Author Archives: Dick Rossman

About Dick Rossman

Dick Rossman has owned and managed companies in the printing industry for over 30 years, and is experienced in working with both large and growing organizations as well as small and struggling ones. He has managed virtually every department in a commercial printing plant, including sales, customer service, marketing, planning and scheduling, manufacturing and quality control. Dick also has an MBA degree in Business Management that adds to his business expertise. This broad background provides Rossman with a unique perspective on how successful print communications companies operate efficiently, effectively and profitably. Rossman recognizes the challenging times printers are facing and believes that those companies that take action today to streamline their operations and learn how to perform more efficiently will be the ones that succeed and thrive. Dick is passionate about bringing his experience and expertise to help those companies. Learn more at

Business Seems to be Getting Better, But . . .


Dick RossmanI  asked the owner of a mid-size printing company how his business seemed to be going so far this year. He said “Well,  I ended 2010 better than 2009 and we’ve started this year optimistically. The plant seems busier, quotes are up, my salespeople are telling me they’re seeing more action, and I’m even thinking of hiring back some of the people I had to let go a year ago.” Then, I asked him, “other than lay some people off, reduce everyone’s hours, wear more hats yourself and work more than you ever did before, what have you changed in your company that will help you not just survive but grow in the next five years?” For anyone in the same situation as this business owner – I ask you:

  • Are you still a traditional general commercial offset printer or
  • Do you have digital printing capability but you’re only printing short run, static work or
  • Are your customers placing their work with you only via email and telephone?

If you answered yes to any of these questions, your future is in doubt. The world is narrowing for commercial offset printers without a solid focus or niche, for digital printers who aren’t using their equipment for personalized, variable data printing, and for companies who do not realize that their customers want to use an online ordering system to work with them.

PIA’s 2009 industry study, Beyond the Horizon, projected that conventional ink-on-paper sales would decline by 1.5% to 2.5% annually between now and 2020. Digital sales would increase 3% to 4% and ancillary services would increase 1.5% to 2.5%. These trends are not new – we have heard about them for years. But many of us aren’t planning to address them. And now we are taking comfort in seeing that our business is improving, but relative to what? To last year’s terrible sales and weak or nonexistent profits? Many of us need to get our heads out of the sand, look at the direction of our business and our industry over the last five years, and make some hard decisions.

One of these decisions should be to develop a plan or a strategy to change the direction of your company. This doesn’t have to be an intimidating, formal process – some of the best ideas can come out of an informal but structured gathering of your key leaders, managers, and/or advisors. The discussion needs to cover three basic areas:

  1. What does the company do today and what are its strengths and weaknesses?
  2. Where do we want it to go and why?
  3. How are we going to get there?

The key is to get buy-in from the group about these goals and strategies, so that everyone is on board with the plan and its direction. And the process needs to be top down – you need to be hands-on here, showing your enthusiasm and involvement, but letting the group speak freely and openly.

Out of this meeting or meetings should come new sales plans, marketing plans, equipment purchase plans, hiring plans, technology plans, etc., all developed around the new strategy. Your job will be to serve as coordinator of these plans, holding all those responsible and accountable for implementing what the group agreed on.

Set realistic goals and target dates – 3-months, 6 months, a year, two years. These are long-term plans and you shouldn’t expect to see change overnight. But there should be steps and achievements along the way that you can look at to know that you are going in the right direction.

So business may seem better today but that is not sufficient. You want business to be better at the end of the year and at the end of every year to come.

Our Customer Metrics May Not Have Changed But Our Customer Relationships Must!


In Dr. Ronnie Davis’ latest PIA Economic and Print Market and Flash Report,   he points out two interesting marketing metrics.  First, our largest single customer accounts for nearly 19% of our total business and our largest 5 customers provide nearly 40% of our business.  And second, over 60% of printers in the US have a market focus of less than 100 miles.  So we continue to be an industry that does business fairly locally and where we rely on large accounts which are close to our manufacturing facilities.  But while our customers may still prefer to be near their print suppliers, how they want to manage their print communications and what we need to know about them is definitely not as it once was.

We all know the importance of having great customer service.  But today great customer service also means providing an easy way to store, design, change, order, and pay for print communications material with an online web-to-print capability that is easy for our customers to use.  I recently spoke with a VP of Sales and Marketing at a large NE printing company.  He said that they want their customers to call or email them about everything.  Ordering online was anathema to them as it eliminated the contact with their customers that they so religiously sought out.  But customers today, whether local or not, want to simplify their lives, reduce unnecessary communication, speed up the production process, and see results quicker.  Providing an online print products management solution for your best customers is part of the new definition of great customer service.

Second, in the past it was enough for us to understand the nature of the jobs that our largest customers wanted us to print: sizes, number of pages, stock, frequency, delivery requirements, etc.  Today we need to know not only what they want to print but why.  We should be learning first about the industries that our customers are in and second about how our customers do business in that industry.  How do they generate revenue, who is their competition, who are their customers and how do they find more of them, what is the nature and purpose of their marketing communications, etc.?  By becoming an expert in their businesses, we are then in a position to be not just an order-taking sales person but an advisor in providing the print and marketing solutions that we offer. 

While the metrics about our customers may not have changed, how we service them and what we need to know about them certainly has.  The companies who are growing today are those that recognize this and have developed the technology and the sales mindset to make these adaptations.  Their 5 largest customers have recognized this also and are providing them even more business than ever.

If it can’t be measured, it can’t be improved


“If it can’t be measured, it can’t be improved.”

Printing company leaders have certainly heard this phrase or a variant of it, but how many of us put it in practice? Our industry provides us with great financial data every year with the PIA Ratio Studies, and we can get industry benchmarks for sales growth, factory costs, profit per employee, payroll and benefits, etc., but what about benchmarking and measuring the performance of our operations?

Industry standards for operations performance may be hard to develop, but each company needs to create its own Key Performance Indicators to review those operations that are important to its business. These KPI’s must be established via a planning process and then they need to be measured on a regular basis, providing a dashboard for your key managers.

What you measure should be driven by your customers’ requirements and satisfaction. Some of these operational KPI’s that you may want to quantify and then determine the causes are:

  • Late deliveries of proofs and jobs
  • Bad or rejected proofs
  • Bad or rejected plates
  • Excessive makereadies
  • Excessive material waste
  • Jobs reprinted due to poor quality

You may have other operation activities that you want to measure, and that’s the point. What you measure should come out of a planning process involving team members who identify problems or areas for improvement in your company. To be most effective, put a dollar cost on the problem, and that will attract even more attention to the process.

Step one is identifying the activities to be measured and improved. Step two is determining how to measure them on a regular basis. Step three is analyzing the results and finding ways to improve the operation. And step four is continuing to measure to determine that your solution works. All of this should be done with a task force of associates from across the company which is responsible for identifying and improving your company’s operations.

You’ll get an automatic improvement when your associates understand that their work is being monitored. And by identifying your inefficient operations and improving their performance, you will see those financial ratios improve. A little measurement can go a long way.

Don’t Let Your Sales Team Take the Holidays Off!


Well, at least, ONLY let them take the holidays off…

Dick RossmanHow many times have you heard your sales reps say “Everyone’s away for the holidays. Nothing’s going on out there.” Baloney! Everyone does not go away and December is the perfect month to meet or talk with clients, either in their office, or perhaps at breakfast or lunch. Their time may be a bit freer, they may be working under less pressure – just the right setting to review last year’s performance, discuss next year’s projected business, and ask what you can do to provide better service and more services.

So don’t let your sales reps fritter the month away!

The Traditional Print Sales Rep Can Survive!


Dick Rossman We all hear that with the change to become Marketing Service Providers or Print Communications Companies, our selling strategies need to change also.  Sales reps need to expect longer sales cycles because now we are selling projects, not jobs.  We need to sell to different people in our customers’ companies, not the print buyer but the marketing manager.  We’re told not to sell our equipment but our solutions. . .  and we’re told that the traditional print rep is a thing of the past.

But many of us are still really commercial printers that are selling more services such as design, digital, mailing, and fulfillment, and aren’t ready to be Marketing Service Providers or Cross-Media Publishers. 

What do our sales reps do now? 

Traditional sales reps can be still be very successful but they do need to adopt some different selling strategies.  There is no future in being just an order taker selling a commodity based on price, but there is a solid future for the sales representative who recognizes how his or her buying world has changed.

 Your goal needs to become a trusted advisor to your customers, not a sales person.  You do that by learning and understanding your customers’ business.  Then ask questions about their marketing communications, be able to understand their answers and help them improve their results:

  • Why are you producing this mailer?
  • Who is it going to and why?
  • What were the results of the last mailer?
  • Is it part of a larger cross-media promotion? And more…

Tell your customers and prospects about innovative solutions you have made for other customers.  Become an expert in your field, whether it’s in mailing, personalized marketing, social media, database management or fulfillment.  Educate your customers in these areas to demonstrate how you are thinking on their behalf.

Yes, it will take time to learn what you need to know and to position yourself as an expert advisor.  Your sales cycle may become longer and you will need to be talking to others besides the ‘print buyer’.  But you will have set yourself apart from your competition by being able to improve your customers’ business and provide them with solutions that work, not just take their orders.

Is there a Future for Printing Awards Shows?


Last week I attended the PINE Annual Awards Gala, where the focus of the evening was on viewing the entries to the Awards of Excellence in Printing contest and then seeing the winners of each category announced to receive their awards.  There were hundreds of entries in about 30 categories, from annual reports to various types of books to catalogs to newsletters, all beautifully printed, well-designed and showing us that ink on paper still is appreciated in today’s digital world.  And yes there were three categories for digital printing as well: campaign, personalized/variable data, and on demand. 

But where are shows like this going?  Offset printing clearly continues to decline and the number of pieces produced that qualify for a show award will also diminish.  Meanwhile digitally printed work will continue to increase, but will they be the types of pieces that are award-suitable? 

Perhaps it’s our categories that need to change to accommodate the multi-channel campaigns that our forward-thinking print communications companies are creating and producing today.  Developing marketing communications campaigns for our clients using pURL’s, QR codes, direct mail, video, email, and all social media should be our new categories, but will our printing industry shows even acknowledge them for recognition or do we enter these in our local Direct Marketing Association competition?  Only time will tell.