Fogging for Veeps

June 23, 2008

The air conditioner on my less than vintage 1993 Pontiac Bonneville doesn’t. Actually it does . . . condition the air, that is; but for wintertime, not Georgia summer. So I cool off in the car the old fashioned way by rolling down the windows. The electric windows do work on the “old man mobile,” as the car has been dubbed by my children. With the windows down and cruising at 65 mph, one can enjoy the full effect of 95% humidity in Middle Georgia.

My children will not ride in the car. “It smells bad, It’s ugly, it doesn’t have air conditioning,” they say. They’re right about the smell and the air conditioning. I always liked the lines of the old beast. And the smell is quite bearable at 65 mph on the Interstate with the warm and humid air streaming in and the radio blasting through the one remaining speaker that isn’t cracked.

It’s a 30 minute drive from AlphaGraphics to home in Perry. The strategy is simple. Hit the Interstate and cruise. It works most days, but not today. Today was Monday. I could tell that it was Monday even early this morning, when no one showed up for the 8:00 am morning meeting but me. Monday struck again when I looked at the brochure that one of our pressmen struggled with for half a day on Saturday. It was supposed to be gray. Instead it was blue on one side and purple on the other. Monday occurred again on the wide format printer, which managed to turn a very deep black into chocolate brown. And Monday lambasted me on the way home.

It’s not unusual to encounter Georgia State Patrol cars on the medians as one drives south on I-75. At certain times of the year, they undertake revenue enhancement on behalf of Govnah Sunny, who has actually run a pretty tight financial ship during his tenure in office. Today they were out in force, positioned at almost every mile marker between Warner Robins and Perry.

“Something’s up,” I thought, but it really wasn’t a problem for me. You can’t speed in the Bonneville with the windows open, no matter how hard you may try. The noise is prohibitive and it really just doesn’t want to go that fast. And if you move too fast, the air in the car cools down just enough for clouds to form and it rains in the back seat, which explains both the interesting fungi and the smell.

I knew it was Monday once again when I pulled off at the Perry Exit and was stopped on the ramp by another State Patrol car. An assault helicopter circled above as we came to a dead stop. I could see another patrol car on the other side of the bridge. They had cordoned off the exit, and I was stuck in the cordon.

A newer model Chevrolet pulled up next to me with a younger woman driving. She had the windows down, too. She looked at me and I at her and we both shrugged. “AC broken?” I asked.

“Nope,” she replied. “Just about out of gas. What’s going on?”

The speaker on the patrol car ahead of us barked, “We’ve got him at the convenience store.”

“Manhunt,” I yelled through the window. “Must be somebody really dangerous to shut down the exit like this. You might want to roll up your window and lock your doors.”

“Nobody’s that dangerous,” she replied. I agreed.

We sat and sweated for 5 minutes or so. I decided to call Beautiful Wife, who usually knows mostly everything that’s going on. “Oh, no!” said Beautiful Wife, “it’s not a manhunt, it’s Cheney. He’s going to eat with the Davidsons.” She commiserated with me briefly and explained that a wealthy couple outside of town was hosting the VP for a dinner and soiree this evening. The VP’s route would probably take him past my exit, explaining why I was sweltering in the Pontiac and the young lady next to me was wondering whether she had enough gas to get to the station when she cranked her car once again.

Then we spotted the entourage. A group of large, black SUV’s with illegally tinted windows. It was either Cheney or the leader of one of the United Arab Emirates. Either way, they certainly were not concerned with fuel prices or oil shortages. There wasn’t a car in the entourage that would get over 10 mpg.

Somewhere in one of the ponderous black monstrosities sat Vice President Cheney in cool air conditioning and probably sipping an iced beverage. I was underwhelmed. The young lady in the Chevrolet wasn’t impressed either.

“I’m voting for Obama,” she yelled through the window as she moved up the hill towards the gas station.

“Monday,” I thought, and headed for home, hoping beyond hope that it was over. I didn’t here the whine until the last intersection before my street. The truck zoomed past, fogging me with malathion through the open windows of the Bonneville. I reminded myself that I’ve given up cussing, said a short prayer, and rolled up the windows. The temperature immediately rose another 10 degrees and it started raining in the back seat as I drove in the fog behind the pesticide truck up my street and pulled into my driveway.

The fog settled as I opened the car door and I realized that the combination of pesticide and heat was causing me to hallucinate. I was seeing Vice President Cheney’s motorcade once again and driving in front of the largest SUV was the malathion truck, fogging away.

Happy Monday, Vice President Cheney!


Price, Price . . . the Printer’s Lament.

June 12, 2008

In my previous life (BA -before AlphaGraphics), I sold lumber. Worked for a great company out of Perry, GA that sold treated lumber and other stuff to retail lumber yards all over the Eastern US. We actually marketed lumber, which was a little difficult. You see, it’s really kind of hard to differentiate the #2 2 x 4 you sell from the #2 2 x 4 that everyone else was selling. We ran a really tight business, with excellent customer service, and we always did what we said we would do.

In the midst of the Spring busy season, there was a game that was played. There was alway an item or two in short supply that the customer had to have on the truck. One competitor or another would always lowball this item to get the truckload order. We’d hear, “I had to place the order with ABC lumber because they were 10% less on 2 x 10 x 14 and that’s what I really needed.”

“How were we on the rest of the stuff?” I’d always ask. Usually we were pretty much in line. Frequently, we’d follow up to find that the truck had arrived from the competitor without the “most needed” item.

Here’s the point: It’s easy to price low when you don’t deliver.

Times are tough in the printing world. The market is changing rapidly and mid-sized printers are having identity crises. In Middle Georgia, the summer doldrums are compounded by the weak economy and an ever accelerating shift away from print. With the overall market shrinking, competitors are flailing away and the waves are getting rough.

Two weeks ago, we lost a nice bit of business from an old account. We had printed and delivered their letterhead and envelopes for several years, since they shut down an in-house shop. Here’s the short story: New purchasing agent, Out for bid, taken by an Atlanta printer.

The service requirements for this account are stringent: online ordering and proofing, 3 day turnaround, direct delivery to the end user, small quantity orders. It was not unusual for us to deliver a box of business cards. We had imposed a minimum of 500 cards, but were requested to change this to 100 for the new contract. We bid the contract at what I thought were very competitive prices for the level of service requested. We lost the bid to a company in Marietta, GA; roughly 2 hours to the north of us. The average value of a delivery to this client was around $180. I’m not going to draw the conclusion that the new supplier will not meet the terms of the contract, but I question that they will profit from it.

Last week we printed some letterhead and envelopes for a non-profit. It was a new customer for us . . . one of our old contacts changed jobs and gave us a call. I love it when that happens. After the envelopes were delivered, we were requested to provide pricing for a small quantity of “wallet flap” remittance envelopes. They asked for quantities of 1000 and 3000. We regularly print these envelopes and they occasionally give us fits in the small presses. I price the envelopes accordingly and fairly.

I emailed the envelope estimate and didn’t hear back from them for a week. On Monday, Brian received a call from the customer. One of our competitors had undercut our prices substantially . . . if we would match the price, we could have the order. Two of our folks have worked recently for the competitor in question. There are two presses in their facility–a 40″ Komori 6 color and an antique Ryobi that no one will run. Their business is built around long runs – real estate magazines and such. I am skeptical that an order for 3000 envelopes is going to get a lot of attention when it gets into the workflow. I explained that we would be happy to print the envelopes for them, but declined to match the competitor’s pricing. Why work for nothing?

Customer 3 came in today to ask if they could put some promotional postcards on our front counter. They’re a new business downtown. I recognized the postcard immediately . . . muddy printing, low resolution art, and UV coating. We told him we could do a better job for him next time. He paid $200 for a zillion on from Niftyprint.com. He got what he paid for.

The last customer in today’s story seems to be a really nice guy. He’s setting up a new office in a smaller community to the south of us and had heard of Alphagraphics from one of his associates. We printed his business cards last week. This week’s project was to be a trifold brochure. The graphic designer is associated somehow with the business he’s starting, but the individual offices can purchase their own printing. I like that. We provided pricing for several permutations of the brochure, small quantities printed 4/4 in digital color. Because he had wanted a heavier, “more substantial” card stock for his business cards, I suggested an 80# cover stock for the brochure.

A day later, I received a call asking for revised pricing on larger quantities. I responded accordingly.

The next call was familiar. The designer has a printing relationship and can provide the brochure for a lower price. Could we match it? This time I asked for the exact specs. 4/4 with bleeds printed on 80# text. After revising the estimate to match the specifications, we were right in line. Only one problem . . . the customer didn’t want a flimsy brochure. We revised once more for 100# text. This one worked out OK.

Here is the point: there is a value attribute in every transaction.

Lumber is universally acknowledged to be a commodity, but the value in the transactions my company undertook had to do with integrity and dependability. We delivered what we promised and took care of any problems that occurred. Regardless of the price promised, a product that is not delivered (or not delived on time) has no value whatsoever to the buyer.

There are costs associated with the value provided. These costs have to be recovered in the price of the product to enable the supplier to provide the product to the customer. In addition, the provider must make a profit in order to survive.

The lowest cost provider is not always the provider of greatest value. In printing, if the quality of the product is poor, the cost to the customer in terms of lost opportunities and poor impressions can be far in excess of the price they would have paid for a quality product in the first place.

Finally, it is necessary to understand what you are purchasing. The printer you want to do business with will help you make a good purchasing decision. He’ll help you choose the correct value and price for the product and impression you want to produce.

In times like these, the universal inclination is to pinch a penny until Mr. Lincoln screams. Businesses like mine are balancing on the edge, trying to keep our businesses alive and meet our customers’ needs without compromising the standards of value that they (our customers) have come to expect. Please take value into consideration when you make purchasing decisions. Think about the companies that you want to be doing business with when times get better. Times are tough, but buying cheap may not be the best choice.