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Tue, May

A great quote that I read recently was “Anything that can go digital will go digital” which I think is a good way of looking at how technology will continue to change the way we all live and work in the future. The latest digital print machines being launched will continue to erode the market share of the traditional ‘analogue’ technology of web, litho and screen printing and open up new markets and applications at the same time.

If, like the Mole, you have at the heart of your business a stream of large-format printers chugging away, then you will probably have, from time to time, given plenty of thought, like me, as to how you can earn more from them. When things are a bit quiet and machines are sat idle, the “If I drop my prices really low, I’ll print more, sell more and make more” argument enters your head. 

After writing a few months ago about all of the great looking printers and production kit on show at Fespa 2013, stories have started to filter through about people’s purchases, including my own. But, a friend of mine made the decision to upgrade his two printers to the latest all singing, all dancing version. He was promised that improvements had been made in all areas and it was now faster, printing at a higher quality and onto a wider range of materials.

 

As autumn has settled in and I’m feeling slightly melancholy I thought it might be time to reflect on what is fast approaching 20 years working within the sign and display industry. Back in 1993 the UK was, funnily enough, in the doldrums and we were all hoping that things would start to improve soon. Nothing ever really changes! Fed up with working within retail, I was keen to start- up a business that would make me my fortune.

With temperatures nudging up it seems long lost customers are again popping up, wanting to pick up on conversations from months ago and place orders based on quotes provided in the winter. Like me, during these tough periods you probably drop your prices in the hope that it will result in more work that week. Also like me, you probably regret doing that when you are rushed off your feet again!

Having battened down the hatches and dug in over the past three years the decision was taken here at Mole Towers to invest in the business to make sure it’s  fit and efficient for when the upturn finally arrives.

With spring in the air, the Mole has been busy looking at the best way forward for 2013. Like most other business owners, I am always thinking of ways to increase business, generate more sales and ultimately improve the bottom line at the end of the year.?I gave thought to all the normal business generating suspects, including the revamp of our website and throwing lots of money at Google Adwords, through to employing a PR company to increase exposure in key markets. All great ideas I thought, but then it got to the staff discussion: “But if we are generating more enquiries and sales opportunities then we are going to need a sales person”.?

You’re probably like me, busy each day reacting to the needs of your business to give too much thought to the ‘next big thing’ in digital printing. But sometimes we have to make time.

The mole had benefitted from 45 years of good health and well-being until just a few months ago, when disaster struck. After eight weeks of illness, generally feeling terrible and losing nearly half a stone in weight doctors diagnosed that I have a gluten intolerance. At the time I was totally ignorant to what this meant, not being sure what gluten actually was! Now I am an expert on the subject which, in a nutshell, means I can’t eat anything that contains wheat, barley or rye.

“Anything is possible. It’s just hard work and grafting”. I was inspired by Mo Farah as he breathlessly declared this after his 5,000m triumph during London 2012. Farah said, there is "no way to describe" becoming a double Olympic champion. Unquestionably, Team GB, draped in patriotic red, white and blue, outshone the gold that glittered with the sweat of honest brows. As the Olympic flame was quenched, the national conversation sparked into life. Topics like funding, school sports, opportunity, and legacy veiled a yearning undefined; quite simply, ‘how can we keep this going?’

Politics aside, I squirmed at the recent hubbub over our political elite being named and shamed for not knowing the price of milk and by inference, appearing out of touch with price-sensitive shoppers. I writhed because I too would have waffled and wriggled. I'd squirm further if I was asked the price of a kilowatt-hour of electricity, a low-energy light bulb or a roll of three-ply. At least I couldn't be accused of being a cynic. Oscar Wilde wrote: 'What is a cynic? A man who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing.”  In business, perhaps we're encouraging our customers to become commercial cynics.

“Waiter! There’s a fly in my soup.” Customer complaints justified or otherwise, can be as unwelcome as a bluebottle doing the backstroke in your broth. Sure, we all claim customers are important to our business, but how we handle customer complaints, especially those we deem unfounded, is our litmus test. Most of us are big enough to hold up our hand and admit when we’ve messed up. Whether we’ve innocently mismanaged customers’ expectations or let them down catastrophically, lessons can be learned. 

Being in business is inherently risky. Being successful, sustainable and bankable has more to do with foresight than fortune. In life, nothing is certain but death and taxes. In business, it's change. Technology and globalisation are inevitable levers for change. 40% of the Fortune 500 companies in 2000 were gone just ten years later. Who saw the writing on the wall predicting Amazon and Waterstones would report e-book downloads eclipse printed book sales, or how we now enjoy online music, TV, films, news, articles, and information would decimate entire industries? When Kodak filed for bankruptcy protection under chapter 11 in the US, the winds of change swirled and chilled. This may not be Kodak's finest hour, but for the rest of us it’s a wake up call. What risks threaten, if not our survival, then our sustainable success?

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