I’m a printing “Lifer.” I was literally born into printing to a family of printers and publishers that dated back to the early 1800’s in Vermont publishing and printing newspapers, and, of course providing the local “job shop” for printing local needs. I grew up in the business of a weekly newspaper and job shop/commercial printer. I learned printing from the ground up. By the time, I was in high school, we changed from hot type (letterpress) to cold type (offset) printing which, at that time, was a tremendous technology leap. By the time I graduated, we were a daily newspaper and there was only one other print shop in town.
I have had the pleasure of working in the printing industry in almost every position from a “printer’s devil,” pressman, bindery operator, pre-press, camera, estimator, account executive, production manager to Vice President and owner. I have worked in the commercial sector and higher education, directing print and mail operations from as few as 8 to as many as 80 with combination of equipment ranging from duplicators, letterpress, flexography, large sheet-fed and cold and heat set web presses and all the associated bindery. My career has extended over 58 years in the industry, providing some interesting observations and conclusions I want to share.
In college I was advised I would be retrained at least 7 times in my career. Now that was funny, for I assure you I have been retrained 7 times that 7 and by now, well, I guess I have quit counting. Printing for years has always been a blend of science (technology) and craft (art skills). We have gone from offset printing in 40 years to toner based (production copiers) and now Inkjet cut sheet and B2 size, in about a 30 year span.
Printers have always been technology driven from the Chinese with wood blocks, to Guttenberg with movable type and the printing press opening the world to the written word. If you want to have some fun, pay attention to the black and white movies and even movies today. You will often see printing presses still. Printed matter has always instilled a sense of trust like no other medium.
Over the years I have watched printers in general accept technology, yes, eagerly seek it to lower operational cost and gain efficiencies. More often than not, they in turn reduce their selling price to the consumers to reflect their savings and then have little money left to pay for the technology, selling themselves short. Over the years, I have observed and often commented, like many of you fellow printers, the wonderment of “how Tom Thumb down the street can afford to print that job when one can’t even buy the paper for it.” This is because, though we may share the same basic equipment and operations, we don’t share the expenses the same, we don’t always operate the same number of shifts, their staff is possibly more engaged than ours, or their technology surpasses ours. And then there are those who just take print jobs to keep their people busy. I have long said printers are often their own worst enemies. They forget to manage their operation as a business. Regardless of what sector you are in, government, higher education, in-plant, commercial, you have to earn more than you spend.
In 2021, quoting and work on hand has increased to 68.4% for quotes and 66.4% for work on hand for the 3rd quarter* and is holding steady currently. Revenues have increased, though certainly some due to inflation due to the pandemic shortages that continue world-wide not just in the states. I believe the market will correct itself over time, the demand will level back, and paper and materials along with transportation will catch up around the 3rd quarter of 2022.
This is our best opportunity to take a positive step to “Right the Ship” in the printing industry! For the first time that I can remember, clients are more accepting of higher pricing. I suppose it is due to their acknowledgement that everyone is in the same environment, their company as well. Shortages are across the board, supplies are limited and costs are climbing. That translates into higher prices. While our clients are in a more receptive mood, I encourage and hope printers will continue to strive to meet their client’s needs but now consider their own operational needs as well. Providing outstanding service and quality, and utilizing omni-channel marketing– here’s the secret…Printing and Direct Mail are FUNDAMENTAL! And will continue to be the best means of helping our clients continue to grow by effective, efficient, and economical means.
Printing in general has a far greater reach and impact than most think of– more than the actual print they provide. Especially coupled with bindery or handwork, provided often times under very short timeframes or deadlines. Printing is still one of the largest manufacturing employers in the United States and actually increased non-production labor by 66,700 and 67,400 production/non-supervisory employees during 2021.*
As printers, we often forget the direct and indirect contribution impact we have in our community above and beyond from our actual printing. For instance, we support the local community through our utilities and taxes, and our payroll. Our staff pay local taxes, buy groceries, rent or own homes, and pay utilities. But it doesn’t stop there. Our vendors such as the paper, plate or ink companies, and uniform/rag services; our use of support industries I.E. USPS, freight companies and so on. By our purchasing their product or service, a certain portion pays their operating expense and staff which, again, pays wages and taxes that support the community.
Hopefully, we will not see a major recession type response, meaning where businesses will cut marketing and advertising budgets to help support the organization, that we have traditionally seen in the past. It is important to remember and remind our customers, those who continue to market recover faster than those who don’t. But, just as important, we need to remind them the reactions of the past will not work in today’s or tomorrow’s world. We cannot live in the past nor will we return to the former ways we did business before, it’s a whole new game.
During the pandemic more people stayed home, spent more time communicating digitally, held “on-line” meetings, worked remotely, watched more television, and shopped ‘on-line’. The mass digitization and on-line shopping mindset actually created limited engagement opportunities, leading to consumers having “Digital Fatigue”. Millennials enjoy getting mail and prefer print over digital, and most of the “Generations” sets are following suit. The caveat here is utilizing print media enhanced by digital devices such as Augmented Reality and QR codes which enhance and deliver the customer experience. Even transactional print is seeing consumer preference is to receive statements in paper form or mail, but while having the ability to go on-line to pay or manage their accounts via QR codes.
Mailing Systems Technology states that mail pieces that have digital response elements such as QR codes soared in 2021 to nearly 40% **of all mail received. In addition to that, there was a major jump in marketing mail increased $681 million, whereas 1st class mail reduced nearly $500 million. Using less expensive methods of direct mail such as postcards will be a key driver in 2022. The 2021 postcard usage nearly was equal to marketing envelopes. Some of the reasons stated are: a 6”x9” postcard stands out in the mailbox; provides ample room for headlines, message and white space; allows the use of digital elements such as QR codes or Augmented Reality; easier to read; less expensive to produce; AND most importantly, INCREASES prospects to accept offer or go on-line if QR or web page is provided. This should be one of the key drivers in effectively targeting consumers in 2022.
To close, manage your operations as a business. Be concerned for completion, and don’t be driven by competition. Be aware that printing and direct mail are doing well, that ‘the “Generations” as a group want printed matter, and they want mail but also want to be engaged. Take advantage of “Digital Fatigue” to your customer’s benefit. And take Advantage of the Covid recovery. Use this to properly adjust your business model to have engaged employees who in turn will increase customer satisfaction and experience. Why wait, change is great!
*United States Bureau of Labor Statistics
** Mailing Systems Technology, November –December 2021 volume 34
John Yerger has been in printing all of his life starting with a family newspaper and Printshop. John has worked in almost every aspect of printing from hot type to cold, letterpress, flexography and offset, sheet-fed and roll-fed. With over 35 years in private sector printing and 13 years of experience in higher education, John has more 28 years of senior management experience specializing in growing and restructuring print operations to maximize profits and revenues.
He has used his experience to consult with other operations to better manage their workflow and make their operations more productive in Texas and Arkansas. Under John’s management, Stephen F. Austin State University earned the 2014 IPMA Print Center of the Year Award. University of Nebraska-Lincoln Printing Services hosted the IPMA Roadshow in 2019. John supervises printing, 3 digital printing centers, promotional products, over 480 MFD’s, and Mail services with a staff of 48. John has increased sales volume and been ranked in the top 10 higher education in-plants in the last four years increasing revenue for 3 of his 4 years at UNL, creating a self-sustaining operation.