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Looking Up in a Down Market

(October 2008) posted on Tue Oct 14, 2008

Keys to ensure your business stays afloat through tough times.

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By Craig Miller

Like most of the American economy, our industry is in a "world of hurt," and as this column is written, things don’t appear to be looking up in the near term. The economy has forced our own shop, Pictographics, to rethink everything and come to grips with our own inadequacies. Is every step in our manufacturing process, for instance, as efficient as it could be?

Ours was not, but we are working on it harder than ever before. Are there totally new ways of conducting business that we had not fully explored or implemented? We’ve begun exploring Web-to-print, variable-data printing, accounting, inventory, as well as work-order integration and workflow and customer-service automation. Other questions we’ve been asking ourselves this year include: What products should we abandon? What existing products need to be improved? What new innovative products are worth the cost to develop?

Of course, the urgency of this economy has focused and accelerated our efforts. We have gone through this exercise once before and came out of it a better company: The economic repercussion of the events of 9/11 nearly put us out of business. We survived, however, and then thrived by diversifying our markets, products, and services; and we adopted skills and technologies to differentiate ourselves from our competitors. It’s now time to do it again.

The customer side of the equation
Ironically, good times can have a dulling effect on imagination, resourcefulness, and competence; people can even get by being downright stupid. This applies to our customers as well as print providers. I wish I had a nickel for every time I have proposed a more effective or money-saving option to a customer only to hear, "No, this is the way we’ve always done it." But it’s amazing how much smarter customers are getting this year.