January 28, 2008

I haven’t told the rest of the team yet, but in 2 weeks I’m going to lay them all off. I’ve found this great company in Indolaysia (or was it Pakinesia?) that is going to handle all of our print projects for just a fraction of what it costs me to do them in house. As I understand it, all I have to do is make deliveries and collect the money from our customers.

AlphaGraphics' New Customer Service StaffThey’ll even handle customer service for me. The company has a call center in Islamadehli staffed with approximately nearly 7,632 people who are all named Danny (pictured at left). When my customers call, Danny will answer their questions and take their orders. If they have a problem, Danny can choose from one of approximately nearly 367 standard answers which may or may not apply to the problem my customer has, but most assuredly will apply at some instance to a problem that my customer may have at a future time.

Once the order is placed, it will be produced at a factory in China. A wee, small amount of lead will be added for flavoring, and it will be shipped via container ship back here to Macon. As I understand it, lead times will extend just a little bit, but the price advantage will certainly make this acceptable, even preferable to my customers.

Design will also be handled by my Indolaysian partner. In fact, we’re going to be using the same design center that the Macon Telegraph (see Telegraph to outsource part of ad production team ) will be using to design their display ads. It is located in Jakartombay. All of the graphic designers there are named Judy and they speak and write perfectly grammatical English as a second language.

I’ll miss all of the nice people who work at AlphaGraphics, but I won’t worry about them too much. As all of the jobs are shipped offshore, they’ll reconsider their need to earn a living. For a while, our government will support them, but eventually they’ll be content with the wages paid in Indolaysia and we’ll be able to operate call centers here for those filthy capitalists in China.

Thanks to McLatchy newpapers and to Pete, Andy and Patsy of the excellent American Express Travel Related Services customer service team in Calcutta for their inspiration. I’m going to send them all a new pair of Chinese made tennis shoes from Wal-Mart for their contribution to AlphaGraphics’ success!


Making tough decisions

March 3, 2007

Times were difficult then. We had just started the business. Like many new companies, we had done our homework, put together our plan, and then discovered that the assumptions were all wrong. We were experiencing steady growth, but it just wasn’t enough. We needed every customer that we could get.

He talked a good game. A consultant, he did a lot of public speaking. He needed the usual collateral material, plus stuff for his presentations and occasional postcards and mailers. His message was positive attitude, optimism, and “can do.” He impressed with the not quite casual dropping of familiar names. Large volumes were not exactly promised, but he gave a distinct impression that his business was substantial. When he asked about printing, the words he used were “cost effective, economical, and prompt turnaround.”

We soon found out that he meant cheap and immediate. Our level of service wasn’t sufficient. Pressure was a part of his business style. He expected everything to be dropped for his needs the minute he walked into the shop. Production scheduling was out the window. Design and changes were frequently time consuming, but he didn’t want to pay for it. He was such a great customer that he should get a better deal . . . the price was always too high, and he was not shy about expressing his consternation.

The volumes never materialized. There were a few good orders, but lots more small jobs that disrupted production and cost much more than the revenue they produced. We struggled along for a year or so before he left for greener pastures. I don’t recall what the final straw was, but I suspect it was price. When a local competitor went belly up in 2003, I noticed some of his materials in the shop during the liquidation auction.

I recognized his voice when he called last week. He was shopping. I was cordial. I asked why he was calling us again. Another printer had gone out of business, he responded. He wanted some postcards, not expensive color but black and white . . . economical. Could we do them for him?

“Possibly,” I said.

He recognized the hesitance in my voice. To his credit, he asked the direct question. I answered honestly. He told me to “have a blessed day,” as the conversation ended. I could hear the edge in his voice.

Times are difficult now. It’s been a slow start to the year and our largest customer is reorganizing. We need every new customer we can get. It was tempting to take this one on again with the hopes that things would be different this time. We’re actually pretty good at meeting the “special needs” of our customers.

Then I remembered again and thought about all of the good relationships that we have with our customers. They are relationships based on clear and open communications, honesty, and mutual understanding. We value our customers’ businesses and try to add value with the products we provide them. I think they place a value on our services and the quality of our relationships. I think that they’d be unhappy if we  didn’t charge enough to stay in business.

Tough decision.

They used to hang horsethieves

December 5, 2006

Hangman’s noose

There’s always someone to test the lowest common denominator. It’s the opposite of what the test pilots used to call “pushing the envelope.” It’s more like rolling around in the mud with pigs.

As I was leaving the shop this afternoon, I noticed that a fax had fallen from the machine onto the floor. I presumed (correctly) that it was late afternoon junk; a solicitation for a little known stock that no one in their right mind would consider or something like that. I was right and I was wrong.

Here’s what the headline read:

Please forward to Customer Service and Sales Representatives

Full Time Immediate Opening for an Outside Sales Representative Covering the Macon, Warner Robins, and surrounding areas.

The fax went on to describe the job and listed a website where the potential prospect (who only incidentally happens to be currently working at my company) could apply for this great new job. Nowhere was a company name mentioned . . . just the website. Someone was soliciting our employees on our own fax machine!

I have a curious nature. I checked the website, which let me to a Tucson, AZ company. Headhunters, hired guns, cannibals.

I am trying very hard not to sound too possessive, paternalistic (read Godfather) or old fashioned, but it’s tough to get and keep good people when you’re a small businessperson. And the last thing you need is some sleazy headhunter trying to steal them away!

I am blessed at AlphaGraphics with a very fine team of folks, all of whom feel a connection and responsibility for our business. We care about our customers and try to give them our best all the time. We take care of each other. Our group knows when we make money and how much and when we lose money and why; and I think that most of them see a direct connection between the success of the business and their own success.

I resent an attempt to lure these folks away to “greener pastures” as much as a working cowboy in the 1890s would resent the attempted theft of his roping horse. I am not implying a comparison between the horse and our employees. Unlike the horse, any of our team members can act on his or her own volition. They can apply for the job if they want to. But, there’s actually little distinction between the horse thief and the headhunter, and no ethical difference at all in the two situations.

Times have changed, though. In 1890, horse thievery was universally condemned. Horse thieves were hanged. A businessperson today has little recourse.

I thought about applying for the job, just to find which one of my competitors had hired the sleazeball. I’d at least get the satisfaction of asking them if they approved of what their hired guns were doing. When I got to the website, I found that to apply for the job you had to have a resume. Haven’t had one of those in years, I’m happy to say.

There was a contact name on the website. I sent an email, as follows:

Mr. _____,

This afternoon, I received a fax from your company that solicited job applications from our sales and customer service people. They are all currently employed. Please do not send further solicitations to our company or to our team.

There was little satisfaction in the sending of the email. It’s been a lot more fun sitting here in the living room practicing my knots.