All dressed up with no place to go?

January 10, 2011

It’s been a rare, snowy day here in Middle Georgia.  To be more precise, it’s been a rare, icy, slippery day here in Middle GA. Couldn’t get to the printshop this morning and received no disappointment whatsoever when I contacted the team and asked if they thought we should call off work for today.

“There’s a half inch sheet of ice out my front door.” reported designer Todd.

“I’m at my girlfriend’s house and we’ve already built a fire.” from RH man Brian.

“I was all dressed and ready to go at 6:00 am when you texted that you weren’t coming.” from the first lady of sales, Sharon.

That one held me up. It brought to mind the lyrics of one of my favorite British Invasion songs, “I ain’t got you:”

I got a Maserati G.T.
With snakeskin upholstery.
I got a charge account at Goldblatt’s,
But I ain’t got you.

I got a closet full of clothes,
But no matter where it goes,
It keeps a ring in the nose,
But I ain’t got you.

I got a tavern and a liquor store.
I play the numbers, yeah, four forty-four.
I got a mojo, yeah, don’t you know,
I’m all dressed up with no place to go.

I got women to the right of me.
I got women to the left of me.
I got women all around me,
But I ain’t got you.
No, I ain’t got you.

For those of you who might be somewhat beyond the age where familiarity with the British Invasion is a given, the Yardbirds were the Rolling Stones that didn’t stay around.  They had three great guitarists.  Jimmy Page went on to lead Led Zeppelin. Jeff Beck produced one of the most amazing jazz fusion guitar albums of the 1970s (Wired). And then there was Clapton, the guitarist of the aforementioned number. Poor Richard doesn’t ascribe to the 1960’s graffiti asserting that “Clapton is God,” but it’s fair to assume that you have heard of him.

Ain’t got you . . .  sounds really familiar. The printshop behind the red awnings on Poplar (name carefully concealed to protect the sensitive interests of the franchise) has spent a great deal of time and energy over the past couple of years adding the latest whizbang capabilities. We can help customers with email communications.  We can send postcards with PURLS. We can help with social networking and Google Adwords. We can even develop simple CMS sites for small businesses.  All of that along with wonderful capabilities in digital and conventional print and you’d think that we’d find an interested customer or two. But in reality, we’re kind of stuck . . . all dressed up with no place to go.

Poor Richard has batted about the “marketing services provider” concept for a couple of years. This theory maintains that in order to survive, printing companies must diversify into other realms of communication and become marketing consultants to their customers.  I’m all for the first part of the assertion.  Conventional print is certainly waning at the moment and merging conventional print capabilities with the low cost potential of the internet only makes sense.   Marketing strategy is something completely different, though, especially in the altered reality of the Great Decession.

If you had asked me just a couple of years ago, I would have said that marketing strategy was the exclusive purview of the experts.  In those days, marketing was at least partially predictable . . . traditional efforts (advertising, PR, etc.)would yield predictable results. Now I’d say it’s anyone’s guess. Proven tactics may fail totally and a low cost video on YouTube can go viral. It’s unpredictable, but there’s plenty of stuff to try.

Our Gralpharaphics shop has experienced good business relationships with a couple of excellent agencies, and in balance, these folks have done a very good job for their customers.  One of our key agency accounts closed last year after trying very hard to bring their customers in line with the new realities of marketing.  They experienced difficulties because the new realities are damnably hard to define and their customers still expected the predictability of the old paradigm.

So where does that leave us? We can implement some pretty cool stuff, if we can find the customers willing to take the risk.  These folks are pretty hard to find in icebound Middle Georgia, though, so Poor Richard is humming the old British Invasion song

Couldn’t find a good Yardbirds video, but the audio tells the story  . . .

Got to end on an optimistic note, though. Here’s Janis . . .

Advertisements

Bailout, Please?

April 1, 2009

At first, I wasn’t even interested.  After all, bailout funds have something of a stigma about them, don’t they? What with AIG, the big car companies, and greedy bankers all clamoring for more, it’s just a little embarassing for a small businessperson to go out looking for the government dole. We’re supposed to be the proud and determined entrepreneurs that keep the country productive and innovative and 16 other patriotic sounding adjectives.

After 17 continuous months of recession, though,  things were getting kind of desperate.  Actually, Poor Richard didn’t realize that it had actually been 17 long months until he heard it on the radio.  They kept the first year a secret for a while, you know. Anyway, because the level of desperation is inversely proportional to the level of funds in the company bank account; when the desperation got high enough, I made the phone call.  After all, I rationalized,  if all this money they’re printing isn’t  going to be worth a plug nickel in the long run, shouldn’t AlphaGraphics get some to spend before everybody else figures it out?

So Poor Richard called Saxby Chambliss’ office in Macon and asked to speak with the Senator. A very nice young lady informed me that the Senator doesn’t really actually even ever stay here in Georgia, because it’s too far away from the center of things where all of the important stuff happens. She asked me why I was calling.

“I’m looking for some bailout money,” I responded, then decided to sweeten the pot. “Of course, I’ll be willing to sell up to 99% of the stock in my company, if that will help.”

“Oh, that would be most helpful!” she answered, “and exactly how many billions of dollars does your company need to stay afloat?”

Not wishing to be greedy, Poor Richard responded that a few million would actually do quite nicely. This didn’t sit well with the young lady in Senator Chambliss’ office, though.

“Only a few million?” came the huffy response, “I’m not sure that the treasury department is set up to administer bailouts in such small amounts. I’ll refer your inquiry to the Senator, but perhaps you should contact the Federal Department of Largesse and see if they have a block bailout program for smaller concerns like yours.”

She was kind enough to give me the toll free number for the Department of Largesse and then hung up the phone muttering something about the time wasted by common citizens who feel entitled to call Senators’ offices. Feeling bold, nonetheless, Poor Richard placed a call to the Department of Largesse and immediately became entangled in the voice mail system.

“To assure the highest levels of service, please state your name and input your 9 digit Federal Employer number,” droned a disembodied voice.

I complied.

“Your call may be monitored to assure high levels of service,” continued the voice, “and your phone may be tapped to assure that you are not speaking regularly with Osama bin Laden or other Al Qaeda operatives. If you wish to continue, please enter your SIC code and the amount of governmental largesse that you wish to request.”

Once again, I complied. Not wanting to be greedy, I punched in 7,500,000.  “This is really kind of easy,” I thought.

“Please be advised that if you are awarded funds by the Federal Department of Largesse, your salary and bonus package will be limited to a measly $500,000 annually.  In addition, you are warned not to openly redistribute government funds among executive employees in such a manner that the news media or the public might discover your abominably irresponsible and unpatriotic behavior. If you agree with these terms and conditions, please press “1” to continue.”

Having no difficulty with the conditions, Poor Richard pressed “1.”

A long pause ensued, followed by a click as my call was transferred. Poor Richard could hardly wait. “Now I’ll get to talk with one of the customer service reps and tell them where to mail my $7.5 million,” I thought.

The phone clicked once more and another computerized voice queried. “Our records indicate that the asset value of your business is less than $10 billion dollars. Is this correct? If ‘yes,’ please press ‘1’ now, otherwise hold for the next customer service representative.”

With all good intentions and still hoping for the best,  Poor Richard pressed “1.”

“We regret to inform you that your business has been deemed insignificant by the Federal Department of Largesse,” sounded yet another automated attendant. “The SIC code you entered indicates that your company is involved in the business of printing. Printing is not considered to be a relevant economic activity, nor is it eligible for funding under President Obama’s 21st Century Initiative for Green, Energy-Efficient, Barely Conceivable and Totally Impractical Projects.”

“Please press ‘1’ if you’d like to speak with a customer service representative,” the voice continued. “Our current hold time is estimated at 16 years, 3 months, 2 days, 5 hours, 16 minutes and 35 seconds. Calls will be served in the order that they are received. If you’d like to be considered for a consolation prize, please press ‘2’ now.”

Feeling despondent, Poor Richard pressed ‘2.’ “Please hold,” came the voice.

It took a minute before I realized that the background music playing while I waited was familiar. It was Ray Charles singing about Greenbacks . . . “just a little piece of paper, coated with chlorophyll.”  I confirmed my mailing address with the last automated attendant and was told to look for my consolation check in the mail. In closing,  Poor Richard received a firm promise that the Department of Governmental Largesse would always endeavor to reallocate the resources of this great nation from each according to their ability and to each according to their need.

$100 Bill

$100 Bill

I’m still waiting for the check. You know, Lincoln ain’t gonna get it, Jackson neither.  Maybe they’ll send a fresh, crisp $100 bill with Poor Richard on the front.


Reality Check

May 19, 2008

After a couple of days of deep thought followed by two Nu-Way hotdogs, I’ve concluded that it may be existentially suspect to dwell overmuch about natural disasters. Nonetheless, we had one here in Middle Georgia one week ago, when multiple tornadoes touched down. I do not intend to trivialize Macon’s disruptive episode, but it is worth mentioning that simultaneously, there were earthquakes in China, the aftermath of a hurricane in Burma, a volcano erupting somewhere in South America and an overturned chicken truck on I-16.

The world is pretty much a mess and we got to see it firsthand. Experiencing a natural disaster “in real life” is much different than the momentary sympathetic impulse we feel after seeing the story on network news. Even if the wreckage doesn’t affect us personally, it’s still very tangible and a little scary when it happens all around you.

Macon State Damage
The image above, filched from the website of The Macon Telegraph, shows the campus of Macon State College. (For more images, see Storm Photos on Macon.com. ). Nearly 90% of the trees on campus were destroyed. According to news reports, up to 40% of the forest canopy in Middle Georgia was destroyed or damaged. Not good.

Unlike Burma and China, the cleanup effort in Macon happened very quickly. Georgia Power, with lots of help from other Southern Company utilities, got power up and running almost everywhere within 3 days. Volunteers showed up with chainsaws. Streets were made passable. Stores opened back up. Even Macon State College was open for business again on Thursday, a short four days after the storm.

Human tenacity, especially in the face of disaster, is remarkable; but I wonder if God doesn’t see it somewhat like the efforts of ants repairing the after effects of Mikey’s bright red Converse hightops. It’s all very serious and real to us, but only a little piece of the plan to Him. Perhaps we should consider that perspective and wonder just exactly what it is that we should learn. Could it be that all of our activity, all of our “accomplishments,” and all that we take so seriously really doesn’t have that much significance in the grand scheme of things?

Time to rethink the priorities. Time for a reality check.


Oprah Spotting

November 18, 2007

As beautiful wife and I left one of our favorite lunchtime haunts on Cherry Street Thursday, we noticed a well-dressed young man hurrying down the street toward us. By my guess he was a professional, in coat and tie, with an expectant and excited shine in his eyes.

“What’s the rush?” I queried.

He smiled nervously and replied, “It’s Oprah. She’s going to eat at the NuWay. Have you seen her yet?”244winfreyoprah091906.jpg

It was more that a little crazy in Macon the end of the last week. Oprah Winfrey taped a show here and the presence of such an electrifying personality in our city had the immediate effect of shorting out the synapses of a large part of the population.

“Ma’am, all you have to do to approve the proof is reply to the email,” Brian was saying into his headset as we returned to the shop. “Just type ‘OK to Print’ and reply,” he continued to an obviously confused customer.

“The reply button,” he continued, “on the email. It’s the button that says ‘Reply.’ ” Brian’s perpetually patient good humor was flagging a little. “Yes, that will send an email back to me. I’m the one that sent the proof to you. We’ll print your project when we receive your approval.”

He listened patiently, rolling his eyes. “Yes, ma’am, you can print it out and sign it, but that will mean you’ll have to use the print button and the fax machine.”

I knew that there was a full scale disruption of the magnetic field in Middle Georgia when I caught a snippet of Sharon’s conversation later in the afternoon. Sharon, our salesperson, was answering questions from one of her customers. She’s not always as diplomatic as Brian and seethed a light expletive under her breath after she finished the call.

“What?” I asked.

“I can’t believe what she just asked me,” was the response. “She wanted to know how many envelopes were in a box of 500.”

The crew took off early and I was at the front counter when one of our favorite designers came in with a camera and a sly smile on her face.

“And what are you doing?” I asked of her.

“Ostensibly, I’m on a photo shoot,” she returned with a slightly deranged expression on her face. Then she whispered, “In actuality I’ve been Oprah spotting!”

Thanks for coming to Macon, Oprah! Now we know why California is so crazy!