Wed, Jul

Ring out the old, ring in the new

Over the course of 2021, Richard Clark of Raccoon has been providing this diary on how his business has coped. Here’s his end of year report and HOPES for the NEW YEAR.

As I outlined in my initial First Person story, the past year has given me, like most people, plenty of time to give deep thought to what the future holds. Sometimes anxiety takes over as you wonder whether things will ever return to normal. For me, it’s been will my son ever go back to uni and stop raiding the fridge? Will I ever be able to swim again? More importantly, when can I get to watch QPR at The Loft! Most of the time though, I’ve been consumed with making sure my business got through the early months of 2021, and here at Raccoon we have been carrying out a super ‘Spring’ clean.  

The big spruce-up started with the ordering of a giant roll-on skip, which we used to have a massive clear out of our buildings. It’s amazing what you hoard, always thinking that you’ll find a use for something that had its moment years ago. Broken coffee machines, giant headphones, an old liquid laminator with missing parts and a whole room of rusting car parts were just some of things that we found. However, we also managed to salvage a host of gems and unearth things that we’d neglected over the past few years. Who needs a CBILS loan when you have tonnes of junk and eBay!  

With time to kill it’s easy to start looking at the latest, shiny new toys. Dye-sub printers always seem to bubble to the surface. I think I’ve been looking to buy one for at least 20 years now. During that time the sell price has dropped from around £100 per metre to £10 or less. I think I’ve missed that boat already.  

What we’ve done instead is evaluate our previous purchases - taken a good look at the kit and systems that have been neglected when things were different. I fired up a PC that was in our studio as I didn’t even know what software was loaded onto it. I found ZPack, a never used packaging package that came with our Zund cutting table. Within a day we were using it to create our own packaging for shipping print - each one custom-made and perfectly housing graphics. If we can get our couriers to take the same amount of care we’d have shipping Utopia.  

Workflow and automation are two pet subjects of mine, but the truth is that we’ve never managed to really nail it. We’ve invested in various packages and systems, a few consultants and even the odd ‘workflow guru’ for good measure. I even sponsored somebody to get fully trained as an automation specialist, but once he’d learnt everything he left and joined the company that helped to train him. No return on that investment.  

So, we’ve had a good review of past workflow failings, software purchases and a bit of soul searching around why we just never seem to get things fully automated. It seems we’re not alone in this frustrating quest, and working out how to join up the dots within our business and remove the ‘islands of automation’ is now on the horizon. We are very close to connecting our store to our CRM, to our MIS, to our approvals platform and then into print production. Digital job bags and lights out production are in touching distance!  

If all of this isn’t enough, we’ve even managed to put together a marketing strategy for the first time ever. Adopting the inbound marketing methodology -something that needs at least 12 months to really get your head around - has been the anchor in the whole process. Buyer personas defined, we then set about refining what we do as a business, and over the past six months we have re-launched our two websites and an e-store as well.  

But, launching the websites was only the beginning - there’s definitely no launch-and-leave this time around. Instead, each week we’re adding content. We’ve even built a video suite so we can launch the Rocky Raccoon weekly podcast.  

Whilst we’re still in strange times, there are no fruits of our labour yet but we’re definitely feeling some momentum building. With schools having gone back, and lockdown relaxing in the hope of everything reopening towards the end of June, like you, we are hoping for good times to return soon. Into the upwave everyone.