Saturday, February 28, 2009

Reprographers MUST belong to the IRGA !!!

In a previous post I mentioned that both of the reprographics companies I was with were members of the IRGA.

And, I said in that post, "if you are not an IRGA member, you're not just a fool, but a complete idiot. I can't possibly tell you how much I learned from being a member of the IRGA. The networking experiences are truly invaluable."

In saying that, I wasn't trying to cute or funny or arrogant. I was simply stating FACT. If you're in the reprographics business and are not a member of the IRGA, you're an idiot. And, I don't care whether you are just beginning your career in the reprographics industry or are a veteran in the industry - - - regardless of your situation - - - if you are in the reprographics business and are not a member of the IRGA, you're an idiot. Well, I think I've said "idiot" three times in this post!

Over the many years I've been in business, I've been accused of being redundant. So what. There are lots of hard-headed people out there and those people, especially, need to hear the same information over and over ...... at some point the information might actually sink in!

So, what's so important about being a member of the IRGA? Well, one is never too old to learn (or too young to learn.) If, on an annual basis, you pick up even one tidbit of information from attending an IRGA Convention or from reading The Repro Report - - - that tidbit, depending on what you picked up, could be worth its weight in gold.

Simply and frankly put - - - the IRGA had an extremely positive influence on my personal success in the reprographics business and on the success that both of my former reprographics companies achieved, and I am very aware that had I not been a member (had my former companies not been members) of the IRGA, my success (our success) would not have been what it was. Not even close.

I hope that you achieve the success that you want. But, I can’t imagine anyone in this industry achieving a high level of success if they don’t take advantage of what the IRGA offers. In my first career in the repro industry, I joined a very small, family-owned business in 1970; our annual sales at that time, $90,000! By the time I retired from that company (we sold it in 1988), our sales had grown to more than $26 million annually. We grew slowly but surely between 1970 and 1979, but, things took off like a bat out of hell around 1979, which, coincidentally, was the year I attended an IRGA convention for the first time. Between 1979 and 1988, our business exploded (in a good way!) Getting involved in the IRGA (being a member of the IRGA) helped immensely with these issues; exposure to more vendors and better exposure to vendors, networking with other reprographers, learning and (later on) sharing strategic plans, business development and sales strategies, ferreting out acquisition targets, just to name a few. By the time I retired from my first company in late 1988, I probably knew (face-to-face, not just by name) close to 200, if not more, owners of reprographics business in the U.S., and all of the industry’s largest vendors knew me and my company. I’m like most people. I observe what others do, I learn from what others do and think, and, then, I try to emulate stuff I agree with and try to avoid stuff I don’t agree with. Membership in the IRGA was an extraordinarily valuable factor in my first career. And, that repeated itself, a second time, in my second career. After 8+ years of being retired, I was, in 1997, invited to join a reprographics company in the S.E. U.S. Annual sales at that time around $5.5 million. Prior to selling that company in late 2007, we had managed to grow that business to $23 million in annual sales. During my second career, I attended every IRGA convention, renewed friendships with those I’d met during my first career and made many new friendships with vendors and reprographics business owners I’d not previously met during my first career.

I don't know exactly how many IRGA Conventions I've been to in the 39 years I've been in and around the reprographics industry. Suffice to say, I've attended a bunch of conventions. Each convention can be broken down into three parts - 1) educational seminars and presentations, 2) trade-show / exhibits, 3) networking opportunities (during lunches, dinners, networking sessions and "after hours" in the bar, restaurants or wherever.) My favorite "parts" of an IRGA Convention are Parts 2 and 3. Since no one really likes to share the secrets of their success (and, since most won't), Part 1, the educational seminars and presentations, are sometimes useless - bunch of "generalisms", drivel, whatnot. But, during Parts 2 and 3, the networking opportunities, both with vendors and other reprographers, are tremendously valuable - - as some might say, "worth the price of admission" (worth being a dues paying member and spending the money to attend the convention.)

So, if you are in the reprographics business but are not an IRGA member (or have left your IRGA membership lapse), get a grip, join up (or renew) .... and give yourself (and your team members) the opportunity to learn and network. Late in your career, you will thank me (I won't be around by then, I'm already old, but, whatever....) for challenging your thinking on the issue of being an IRGA member.

In a future post, I will, if I remember to, talk about the value propositions of being a member in The PEiR Group or ReproMAX or RSA.

Friday, February 27, 2009

My background information (more than anyone would ever want to know)

A former associate who visited my blog today (after I threatened to smack him upside his head if he did not visit my blog) suggested to me that I should provide at least some of my background information for visitors who visit my blog, just so they will know that I'm a real crackpot, not just a pretend crackpot.

Fast Facts:

Graduate of the University of Maryland, B.S. 1970, Accounting major.
Earned my C.P.A. certification in 1975.

First reprographics company I worked with (Rowley-Scher Reprographics*, which is now part of ARC's MBCPI "division") - 1970-1988 - I joined the company when our annual sales revenues were $90,000. I retired from the company when our annual sales revenues were $26.8 million. And, yes, I worked in virtually every position in that company; my last position was Chairman/CEO. In late 1985, we took our company public (we traded on Nasdaq National Market System), and in 1988 we sold the company in a LBO (my partners and I cashed-out and I retired not too long after we sold the company; Citi-Corp Venture Capital funded the LBO acquisition of Rowley-Scher.) During my tenure with the company, we completed approximately 14 different (mostly small) acquisitions, mergers and dispositions. At my first company, our FM (On-Site) business segment was quite considerable. Our first 24 FM's (On-Site programs) were all "staffed" FM's. [*Actually, I began my career with Silver Spring Blueprinting; name was changed to Allied Reproduction Service, then was merged into Rowley's Blueprint Service, a couple of years after Rowley's merged with Max Scher Blueprints.]

Second reprographics company I worked with (National Graphic Imaging - NGI) - 1997-2007 - I joined the company when our annual sales revenues were approximately $5.5 million. By bequest of the company's CEO (Martha, our guiding light), my title was Senior Vice President and my informal title was "Chief Business Strategist".) Our last reported annual sales revenues [as reported by the public company (ARC) that purchased our company) were $23.0 million. NGI's growth was purely "organic" (i.e., no acquisitions; we simply never got around to doing any.) Like at my first company, NGI's FM (On-Site) business segment was quite considerable. I "cashed-out" and "retired" from NGI when we sold the company in December 2007. TGWSNGIWWD!

In between my two "extended" careers in the reprographics business:

I was, for a period of about 16 months, the Director of Business Development for a "national" company that offered only "large-format digital color printing and finishing services." That position gave me great exposure to the then developing large-format color services business segment. That company had 8 locations around the U.S (literally, from the east coast to the west coast.)

And, I was, from Jan 1997 until I joined NGI in Oct 1997, the Chief Operating Officer of T-Square, a very well established company that operates in South Florida (purchased by ARC a couple of years ago.) I enjoyed my time at T-Square - Jeff, Rusty and Jose are great people - but when Martha Korman of NGI recruited me to join NGI, how could I possibly have resisted?

And, prior to getting back into the reprographics world, I spent about 18 months screwing around in the contract textile screen printing business as the hired President and COO of a small public company that provided apparel screen printing services to companies you've all heard of - including Disney Theme Parks, Disney Stores, The Gap, Banana Republic, Bugle Boy, Gotcha, Mossimo, Redsand, OP, Quicksilver and several companies who distributed T-shirts in the music industry in support of traveling rock concerts. We also printed T-shirts for licensees who had licenses for entertainment properties, such as Batman and The Simpsons. We were, at the time, the largest volume contract textile screen printing operation in the U.S. Altogether, our plants in Georgia, Alabama and California had the capacity to produce (we we often did produce) 50,000 dozen printed T-shirts per week. Quite a nasty, cutthroat business, IMHO.

I'm a native of Washington, DC. But, I've also been fortunate to live in other places, including Corona del Mar, CA (Newport Beach area), Nashville, TN, Tampa, FL and St Petersburg, FL. I've had the opportunity to travel a lot over the years; I've been to 47 of our 50 states (not yet made it to Montana, ND or SD.) I've also traveled to most of the countries in Europe, including several eastern European countries.

My only hobby? Well, that would be the reprographics business and industry. I don't play golf or tennis. While all of you were out playing, I was studying the business and industry! Having been fortunate to cash out of the buisness not just once, but twice, I can tell you, first-hand, that hard-work, commitment, passion and homework do pay off, provided you get a little bit of luck (and have partners and key associates who are smarter than you.)

My mentors in the reprographics industry include the following people:
Gerson ("Gus") Nadell (b.1917-d.2007). Gus was my first "professor" in the reprographics business and had a major impact on my career in the reprographics business.
My ex-partner John Zeller. I have yet to meet, in 39 years in business, a person who was more devoted to superior customer service (and dedicated, reliable performance) than John was.
My ex-partner Gary Rowley. He was a "master" at marketing and sales. I feel blessed to have had the privilege to learn from Gary.
Bryan Dyer, who recently retired from Lellyett & Rogers. L&R is based in Nashville, TN. When I reflect back over my career(s) in the reprographics industry, Bryan's name stands out, for he is one of the smartest people I've ever met.
My ex-partner Martha Korman. Martha was NGI's secret weapon (at least, that's how I referred to Martha.) Martha's natural ability to network and develop relationships at the highest levels, opened doors to us, creating significant selling opportunities.
Some of my friends in the reprographics business were also mentors, even though they may not be aware that I consider them to be among my mentors - Bill Thomas of Thomas Reprographics, Sol Magid of National Reprographics (NRI), Paul Koze, formerly of Blueprint Service Co (San Fran), Jack Cushing, formerly of Cushing & Co. (Chicago), Tog Rogers, the "older" one, formerly of Ridgway's (Houston). And, last, but certainly not least, Mark DiPasquale, former CEO of Service Point US Operations and now CEO of Archimedia Solutions Group (Mark is more than 20 years younger than me; have you ever heard that old saying, "one is never too old to learn?" Well, I learned a lot from Mark, who is young enough to be my son.)

Industry Associations:
Our first company was a member of MiniMax. Our membership in MiniMax gave me great exposure to leaders of businesses in the reprographics industry, country-wide.
Our first company was a co-founder of ReproCAD (which, after merging with MiniMax, is now ReproMax.) At one point in time, my first company owned 20% of ReproCAD's stock (3 shares out of 15.) ReproCAD's first real President, Mark Sirangelo, left ReproCAD to join Rowley-Scher. What an amazingly smart young man.
Both of the reprographics companies I was with were members of the IRGA. If you are not an IRGA member, you're not just a fool, but a complete idiot. I can't possibly tell you how much I learned from being a member of the IRGA. The networking experiences are truly invaluable.

Okay, that's more about me than anyone would ever want to know.

A very challenging "2009" and the issue of "right-sizing" your business

Does anyone out there know anyone who has a crystal ball that works? Well, I surely don't. However, while impossible to accurately predict how companies in the reprographics business will perform in 2009, from what I've read and heard, 2009 may well prove to be "the most challenging" year in the business in modern times.

In the reprographics industry "demand" for our services drives all that we do. That "demand" is driven by real estate development activity. The term "Real estate development activity" includes a lot of things, including, but not necessarily limited to, retail development, residential development (apartments, condo's, single family homes, townhouses, etc.), office buildings, churches, synagogues and mosques, hospitals and other healthcare facilities, sports and other entertainment venues, schools (from elementary schools to Universities), public-sector infrastructure projects (water/sewer treatment facilities, roads, highways, bridges), yada, yada, yada. During different recessions in the past 40 years, some of these sectors have been off while others have remained healthy (at least somewhat healthy.) Now, even with the stimulus bill passed, it still appears that almost every sector will be "off" (and well off) in 2009. When tax revenues decline, cities, counties and states have to limit renovation projects and new construction projects. When there is a severe excess of residential property, lenders won't lend and residential builders won't build. And, when commercial and institutional lenders won't lend, commercial and retail developers won't develop. And, when endowments decline substantially, Universities will "put on hold" most of the projects they were planning to do; this also exacerbated by declining contributions. Because we are a continually aging population, perhaps the healthcare industry will continue to go forth with projects that industry's firms started or had on the boards. Greed, excess, or whatever you want to call it, finally caught up with us, and, yes, the proverbial "shit hit the fan" in 2008 ...... and the outlook for 2009 looks dismal, by any stretch of the imagination.

But, look at the bright side! With every down-cycle comes an up-cycle! That has always been the case with the reprographics industry and, yes, history does have a way of repeating itself, time and time again, economically-speaking.

The key issue, now, is not that there will be an up-cycle (because that, the next up-cycle, will eventually happen) but whether or not your company will survive to make it to the next up-cycle. Key to this will be "right-sizing" your business. You must do everything in your power to "right-size." Having been through at least one recession myself, right-sizing isn't fun. It is a completely agonizing process. Right-sizing may include one or more of the following activities - consolidating locations, laying off people (even good people), salary and wage reductions for those who continue to be employed (including top and middle-management team members), rent reductions (yes, consider asking your landlord to help you though the down-cycle; your landlord will be better off with a tenant who still pays at least some rent than having vacant space and zero rent.) Right-sizing doesn't mean "crawling into a shell." You're not a turtle and you cannot afford to be a turtle. You need to continue investing in "business development and sales" activities, full-tilt.

The world's largest reprographics company - American Reprographics Company (ARC) - has been working hard at right-sizing its business the past year, and this effort will continue, I'm sure, in 2009. We can all learn from ARC. ARC has assembled one of the finest management teams ever to grace our industry. Follow ARC's right-sizing initiatives. Stop complaining and whining about deteriorating business conditions and get deep into the process of right-sizing your business. Your survival may well depend on how well you do that. Throw out your "strategic plan" from one, two or three years ago. It is not valid now. You need a completely different "strategic plan" for 2009 and 2010.

Above all, remember, there will be an up-cycle, come hell or high water. The point now is what you do to get through this down-cycle in order to make it through to the next up-cycle.

Business is not a Democracy!

Several years ago, the reprographics company I was then with hired a "management consulting" firm to help our management team better "understand" how to manage our company. Was hiring that management consulting firm a good use of the company's money or a useless, wasteful exercise in futility? Well, the answer to that question depended on the perspective of each individual on our management team. For some, especially for those who did not have the opportunity to go to college (and take courses in business and business management) or the opportunity to work for any other company before they joined ours, I guess it was a worthwhile investment. But, for others (I'm in this latter group, which may be a group of one, i.e., just me!), it was a complete was of time, effort and money.

One of the issues our consultant raised was the issue of "consensus decision making" - keyword, consensus. Get a group of management team members together, discuss an issue, take a vote on what to do, how to proceed on that issue, and, then, after the decision is made, everyone on the team is supposed to support (and stand behind) the decision that the group made. Even if the decision is completely off-base, stupid, dumb, not-thinking, baseless! While group discussion and debate should be a part of any business' planning function - for two heads (or more) are always better than one when airing-out, debating, issues, BUSINESS IS NOT A DEMOCRACY! I have a smart young man (not me, I'm neither smart nor young) to thank for that answer.

Regardless of the size of the group invited to discuss and debate a matter or issue, one person, repeat, one person, has to have the final say .... and the right to overrule the decision that the group came up with. In some companies, that's the role of the CEO and in others that's the role of the COO. Regarding the formation of groups (invitations to debate and discuss issues) it is certainly (and, I think vitally) important that those who participate must be subject matter experts (or, through tons of homework and study about the business and industry, be working hard towards becoming subject matter experts), for, if some participants have little or no subject matter expertise, what's the point of allowing them to debate in the first place.

At this particular company, we had "outsiders" among the individuals on our Board of Directors, one of whom was a Harvard Business School MBA grad (a brilliant young man.) At a break during one of our B of D meetings, I asked him, "what do you do when you are the leader in a room of people and your people vote and come up with the wrong decision" (vis a vis "consensus decision making"). His response, "Joel, business is not a democracy. When you know the group came up with the wrong decision, the boss has to step in and say 'no, that's wrong, thank you for contributing, but here's what we're going to do.'"

There is an old saying that, I think, well applies here. It's the old saying that "the buck stops here." While leaders should invite and value the opinions of those on their management teams, one person has to make the final decision. Therefore, the idea of consensus decision making, while it might sound like a cool thing, is pure B.S.

Other Reprographics-Industry-related Blogs that I'm aware of

I’m an older guy. That should make you fully aware that I’m somewhat “technically challenged” when it comes to setting up, using, or posting to a blog. I did want to mention on my blog that there are other blogs, either partly or totally dedicated to talking about the Reprographics business and industry, live and in color on the Web. Below, I’ve listed the ‘reprographics-industry-related’ blogs that I’m aware of. If you know of other blogs, ones that I’ve not mentioned below, I’d be happy to add them to this list. Please let me know.

The “Reprographics Industry” is a sub-industry within the much larger “Printing and Graphics Industry.” The Reprographics Industry is not well known by most people. (As an example, I was in the reprographics business for many years, and my wife still doesn’t know what I did for a living.) Although the reprographics industry primarily serves customers the A/E/C community (Architects, Engineers, Construction Companies, Real Estate Developers, etc.), companies in the reprographics industry also provide services that appeal to non-A/E/C customers.

In mentioning the blogs of others, please note: I am not including these blogs for promotional purposes, nor is my inclusion of these blogs on my blog an endorsement of the individuals or companies mentioned. Quite frankly, I expect that I will have very different opinions about most subjects. Without further adieu, here’s a list of the other ‘reprographics-industry-related’ blogs that I’m aware of:

John Cronin’s blog (The Blueprint) can be found at:

John is the CEO of PLP Digital Systems, Inc.
PLP’s web-site provides this information about PLP: For more than a decade PLP Digital Systems has helped companies produce, manage, distribute and track technical documentation. With a broad suite of software solutions and world-class customer support, our mission is to improve our customers' profitability by decreasing operating costs and by creating new revenue opportunities with innovative products. Our powerful software, strong customer service model and progressive philosophy have made PLP the partner of choice for more than 1,100 companies in 30 countries. PLP is headquartered in Arlington, Virginia.

Curtis Thornton’s blog (ReproTrends) can be found at:

Curtis is a member of the Thomas Reprographics team. Thomas Reprographics is based in Dallas, TX. When one consolidates the annual sales revenues of all of the reprographics companies controlled by the Thomas family, Thomas Reprographics is ranked among the top 5 reprographers in the U.S. Thomas Reprographics is a member of the ReproMax organization.

Jared Willis’ blog (BuildIt) can be found at:

Jared is a member of the Barker Blue Digital team. Barker Blue Digital is based in San Mateo, CA. Barker Blue Digital is a member of the ReproMax organization.

Tanner Bechtel’s blog (The Rockpile) can be found at:

Tanner is associated with the ReproMax organization.

Initial remarks about my blog

After spending (investing!) nearly all of my adult life (39 years and counting) in and around the reprographics business and industry - - and being one of the most opinionated people in the reprographics industry (at least that I'm aware of), I've decided to start a blog to share my opinions.  (One of my ex-partners said, in the past, that I'm not "opinionated" but, rather, that I'm "arrogant".  My take is that he said that because he doesn't know the difference between being "arrogant" and being "highly opinionated.")  Whatever.  I should not fail to mention that my favorite comedian is Lewis Black.  That should give you some sense of my sense of humor. Although I'm intending to use this blog to share my thoughts and opinions about the reprographics business and industry, it is highly likely (if not a given) that I will rant and rave about other topics.