, there is no guarantee it will stay open. I have seen this more and more recently, and truth be told, in-plant printers are under more scrutiny than ever. You can read about it in In-plant Graphics magazine or hear about it at any in-plant printer show.

Not a surprise, one of the main reasons is declining print volumes. In-plants, like their commercial cousins, are struggling with the same two issues – cyclical and structural changes that are reducing the demand for printed products. As a result, if you are an in-plant, the threat of outsourcing, a facilities management takeover, or closing altogether all loom on the horizon. Only those who can defend themselves are most likely to survive.

With declining sales, marketing and sales usually become the focal point of most improvement strategies. The marketing and sales opportunity includes listening to your customers’ changing needs and responding before someone else can create a competitive advantage. There are two components to listening and being responsive to your customers. First, you have to understand how well you are meeting your customers’ existing needs, and second, you need to learn how your customers’ needs are changing. In other words, you have to understand how you are doing today and what you will need to change in the future.

But that is just one piece of the puzzle. To thrive you have to master three things: Measure, Improve and Increase Your Value.

  1. Financially, you should measure and compare your operational and financial numbers to industry leaders and report your improvements
  2. Operationally, you need to constantly improve productivity and your “greening” efforts.
  3. And last but not least, if you want to increase your value you have to start listening and being responsive to your customers’ changing needs.

In addition, to the IPMA and ACUP there is a third organization that supports in-plants called NGPA (National Government Publishing Association). But the trends affecting in-plants are universal. It does not matter if you’re a government, enterprise or an educational in-plant printer. You can’t let yourself get lulled into false sense of security by improving volumes. The threats are both internal or external. You have to ask yourself, “How are you going to survive the next threat”?

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Howard Fenton is a Senior Consultant at NAPL. Howie advises commercial printers and in-plants on: benchmarking performance against industry leaders, increasing productivity through workflow management, adding and integrating new digital services, and adding value through customer research. He’s a paid contributor to this blog.