Written by Howie Fenton
Senior Technology Consultant, NAPL

42-30301030

Last year around this time, I wrote an article for In-plant Graphics Magazine on the state of the In-Plant Printing industry. After returning from the Graph Expo show and talking to a lot of in-plant managers, I was left with a very optimistic feeling. But in the last year I’ve seen a disturbing trend in which in-plants that are performing well and did not appear to be under scrutiny were suddenly surprised to hear that they were closing.

As I write this, I’m putting the finishing touches on a new article for In-plant Graphics Magazine that talks about this new trend. The most disturbing part of the story was that these in-plant managers were blindsided. They never saw it coming. They were shocked and surprised when they were called into their bosses’ office and told to prepare an RFP for outsourcing. One was a university, one was a transactional printer, and one was a school district in-plant.

While it’s true that different in-plants struggle with different issues, when you start talking to the administrators who are considering closing the in-plants the criticisms typically falls into a handful of categories: core competencies, pricing, and customer satisfaction. The most common complaint we hear when companies are considering closing their in-plant is the inevitable question, “Is printing or mailing our core competency?” The obvious question for the in-plant community is how can you battle this complaint?

At the IPMA show this year, I made a presentation about benchmarking operational and financial performance. The underlying theme was to use measurements and benchmarks to prove that printing and mail services are your core competencies. In other words, if the administrator in charge of the in-plant says, “Printing is not our core competency” you should be able to reply and say “Printing is my department’s core competency and we can prove that our pricing, responsiveness, customer satisfaction, and productivity are as good as anyone’s and better than most. Oh, and by the way, I have the data to support that!”

For those who charge back, another common complaint is financially breaking even and/or pricing. Obviously, these go hand-in-hand. But the great irony about competitive pricing is that all managers claim to monitor and change pricing but few actually do. Almost every time I ask a manager if they think their pricing is competitive, they say it is. But when I ask to see the data, it is strangely not available. There are two ways to prove your price competitiveness; one is to use national studies and the other is to do your own study.

While financial breakeven or pricing is often what is said publicly about the motivations to close, often what plants the seed or opens the door to consider closing has to do with customer complaints. Just as you can be blindsided by management, you can also be blindsided by your customers. They can complain to your boss about pricing or service or, in some cases, start buying from the outside. To avoid being blindsided by your customers, you have to listen to the voice of your customer (VOC) and provide mechanisms to respond to their complaints quickly. A great way to do this is through the use of focus groups, and one-on-one meetings, or surveys.

If you’re interested in learning more about this emerging threat, the feature article should be available on the In-Plant graphics website.


Howie Fenton is a consultant and business advisor at NAPL. Howie advises commercial printers and in-plants on benchmarking performance against industry leaders, increasing productivity, and adding digital and value services through customer research. For more information click here.