Rumination

October 22, 2010

Sometimes we get too busy to ask the why questions.  We just swallow all that’s in front of us, without digesting, and go on along with the whatever that we have to deal with at the time.

I like Chik-fil-A.  There’s a lot to be said for cows and they do make great chicken sandwich advocates. There might also be something in their digestive systems that’s worthy of investigation. Rumination . . . chewing the cud. Cow’s swallow it first, then chew it up later before finally digesting it.

“Gross” would be the response of my 14 year old daughter, Madeline; and she may well be right.  After the grass is consumed, why bring it back up for re-examination? Even if there’s something to be learned, the whole process seems just a little . . . ummmh, nauseating?

Nonetheless, here we go . . .

Poor Richard’s Printshop (formerly something like Gralphagraphics before the franchise became incensed at his blog) has been reasonably busy since late August. At least, it feels busy because there are only a few of us to get the work out the doors and we’re all working very hard. I’m very thankful for this and appreciative especially of the customers who have stuck with us through all of  the “recent unpleasantness.”

It’s a little hard to put my finger on it, but there’s something about the work we’re getting that’s just different.  As an example, we printed 50 football program books this week just in time for the last game of the regular season. Football programs used to be a big deal . . . large saddle stitched booklets with lots of ads printed in decent runs in time for the first game of the season. This one was thrown together as an afterthought, perhaps to keep the businesses who purchased ads from asking for their money back?

Two weeks ago, we printed a very nice invitation for a health care customer.  Expensive paper, process color, good press run, scored and folded, tabbed 3 times to meet USPS specs and mailed at the very last minute, probably a week later than optimum to reach the target audience.

We have an end of the fiscal year audit booklet in-house for a municipality whose fiscal year ended June 30. We thought the book was due by September 30. It’s been stuck in our hold bin for over 2 weeks, waiting on revisions from the customer.

And then there are the envelopes printed for a communications company in a hurry, that have been sitting on the shelf waiting for pickup since October 5; the business card design for the new company that had their grand opening scheduled for October 11; and the display board and banner stand that actually did get designed, proofed, completed and shipped in 5 working days, thanks to UPS Second Day Air and our very good tradeshow exhibit supplier.

Actually, it’s not hard to identify what’s happening at all. It’s busy, but it’s not normal and Poor Richard’s stomach is a little upset.  We are reacting to our customers’ lack of planning and in some cases we’re getting burned and in some cases they’re getting burned, which is worse. (It’s worse mainly because we might take the blame.)

Our customers are firing before they aim. This is probably better for us than when they don’t fire at all, but I think there might be a better way.  It’s something to ruminate about . . .


Half a bob off plumb

August 19, 2010

It’s been one of those weird weeks when the moon should have been full. But it wasn’t. Perhaps the 100 plus degree heat an 99.999997% humidity have steamed the brains of Middle Georgians.  Poor Richard doesn’t know exactly what it is, but things are slightly askew here . . . to paraphrase my buddy Bob Galloway, the curmudgeon, the entire town is about “half a bob off plumb.”


Item One

I didn’t get to meet her, but right hand man Brian said that she looked relatively normal when she walked through the doors of the printshop behind the red awnings on Poplar (name carefully concealed to avoid disrupting the peaceful sleep of the powers that be at the franchise . . . hint, sounds like Gralpharaphics).  She explained to Brian that she was opening a new business and needed letterhead, envelopes, business card, etc. This used to be a fairly common occurrence at printing companies, and Brian looked forward to serving a new customer.

It’s not uncommon that a new customer will ask the price of a product before they provide a description of it.  While it is possible to quote a price that will cover most contingencies, I’ve yet to find a customer who will accept an estimate of “probably somewhat less than $10,000,” without question.  Standard operating procedure is to try to narrow the description a bit and find a solution that is reasonably in line with the customer’s expectations and budget.

Brian attempted and ascertained that the customer would like to use paper for her letterhead and envelopes and would also like her symbol on it.  She specifically said “symbol,” not logo or wordmark or even image. She wanted her symbol on the letterhead . . . in color . . . and (as she glanced and pointed at a presentation folder on our display rack) “smashed into the paper like that.”

Skeptical that the cost of embossing a process color logo on a short run of letterhead would be practical for a new business, Brian started to suggest alternatives. The customer was adamant. What she wanted was her symbol smashed into the letterhead, business cards and envelopes. Ever helpful, Brian offered to run down prices and asked if the customer had her logo as a digital file that we could use . . . or at least something that we could look at to help us prepare the estimate.  The customer fumbled a bit, then reached in her purse, removed her billfold and then her drivers license.

“That’s it,” she exclaimed, pointing at the photo on the license. “That’s my symbol. That’s what I want!”

Brian, ever mindful of the endless time and patience available to the printshop owner, deferred to Poor Richard and told the customer that I would follow up with her.  I haven’t contacted her yet, but I do have an idea. Perhaps something like this might work?


Item Two

Three paragraphs, bullet points, and numbers. Poor Richard is probably going to get in big trouble with this one, because the customer is going to read this blog, identify himself, and get supremely ticked off!

Here’s the text of the email we received:

Whereas, from time to time revisions are made to documents created for Amalgamated Peanut Butter and Jelly Roll Company (APB&J Rollco), and said documents are printed and archived by Gralpharaphics of Macon, the aforesaid company (APB&J Rollco) wishes to indicate the occurrence of revisions to each document produced and to verify the currency of each revision prior to production of duplications, reprints, or new and unique iterations of each printed version or versions.

Because the temporality of the aforementioned documents is currently not indicated, this may currently counterindicate the currency of our current versions. In fact, our customers have occasionally called the currency of our current versions into question due to the lack of an evidential indicant that the version they received was indeed correct and produced contemporaneously with the latest APB&J Rollco product described within.

Our goals are thus:

  • to accurately indicate the current version
  • to convey this clearly to our customers
  • to assure that the latest iteration of each document is indeed the current version
  • (to confuse the pants off of the folks at Gralpharaphics)

To that end we require that your company immediately implement the following changes as pertain to the documents and versions of documents you currently produce, have produced in the past, or might conceivably produce in the future for APB&J Rollco:

  1. Indicate the current version on the document
  2. Do this in such a way that the temporality of the version is conveyed to each customer
  3. Destroy, delete, or otherwise dispense with document versions that are untemporal or not current

Many thanks for the services you render for APB&J Rollco and for your prompt attention to this matter.

–Name withheld in the vain hope that Poor Richard will go undiscovered.

Admittedly, Poor Richard has elaborated a bit . . . but not a lot.  The actual email we received from our good, but very precise, customer was almost as complicated as the gobbledygook inserted above and did require a phone call to ascertain exactly what the customer wanted . . . a date entry at the bottom of each form we produce to indicate the latest revision.


Item Three

The customer was absolutely serious. So serious in fact that he noted a specific instruction on the proof copy that he faxed back to us and on his email approval of the final proof.  We’ve produced shells similar to the one the customer wanted many times. A shell is  boilerplate language (and sometimes a form image) that can be fed through a laser printer to overprint the specifics of a contract, invoice, etc.

In this case, we were asked to print 5000 copies on one side. Presumably the specifics would be printed on the other. There was no specific paper requirement . . . we printed on 60# offset text (no watermarks).

The instruction:  Please make sure that this information is printed on the back of the paper.

I think we did OK. We stacked all 5000 copies printed side down in the boxes and delivered them to the customer.  He thought we were wonderful!

Times are still rough in the printing business, but it laughter is a great diversion. Isn’t life grand?


So Much for Whiz Bang

May 6, 2010

supercolliding superconductorIt’s funny and a little strange how bits of information collide to make us believe that we really can draw a conclusion about this, that or the other. Life these days is a bit like zooming around in the supercolliding superconductor gadget that the Swiss built. We’re moving at speeds approaching the velocity of light and God only knows what will happen if we run into a wayward quark or hadron or something like that. If we’re not really careful about the whole thing, we could blow up the whole dang universe (for real, check this out).

Poor Richard paid a visit to some of his favorite folks in the advertising world the other day. Perhaps that’s a bit broad. Like the printshop behind the red awnings on Poplar Street, my good agency customers exist and attempt to survive in the rarified atmosphere that is Macon, GA (100% humidity all the time). So, in actuality, they are only a part of the advertising “world” in the same sense that Poor Richard’s Printshop is a part of the printing “world.”  Despite our attempts to become a part of the web-connected supercolliding universe, we’re mostly operating in a small town microcosm.

We’ve always told the traveling salesmen who venture down from Atlanta that they should pull off I-75 at the Griffin, GA exit and set their clocks back 25 years.  And for a while, that was true. But these days, our little community is living in a time warp. We’d really like it to be 1980, because we think we understood things back then; but we realize it’s 2010 and we don’t understand that at all.  We can’t keep up with the quarks and neutrinos. They move too fast.

Back to my agency friends. When social networking came about, they dived in head first. They learned about SEO, SEM and Google AdWords. They saw tremendous potential in the simple idea that Facebook and Twitter might actually enable organizations to talk directly with their customers and prospects (and learn something).  Simply put, the new ideas didn’t really take hold in the rarified humidity. My friends tried to introduce quantum physics to the Newtonian world.  Or perhaps they were more like Galileo, who, after failing to convince the Inquisitors of the validity of the heliocentric model of the universe, left muttering “Eppur si muove” (but it does move).

But wait . . . maybe our little time warped microcosm didn’t completely miss  the boat.  Here’s another wayward particle in the supercollider. The header from the Print in the Mix  Fast Fact article reads, “Marketers Indicate Social Media Important, Most Not Profiting.” The short article cites a survey conducted by R2Integrated, an internet marketing company. Of 262 marketing professionals surveyed:

  • 54% thought social media was “innovative and invaluable to their business.
  • 37% thought it was “useful and helpful,” but could live without it.
  • 65% said that their companies had not increased revenue or profited using social media.

The whole idea of these new marketing tools is to make money, right? And isn’t measurability one of the big advantages of social media marketing?  Could there be a disconnect between what these professionals think and what they measure? There are at least 11% of these folks (and maybe more) who think that the new media are invaluable to their business, but aren’t making money. Did they forget to measure or are they just guessing?

Poor Richard thinks that all of these hypercharged electrons flying around are generating static. So much static that it’s difficult to get a clear message through, much less a clear picture of what we’re doing. The big marketing professionals may be trying new stuff and guessing, but around here it’s different. All of the static may have helped confuse our customers into complete inaction, a decision reinforced by an economy that has left few of us with the resources to try anything new.

I’ve always liked “whiz bang,” but the new initiatives our little business has introduced during these past 18 months of Decession (Repression?) have failed to gain traction.  We made a tentative foray into the “marketing solutions provider” realm only to discover that marketing solutions are only needed by those who really intend to conduct marketing.  That’s not happening here in the time warp. Our customers may understand that their 1980s programs aren’t working like they used to and that they should be doing something different. That “something different” is hard to comprehend through the static, though. It’s much easier just to do nothing, which leaves Poor Richard’s printshop and our agency friends spinning our wheels in the slippery Georgia red clay. The excited particles are passing us by. So much for whiz bang.


Treading Carefully

March 21, 2010

Danger Minefield signPoor Richard has  never strolled through a minefield, but he can imagine what it must be like.  It seems a good analogy for the experience of hanging on to a printing business these last 18 months. There have been days and weeks when explosions were occurring all around and it seemed the end was near. On other days, the sun was shining and everything appeared almost normal until the detonation 20 feet away and flying shrapnel brought reality into sharp focus. The last couple of weeks have been like that.

Macon, Georgia is no business Mecca. It is a sleepy southern town that has had better days and hopefully will have better days again. Macon has been a good place for a business like the printshop behind the red awnings on Poplar Street (name withheld to avoid the wrath of the franchise).  Over the last decade plus, we’ve enjoyed good customers, wonderful friends, and mostly amicable competition with the other printers in town.

For our company and for our competitors, business as usual ended abruptly in November of 2008. The stock market crashed, our customers contracted and folded, and sales plummeted.  Monthly newsletters went digital; nevermore to return. Businesses decided that they could do without printing. Our friendly bankers, once eager to finance new equipment purchases, now wouldn’t return phone calls. Yet we hung on and tried to do what we could, hoping and praying for better days.

An interview in the PrintCEO blog tells the sad story of the demise of Alonzo Printing, a midsized California operation that seemed to be doing everything right. The owner, Jim Duffy, describes the heady days of 2007 with new equipment investments, diversification into digital printing, and the difficulties of turning a marketing vision into reality.  Jim didn’t have to step on a mine.  His bank detonated it for him.

In our sleepy southern town, we were all holding on until just a couple of weeks ago. Sure, a couple of small printers have closed, but they were operating with 30 year old systems.  Two weeks ago, one of our better competitors announced that they were suspending their production operations and would continue as a print broker. Last week, a promising short run book printer literally disappear overnight.  The mines are exploding all around us.

Our little company is treading very carefully. Like Alonzo printing, we made new equipment purchases when times were better. Some of these have not played out well. Equipment vendors, banks and even the franchise, once seen as allies, now look more like the enemy. The path through the minefield is complicated and dangerous and there is no lack of diversions that could cause a misstep.

Poor Richard is convinced that one of these is the whole “marketing services” concept. In the PrintCEO interview, Jim Duffy makes the following comment:

We marketed Alonzo, and from a pure marketing perspective, it was just a dream. And yet, it was another issue of not having the right people to make it really come to life. Then we reached the point where we couldn’t hire the right people. That’s how you get caught in the spiral.

You do need to market yourself; you need to do it in a way that’s going to be meaningful for your clients.

The last sentence is telling. Printers are not viewed by our customers as “marketers.” That is the realm of advertising agencies. With due respect and apologies to our agency customers, printers are not “pie in the sky” folks. We don’t do well with concept. Coming up with concepts that work requires a lot of time and creativity that a short-staffed printing company doesn’t have.

Printing companies do a very good job with details, with implementation.  If “marketing service provider” means that we have to dream up the marketing concepts for our customers, we’re in trouble. If it means that we implement and measure marketing “campaigns” using the new tools that are available to us, then perhaps we can provide our customers with something that is of value, that is meaningful.

Poor Richard is not certain what it will take for some of us to make it out of the minefield, nor is he certain that the printshop on Poplar Street won’t be blown to smithereens during the debacle. I hold to the hope that there will be a need for companies like mine that “do stuff,” that are competent at producing and implementing.

There is a certain sense of desperation that naturally occurs when one strolls the path through a minefield. Traveling the path requires care, tenacity, and not a small bit of prayer. There is also the possibility that the trail will eventually lead to un-mined pastures that allow more flexibility to move around and maybe some better possibilities for small businesses like mine. Poor Richard is really looking forward to the other side of the minefield.


The Recurring Full Moon Phenomena

March 3, 2010

The stuff that dogs howl about

It’s been a while. I’ve been out of sorts with nothing good to say, so I’ve ignored the blog altogether. After a couple of good months at the end of 2009, Poor Richard fell back into panic mode as business disintegrated at the printshop behind the red awnings on Poplar Street. January 2010 was bleak. I had just begun a serious study of biblical eschatology when the last day of February rolled around and all of our customers woke up at the same time.

I’m thinking it’s the moon. I’ve written about this before (see Poor Richard’s post The Full Moon). Last time, I discussed the deleterious effects of  minute changes in the force of gravity on machines and those who operate them. This time, I’d like to consider the tidal effect on the minds of the folks who visit our Gralpharaphics “business center.” (The franchise, who shall nevermore be named in this blog, became disenchanted with printshops a year or two ago and decided that we would henceforth become “business centers.”)

The moon was full on February 28th and the orders came rolling in. All of the work that our customers had decided they didn’t need in January and the first 27 days of February, they now needed immediately on March 1st.  It’s not that the tight deadlines are all that unusual, but there were small oddities about several of the orders. Just for entertainment, Poor Richard is pleased to provide you with a few snippets from the past couple of days:

“I gave you my business card as a .jpg. What do you mean you can’t blow it up into a 24 x 36 poster?”

“My last printer closed down. I had been doing this business with him for a while and he wasn’t charging me much. I was hoping that you’d be less expensive.”

“No, the order for 10,000 rack cards went to another shop; but we need you to donate 1,000 posters. Is that a problem?”

“All of their salespeople quit. They decided not to do the mailout because there wouldn’t be anyone to respond to the leads.”

It’s not quite the Twilight Zone, but things are a little bizarre. I answered the phone at lunchtime on Friday. “Do you do raffle tickets?” queried the voice on the line.

“Yes, ma’am, we’ve been known to,” I responded.

“Well, how much do they cost?” said the voice. Even with the sure knowledge that I could not be seen through the telephone, Poor Richard made a conscious effort not to roll my eyes and began to launch into his memorized series of questions regarding quantity, size, paper, numbering, perforations, etc.; only to be interrupted in mid sentence:

“My baby’s in a pageant, and I just need some raffle tickets.”

What kind of person raffles off their baby in a pageant?

We delivered 5000 sets of a stapled document to a customer on Friday – 4 sheets, 2 sides, stapled. This morning they called and said that they had counted the order and were 25 sets short. Poor Richard found it peculiar that anyone would actually take the time to count 5000 sets of copies and also a little dubious that they were short. The job is simple and familiar. We send the file to the big black and white machine manufactured by the nearly palindromatic company that begins and ends with X. The quantity is specified in the print job. The machine prints and staples, the documents are boxed and delivered. The machine log indicates that 5005 copies were produced. Poor Richard is certain that the missing 30 copies were transported into a parallel universe.

About the poster sized business card . . .  we printed it. When we explained that it would not print clearly at 24 x 36, we were instructed to repeat it as many times as possible on a 24 x 36 board. We printed it 90 times with a pretty blue background on a nice piece of foamcore for the customer to put on an easel.

It may be the full moon, or  perhaps terrorists have injected hallucinogenic drugs into the water supply in Macon. Poor Richard isn’t sure, but he’s happy to be busy even if the orders are a little odd.

Isn’t life grand?


But can you read on the darned thing?

January 24, 2010

Poor Richard has a confession to make. On weekend mornings he indulges in anachronous activities. That’s right. In his comfortable chair, with a cup of rich, black coffee at his left hand, he reads the newspaper. Not the new-fangled, online version at http://www.newsblip.com; Poor Richard reads the old fashioned black, white and read all over edition.

The bias towards paper is certainly predictable. Print on paper has been my livelihood for the last decade and some. But there is also a practical aspect to this antiquated predilection. At 50, Poor Richard finds the newspaper easy on his eyes.

My fishwrapper of choice is The Macon Telegraph.  The Telegraph, like other local papers in communities of our size, has struggled mightily with the changes of recent years. They have downsized, printing is no longer done in-house.  They’ve been bought and sold by newspaper chains in the throes of the struggle to reinvent an industry considered by some to be irrelevant. Through it all, they’ve done a remarkably good job of covering regional news and integrating very relevant stories and commentary from sister papers and the wire services.

iphone

Lot's of cool features, but can you really read on it?

The story that caught my attention this morning was a report from Stacey Burling of The Philadelphia Inquirer. The headline reads: Convention for neurosurgeons takes paperless to another level. (Yes, you can click on the link and read this online, too).

The gist of the story has to do with a decision made by the American Association of Neurological Surgeons to dispense with paper programs and proceedings at their next convention. Instead they’re going to give each attendee their own iPod Touch, pre-loaded with all of the programs, summaries, and even advertising that they would presumably have received on paper  at previous assemblages.

To quote the article:

Doctors will be able to use the iPods for messaging and for interacting with presenters during meetings. . . . Not only will the iPods encourage community building, but they will save a lot of paper.

The “green” reference, reiterated later in the article, was certainly as predictable as Poor Richard’s reaction to it.  I suspect that the driving force behind the initiative was much more economic than environmental. Some poor printer lost a good project (500,000 sheets to quote the article). The conventioneers are charged $100 each for the iPods. The American Association of Neurological Surgeons saves money.

Here’s the pertinent question: Is the decision practical?

When Poor Richard went searching for the online reference to the article cited above, he was assailed by unwanted audio that burst suddenly from the miniscule speakers of his Powerbook when the Philadelphia Inquirer business page was opened. That’s an annoyance. Poor Richard suspects that trying to read technical papers on the screen of an iPod will go beyond annoyance for many of the convention attendees.

Despite my confession of Luddite tendencies (see QR . . . U Ready?), Poor Richard is no technophobe. In fact, I am the happy owner of an iPhone. A gift from my children at Christmas a year ago, it has become pretty near close to indispensable. That means I could do without it if I had to, but wouldn’t voluntarily throw it in the river. I have some great “apps,” too. One of them tells me what’s on TV. Another can read QR barcodes.

I have also installed a book reader called Stanza, mainly because I am intrigued with the idea of dowloading public domain titles. Did you know that you can get the complete works of Mark Twain from Project Gutenberg? I downloaded Twain’s Innocents Abroad to my iPhone, with great anticipation, opened the ebook, and began to read. That’s where the fun stopped.

It’s not that the type is illegible.  The screen background is bright white and you can adjust the type size for ease of reading. But, the experience is lacking. In Middle Georgia jargon, “somethin just ain’t quite right here.”  First, regardless of the type size, you just can’t fit enough words on the page.  Flipping between pages is touchy . . . I seem to have no difficulty getting electronically misplaced, but a lot of trouble getting relocated.  And the feel of the read is just totally  . . . umh, strange.

There’s also something about the way we read electronically that is very different. Perhaps it’s because of the massive volume of information, or the hyperlinks, or Poor Richard’s propensity to get perpetually sidetracked; it seems nearly impossible to read online for understanding. Online reading seems almost self-conditioned for scanning and browsing. Indicative of this is the market for textbooks about computers and programming. All of the information needed to learn xhtml or javascript or php is available online, but the market for paper books on these subjects is still very viable.

For Poor Richard, and perhaps for my generation, reading in-depth requires a book: a real book, not a Kindle or an iPhone.  And I suspect (and hope) that the iPods distributed at the Surgeons’ convention will indeed create a “community building” environment, bolstered by some shared frustration at the limitations of the electronic documentation they receive.

Most of us will continue to embrace new technology for the advantages it offers. Poor Richard wouldn’t want to go back to the 10 pound car phone and Franklin Planner he used in the 1980s, but I also won’t give up my morning paper until it is pried forcibly from my fingers.

Anachronistically yours!


The View from My Window

October 25, 2009

The view from my window is sometimes entertaining and sometimes thought provoking. Here’s what I see when I look out from under the red awnings at the printshop on Poplar Street (brand name omitted to protect the delicate sensibilities of the franchise):

The Poplar Street Park Congregation

The Poplar Street Park Congregation

At Gralpharaphics, we call them the Poplar Park Congregation. Their membership ebbs and flows with the weather and the economy. Lately, it’s been growing. It’s not that Poor Richard really minds the congregation that much most of the time.  It’s a public park and they have a right to be there. And they’ve been there or somewhere else downtown for a long time. My dad, who has worked in downtown Macon for over 70 years, knows many of them by name. They are loud, profane, occasionally drunken, and mostly harmless to others; if not to themselves.

There is an occasional preacher. There are frequent arguments and brief fistfights. If an event is upcoming, the Macon Police Department will clear them out for a day or so.  When the event is over, they come back. My customers have learned to always park on our side of the street to avoid jeers, comments, and requests for money. The money is used to buy a beverages in brown paper sacks from the Poplar Mart, the foodstore on the other side of the street that sells beer by the bottle.

We’ve had occasional fun with the congregation. There was the time when beautiful wife was given plug-in air fresheners by a friend who works at a bath boutique in trendy North Macon (where the congregants dare not tread).  Thinking to improve the atmosphere at the printshop, beautiful wife plugged in one of her new acquisitions in the lobby of the printshop during a brief Saturday afternoon visit. What she didn’t know was that there was a reason the trendy boutique had decided to dispose of the air fresheners at a deep discount. It was the fragrance–“Aroma de French Bordello.”

None of the printshop crew had ever worked in a bordello and they found the perfumed aroma somewhat strong for their tastes. With burning eyes, they unplugged the air freshener and transferred it to an outlet in the middle of Poplar Street Park just as the congregation began to arrive for the day.  It made for an entertaining morning as we watched the members of the congregation try to identify the source of the noxious odor.  One of them finally noticed the plug-in on the column in the middle of the park, and on hands and knees stuck his nose directly above the source of the smell and began to sneeze. The air freshener was removed by one of his fellow congregants, pocketed presumably to take to a location where Aroma de French Bordello would be better appreciated.

Now to the thought provoking part. The Poplar Street Congregation is indicative of a problem that is not getting any better. Macon, our lovely city, didn’t fare too well in the press last week. Forbes magazine published a top 10 article and we made #7. We’re #7 in the list of the top 10 most impoverished metro areas in the nation. That’s not a statistic that does much for civic pride. For the purposes of this short blog entry, it’s not worthwhile to go into the details of the problem . . . high unemployment, low incomes, poor education, etc. Fill in the blanks or read the Forbes article.

The causes of the problem are tough to tackle. The symptoms are visible from my window – the Poplar Street Congregation is a segment of the population that doesn’t even fall into the ranks of the unemployed. They haven’t been employed and they’re not looking for work. Goodwill, the agency whose motto is “Building Lives, Families and Communities – One Job at a Time,” used to operate the store behind the congregants. It shut down three months ago.

It seems that the Macon of my lifetime has always been a town just on the edge of getting it together. There was a time in the 1960s and 70s when we were a music mecca for Soul musicians and Southern Rock bands. We have a great university (Mercer) in town, plus Wesleyan College and Macon State.  The cultural scene is really pretty amazing. As is the case in many small cities, real estate and development interests have been allowed to run unchecked, leaving areas of abandoned and decaying buildings in their wake. Before the Decession, Poor Richard was convinced that downtown was on the verge of a renaissance and that may yet be the case. There are still signs of life and a great organization (Newtown Macon) that is devoted to the restoration of the city center. But the view from my window is troublesome today.

It seems that because the causes of the problems are tough to tackle, we don’t try. It’s easier to argue, to blame political incompetence and the inability to make rational decisions on race, to pretend that North Macon is part of another city entirely, to put personal aggrandizement ahead of the best interests of the community. Or perhaps it’s easier to pretend that there are no problems, that it’s all a bed of roses. Poor Richard is  afraid that the smell is more like french bordello air freshener than roses.

The Forbes article indicates where we are as a community. It is a warning of where we might wind up. It’s time to get behind the positive efforts to change Macon’s  direction. The list is long:  improving public schools, keeping the museum district intact, developing the College Hill Corridor, consolidating the City and County governments, reducing the number and improving the quality of our city and county representatives. It’s not impossible, though. Poor Richard is an optimist –  I’m sure that there are many like me who don’t want any part of politics, but will be glad to pitch in and help if we can all work together.

I’d like to still be looking out of my downtown window in a couple of years, and I’d like to see a different scene. Instead of the Poplar Street congregation, I’d like to see shoppers and tourists enjoying the park with open stores and businesses behind them that employ people.  Instead of the Poplar Mart selling beer, there will be a new grocery store to serve all of the folks who are moving downtown. Grant’s Lounge will be open every night, featuring the best Indie bands, who all want to play in Macon. It could happen, couldn’t it?


Re-inventeration

September 6, 2009

Square-wheeled trike. Thanks to Jeff Atwood at www.codinghorror.com.

Square-wheeled trike. Thanks to Jeff Atwood at http://www.codinghorror.com.

If one happens to be a small business owner, especially if one happens to be the owner of a local printing company, the idea of re-inventing one’s business is probably pretty far up on the agenda these days. This is primarily because much of the business we all once enjoyed has suddenly just disappeared, as if by magic; or possibly due to the re-inventing of a much less cooperative economy.

Re-inventeration, a new word which Poor Richard thinks he has just coined, is the process of re-inventing something.  Of course, the whole concept is preposterous.  If something is invented the first time, does it really make any sense to try to re-invent it?

And it’s complicated. Re-inventeration is frought with Catch-22 scenarios. For those who have not read Joseph Heller’s famous book, the Catch-22 was the ultimate bureaucratic boondoggle.  Catch-22 (the book) told the story of Yossarian, a WWII B-25 bombardier and his squadron, as they were forced to fly increasing numbers of bombing runs over Italy.  The squadron commander, Major Major, literally embodied the concept of Catch-22. It was possible to schedule an appointment with Major Major at any time; however, one could only actually see Major Major if he was not in.

Similarly, if one was deemed insane, it was possible to get discharged from the Air Corps. Because Yossarian’s desire for discharge was deemed very sane, his insane behavior was considered by his superiors as a natural expression of his  true sanity. Catch 22.

Not unlike Yossarian, Poor Richard is struggling with the Catch-22s of the re-inventeration process at his downtown Macon Gralpharaphics shop (name carefully disguised to protect the sensibilities of the franchise). The first Catch-22 is simply time.  Business is down, we’ve cut back on staff, and more time is spent working in the business than on the business.  Without more time to work on the business, we’ll never be able to grow the business back to a point where more folks can be hired to work in the business; relieving the requirement for the owner to fold brochures until 2 am and allowing him to use his brain once again.

The next and more worrisome set of  Catch(es)-22 have to do with scope, the literal definition of the business. Behind the red awnings on Poplar Street, we’re taking jobs that we probably wouldn’t have looked at a couple of years ago.  A lot of these are small and risky.  The risk is that the expense in time and effort to produce the small jobs will exceed the revenue that results. Catch 22. The potential benefit is a new customer who might actually bring us a profitable job one day. Poor Richard is not sure how this one is playing out.

The low hanging fruit has been picked. We’ve responded to economic pressure on mainstay product lines by adding more products. In our case, we’ve added wide format printing and reprographics to subsidize some of the losses in conventional offset printing.   These were natural additions – similar products and services to what we were already doing. They didn’t disrupt the production process much and they added little in the way of expense. Unfortunately, they did not add enough revenue to compensate for the decline in conventional printing; and these product lines are also facing economic and competitive pressures. Catch 22.

So what’s the next step? Poor Richard has written before (with misgivings) about the current buzz-phrase in the printing industry. The latest rage is for printing companies to become marketing service providers. (See Poor Richard’s post Measuring Value). Our little company  is moving in this direction slowly but steadily, unsure of all of the implications, but with a sense that it is inevitable – there just aren’t many other areas of opportunity left.

Becoming a marketing service provider is full of Catch(es)-22. First, the whole notion takes us out of the realm of producing tangible products and into the area of shaping content. We’re no longer working with machinery that prints, cuts or folds stuff; but rather with electronic means of communication and the disciplines that go along with them – CSS, XHTML, Purls and a bunch of other acronyms. The competitive cost of entry into this business is low relative to the cost of a new printing press, which means that the pressure to keep ahead of the technology curve will be steep. Worse, the marketing service provider notion requires a new skill set that takes time to learn.  In our case, that’s the owner’s time that is in very short supply. Catch 22.

Second, the whole idea of shaping content laps over into creating content.  Printing companies are pretty good at shaping. We do layout work, color correct photos, even occasionally light editing for our customers. This is different from creating the content, an area we have generally avoided because of time limitations and a focus on keeping the machines running.

It’s just a little too hopeful to think that we might make money only by implementing marketing services — integrated direct mail and e-mail campaigns, for example. Most of our customers simply lack the time and resources to develop the content for this kind of effort, so it appears inevitable that we will be required to do some development work for them if we want to sell the services.

Hopefully we can do this without stepping on the toes of our agency customers and triggering yet another Catch 22. Ideally, the agencies might find it helpful to use our shop to implement integrated direct mail and internet campaigns for their larger customers. Our challenge will be keeping the focus on implementation (and measurement) of specific marketing services without getting customers confused about what we can do (and want to do).

Creating content, even on a limited basis, is a big step for a small printing company; but it is still a lot different from the conceptual work that our agency customers do. We can make that statement, but will our customers understand it?  Another Catch-22.

Poor Richard supposes that re-inventeration, like change, is necessary and unavoidable; but he hopes he’s not re-inventing a square-wheeled tricycle.


OK, Let’s see if we can get this straight

July 8, 2009

“My sorority is sponsoring a beauty pageant,” says the well spoken young lady at the counter, “we’d like you to do the program for us.”

“And we’d love to do the program,” says Poor Richard, because this is exactly the kind of job that the printshop behind the red awnings (Gralpharaphics . . . use of real name discouraged by the franchise) does really well.

“Can you give me an idea of how much it will cost?” asks the young lady.

It’s a very reasonable question. We discuss paper, whether the booklet will be in color or in black and white, and who will be doing the layout. Everything’s coming together smoothly until Poor Richard asks the devastating question, “and approximately how many pages will it have?”

The sorority president opens her mouth and all of a sudden she’s speaking Chinese and Poor Richard is speaking Latin! Neither of us understand the other. Finally in exasperation, she holds up her fingers. One, two, three, four, five, six, seven . . . counts Poor Richard.

“Es tut mir leid, aber Bücher mit sieben Seiten kommen nicht,” exclaims Poor Richard. Booklets don’t come with seven pages (or if they do, p. 8 is blank).

“Jeg er redd JEG ikke gjør det oppfatte i det hele tatt,” responds the young lady in Norwegian. She doesn’t understand at all.

“Animal, vegetable, or mineral?” I ask with a smile on my face.

It happens all the time. A customer is counting sheets and I’m counting pages. I get 16 and she gets 4. Let’s see if we can get this straight.  We’re going to look at a quickly designed sheet with four pages on it.

page

Single Page

So, here’s Page 1. We’re going to assume that the finished size of our little folding document is the size of a standard sheet of paper, 8 1/2 x 11 inches.  That means that a page measures 8 1/2 x 11 inches.

A page is printed on one side and in many (but not all) publications is assigned a number.  Page numbers are very convenient if you wish to use a table of contents or list topics in an index at the back of a book.  They’re also extremely helpful to the folks who operate the bindery equipment that puts booklets together. It’s their responsibility to make sure that Page 5 follows Page 4 and is succeeded by Page 6.

Our illustration uses only one sheet, but the same principles follow in a larger booklet, which by definition has more 8 pages/2 sheets or more. Typically, a booklet is stapled or saddle stitched in the center. Because there are four pages to a sheet and all of the sheets collate (nest) together and are folded to make a booklet, this means that arranging the pages on the sheets is an art unto itself. This arrangement is called imposition. The sheet size for an 8 page booklet with a finished size of 8 1/2 x 11 is 11 x 17. Two pages are positioned side by side on each side of each sheet. 4 pages are positioned on each sheet (2 to a side). In an 8 page booklet, page 1 and page 8 would be positioned on the same side of the same sheet. Page 1 is the front page and page 8 is the last. On the inside of the sheet would be pages 2 and 7. This arrangement is called a printer’s spread and is probably a little further on up the road than we want to go in this post.

Inside Spread/Reader's Spread

Inside Spread/Reader's Spread

So, back to our illustration. Here are pages 2 and 3, which take up the inside of the sheet.  In a booklet, these would be the center spread and because the pages are in order, the spread is called a reader’s spread. In a booklet with more than one sheet, the pages in a reader’s spread would actually lie on different sheets. The center spread always contains two sequential pages on the same side of one sheet. This is a good thing to know for designers, because it’s always safe to place an image across the pages on the center spread.  It might not work so well on other pages where the alignment of the sheets may not be exact. Confused yet?

OK, two pages on one side of a sheet. Now let’s look at the other side of the sheet.

Outside Pages/Printers Spread

Outside Pages/Printers Spread

You’ve seen Page one earlier in this post. In our example, page one is backed by Page 2 and Page 4 is backed by Page 3. Four pages to a sheet.  In a booklet, fronts and backs will always be sequential, but left and right facing pages (on the same side of the sheet) will only be sequential on the center spread. Now you understand why the sorority president was speaking Norwegian.

Here’s the good news . . . you don’t have to worry about imposition. Deliver your booklet to your printer in page order (1, 2, 3, 4, etc.) and let them worry about setting it up for print.  We’ve done it before and we’ll usually get it right.

Here’s what you should remember from all of this . . .

  • A page is what you read. One side finished size. One half of one side of a sheet.
  • 4 pages to a sheet in a booklet
  • Tell your printer how many pages, not how many sheets.
  • Use your fingers and get an interpreter if necessary.

Finally, page numbers are good. When you’re thoroughly confused you can just check the page numbers to find out if everything is in order. Verstanden?

Isn’t life grand?

Insincere apologies to Brian, Todd and the memory of Alfalfa.


Crazy People

November 19, 2008

The screen on all of our phones is displaying 911 followed by my name. It’s a panic button feature. When 911 is dialed from any of the phones on the system, every phone in the place lights up and blinks with the extension from which the emergency number was dialed. This is so everyone in the place can go to the aid of the user dialing 911. Obviously my emergency wasn’t too dire . . . or nobody paid attention to it. Brian pointed the emergency feature out to me a day and a half later.

I had dialed 911 because of the crazy people in Poplar Street Park. They were fighting again. This time it was a man and a woman who began with a high volume shouting match, clearly audible to me across the street on the second floor of AlphaGraphics towers. I looked out the window to witness the development of a full fledged altercation: tearing of clothes, fighting, scratching and finally rolling around on the sidewalk.

The 911 operator didn’t seem at all disturbed when I called. “911, please state your emergency,” came the calm voice over the receiver.

“The crazy people are fighting again in Poplar Street Park,” I replied. I think I heard the faintest sigh from the other end of the receiver.

“We’ll send someone over,” the voice replied. The fight was over soon enough and I never saw a police car.

I don’t really have a great objection to the crazy people that inhabit the park, except when they’re drinking or fighting. We’ve never had much walk in traffic and most of my customers know to park on our side of Poplar Street to avoid the panhandling and the comments. I’ve never been threatened and by now they know that if they ask for money, I’ll offer to feed them. Most of them don’t really want food. I think that there should be a better place for them to stay than the park, but some of them don’t want that either.

We’ve gotten to know a few of them. There’s the lady who comes into the shop once or twice a week. She buys paper by the sheet to draw on and insists on paying for it. She’ll ask for a specific number of sheets and always wants a receipt for her purchase. She also likes plastic bags . . . two of them each time. She was fascinated by our display cabinet and helped herself to samples of our work until we discovered what she was doing. She liked the colors.

Then there’s Jeff. He’s a singer. He carries the names of all of the songs he knows on sheets of notepaper that once were bound together in a spiral pad. If you give him a dollar bill, he’ll sing you any of the songs. He’ll give you a sample verse for free. He can’t carry a tune in a bucket . . . but don’t tell him I said so.

Jeff came in for business cards the other day. He took about 20 minutes at the front counter to compose the content. The finished product had his name and the services he offered: DJ, lawn and garden work, weddings, auto cleaning, and short-term loans – zero interest. Jeff has no address or phone number. I pointed out that this might pose a problem for potential clients who wanted to get in touch. Jeff didn’t seem concerned about this. I also pointed out that there was little profit margin in a zero interest loan. This was a mistake on my part. Jeff took another 5 minutes to graphically illustrate (using long multiplication and division) how it was possible to turn $5 into $900 in a few simple transactions with no interest charged. He even offered to help me do it if I’d contribute $5 to the cause.

I also have to give homage due to Dr. H. I’m not sure exactly where the doctor earned his PhD, or exactly what his area of expertise is, but I am reasonably certain that at one time Dr. H did receive an education. He has a wonderful command of the English language and is even eloquent when he speaks. He has the bearing (if not the cleanliness, coiffure or wardrobe) of a college professor. His area of specialty is conspiracy theories. For a while, he came daily to copy tedious, hand-written complaints to city officials regarding all sorts of injustices that were perpetrated or planned. I understand that he has occasionally appeared at City Council meetings to read his discovered plots into the public record.

Dr. H is also an artist. In a moment of weakness I was convinced to actually scan and print one of his newsprint collages on signboard. He wanted me to deliver it for him to the Salvation Army, where he was staying that evening. When I told him that this didn’t really fit into our delivery plans, he became irritated with me. I haven’t seen him since. I’ve kept the print, though. Maybe it will be as valuable as a Howard Fenster one day.

homelessLike I said, I really don’t mind the crazy folks if they aren’t fighting, drunk or both. I’ve learned to be a little cautious, though. I don’t know what to do about them. I haven’t joined the church group that comes to feed them on Thursday nights. They feed them burgers and hotdogs and occasionally get them singing a little. I applaud their efforts, but the crazy folks are still left on the streets at night and I don’t think that the gospel message really sticks with most of them.

According to my Dad, the homeless folks have been there a long time. He speaks to them, but doesn’t really worry about them. I have to worry a little. The crazy folks certainly aren’t helping the effort to revitalize downtown and I can’t see that there’s much there to help them either. It’s obvious that most of them are not capable of or willing to help themselves. The police consider them a minor nuisance – they can’t afford to arrest them and couldn’t keep them if they did. The shelters offer a place to sleep in the cold or a meal, but little else.

I’m a little embarrassed at the call to 911. It’s difficult to look across the street without the thought that , “there but by the grace of God go I.” The strength of our republic has been the opportunity America has afforded for success along with the willingness of our people to care for those in need. Living in America has not been a zero sum game. Joe has not become wealthy or successful at John’s expense. We’ve succeeded or failed based upon our individual efforts and our efforts and intentions, for the most part, have been good. I hope that this isn’t changing, but I sense that it is.

We’re not doing so well right now. I mistrust our universal willingness to rely on government for solutions. I’m also embarrassed at my own ambivalence, but I’m not willing to adopt a crazy person either.

God is still in control. Here’s to better days . . .


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