Business occasionally tapers off, but with right strategy you can keep your company healthy during economic slumps. The following discussion explains how you can anticipate downturns and what you can do to keep the work coming.
By Mike Ukena
Another way to look at this situation is to use a downturn as an opportunity, rather than a yoke. If you can come up with new approaches to business or new product ideas, you will be more competitive. New approaches may improve your productivity, and new products may win new customers—even if they are a scarce commodity. The only companies and managers that won’t survive are the ones who batten the hatches and do nothing. Innovators will trump them every time.
American automobile manufacturers serve as a perfect example of companies that have not done a good job of adapting and innovating during downturns. They have seen their market share sink like a rock through several business cycles because they are slow or late to innovate. The only reason they survived to this point at all is their massive size. The Big Three certainly missed the boat on the recent business turn that was caused by the rapid increase in fuel prices. They were all sitting with lots full of SUVs at the same time that customers were looking for fuel-efficient alternatives.
Screen printers can fall into the same trap. If you barrel along with high prices and long lead times instead of adjusting for the changes in the market, it could prompt your customers to look elsewhere. They’ll eventually find the print shop that comes to them with promises of shorter lead times, lower prices, and maybe lower minimums.
Remember that when things are tight, a key strategy may be to relax your minimums so that your customers still order something. Something is certainly better than nothing. I have been in discussions where the decision was made to use a different product because the order minimums on the previous product were too high. They were fine when we could sell all we bought. They were not so good when inventories started to rise.
Adapting to help your customer is one of the best ways to build loyalty and customer satisfaction. Not bending is a good way to break.
As I mentioned in the beginning, watching for slowdowns and market changes is pretty much common sense. You needn’t be a rocket scientist, nor must you have an MBA, to see when markets slow down and adjustments need to be made. The keys are taking positive steps, but also not over reacting and leaving yourself too lean to compete and/or provide for your customers.
The silver lining is that even if the slowdown is short-lived or does not really affect your business at all, the preparation for what might have happened should still be of help. In fact, the prep work is actually quite healthy. To be prepared for eventualities is prudent. To blissfully work on without worry is folly.
Mike Ukena is a 15-year screen-printing veteran who has owned a textile-printing company and worked in technical services for the Specialty Graphic Imaging Association Int’l as the director of education. A member of the Academy of Screen Printing Technology, Ukena is a frequent speaker on technical and management topics at industry events. He is currently a technical sales representative for Union Ink Co., Inc.
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