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Weathering Economic Turbulence

(August 2008) posted on Wed Aug 13, 2008

Get some belt-tightening tips for surviving an economic slowdown and find out how to emerge stronger and more profitable when business picks up again.

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By Gordon Roberts

Cut out overtime. It should be used only in the most dire circumstances. Overtime is an expense you can no longer afford to pay. You will be amazed at how all the work can be done during the regular work week with just a little more planning and efficiency. Think every job through in advance, and make sure your employees understand the golden rule of production—if the press is not running, the company is not making money. Make setups and breakdowns as efficient as possible, ensuring all the elements to complete the job are available. Don’t be tempted to cut corners in the mistaken belief that you will save time. Doing so only will contribute to poor product quality. Remember, quality is never negotiable.



Many small businesses decide that they need to cut prices to attract the diminishing number of customers available. Customers want to save money and seem to spend much time these days calling around for quotes. Don’t panic and be-come the cheapest place in town. Don’t advertise on your Website that you will beat any reasonable offer. Never print a job that you know will cause you to lose money, even when the customer promises he will make you rich with follow-up business.

Determine what your margin must be to allow your business to continue functioning in the black, and never price a job below that level. Stress to your potential customers that you are not the cheapest place in town, but you offer the best quality and the best customer service at a competitive price. Be prepared to send the unprofitable jobs to a cheaper competitor and let them figure out how to stay in business with those kinds of margins. Soon their order books will be full, and their bottom lines will ensure that they will not be around for much longer. Be prepared to look your customers in the eye and tell them that you cannot honestly produce a quality product at the price they are suggesting, so you will have to turn them down this time. Many of them will come to you in a few weeks for their next order and not haggle on the price.



This is where my friends who represent a multitude of products that you buy every month make a mental note to dump me in the nearest waste-treatment barrel the next time they see me. Sorry, guys. If you are hurting because of the economy, then surely your suppliers are hurting as well. It won’t do them any good if all of their customers go out of business, so use this knowledge to your advantage.

Call in your reps, and tell them that you need their help to weather the storm. Ask what they can do to make it possible for you to stay in business and enjoy the upcoming good times with them. Ask them to negotiate some interim pricing to get you through the recession. I think you will be surprised by the reaction you get. Once they realize that you are serious about surviving the downturn and your commitment to the long-term growth of your business, they will suddenly see you as a very attractive customer.

We all know it’s not easy being in business during the best of times, and times like the ones we are experiencing lately make us wonder why we got into business in the first place. A real entrepreneur will see this as an opportunity to test himself and his skills. You have built the boat. Now it’s time to see whether it’s strong enough and you are skilled enough to navigate through the rough water. I’ve been in this industry long enough to know that the most successful print-shop owners are already relishing these challenges and dreaming about being in the right place down the road to take full advantage of the coming good times.


Gordon Roberts has a history in screen-printing production management that spans more than 25 years. He has held supervisory positions in shops that represent a broad spectrum of application areas and markets, including printed electronics, apparel, signage, and retail graphics. Roberts has presented training courses on the basics of screen-printing production and on shop management for the Screentech Insititute and is presently a consultant for the screen industry. He can be reached at


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