Would you like fries with that?

September 1, 2008

Johnson’s World by Steve Johnson

Tony Wochnik is a skilled and professional salesman of digital graphic arts equipment. Originally with Xerox, Tony has represented Ikon for many years. Although I've never spent a dime with him, Tony insists on taking me out to lunch once or twice each year to update me on his firm's innovations and his take on the advance of technology.

His low key style and technical approach fit well with my “no-nonsense” attitude toward vendors. I do feel guilty about the free lunch, so I pick up the tab, sometimes.

Recently Tony and I tried a newly opened restaurant nearby. So intent was our focus on high-volume color solutions that I barely noticed when one of my competitors entered the room.

I was mildly surprised that, instead of taking a seat, he moved around the small room, speaking first to the hostess, then the waitress, then the bartender. He disappeared into the kitchen, and I resumed my conversation.

A few minutes later, my competitor reappeared. My surprise turned to shock when he revealed that he owned the restaurant.

Apparently he subscribes to the prevailing conventional wisdom about diversifying into ancillary services.

After all, the theory goes, if we can serve our clients' printing needs, they will rush to use us for other services. And everyone needs to eat.

Take your time on that press OK

Fast turnaround and high quality become less important when you have vegetarian pizza and three kinds of merlot.

If you promote the “one-stop shop” philosophy, this is a natural extension. Eat, drink, be merry and order printing.

Are you daunted by the challenge of speeding up press okays? Put a French chef on site, and perhaps your clients won't notice how much time they waste in your shop. Better yet, add a liquor license, and your clients will be demanding slower press checks. In fact, it might be difficult to get them to leave!

Piling on the extras

Does “f.o.b. our plant” mean that using your salesman as a designated driver is billable?

I understand that the fast food joints are on to something when they ask, “Would you like fries with your order?” Don't ever settle for a plain burger when you can double the sale with side dishes, which retail at a higher profit margin, to boot.

I'm all for doubling sales and higher profits. They are like mothers and apple pie — you just have to love 'em.

It is the questionable extension of services — far beyond customers' expectations or understanding — that concerns me. A milkshake with my cheeseburger? Sure! Fries? Oh, all right. A shoeshine? Huh? Even if my shoes are looking a bit scuffed, I'm not getting my shine at Burger Chef. And yes, we'll take ketchup, but no, my wife doesn't trust your busboy to do her nails.

It's a silly example, but no sillier than some of the printing combinations I have seen. My all time favorite remains the sign I saw on Highway 1 in the Florida Keys, “Printing — Guns.”

The small printer in the quaint village near my home doesn't spend much time in his shop; I hear he is a realtor and is out selling homes. I'll bet he's pretty unhappy right now, with the real estate market in worse shape than print.

I've seen very successful print executives branch out into questionable lines of investment. The most common are racehorses, works of art and restaurants. Sometimes these work. More often, they don't.

Are you a printer, or something else?

I joke with competitors and coworkers about “opening the hot dog stand” when the pressures of the printing business seem especially heavy. The important thing to remember is that we are just kidding around. We know that it isn't reasonable to expect the grass to be any greener on the other side of the fence. (See “Johnson's World,” August 2005.)

I am certainly not suggesting we shun any activity that is not directly related to print. I am suggesting we be honest with ourselves about our motives.

Are you opening a new business or adding nonprint services to your existing business because you genuinely believe it will complement your print offerings and therefore better serve your clients and prospects? More power to you!

Are you entering a nonprint market because you are sick and tired of printing, losing money in printing, or just plain bored with printing?

More power to you, but be fair to your customers, your employees and your industry. Sell the old business or put a full-time executive in charge.

Your mid-life crisis in NOT an ancillary service.