Food for thought

March 1, 2008

Johnson’s World by Steve Johnson

For a while, the “minibar” was popular in hotel rooms.

“You are all set, sir. Here is your room key, and the key to the minibar.” I always gave the key right back to the clerk. If I awaken at 3:00 a.m., I don't need to be tempted by a bag of M&Ms or a jigger of scotch.

The minibar seems to be fading from the hospitality industry. I don't know why, but it must not have been the moneymaker it was supposed to be. Adding $20 to the cost of an overnight stay for two bags of stale potato chips and some Chips Ahoy is a poor way to build customer goodwill.

The minibar concept is still alive and well in one very special niche market: the press check waiting room.

I have no fond memories of the press OK from my days in commercial offset. The press crew disliked it because they felt it put them on the spot (it did) and that some clients were too demanding (some were). The customers didn't like it because they felt they were being inconvenienced (they were). The sales people didn't like it because the press crew and the clients didn't like it.

In short, a press check is like a visit to the doctor. We've always done it, but we dread it just the same. The best we hope for is a “that wasn't too bad” experience.

Commercial printers seem to have noticed the “doctor's waiting room” attitude and are taking steps to ameliorate it. Hence the minibar.

Clients used to sit in a conference room or reception area waiting until press sheets were up to color. Now, waiting rooms are decked out with upholstered chairs and wood paneling. A network jack is provided for the client's laptop, or now perhaps a wireless network.

Next came the coffeemakers. Regular or decaf? Better take the regular, because many shops run 24 hours and schedule press checks at all hours of the day and night.

That brings us to the hotel style minibar. Sorry, Miss Client, your 10:30 p.m. press check is running late, but we're sure our refrigerator full of junk food will keep you happy until 1:00 a.m., when we'll finally have your job up.

Say, did we tell you that sofa opens into a hideabed? If you rumple your skirt while you catch 40 winks, there is a steam iron in the closet for your convenience.

What is wrong with this picture?

I'm reminded of Lee Iacocca when he was president of Ford in the 1960's. Detroit was firmly convinced that substantial improvements to American cars weren't practical, even though the Japanese were beginning to introduce those very improvements. So how did Iacocca plan to satisfy increasingly demanding customers?

“I say, give ‘em leather,” he said. “They can smell it.” Customers smelled something. This leadership helped make Ford and Chrysler what they are today, which is nearly bankrupt.

Doctors have replaced their waiting room copies of Proctology Today with Golf Digest and People. It doesn't help. What doctors really need to do is see patients at their scheduled appointment times.

Wow. Is it that easy? Yes, it is. If you are particularly proud of the soothing properties of your new press check waiting room wallpaper, listen up.

The client who now dreads press checks once was a sales prospect. Part of your sales rep's pitch was a visit to your state-of-the-art printing plant.

She came out for the tour.

You showed her your customer service department, with its computerdriven management information system, where every job for every client on every machine in your plant is scheduled down to a tenth of a second. You showed her a sample job on your scheduling screen. See, there it is on press; presto, it just jumped onto the folder!

You took her through your prepress department, where you showed her digital proofing systems using ICC profiling to create a perfect noncontact proof, and a PDF soft proof just for good measure. She saw a proof being output with what appeared to be beautiful color.

You showed her your new 14-color press, with operators huddled over a console. You explained that her work could be up to color 30 seconds after the previous job finished running, with no spoilage.

How about really delivering on those promises?

If you don't have the technology in place, why not? It isn't magic any more. It is simply today's equipment. Can you afford not to have it?

If you are gloating because your company has all of the above and more, please tell me: Why has that client been waiting two hours for her press check?