Monday, March 30, 2009

Service Point Results - Full Year 2008 - and comments and questions

Very recently (in a Press Release dated 26 Feb 2009, but which I just found posted on SP’s web-site), Service Point Solutions, S.A. issued what I would characterize, based on the comments made by SP in that press release, as a rather “rosey” report on its full year 2008 results.

However, after looking a bit closer, it doesn’t sound to me like things are as “rosey” as the report seems to indicate.

SP’s revenues for the full year 2008 – 237.7 mil Euros
SP’s revenues for the full year 2007 – 213.7 mil Euros

On the surface, SP’s full year revenues, 2008 vs. 2007, increased by 11.2%.
But, since SP was very active in acquisitions in 2007 and 2008, the real questions, I think most investors and reprographics industry people would ask and want to know, are a) how much of that revenue increase, 2008 vs. 2007, was attributable to “acquired revenues” and, more importantly, b) if you removed the acquired revenues, did SP’s “organic” revenues (meaning non-acquired revenues) actually decline, 2007 vs. 2008?

I did not see any comparison of Q4 2008 vs. Q4 2007 revenues, but, by extrapolation (difference between full year numbers and y-t-d through Q3 numbers), it looks to me, like this:

SP’s revenues for Q4 2008 - 63.3 mil Euros
SP’s revenues for Q4 2007 - 57.9 mil Euros

On the surface, SP’s Q4 revenues, 2008 vs. 2007, increased by 9.4%.
But, again, since SP was very active in acquisitions in 2007 and 2008, the real questions, I think, are a) how much of that revenue increase, Q4 2008 vs. Q4 2007, was attributable to “acquired revenues” and, more importantly, if you removed the acquired revenues, did SP’s “organic” revenues (meaning non-acquired revenues) actually decline, Q4 2007 vs. Q4 2008?

Again, if you subtract out the effect of acquired revenues, could it be that SP’s organic revenues actually declined – and declined by 10% or more - Q4 2007 vs. Q4 2008?

SP also reported:
Net Profit, full year 2008 - 2.5 mil Euros
Net Profit, through Q3 2008 - 2.6 mil Euros (this was reported in a previous Press Release)
Does this not mean that SP incurred a Q4 2008 loss, albeit minor, of .1 mil Euros?

Service Point’s most recent Press Release (the one dated 26 Feb 2009) says this:….
“the fourth quarter of 2008 was the best quarter of the year and shows, compared to the same period in 2007, a growth of 9.4% in revenues and confirmation of the effectiveness of measures implemented and the strength of recurrent revenues.”

My opinion (and question) about that statement: If Q4 2008 was the best quarter of 2008, how could that have been the best quarter of 2008 if, in fact, SP lost money in that quarter?

SP files its detailed financial reports with the SEC-like organization in Spain. I don’t read Spanish, and I have not seen SP’s detailed SEC-like reports. I have read ARC’s 10-K (for 2008), and I have read ARC’s press releases since the end of 2008. There does appear to be a difference in transparency, U.S public company reporting vs. Spanish public company reporting.

If anyone knows of an analyst’s report on SP for 2008, please direct me to that report.

Sunday, March 29, 2009


The other day, while reviewing and compiling very detailed information about "the typical phases" in a design/development/construction (an A/E/C) project, I came across this description:








Saturday, March 28, 2009

How Bad Is It?

Check out “How Bad Is It” (authored by Robert A Murray) published in the March edition of the Architectural Record …… here’s the address for that article:

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Comments now "enabled" (and, of course, invited)

When I first started my blog-site, I did admit that I'm a bit challenged, technologically speaking.

Only because a friend (who visited my blog-site) asked me .... "hey, I wanted to post a comment about a post you did, but I was unable to post my comment" ..... did I realize that "posting comments" was a feature that I had to "turn on."

So, that's now "turned on" (at least I think it is), and, for those of you who wish to post comments, have at it.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

What's Joel doing?

I created and began posting on my blog about one month ago. Since that time, I've received quite a number of e-mails (from friends and acquaintances) in the industry asking me .... "what are you doing?"

Knowing that I will likely get other e-mails asking that same question, I decided it would be appropriate for me to do a post about what I'm doing; this to avoid people from having to ask that question.

First, I guess I should tell you what I'm not doing:

I am NOT involved in the reprographics business, in any way shape or form in the U.S., at least not at the present time. On the day I retired from NGI, I agreed to a Covenant-Not-To-Compete. My CNTC lasts (a long, long time) until mid-December 2012. My CNTC covers the U.S. and Canada. With regard to the U.S., my CNTC does not cover "all" of the U.S., but it does cover most, if not all, of the medium and larger cities and market areas in the U.S.

Secondly, what I am doing:

a) being "semi-retired", I'm spending a bit less time at the office than I used to when I was working "very" full time. I maintain a small office in a high-rise office building in downtown St Petersburg - that gets me out of the house every day and that gets me into a "work mode."

b) I'm reading more than ever before; continuing my reprographics business and industry research and education (that's my hobby), and I also read books about other stuff, mostly fiction, but sometimes non-fiction.

c) I'm a consultant to - a team member of - a reprographics enterprise that operates businesses in six different Eastern/Central European countries; all of the countries were formerly under communist rule. The young man who's the Managing Director of that company is absolutely brilliant; highly passionate, aggressive, very focused, amazingly organized, definitely a strategic thinker and planner at the highest level, and he's a natural leader. [Yes, I'm in awe of someone who is that young (38) and who is already THAT accomplished.] He has assembled an outstanding, very smart, (and also young) management team. If his enterprise was based in the U.S., I have no doubt that his enterprise's sales would easily be 5 times what they are now, and they are not a small company. I'm generally in Europe two weeks out of every month. Six different countries (I haven't been to all of them), six different languages, six different currencies, and, yes, they follow the metric system. Not to mention that there are cultural differences as well.

Thirdly, as to inquiries I've received from reprographers in the U.S. (and Canada) about consulting services (mine):

Inasmuch as my time commitment to the Eastern/Central European reprographics enterprise I'm working for is quite substantial, I am, until that commitment changes, not available to provide consulting services to any other company, except for one exception. If a U.S. or Canadian reprographer is interested in considering my for an "advisory board" position, I might consider such a position, a) provided that the time commitment is not substantial and b) provided that your company's location would not violate the geographic restrictions in my CNTC.

Finally, when in the U.S., I'm mostly in the Tampa Bay Area (that's where St Petersburg is), but we also have a small condo in Boston, so I do spend time in that area. I'm always up for debates and discussions about the reprographics business and industry - and I enjoy seeing industry friends - so, if you find that you're going to be in the Tampa Bay Area or in Boston, let me know; breakfast, lunch or dinner on me.

One last item: For those of you who are located in the Boston area or who visit Boston, I recommend B&G Oysters on Tremont Street in the South End area of Boston (right adjacent to the Back Bay area.) B&G Oysters is a fabulous seafood restaurant (always lots of fresh oysters on hand), and my beautiful daughter, Cassidy, is the Chef. If you go to the restaurant, make sure to ask for Cassidy, tell her I sent you (and I should tell you that she's rather shy and that always pisses her off.)

A rant about the U.S. financial mess and a suggestion for a 5-year recapture tax to recover money from those who greedily scammed our financial system

This is a rant, unrelated to the Reprographics business and industry. So, if you don’t want to waste your time reading one of my rants, skip this one!

I don’t know why people are so fixated on the AIG bonus thing. In “the scheme of things”, the AIG bonus issue is nothing more than a tiny pimple on a very large elephant’s ass.

It seems like every time our politicians get the opportunity to bash someone for something that happened that was stupid (or greedy or an oversight), they totally jump at the opportunity to climb on the bandwagon and shout-out about it, simply to get brownie-points and notoriety for shouting-out about it, even when the issue, in the scheme of things, is very minor. Do they not have better things to do with their time? Is that what we elected them to do?

Our Representatives and Senators and the Administration should stop the bull-shit about the AIG bonuses, and get down to the serious business of going after the ‘real money’ that was scammed from the financial system. That ‘real money’ is why we are shelling out billions and billions of taxpayer dollars.

I’m far less concerned about the recent AIG bonus issue than I am about the 60 some trillion dollars in insurance coverage that AIG evidently wrote on stuff that it insured, and because of that, the hundreds of millions of dollars, if not billions and billions of dollars, that AIG officers and executives and shareholders pulled out of AIG over the past 5 (or more) years!

What a scam! Can you imagine being in the insurance business and selling insurance coverage – in return for premium payments – even though your business will never be able to cover the claims? The premiums that AIG charged (for insurance on various types of debt obligations – what do they call that type of insurance, “credit default swaps?”) were enormous, and those premiums were, of course, considered “income” to AIG. And the “income” from those premiums was used to fund huge bonuses and compensation packages handed out to AIG officers and executives. How long did this damn scam go on? Was it one month, five years, ten years? Hell, I don’t know.

Since Congress sets the law, they should get down to the business of coming up with a “recapture tax.” I’m not talking about a recapture tax on the recent AIG bonuses, but a recapture tax that goes back five, maybe even more, years. Let’s get serious about this – what our congressmen (congresspersons, to be politically correct) should be doing is going after the earnings that were distributed that, in reality, were based on fictional income.

And, while they are at it, AIG is not the only financial institution that paid out huge sums of money over the past several years based on fictional profits. Go after the other insurance companies, investment banks, banking institutions, and mortgage companies and mortgage originators as well.

The other evening, one of the Sunday evening news shows, I can’t remember whether it was DateLine or 60 Minutes, aired several stories about the mortgage lending business. One of the mortgage companies profiled was “People’s Choice”. Is it not clear to everyone that People’s Choice, and other companies like P.C., knew that they were selling mortgages to lots of people who could not afford those mortgages, to people who had insufficient income to justify the mortgages, to people who would eventually default on those mortgages? Even the mortgage company insiders referred to them as “liars loans!”) Mortgage companies (I should say their executives, officers and insider-shareholders) didn’t care who got a mortgage, because they weren’t going to hold the mortgages they sold. All they cared about was earning fees on the mortgages they put out. They earned fees from the people who got the mortgages and they earned fees when they sold the mortgages to investment banks and other financial institutions. God damn greedy SOB’s. Everyone one of us (I’m talking about every U.S. taxpayer, and eventually, all our children, once they become taxpayers) will pay dearly for that greed. Damn it, our congresspersons and the administration need to get serious about this. They should put into place a five-year (or more) recapture tax to get back the money that these greedy people scammed from the system.

Reduce your Lease and/or Loan Debt?

My ATF comedian, Lewis Black, would likely say something like this ….. holy-shit, somewhere, someone is getting fucked!

Reported in the Saint Petersburg Times on March 23, 2009:
OSI Restaurant Partners Inc. got some much-needed breathing room from its debt burden by buying back some of its high-interest junk bonds at about 33 cents on the dollar. In a tender offer managed by Miller Buckfire & Co., OSI, the Tampa parent of Outback Steakhouse, Bonefish Grill and Carrabba's Italian Grill, paid $73 million to retire $240 million in high-interest, unsecured debt due in 2010. (It is my understanding that these bonds carried an interest rate of 10% and were due in 2015.)

Gee whiz, it would be cool if the bank that holds the mortgage on my house would accept my “tender offer” to purchase my mortgage from them for 30 cents on the dollar. If I originally paid $300,000 for my house and, at that time, took out a mortgage for $300,000, I’d have no equity in my house, but I’d be on the hook for $300,000.

Then, roll the clock forward about two years. I call the bank, tell them that I’m in financial trouble, may not be able to pay my mortgage payments, and that I may be on the brink of bankruptcy. And, then, I offer to buy my mortgage from them for $100,000 cash. If they accept my offer, the cost of my house would end up being just that, $100,000, instead of the $300,000 I had originally paid. Cool beans. Great deal for me, but someone got fucked.

Back to OSI, the parent of Outback Steakhouse (and several other restaurant chains), in 2007, Outback’s original founders teamed up with Bain & Co and Catterton Partners, two private equity groups, to take OSI private. Purchase price was somewhere around $3.2 billion. Most of that purchase price was financed with bond debt. In order to finance the LBO (leveraged buyout), a bunch of bonds, unsecured debt, what people refer to as “junk bonds,” were underwritten (by guess who – Lehman Brothers) and sold. To whom those bonds were sold, I have no idea. It could very well be that Lehman Brothers held onto some of the bonds for its own portfolio, and/or that Lehman Brothers sold the bonds to investors, and/or that Lehman Brothers packaged these junk bonds with other junk bonds into one of those indecipherable “structured investment vehicles” (SIV’s) and sold those SIV’s to investors. (Perhaps even some small town in Norway or Sweden bought these bonds as a “safe” investment.)

Well, roll the clock forward to “present day”; OSI’s business is not doing well (to put it mildly), chain restaurant businesses, Outback among them, are suffering because of lower revenues, and OSI is losing a lot of money. One cure to OSI’s problem – lower its debt. Well, with the purchase of some of their bonds at 30 cents on the dollar, they just did that.

Which provokes two questions:

(1) Where did OSI get the money to buy back its bonds? Well, I would imagine that that money came from OSI’s shareholders – Bain?, Catterton?, OSI/Outback’s original founders? All of them have “deep pockets.” As to Outback’s original founders, they got very rich when they took Outback public years ago, and they got even richer when the company was taken private. With the recent buy-back of bonds, the owners of OSI, just realized a $167 million reduction in the purchase price they paid for OSI.

(2) Inasmuch as $240 million in bonds was just bought-back for $73 million in cash, who got fucked? Someone did. Who “tendered” (sold back) their OSI bonds? Could it be that the firm running the liquidation of Lehman Brothers sold back to OSI, OSI bonds that were still in Lehman Brother’s portfolio? Could it be that some of the banks and financial institutions (those we are bailing out with taxpayer money) were holding OSI bonds in their portfolios (toxic assets?) and that they are using taxpayer money to cushion the consequences of losing money on their sell-back of OSI bonds?

(By the way, I do occasionally go to OSI’s restaurants, including Outback, Carrabas, Bonefish, Leroy Selmon’s and Roy’s, and I like all of them; I think they give you a good deal for your money. I especially like the 2,400 calorie "Bloomin' Onion" at Outback, but I can only order that when my wife is not with me.)

Now, since my blog-site is supposed to focus on stuff and issues related to the reprographics industry, I think I should relate this OSI crap to the reprographics world ….. your world, your business.

We’ve talked about “right-sizing” your business during this recession. (I previously did a post on that subject.) In addition to all the other things that you can do to “right-size” your business, why not consider attempting a restructuring or buy-back of your company’s debt. Why not go to your lessors and banks and ask them if they’ll take 30, 50, 70 (or whatever) cents on the dollar for your outstanding lease debt and/or loan debt? Certainly some of you must have rich Uncles or Fathers or Grandfathers (or being politically correct, rich Aunts, Mothers or Grandmothers) who will, if asked, cough up cash to buy out or buy down your lease or loan debt? Well, that's it for my ridiculous thought of the day.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Comment about IRGA Convention Educational Breakout Sessions

Over the many years, one of the things that's always bothered me about IRGA Convention Educational Breakout Sessions is when a specific Educational Breakout session covered anything having to do with "how to streamline / improve a reprographics business and make money", but was led by someone who has never been in the reprographics business.

How in the world can any person give relevant advice as to how to operate, change, revise, update, streamline a business, or improve profit, when that person has not had (himself or herself) any direct experience operating (and, along with that, managing the top, middle and bottom lines of) a reprographics company?

Many, many years ago, after listening to a speaker at the IRGA and shaking my head "where in the world is this guy coming from? I don't agree with 80% of what he just finished talking about" ..... (I can't even remember what the topic of that particular Educational Breakout session was, but that's not the point of this post) ..... a friend of mine (one of my mentors), also in the audience, leaned over to me, and said, "Joel, consider the source."

After hearing those words from one of my mentors, I have, ever since then, told friends that, when they attend IRGA Educational Sessions and hear "experts" talk about various subjects, "you must first consider the source" (meaning, who said that, what is that person's background, and what is that person's direct experience?) if the speaker has had considerable first-hand experience, that would give me reason to think hard about what was said, and, just to the opposite, if that speaker has not had any first-hand experience, that would give me reason to wonder if I should even think, even a little bit, about what was said.


Reprographics business "barometer" project ???? (Forgettaboutit!)

On March 3rd, I did a post about the idea of developing and periodically publishing a "reprographics industry" barometer.

To date, I've had not a single response about that.

What that "zero response" means to me:

a) that no one trusts that I would keep their sales numbers confidential
[Even though I pointed out in that post that I would not be the one privy to individual company sales numbers. Damn, several years ago, a poll taken by People Magazine said that CPA's were the most trusted professionals. And, I am a CPA. Well, frickin' Enron changed all that, huh?]

b) that having a barometer is of zero importance to all of you.
[One has to wonder about that one, because if I were still in the reprographics business in the U.S, I would definitely want to be able to compare my company's sales trends with a barometer compiled from the sales results of other independent reprographers. While not a genius, I do consider myself fairly smart (my wife would disagree). Therefore, if I think it is a smart idea, but none of you do, then you can probably well imagine what I'm thinking about your "smarts' at this moment.]

Okay, the "barometer" project is not going to happen.

Blog-site activity milestone!

As of March 23rd, my blog-site has been visited by 100 "unique" visitors! To me, that number is a significant milestone.

- European reprographers from Germany, France, Belgium, The Netherlands, Sweden, Switzerland, The Czech Republic and the U.K.

- U.S. reprographers from Maine to Florida, from New York to California, and from Minnesota to Texas (visitors from 24 U.S. states so far.)

Please kindly refer my blog-site to your friends and associates in the reprographics community. You never can tell when I’ll finally post something that’s good information.

To those of you who have let friends know about my blog-site, thank you, much appreciated.

Sign of the Times – End of an Era – And an Ode to Mr. Leon Porter

One of the worst things about a recession, if not the worst, is the fact that people are laid off (softer way of saying “terminated’) when a company “right-sizes” its business.

The other day, I received an e-mail from a former associate in the Washington, DC area; he sent me that e-mail to inform me (and a few others) that Mr. Leon Porter was terminated from MBCPI, the ARC-owned division that operates in the Washington-Baltimore Greater Common Market Area.

Mr. Leon Porter is 73 years old. Mr. Porter had been with MBCPI (or, I guess I should say, with the entities that are now a part of MBCPI) since around 1958. If I’ve done the math correctly, Leon worked for the company for some 51 years [except for two years off for military service, 1960-1962.]

Around 1958, Leon became a team member of Max Scher Blueprints (Max Scher Blueprints was founded in 1922.) In 1979, Max Scher Blueprints merged with Rowley’s Blueprint Service to form Rowley-Scher Reprographics. (My company, Allied Reproduction Service, merged into Rowley-Scher in 1981.) Around 1992, Rowley-Scher’s name was changed to Reprographic Technologies (RTI). And, not long after ARC acquired MBCPI, RTI was rolled into MBCPI. Leon survived a whole host of mergers, name changes, ownership changes and consolidations – some 51 years worth!

My ex-partner, John Scher Zeller, sent me a copy of a letter that he, a few days ago, sent to an ARC senior operations officer about Leon Porter. I’m not going to post the entire letter on my blog-site, but I did want to share with you some of John’s comments:

Leon, began working as a 17 or 18 year old, with no direction in life other than knowing he needed to earn a living and did not want to be on the streets as they existed in Washington, DC in the 1950s. My grandfather, who was an excellent judge of people, hired Leon and told him that as long as he showed the desire to learn and grow and performed his job well, he would have a job with the company.

Throughout the years Leon progressed in his knowledge and abilities in what was at first a slowly changing industry but one that has had many changes over the past 25 years. Leon Porter was consistently a steady and reliable employee for whoever owned and operated the business. In my humble opinion, he is the ultimate team player, the type of person who is essential to the success of any people-oriented business. Thus, I felt a great deal of sorrow and a certain amount of anger when I heard that Leon had been recently laid off.

One of the greatest regrets former business owners have is the fact that once we sell our companies, we cannot control the destinies of our former team members; the team members who worked with us in the trenches, toiled by our sides, did whatever was asked of them.

Leon Porter is an outstanding individual. Inasmuch as there is no “I” in Team and inasmuch as teamwork is necessary in the reprographics business, I should not fail to say that Leon was the “exemplary” team member. Anyone who worked with Leon, whether in the 50’s, the 60’s, the 70’s, the 80’s, the 90’s or in the 21st century, would, I’m sure, share John’s opinion (and my opinion) of Leon Porter.

Companies in the service industry – and the reprographics industry is a service industry – are built on their “people-assets.” If a company has great people-assets, it will do well. When you lose (or terminate) great people, your business can and will suffer. Leon Porter was respected by everyone who worked with him and by the customers he served. For ‘survivors’, it must be very heart-wrenching, and, yes, demoralizing, when a loyal, long-standing team member such as Leon is let go.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

IRGA Convention - Pittsburgh - 2009

After procrastinating for at least two months, I finally got around to registering for the IRGA Convention that will be held in Pittsburgh this year.  I always look forward to attending the IRGA convention; great opportunity to greet vendors, greet friends, make new friends, learn new things (what's working and what's not working), and get educated.  (One is never to old to learn!)

One of the Educational Breakout Sessions I'm very much looking forward to attending is this one:

FM 2.0: Take Your FM Business to the Next Level
Dan Schnitzer, Director of Technology, Thomas Reprographics
Gary Marquardt, Regional CEO, Executive FM Strategist, ARC
Mark DiPasquale, Founder, Archimedia Solutions Group, LLC
Thursday, 11:15 a.m. - 12:30 p.m.

Industry experts will discuss effective ways to expand your current FM business.

Maximize Your Current FM Revenue
Upgrade the services offered to your current FM clients.
Expand the services offered to current FM clients.
Determine the right time to raise prices and how to justify them.
Grow Your Traditional FM Business
Get the attention of current customers that don't have FMs and close the deal!
FMs as a solution to the current financial downturn.
Effectively compete against existing FMs.
Expand Your FM Horizons
Place FMs in remote locations for your current FM clients.
Offer other kinds of equipment in an FM scenario.
Offer other services in an FM proposal.
Break into completely new markets, including where you should be looking.
Build credibility with new clients and perhaps new industries.

I can't imagine any reprographer, whether already in the FM business or thinking about getting involved in the FM business, who would want to miss this educational breakout session.

I'll see you at the IRGA.  If YOU haven't registered, get to it.

“Call for” Association “Benefits” Presentations or Information

I’m pretty sure I explained in a previous post that my hobby is following the reprographics industry. That simply means that I do my best to follow what companies (reprographers) in our industry are doing and what industry associations are doing, among other things.

Today, while surfing the web for reprographics-related information, I came across a presentation that Shaun Meany, President of The PEiR Group, posted on the web. The title of that presentation, “PEiR Executive Briefing 2009”, and, if this works (and I never know that it will work), here’s the Internet address where you can access that presentation:

In that presentation, Shaun shares the benefits offered to reprographer-companies that join the PEiR Group. Shaun’s presentation was very well done; brief and to the point.

I’d like not to play favorites (and I don’t really have any favorites), so if ReproMAX, RSA and GlobalGrafixNet would like me to point blog-visitors to the lists of benefits their associations offer, I would be more than happy to post that information (or links to that information) on my blog-site.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Blog-site visitor activity update

As of March 17, my blog-site has been visited by 85 "unique" visitors.

The number of visitors to my blog-site jumped up substantially over just the past few days. I think that's because I returned from Europe this past weekend and finally had a chance to go through the business cards (i.e., e-mail addresses) I've collected since i retired from NGI in Dec 2007.

- European reprographers from Germany, France, Belgium, Sweden, The Czech Republic and the U.K.

- U.S. reprographers from Maine to Florida, from New York to California, and Minnesota to Texas (visitors from 23 U.S. states so far.)

Please kindly refer my blog-site to your friends and associates in the reprographics community. You never can tell when I’ll finally post something that’s good information.

To those of you who have let friends know about my blog-site, thank you, much appreciated.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

The “FM” (OnSite Service) Business

The post just before this one revealed the 5 worst decisions I made in the reprographics business. While I had given some thought to writing a post about my 5 all-time best decisions, I’ve decided, at least for now, to talk a bit about the FM business, because getting involved in the FM business was, without question, one of my 5 all-time best decisions.

As I look back over the two extended careers I had in the reprographics business, I cannot find a single decision that had more of a positive impact on our businesses than getting involved in the FM business. For those of you who are in the reprographics business but who are not now, or have never been, involved in the FM business, I don’t know what you’re thinking (or smoking?), but you’re missing the boat, don’t have a clue and are leaving your flank open to attack.

Business is a war. Unfortunately, it is a war that never ends. (Or, perhaps I should say that it does not end until you retire from the business or sell your business.) To stay ahead of your enemies (your competitors are your enemies), you’ve got to win more battles than they do, and your victories have to be more significant than your defeats.

Those of you who know me personally and/or who have heard me talk about the FM business, have heard me say, “an effective FM business segment can be your best offensive weapon AND your best defensive weapon.”

Speaking in the present tense …… Our objective (well, at least it was my objective) is to grow our business to be the “market-share” leader in our particular market (or, if you are a multi-market enterprise, to grow your business to be the “market-share” leader in all of your markets.) An effective FM business segment not only helps achieve that objective, it is, IMHO, essential to achieving that objective.

100% market share is the sum-total of all of the individual “account shares” in a particular market. What I’m getting at here is that, if you manage to lock-up an account’s business, you score 100% account share. And, if you repeat that success with the majority of the accounts in your market, well, guess what you end up with? Majority market share. And, when you are in that position, then your sales should be higher than your competitors’ sales, and, if you are selling “service” and “solutions” rather than “price”, your profits will also be larger than your competitors’ profits.

An effective FM business segment can position you to grab 100% account share with customers who were not previously your customers (or with customers you were sharing with competitors). That’s the “offensive” nature of an FM business segment. Provided you know what the hell you are doing, FM’s can be a very powerful offensive weapon.

An effective FM business segment can position you to secure 100% account share with customers who were already your customers. Regardless of whether your FM strategy allows you to grab and lock up new business or allows you to lock up existing business, the “lock up” nature of the FM business is a very powerful defensive weapon.

To me, the FM business has two parts – unstaffed FM’s, which, to me, are kind of like the vending machine business – and staffed FM’s, which, to me, are kind of like “our store inside the customer’s office.” The FM business is not all that difficult to get into or operate, but it does take a lot of thought and concentrated focus. While many reprographers have the same FM-business-strategy, some reprographers’ FM strategies are different. I’m not going to get into a discussion of FM business strategy. I could, but I’m not going to.

How does one learn what the FM business is all about?

Well, the best way to learn is to learn from your friends in the industry who are not competitors. That’s one of the reasons why I am a huge proponent of reprographers being members of the IRGA. When you attend IRGA conventions, you meet reprographers from all over the U.S. (and some from Europe and Japan), and some of those you meet are, if you simply ask them, willing to share their FM experience. Don’t just take one person’s word for what the FM business is, talk to several people who’ve had experience in that business.

I mentioned in an earlier post that ARC’s PEiR Group has held at least two FM Sales Schools, open to PEiR Group member-companies. For any reprographer who is interested in getting into the FM business, attending a PG FM Sales School is a must. When I attended both of the PG FM Schools I went to, I was very surprised (or should I say “shocked”) that the number of attendees was low. Are there that many clueless reprographers out there? I guess so.

I have no idea if ReproMax or RSA have held FM schools for their member-companies. I they have, or if they plan to in the future and if you are members of those organizations, go to those schools.

The more you learn about the FM business, the better positioned your company will be to get into the FM business, or, if you are already in the FM business, to improve the FM business you’re already in. Sorry, there is no easy way to learn the FM business; it takes a lot of time and effort to learn the various parts of the FM business (concept-pitch, survey-analysis, account-deal strategy, proposal development, selling the deal, invoicing, and operations.)

Funny FM story #1 – in 1997, my company, employing our FM strategy, managed to grab 100% account share in two different “major” accounts in one of our market areas. One of those accounts was already our customer (we were handling most of that customer’s outsourced reprographics work (but not all); that particular customer had, for many years, been (and still was) operating a significant “staffed” in-house print room. We convinced that customer to allow us to implement a staffed FM program. Overnight, (at the moment we implemented our staffed FM program) the competitor who was selling paper/toner/developer/service and leasing equipment to that customer was, as they say, “out the door.” The other account we took away from that same competitor (likewise, scoring 100% account share) was not our customer before we implemented a staffed FM. So, for us that deal was 100% new business. And, it turned into a multi-market FM deal. Prior to the implementation of our FM deal, our competitor was selling paper/toner/developer/service and leasing equipment to that customer. Like in the other case, our competitor lost its business overnight. In May 2008, several months after I retired, I ran into one of the partners who owned the competitor that we took those accounts away from. Very, very nice guy. He was aware that I’d retired from NGI. I asked him “how’s business?” He said that “of the many years we’ve been in business, we had our worst-ever December, not to mention a bad year overall.” And, then he said and asked me, “you took two of our largest accounts away from us in 2007, we thought our relationships with those accounts were solid and, as you know, we had our type of “FM” deals in place; how did you manage to take those accounts away from us?” I apologized for taking those accounts away from him, explained to him that we did not do that with “low pricing”, but I did not get into the details of how our FM strategy was different (and more pervasive) than his company’s FM strategy. FM strategies, reprographer to reprographer, can be very, very different.

Funny FM story #2 – in late 1983 at my first company, we got into the FM business at the request of a prospect! In other words, we had not done any planning, had not given it much thought, even though we were aware that reprographer-friends in NYC were doing FM’s. What happened? Well, a NYC-based Architecture firm had recently opened a branch office in Washington, DC. They called us to ask if we could provide reprographics equipment for their DC office, we told them that we did not sell equipment and that we would be more than happy to do their reprographics work at our production center, but the guy who called said, “I don’t think you understand what I’m asking you for. I don’t want to buy (or lease) any equipment. I want you to do that and place it at our office, and, oh by the way, I want you to provide all of the reprographics supplies we’ll need, and I want you to put one of your reprographics operators over at our office to operate the equipment you provide to us.” Okay, we finally “got it”, commenced our first FM program, and never looked back from there.

Funny FM story #3 – In 1986 and 1987, not long after we purchased a company in Boston, we sold and implemented 4 staffed FM deals. One of those FM deals was sold to a company we already counted as a customer. But, three of those FM deals were sold to a competitor’s customers. The competitor we grabbed those customers from was Charrette. For those of you who are too young to know this, Charrette was the largest reprographer in the Boston market at that time (and probably still is), Charrette later became Charrette ProGraphics (when the Charrette “supplies” business was split off into a separate division), and, later on, Charrette ProGraphics became Service Point U.S. When we sold those four staffed FM deals in the Boston market, Charrette was not in the FM business. (In other words, they had left their “flank” open to attack.) I know that our FM deals took Charrette by surprise. Many years have gone by since then, and, today, Service Point (who some older folks like me still refer to as Charrette) operates a very significant FM business, one of the large FM businesses in the U.S. I’d like to think that our entry into the FM business in Boston gave Charrette “food for thought” and eventually forced Charrette to begin its own FM business. Charrette went on to develop one of the most successful FM business segments in the U.S. reprographer community. (The SP parent company, HQ’d in Spain, says that SP, world-wide, has over 800 FM deals in operation.) A few years ago, I learned how they managed to become so successful in the FM business in the U.S. For about 12 years, SP’s FM business was led and managed by Mark DiPasquale, one of the brightest talents in the reprographics industry. Significant contributions were also made by Jane Simmons, another “bright (scary-smart) star” in the FM business in the U.S. reprographer community. Mark and Jane are certainly a “power duo.” (Neither Mark nor Jane are now with Service Point, having gone on to greener pastures.)

Funny FM story #4 – in October 1988, shortly after I retired from my first company, I was invited to go out to Los Angeles to meet with J.C. Smith, who was then the owner of Ford Graphics. The purpose of my trip: I had sent a letter to J.C. Smith to introduce myself as the recently retired CEO of Rowley-Scher Reprographics, and, in that letter, I explained to J.C. that my company had been very successful in developing an FM business segment, and that I was prepared to serve as a consultant to help certain select reprographers better understand and get into that business. After that letter, we spoke on the phone, and we agreed that I would come out to L.A. to discuss the FM business. As most of you are aware, ARC did not exist at that time. But, as most of you are also aware, Ford Graphics was the first “ARC” operation. So, I got out to L.A. and managed to find Ford Graphics’ office, which, as I recall, was in a building in Pasadena upstairs from one of Ford Graphic’s stores. We talked for about 3 or 4 hours. J.C. concluded that the FM business was not of interest to Ford Graphics, explaining to me ….. (and, although I’ve put “quote marks” around the following, there is no way I can recall verbatim exactly what J.C. said, but I think this sums it up pretty well) ….. “well, we have quite a number of large A/E accounts, and, if I get into the FM business all that’s going to mean is that I’ll have to purchase reprographics equipment for their offices and take people from my stores to operate that equipment; doing both of those things will drive up my cost of doing business, and, considering the fact that I already have their business and a good market share here in L.A., it doesn’t sound to me like getting into the FM business would be a smart decision for me to make.” I left that meeting a bit mystified as to how he came to that conclusion. But, oh well, what’s that old saying, “different strokes for different folks?” The other thing I would like to mention about my visit that day to Ford Graphics is that during the meeting, J.C. called his fairly new CFO into the meeting to introduce me to him. That was the first time I met Mohan. I don’t think that Mohan was in the room for very long, but anyone who had been there would have quickly realized, as I did, that Mohan was a very, very smart young man. It is my understanding, from reading ARC’s history that appears on, that Mohan, not long after I visited in October 1988, purchased Ford Graphics from J.C. Smith. We ALL know what happened after that! Anyway, now I’m going to move the clock forward to around May or June of 1995. That was around the time I decided I needed to get back to work (by then, having been retired from the reprographics business and industry for several years), and, after sending out resumes to a few reprographers I’d met over the years, Mohan introduced me (via phone call) to Suri. At that time, Suri was running Ford Graphics San Fran, and I flew up to San Fran to “interview” with Suri ….. for a “sales” position. Most of the interview consisted of me responding to Suri’s questions about how I took my former company public, but we also talked for a while about the “FM” business. Around 1990 (I may be off by a year), Ford Graphics San Fran was operating one staffed FM program, but this particular FM program was not sold by Ford Graphics, but, rather, was “inherited” by Ford when Ford purchased “Graphic Reproductions” from a guy by the name of Walt Walker.) In the words, even though Ford entered the FM business by buying Graphic Reproductions, Ford, several years later, had not expanded its FM business. Well, that would not have been easy to do in the San Fran market even if Ford had gotten serious about the FM business, because Paul Koze, back then, was the CEO of Blueprint Service Co. (BPS) and, for those of you who know (knew) Paul, one of the very scary-smart people to ever be in the reprographics business, you would know why I said that Ford would not have had an easy time growing its FM business in San Fran, even if it had wanted to, which, back then, did not appear to be a core growth strategy for Ford. (To digress for just a minute; I did not get the “sales” job; Suri, as I recall, tactfully said that I was “overqualified.” No hard feelings, I think he made the right decision.) Okay, let’s now roll the clock forward to the first week of December, 1996. Several months prior to that, I had made the decision to leave the “large-format color” enterprise I had joined in July/August 1995. I had decided, in the summer of 1996, that I wanted to get back into the full-blown “reprographics” industry; that being in the “large-format color business “only”, was not where I wanted to me. Sometime during the first week of December 1996, Suri flew down to have lunch with me in West L.A. It was kind of like another interview. And, given my experience with and the result from my previous interview with Suri in 1995, I was not anticipating a different result. Anyway, at our lunch that day Suri said something along these lines, “we are going to make 1997 the year of the FM at ARC.” In other words, ARC was planning to get seriously involved in the FM business. Well, Suri is the type of person you can take very seriously. Today, some 12 years later, ARC has over 5,000 FM deals in place. The only comment I can make about all that is that, while some get the point sooner than others, if you want your company to be a serious player in the reprographics business and industry, you will eventually have to understand that being in the FM business is essential, and “get to it.”

Back in my formative years in the reprographics business (1970-1980), I had “no clue” about the FM business. Had I attended IRGA conventions during those years, I probably would have heard of the FM business. At least one reprographics company in NYC had been operating FM’s for years. But, because I did not attend the IRGA conventions during those years, I was not aware of what the FM business was all about. As I said, some “get the point” sooner than others. And, some never get the point.

My All-Time 5 Biggest Bad Decisions!

A wise guy (not to be confused with a wiseguy) said to me in 1984….. “success is a matter of making more right decisions than wrong decisions, provided that your good decisions (successes) outweigh your wrong decisions (failures.)”

I unequivocally agree with what that guy said. And, I feel very lucky that, during the two extended careers I had in the reprographics business/industry, I’m “proof positive” that that statement is true. As I look back, I really do believe that my successes outweighed my failures, and that, for the most part, I did not repeat my mistakes.

[I hate to use the word “I” when I talk about my experience in the business, for you cannot grow or manage any reprographics company without a TEAM. And as one of my close friends (ex-partners) always so aptly put it, “there is no “I” in Team.” But, for this particular blog-post, I’m going to use the word “I”, because most of my failures were not attributable to “the team” (or to my partners), but to me (I) as an individual. And, besides, the word “I” takes less keystrokes than does the word “we.”

I decided to do this blog-post not because I’m using my blog as a confessional or to repent, but simply because my blog-site may, from time to time, be visited by a younger generation of reprographers, and, as an “old guy”, I’m hoping that some of them will read what I say, and, thusly, learn from what I say ….. so that they don’t make the mistakes that I did.

So, what were my 5 biggest bad decisions in the reprographics business?

My biggest bad decision:
This particular mistake cost us a small fortune. (And, had it occurred earlier in my career, it would have learned enough to avoid my 2nd biggest mistake. Often, “timing is everything,” as that saying goes.) In mid-1986, I bought a company, 500 miles away from our then core operations. At the time we bought that business, our core operations were rocking and rolling, we were very profitable, and we had a significant pile of cash, due to being profitable and because we had completed an IPO only months earlier. Also, we had, over the years before, completed several acquisitions and three different mergers, all of which were successful. So, because we wanted to expand beyond our core area, we listened with great interest when a friend called to ask if we were interested in helping him out. What we learned was that he had two other partners and that there was a complete lack of communication (and I guess trust) between the three partners. The company was losing money. And, the squabbling amongst the then partners was causing a distraction, a loss of focus if you will. So, what did we do? We bought the company. And, we kept the former majority owner on as the President of our new subsidiary. As a part of the deal, the other two ex-partners “retired” from the company, with one-year non-competes. The partner we kept was the principal technology dude. One of the partners who retired was the principal sales leader. (I have no idea what the third partner’s strength was.) (Now, I’m going to digress for just a minute. It is now 2009 as I write this post. It was 1986 when we bought that company. In other words, some 23 years have transpired since we bought that company. I go to the IRGA most years (except for a few years after my first retirement in mid-1988). Every time I go to the IRGA convention, I always bump into the ex-partner, the “sales leader”, from the company we purchased back in 1986 … AND ---- he never fails to say these words to me (in his funny accent) …..”you know, Joel, I am the partner you should have kept on to run the company; had you kept me on, it would have been very successful.” Well, some might call that “rubbing it in”, but all it does is make me laugh and smile, for the guy who continues to say that (and I’m positive he will say it again if I make it to the IRGA in Pittsburg this year) is one of the reprographics industries nicest, smartest guys. Years after we bought his company (the one that was my 2nd biggest mistake) we became industry friends. Most reprographers know him and feel the same way I do about him; he has had terrific success over the years with the 2nd company he started, and he started that company from scratch, which is something that many of us second-generation owners did not have to do. Okay, lest I digress any further, let me get back to the story.] Buying that company (the one 500 miles from our core operation was not the mistake, at least it was not the biggest part of the mistake. The mistake was pushing forward very quickly to expand the geographic scope of the company we had purchased. Within one year, we had four locations instead of two. And, we poured money into those new operations that we should not have, such as building an FM that had a very expensive engineering photo-lab within. Our fast expansion may not have been a problem if our sales efforts had been terrific. But, remember, we did not retain the ex-partner “sales leader”, and, although we were led to believe that the President was the key driver of customer relationships, that just wasn’t the case. Well, maybe he was the key driver of “customer” relationships, but if you key on the word “customer”, you will know where I’m going with this. If you want to expand a company, you’d damn well better know how to convert prospects to customers, i.e, you better damn well be really good at new business development activities, i.e., good at converting “prospects” to “customers.” Okay, lessons learned: (1) make sure you interview all “selling” partners independently of one another; do not just interview the majority partner. Doing so will not guarantee a good decision (as to who should be retained and who should not or whether you should buy the company), but, at the very least, you’ll have more of the picture. And, if there are different stories, and you can’t reconcile the differences, should give you lot’s of reason to pause and think a lot more before you jump into the water. (2) fast expansion can be very, very expensive and fraught with distractions; and, if you don’t have a sales leader who can make it happen, you’re going to be hard-pressed to generate sufficient sales to cover the costs of operating your expanded business. What’s that old saying, “haste makes waste”? I bought that company because I, as look back, was, I guess, suffering from “visions of grandeur”. (Or, as Danny DeVito, one of my ATF actors, put said it in one of his movies, “you’re DELUSIONAL.”)

My 2nd biggest bad decision.
In early 1987, I bought a company that was not even close, geography-wise, to our core operations (which were, at the time, in the Wash DC – Baltimore area). I bought that business because I was, at that point, still suffering from “visions of grandeur”. Before we bought that company, I had taken the time to evaluate its financial condition, its assets, its liabilities, its financial statements and had come to the conclusion that its problems (it was losing money and had lost a ton of money over the prior three years) was attributable to the significant losses that company had incurred from a branch operation (120 miles away from its main operation), by then closed. I bought that company using a “bulk purchase of assets”, which is a method of buying assets “on the cheap” – basically, you purchase the assets that you want, but you don’t have to take on any of the debt, winding up with those assets free and clear (most of the company’s creditors ended up getting about $.10 on the dollar, but that was their problem, not mine.) I thought I was being smart. As I realized only several months later, I had been totally stupid. Buying that business was one of my top 3 biggest mistakes. There is one very good lesson I learned from buying that business. Kind of simple. If a business is losing money, there has to be a very good reason why, and there are often more reasons than just one. In this particular case, we were “banking on” the key-customer relationships that the Owner/President had (and, he stayed on with us after we purchased the company) and on his knowledge of and experience in the business, and on his passion for the business and leadership skills. WRONG, WRONG, WRONG. Boy, did I get that one wrong. After we purchased the company (and the company had no debt, for we paid cash for its assets), the company continued to lose money. Within a few months, I knew I had made an absolutely stupid decision. One of the “key problems” was the lack of leadership. Finally realizing what the major problem was, we terminated the President and installed the two young VP’s (Sales and Operations) as “co-GM’s”.) While we probably could have turned that company around, our board had already voted to “throw in the towel”. Our 2nd in command at the time, said, “we should just close it, cut our losses and be done with it, it is too much of a distraction and a drain on our core business.” Instead of closing it, we did manage to sell it. (I often wonder why in the world the company that bought that business from us bought it. For, they would have gotten the customers and business anyway, without having to pay a dime. Well, I guess that shows you that others make mistakes as well, and, just so you know, the company that was dumb enough to buy that “pig ‘n a poke” from us was one of the largest reprographers in the U.S. It is nice to no that you’re not alone, when it comes to making dumb decisions.)

My 3rd biggest bad decision was directly related to my 2nd biggest mistake.
Right after we bought the company I mentioned in the previous paragraph, our President of that company convinced me that we should enter into a lease on a new space that had to be substantially built-out to our specs. (Because of redevelopment, we had to move out of our existing production center, but we knew that going into the deal.) While we never did move into that new space (it had been committed to, but was not ready to move into by the time we sold the company), it proved to be a very costly build-out (we had photo-labs back then, not cheap to build-out and they require lots of floor-space) and, in order to keep the cost down, we had committed to a long-term lease, guaranteed by, yep, you guessed it, our parent company. Lesson learned: avoid “Taj Mahal’s.” like the plague. My definition of a “Taj Mahal” – overdoing it. If you want a palace, become a King (or Queen.) If you want to run a profitable, lean-mean fighting machine, do everything you can to keep the floor-space to a minimum and “no gold fixtures”. While your facility does need to be very functional and clean (at least, clean in the customer waiting area and in the conference room), it does not have to be or look like a palace. Frugality, I think, being the key word. If you have the choice between “Class A”, “Class B” or “Class C” office space, choose the latter. Invest your money in people and technology, not in a “Taj Mahal.” [Because we, the parent company, guaranteed the lease, selling the company, instead of closing it, allowed us to (thank goodness) transfer the liability for the new facility to the company that bought our subsidiary. Which is why I was desperate to sell the company, not close it.] I decided to write about this mistake (committing to a Taj-Mahal-like facility) even though we actually avoided the expense of that mistake (because were sold the business and, with that sale, the expense of that mistake.

My 4th biggest bad decision:
My 4th biggest mistake was the commitment I made to enter, through the formation and funding of a subsidiary, the business of selling CAD systems. (Several of my friends who were also involved in ReproCAD made this same mistake.) Our subsidiary offered: CAD systems (primarily Bausch & Lomb), CAD operator training (we hired one CAD- proficient architect and one CAD-proficient engineer), and we also provide “plotting services”. While we did not lose any hard dollars on the sale of CAD system stuff, we wasted a ton of money on salaries, fancy office space and travel expenses, and, of course, we wasted a ton of time. When we realized that what we had committed to was not going to work, we scaled the business back to “just” a plotting service bureau, and, well, then we made money. One of the team members that operated the plotting service bureau, Ed K, is now, some 24 years later, a head I.T. dude at NRI’s operations in Washington, DC. (Very knowledgeable guy.) In the book, “Good to Great”, the author talks about the “hedgehog” concept, basically, sticking to your core business, sticking to the business you know and the business you can do really well. Had I read that book 25 years ago, I may not have made the mistake I made. Well, probably not.

My 5th biggest bad decision:
My 5th biggest mistake was making my 4 biggest mistakes all within a period of about 15 months. As you might imagine, that period in my business life was very frustrating, agonizing and heart-wrenching. We went from making money to “break even” (N.I.-wise), and that was very embarrassing because the reprographics industry (and business at our core operations) was quite healthy at that time. TG we recovered from those bad decisions.

One of my friends asked me, one day when we were talking about our successes and failures, if I thought taking my company public (in 1985) was a mistake, considering the size of our company back when we did the IPO. Well, it was probably a mistake, due to our small-size at the time, but certainly not within my top 5 or even 10. [And, I wouldn’t give up that experience (completing an IPO and being a public company) anyway.]

Okay, finally managed to complete this post, even though the negative-nostalgia aspect was certainly not pleasant. Most, but certainly not all, of the bad decisions I made happened during my first extended career in the reprographics business. We were fortunate to not repeat these mistakes during my second extended career in the business. (That does not mean that I did not make mistakes during my second extended career in the business; it’s just that the mistakes I made during my second extended career were not as big (or dumb).

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Blog statistics, so far

There have been 59 “unique visitors” to my blog-site, so far.

And, so far, my blog-site has been visited by people from 3 countries in Europe, and, in the U.S. by visitors from quite a number of different states, spanning from Maine to Florida, from Illinois to Texas, and from Wash, DC to California.

I started posting on February 27th.

On or about March 1st, I started e-mailing people to let them know that I started a blog-site. I’ve only announced my blog-site to a few people (all are reprographers or recently retired from the reprographer community.)

In order not to materially distort the number of visitors to my blog-site, I purposely did not announce my blog-site to all of my former NGI associates or to all of my former Rowley-Scher associates. Only 2 people at NGI (primary owners prior to ARC’s purchase of NGI) and only 2 people who were formerly with Rowley-Scher (ex-partner and one VP) have been notified about my blog-site.

Please kindly refer my blog-site to your friends and associates in the reprographics community. You never can tell when I’ll finally post something that’s good information.

To those who've let friends know about my blog-site, thank you, much appreciated.

Monday, March 9, 2009

The PEiR Group, ReproMAX and RSA

I mentioned in an earlier post that I might, at some point, expand on what these companies are all about, and I’m going to get into that now, before I completely forget. I HAVE NOT SPELL-CHECKED OR REVIEWED MY TYPING (After typing all of this, my hands were ready to fall off!)

One initial comment: I mentioned in a previous post the importance of joining the IRGA. In the larger scheme of things, membership in the IRGA is very inexpensive, and the benefits you (and your business) get from being an IRGA member are valuable.

My second initial comment: Beyond belonging to the IRGA, there are huge benefits to be had from being a member of a “sub-group” (or should I say a “sub-association”) in the reprographics industry. I will talk about those benefits in this post.

My third initial comment: Simply for those of you who are not familiar with The PEiR Group, ReproMAX or RSA, at the end of this post I’ve copied into this post the “about us” information that appears on each’s web-site, including their web-site addresses. I urge you to visit all three sites to learn more about them.

My fourth initial comment: I’ve never been to an RSA meeting and my former companies were not RSA members. Therefore, I don’t know as much about RSA as I do about the others. Some of my industry friends’ companies do belong to RSA. Perhaps one of them will e-mail me to add to what I say about RSA or to clarify or correct what I say about RSA.

Okay, that’s it for the “initial comments”; thank you for your patience!

Comments about RSA

It is my understanding that the RSA has been around for many years; I don’t know how many, exactly, but it may well be over 40 years old by now, if not older. There used to be a group called “ASA” (they were referred to by some as the “Ammonia Sniffers Association”), but, a few years ago, ASA and RSA merged, with the RSA name continuing on. Since the diazo printing process is virtually non-existent (i.e., obsolete) in North America and since the only people probably still “sniffing ammonia” are those who use ammonia and Windex, I guess it is very appropriate that the ASA name is no longer used. Based on what I can tell by its membership, RSA member companies, which consist of reprographers and equipment and supply dealers, are, for the most part, smaller companies in our industry. (Based on the information posted on RSA’s web-site, the average RSA member-company does approximately $1.36 mil in sales per year.) About the term “smaller companies”, that’s not a knock on RSA. There’s certainly nothing wrong with keeping a company small. America was built on the backs of small businesspeople, they are the backbone of American business [and all would likely be in good shape now if were not for the greed and incredible stupidity of our country’s large investment banks (now dead and gone) and banking and financial institutions.]

Although I don’t know this as fact, I’m pretty sure that RSA operates a “buying co-op”, meaning that the individual RSA member-companies group their purchasing power to get better deals from the industry’s vendors. It is my understanding that most, if not the vast majority, of RSA member-companies are or were in the “supplies” business (that used to include drafting supplies, flat-files, drafting furniture, reprographics equipment, media and toner/developer/ink. When I first got into the reprographics industry in 1970, the company I joined was in the “drafting supplies” business. I got rid of that “department” only three months after I got into the business. I convinced my boss that selling supplies was a distraction to our core business of reprographics services. As I look back, that was one of the better decisions I made, for getting rid of our supplies business did allow us to focus on reprographics services. I’m sure that many companies in the reprographics industry have developed very successful and extensive supply businesses – companies such as Charrette,, Deiterich-Post, Ridgway’s are examples. Many years ago, before CAD and before the “digital revolution”, the supplies business was robust, but, nowadays, much of the stuff that used to be sold is obsolete. (“Hey, hand me the Skum-X, a Stab-Me and a leadholder!”) Associations.

RSA has developed an e-plan room product, they refer to it as their “National Plan Room” and I guess it was designed to compete with ARC’s PlanWell product, ReproMAX’s DFS and PDM products and with other e-plan room products out there. I would imagine that any e-plan room that achieves large number of placements (a large number of using companies) benefits all members, if not their customers. However, I’ve visited some RSA member-company web-sites, and it does not appear to me that RSA’s National Planroom product is used by all RSA members. I wonder why not, and I wonder what less than 100% acceptance by RSA’s member-companies means.

To me, the two primary benefits of belonging to a reprographics industry sub-group are the knowledge you gain from networking with others who are in the same business you are in and the purchasing power benefits of being a member of a buying co-op. RSA offers both of those.

Comments about ReproMAX

I mentioned in a previous post that both of the former reprographics companies I was with were ReproMAX members. Our first company, Rowley-Scher Reprographics, was a ReproCAD stockholder (ReproCAD is now ReproMAX) and our second company, NGI, was a ReproMAX “associate”. Nowadays, ReproMAX has “partner-members” and “associate-members”, kind of a “two class” system. That two-class system creates what I refer to as “dysfunction.” I hope ReproMAX has found a way to eliminate the two-class system since I last attended a ReproMAX meeting. I was a co-founder of ReproCAD, so I know many of ReproMAX’s original member-companies pretty well, since we had 3 or 4 meeting each year in the early formative years of ReproCAD. The idea for ReproCAD was spawned by Dick Wittrup (a great guy, he used to own Carich Reprographics in Dallas, TX. A few years before Dick passed away, he sold his company to Thomas Reprographics, finally succumbing to Bill Thomas’ persistent efforts over many years to buy Carich Reprographics. About ReproCAD’s founding – Dick and I were sitting in the back of the room at a MiniMAX meeting in Chicago, I think it was the summer of 1983, when Dick raised the idea of ReproCAD – him wanting to see MiniMAX extend its efforts into CAD systems and plotting and MiniMAX’s management not wanting to go there – so, after that meeting, we contacted several friends in the industry, including Sol Magid of NRI in NYC, Paul Koze of BPS in San Francisco, Bob Neely of Neely Blueprint in Jackson, MS, Bob Blair of Blair Graphics, Los Angeles, John Wilmsen (and yes, Rick Bosworth) of Service Blueprint in St Louis, etc. There were others, as well, for the first 15 member-companies of ReproCAD were all (and equal) shareholders. Later, we opened up the membership to “non-shareholder” member-companies. Around the fall of 1984, ReproCAD hired its first full-time President, a young man by the name of Mark Sirangelo. [(Mark left ReproCAD a year later to join Rowley-Scher as its CFO and later was elected R/S’ COO. Today, Mark is the Chairman and CEO of Space Development Corporation (Some would say that reprographics isn’t rocket-science; well, ReproCAD’s first full-time President is now in the rocket-science business, among other things.)] There were several fronts that ReproCAD “attacked” in its early days, including CAD systems (sales, support and training; all of that failed miserably), cooperative buying (that worked great) and discovery of equipment we could all use and, if we wanted to, sell (that worked “half-right”.) And, the main benefit of being a ReproCAD member was the networking that took place and the friendships that were developed. Back in those days, we had only one ReproCAD member per market-area, and, back then, few of our companies were “multi-market” companies anyway. And, because of that, we openly discussed business growth strategies, including the FM business (which, back then, was primarily a “staffed” thing.) Case in point – Carich Reprographics in Dallas and Rowley-Scher in DC did staffed FM deals with HOK offices in those cities (deals that lasted many, many years) and NRI was already doing a staffed FM for HOK in NYC. We did not fear competition from our fellow-members (at least I don’t think we did.)

Now, many years later, ReproMAX is quite a different organization and is much larger than it was back in 1988 when I first retired from the reprographics business and industry. ReproMAX still acts as a buying co-op for its member-companies. But, the main “thrust” of ReproMAX, these past few years, has been the development of ReproMAX’s e-plan room products – ReproMAX DFS and PDM, products developed by Adenium Systems – and the deal ReproMAX did with McGraw-Hill. About the deal ReproMAX did with McGraw-Hill, that deal involved scanning, planroom services and printing services. However, being an “associate” member of ReproMAX was not all that great because, while we did do some scanning of jobs that originated in our local market area (and what we got for doing that scanning work was “bupkis”, we did not do much printing to speak of [(it is my understanding that the bulk of the printing work and revenues from printing went to ReproMAX partner companies (or to A/E Graphics Complex, the R/M partner-member in Houston.)] And, about ReproMAX’s e-plan room products (DFS, PDM, whatever), ReproMAX-associate-members were not allowed to buy every product that ReproMAX-partner-members were allowed to buy. In my opinion, that created “dysfunction.” The reason for that (partners being able to buy all products, but not all associates being able to buy all products) happened, I guess, because ReproMAX changed at some point and decided to allow more than one ReproMAX member in “a market.” So, to protect their turfs, the partner-members who were in business in a markets where associate-members co-existed, maintained their competitive advantage (ReproMAX planroom/document management software-wise) over the associate-members in their market areas. The dysfunction that I spoke of? Well, what sense does it make for ReproMAX, the organization, to nationally advertise and promote ReproMAX PDM if not all ReproMAX “members” could sell or offer the services of PDM? If an organization is trying to create a nationally-branded product, but some of that organizations “member” companies do not have access to that product, that makes no sense at all, at least it does not make sense to me. (But, what do I know, anyway?) As I said earlier in this post, I hope that ReproMAX found a way to eliminate the two-class system and that all ReproMAX members, whether they are “partners” or “associates” have equal access to the same ReproMAX software products.

One disadvantage, as I see it, for ReproMAX vs. ARC is that ReproMAX, which is an amalgamation of separately owned companies, cannot truly compete with ARC on the “national” FM deal front. I’m not stating fact, simply my opinion. I do know that ReproMAX approached HDR about doing a “national” FM deal, but ARC was the only company that HDR really negotiated with. (Omaha is an interesting town; visit it someday.)

One of the big benefits of being a ReproMAX member is the fact that ReproMAX is populated by many of the reprographics industry’s larger companies (subtracting, of course, the former ReproMAX member companies that by now have been “picked-off” by ARC through ARC’s robust acquisition program.) The benefit of a smaller company joining ReproMAX is the benefit one gets from learning from the “wisdom” of owners and managers who are with the industry’s larger reprographics companies. A company that manages to grow large did not get there simply because it was lucky.

Comments about The PEiR Group

Well, last but not least, we come to the PEiR Group, which is wholly-owned by American Reprographics Company (ARC.) When I first heard about the PEiR Group, I wondered …. “why in the world would any non-ARC company become a member of a trade organization that is owned by the industry’s largest reprographics company (ARC), a company that competes with all of us?” Well, that “question” just shows you how dumb a person can be! (I’m referring to me, of course.) Today, a whole bunch of reprographers are members of The PEiR Group. Reprographers who compete head to head with ARC are PG members, and reprographers who don’t (at least yet) compete head to head with ARC are members.

Why? Because there are benefits of being a PG member; some of those benefits are similar to or the same as the benefits of being R/M and RSA members. But, there’s a big diffrence. ReproMAX does not allow every company that would like to join R/M join R/M. PG, unless it has changed since I retired, allows any company to join. Any company that wants to acquire PlanWell can acquire PlanWell, and PG members get a discount. Not every reprographer can get ReproMAX DFS/PDM. Like the other industry sub-groups, PG offers the power of a buying co-op. ARC’s purchasing power, being the reprographics industry’s largest company, is enormous, and some of that purchasing power is used to benefit PG members. ARC’s strategy, regarding PlanWell (and other ARC-developed software products), is to make them available to any and every company, a strategy that enhances ARC’s “national branding” of ARC-developed software products. I think it is obvious to all, but I’ll say it anyway, one of ARC’s goals, vis a vis selling PlanWell and other ARC-developed products to everyone who wants them, was to (is to) recoup some of the costs ARC incurred (and continues to incur) to develop and support its software products. Why else would any company that’s developed software products sell those products to competitors?

Like ReproMAX (and, I think RSA), the PEiR Group offers training and education for its reprographer-members. When I was with NGI, I had the opportunity to attend one PG executives conference, and one of the subjects the PG team covered was “best practices” for financial management. I personally didn’t learn a thing, but I did think the information was useful for some of the younger attendees and for the smaller companies that were represented at the meeting. In spite of the fact that I’ve been doing FM’s since late 1983, I attended two different PG “FM Sales Training Schools”, both of which were held in Las Vegas. While I did not learn anything new (basically, I went to those FM Sales Schools to see what ARC was teaching to my competitors!), I thought that the information shared by PG’s team leaders was valuable information for novices starting out in the FM business (and, even for those who’ve been in the FM business for a while.) Shaun Meany led both of the FM Sales Schools I attended, and Shaun, not surprisingly, did a very admirable job. For me, the highlight (of both FM Sales Schools) was Stan Jernigan. Stan, formerly a Sales Management person with Ford Graphics, San Fran, is a very gifted, talented presenter. If you’ve never heard Stan Jernigan speak about “sales”, he’s worth the price of admission. (Stan may be completely retired by now, but I’m not sure about that, because I haven’t yet found his e-mail address.)

Although I doubted ARC’s PEiR Group strategy, it looks like The PEiR Group has proven to be a winner for ARC.

Okay, that’s it for my specific comments about ReproMAX, The PEiR Group and RSA. I may later amend this post, but probably not.


RSA - Reprograhics Services Association (RSA) (

The RSA is a network of independent businesses operated by stockholders of the Reprographic Services Association(RSA), a cooperative business entity incorporated in the United States.
Presently the corporation consists of 147+ leading design support locations with over 3000 employees and net annual sales exceeding 200 million dollars.

Strict guidelines, including financial, technical and ethical standards are required and must be approved by the corporation before a dealer can be a member of the RSA team. The integrity of RSA dealers is reinforced by the RSA Corporation.

Through RSA Corporation meetings with manufacturer's R&D staff, RSA dealers are abreast of the latest technology to support the design profession. RSA dealers offer their clients solutions to problems congruent with the technologies of today and

ReproMAX (

Simply put, ReproMAX delivers digital asset management through our exclusive use of ReproMAX DFS, digital reprographics, large and small format printing and document services of the highest quality, in the most demanding business settings, to the widest range of industries and disciplines around the globe.

ReproMAX is a privately-held technology corporation, dedicated to promoting excellence in Digital Asset Management and advanced reprographic services to the many marketplaces we serve, which include:

• Architectural
 • Engineering
 • Construction
 • Legal
 • Owners / Developers
 • Graphic Artists and Design Professionals
 • Convention Services
 • Facilities Management On-site Services

ReproMAX is the largest, strongest and most aggressive international network of independent, innovative reprographic companies. Our affiliates are all market leaders with longstanding reputations for their commitment to quality and exemplary customer service. We currently serve over 350 locations around the world.

From millions of large format construction drawings, CAD plotting and architectural renderings to complex, large format color design, long term facilities management and large scale project management and cost management, ReproMAX members consistently serve their customers needs with exemplary quality, attention to detail and the highest levels of customer service.

The PEiR Group (

We are a trade association for independent reprographers and reprographic vendors. PEiR’s mission is to create a large, unified group of successful reprographers able to influence and advance the industry. We will achieve this by improving the profitability, quality, technology and professionalism of every member through educational programs, strong vendor relationships, and a close relationship with the best technology developers in our industry.

Sample Agenda (from recent Executive Conference held in Las Vegas)
• Managing for Success in a Recession
• Financial Management Best Practices
• Vital Factors (key performance indicators)
• Financial Analysis and Management Tools

Sunday, March 8, 2009

To access February Posts.....

To access February posts you may need to scroll to the bottom and click on "older posts".

I've amended my "background information"

Early on, shortly after I began this blog-site, I did a post to provide my "background" information. I've just amended that post because I forgot to mention one of my prior jobs in the reprographics industry - my stint as the COO of T-Square (the T-Square based in Miami, which, today, is owned by ARC.)

Please let others in the reprographics business know that I started a blog

Please kindly help me out. When I retired from my last reprographics company, I did not take my e-mail contact list with me, nor the tons of business cards I'd accumulated over the prior 10 years. Because of that, I've not been able to let many of my friends and acquaintances know that I've started a blog. So, if you would be so kind as to send my blog-site address to your friends and associates in the reprographics business, I would certainly appreciate that. I'd like to thank those of you who've visited my blog. Since I've only informed a limited number of people that I've started a blog, I'm pretty amazed at the number of people who've already visited my blog.

Government Sector Business

In 8th grade, we were required to take a course in “Civics” (how our government works in the U.S.). Although much of what we learned bordered on the mundane and was kind of boring, that course was taught by a very interesting teacher, so in the scheme of things, that made the course not all that bad.

Even before that, and I don’t remember exactly when, I read the “Gettysburg Address”, a speech given by President Abraham Lincoln. The Gettysburg Address was one of the most famous speeches ever given in the U.S. In that speech, President Lincoln said these words…..

“……and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

Well, I don’t know how or why it happened, and, perhaps I took those words out of context, but I’ve always taken it seriously, my entire business life, that we, the people, own the government, and, therefore, government agencies are accountable to us, the citizens (and I’ve also used the word “taxpayers.”)

Because of that, it became my habit, over the many years I was in the reprographics business, to stick my nose (sometimes very deeply) into procurements put out by government agencies for reprographics services (and any other procurements related to our business.)

There are some companies in our industry who do not compete for government sector business. Perhaps this is one reason why - - - when I joined NGI in 1997, Nick Korman, one of the founder-owners of the company, said “we don’t go after government business because the prices are too cheap, making the work not profitable, and, besides, government customers are slow pay.”

I’m going to digress for just a minute: Nick Korman, for those of you who never met him, was a veteran in the reprographics industry; before co-founding NGI in Tampa in 1986, he was involved in Trukmann’s Reprographics in New Jersey (Trukmann’s is a ReproMax partner and owned by Paul Korman, Nick’s younger brother.) Nick, was a truly wonderful person, great guy. Sadly, Nick passed away in 2007, at a very young age.

To get back to the story ….. I said to Nick that my experience in doing business in the government sector was extensive (that’s because I was first in business in the Washington, DC area, where lots of government agencies are, of course, located) and that, based on my experience (what I learned over a period of many years), government sector work can be profitable, and, besides, government agencies don’t typically go bankrupt (meaning, virtually no credit risk.) Not long after than conversation, NGI did begin to get involved in government sector business, generally through bids and proposals, and our government business, over the years I was with NGI, was not insignificant. (This is not to imply that I’m smart, for I’ve never considered myself to be smart. Like many of your, I’ve made my share of good decisions and suggestions as well as my share of bad decisions and suggestion (and some were absolutely stupid.)

Many of you in the reprographics industry who have “played” in the government sector, know that some (based on my experience, most) bids can be “played with” to your advantage, if you know how to play with numbers and if you take the time to play with the numbers. Also, sometimes it’s not just a matter of playing with numbers, for there are times when playing with the terms and descriptions and evaluation processes (as expressed or set forth) in the bid document is (are?) equally important.

It is not uncommon for people who work at Purchasing Departments at government agencies to compile procurement (Bid or Proposal) documents that are out-of-date, inaccurate as to terms, inaccurate as to estimated quantities and, yes, sometimes, just plain stupid (!!!) with regard to the services the government agency is intending to buy or with regard to how the bid is structured. And, when a procurement is stupid, that allows one to take advantage, if one knows how to do that.

I’m not the type of person who would walk up to another and throw a sucker-punch. When I found a government procurement to be lacking (in one way or another, referring back to the previous paragraph), I often took it upon myself to send a letter to the government agency to critique the procurement. And, sometimes, I sent several letters, Most of the time, my letters were either ignored, looked upon with disdain, or both. Government agency purchasing people do not like to have their procurements criticized! But, the fact of the matter is that very rarely will you ever find a government agency purchasing person who has expertise in the field of reprographics. One would think that government procurement agencies would ask for assistance in putting together their bid documents – to get up to speed on current reprographics processes being offered and to determine which reprographics processes are obsolete. But, rarely does that happen. One would also think that government agencies would do the homework to come up with realistic estimates of quantities. But, rarely does that happen. Anyway, getting back to the letters I sent to “help” government procurement people put out smarter Bid and RFP documents, that was how I justified later taking advantage of the procurements we bid on. If they are not going to listen (kind of like an advance “fair warning”), then why should I not take advantage? In other words, my letters were, in essence, a warning that I (or someone else, one of my competitors) was going to throw a punch. If, after that warning, they were not interested in putting their guard up, why should I care?

Let me give you some real-world examples of how I took advantage of bid procurements in the government-sector reprographics market:

Back in the early1980’s, we won a major bid for a very large, long-term, multi-year project. Our bid-price to staple-bind large-format print sets was $3.00 per set. This was at a time when we did not, nor did any of our competitors in that market, charge for staple-binding large-format print sets. We got to charge for that service simply because they listed that service as a line item in the bid procurement. They did not have to do it that way, they could have written the bid specs to say that binding was to be included, not extra. Most of our competitors bid “no charge” for that line item, since that practice was customary at that time in our market area. This customer submitted a lot of orders, and, aside from the occasional big orders, we would get orders for lots of sets of just a few drawings – progress prints if you will. There were many orders where our charges for staple-binding sets exceeded the charges for printing services!

In the late 1990’s, we won a good-sized bid with a different government agency. I still remember (and will probably never forget) the phone call I got (about our first “small-format” order) from one of our sales reps in that market; she called me to ask me “is this right?, I don’t think so, it looks ridiculous, so that’s why I’m calling to check with you.” I asked our sales rep what the order was for, and our sales rep replied, “we received a floppy disk that contains a spec book with 800 8 ½ x 11 pages, and our customer has ordered 10 sets, black & white prints on plain white bond paper. According to the information you sent us about the bid we won with this government agency, we are supposed to (allowed to) charge $4.00 per page for “processing” and then $.10 per print for all of the 8,000 prints. Joel, that’s going to come to $4,000!, that seems outrageously expensive, is that what we are supposed to generate the invoice for?” She also asked “how in the world did we get this work at those prices?” I told, her, “yes, your calculations for what we are to charge (what we are allowed to charge) for that order are correct, but don’t forget to add charges for collating, covers and binding.” If a customer called to get a quote for a job such as that one, our quote, back then, would probably have been around $.05 per copy = $400, plus covers and binding. We got $4,000 instead of $400. How did that happen? Well, it happened because the government agency put out a completely ridiculous bid document. As I recall, more than 100 different line items, most of which would never be ordered, were listed in the bid document, the estimated quantities, we were sure, bore no resemblance to reality, and the line items, themselves, were written as though the bid document writer had no clue as to how to call for reprographics services. That bid was easy to play with. After the bids were submitted, I requested copies of all of the bids that were submitted, and I noticed that one other bidder, like me, “played with” the bid. But, the other bidders did not. Let me reveal to you just a couple of the completely ridiculous line items that were in that particular bid document. Sepia paper prints, 8 ½ x 11, estimated quantity 5,000. Sepia paper prints, 8 ½ x 14, estimated quantity 5,000. Another section of the bid document contained xerographic services, 8 ½ x 11, 8 ½ x 14, etc. To include small-format “sepia” print services in a bid document in the late 1990’s was moronic. But, they did, and, after “fair warning”, we took advantage.

About three years ago, a government procurement agency in one of our markets put out a bid for “blueprinting” services and approximately 75% of the line items in that bid were for “blueprints” of various sizes (and some of the sizes were very odd.) There was also one line item for large-format digital bond prints on plain paper. I wrote a letter, three in fact, to the procurement department, explaining that “blueprints” were obsolete. My letters were completely ignored. We played with that bid. We won that bid.

In the decade were are now in, one of the government agencies in one of our markets put out a bid that used a “point score” system to determine the “most responsive bidder” rather than use only “lowest total cost” as the evaluator for selecting its contract vendor. So, one not only had to be concerned with total cost, one also had to figure out how to maximize one’s point score. In that particular bid, you got 5 points for bidding on every line item of service listed in the bid. One of the line items in that bid was for “Bubble-jet color prints.” Some of you younger people will not even know what that line item meant, for a Canon large-format Bubble-jet copier has long been obsolete (I haven’t seen one since 1998.) We got our 5 points, because we inserted a price for that service, indicating that we could provide the service (we really could not, but there was, of course, a completely acceptable substitute for that service). Our competitors indicated “service not available.” They did not get their five points. It was really stupid for the government agency to include in that bid an imaging technology that was, by then, well obsolete, and, had the government agency paid attention, it would have called for the “correct” current imaging process and all of the bidders would have scored the same 5 points. Sometimes, the little things do matter. You have to be aware of that.

I should also tell you that my criticisms of government procurements were not always done by letter. On several occasions, I went in front of boards at their public meetings. In one particular RFP procurement for a staffed copy center and hundreds of convenience copiers, the government agency released the RFP, received proposals, evaluated the proposals and recommended an award. My company was not involved in the first round of that RFP process (and there was not supposed to be a second round!) After all proposals were submitted, and during the evaluation period prior to recommendation for award, I requested and received copies of all of the proposals that were submitted. When I realized that the low bid was $6 million and further knowing that that cost was at least $1 million more than this government agency really had to spend on what they were going to buy, I was outraged …. after all, this agency spends taxpayer dollars. I wrote several letters, and I went to “speak” in front of the County Commissioners at their bi-monthly public meeting. Subsequently, the recommendation of the County’s Purchasing Department (to approve the $6 million award) was rejected by the Commissioners, the Purchasing Department had (was basically forced) to amend the RFP document, and, after the amended RFP document was issued, proposals received, and proposals were evaluated, the County did end up making an award that was for substantially less than $6 million. And, the award was made to a different vendor than the County’s Purchasing Department had originally recommended. (My company was a sub-contractor to the prime vendor that won the award.)

Since I was active in “government sector” bidding and proposing from around 1977 forward, I could go on and on and on about examples of what I observed in bid documents and procurement processes and what I did. But, that’s all for now. I might, at some point later on, expand on this post.

There are several points I would like to make about government-sector business:

• There are opportunities to make money in the Bid-RFP government sector end of our business. And, never assume that all government work is “low-price” work. Also, you cannot be a bidder or proposer unless you are aware that a bid or RFP exists. This requires active prospecting.
• Government agency business represents little, if any, risk on the collections end.
• Volunteer your expertise to those in government who are responsible for preparing procurements. Help them update their Bids and Proposals with respect to current imaging processes and the terms our industry uses to describe services and units of measure. Work with them to arrive at realistic estimated quantities. If they ignore your assistance, which they probably will, well, at that point you’ve given them fair warning, and you are then entitled to take advantage.
• For those of you who complain that government agencies are always slow-payers, you need to research how to provide your government customers with the paperwork they need to pay you within terms. Generally speaking, it is your fault that they are not paying you within terms.
• Before you bid (or propose) do your homework. The Federal Government and all state, city and county governments in the U.S. have laws or statutes that permit you to obtain copies of documents they have. Don’t ever let any government agency tell you that you can’t have something that you are entitled to have. (They are allowed to charge you for copies of documents, but that’s the price of doing your homework.)
• Read the entire Bid or RFP document thoroughly. And then again.
• When you have questions about a procurement or about the procurement process or procurement documents, put your questions in writing and submit your letter (or e-mail) to the procurement department. Don’t be hesitant to demand a response. Government agencies are obligated to respond.
• Do not be afraid to criticize a procurement (Bid or RFP) document. You have the right to do that and there will be times when you will feel the obligation to do that (on behalf of your industry, your competitors or your fellow citizen/taxpayers.)
• When you are not getting the attention of a Purchasing Department, don’t be afraid to go above that department’s head (unless that’s not permitted by the terms of the bid document.) You have the right to do that.
• When something smells foul, raise a stink! You have the right to do that.
• If you think SBE, DBE, MBE, WBE preferences in a Bid or RFP are unfair, unreasonable or whatever, then make your feelings known, don’t be silent.
• Always request copies of all of the Bids or Proposals that were submitted and keep them in your files for later reference.
• Last but not least, when there are things to play with in a Bid or RFP, play with them to your advantage.

Many people in our industry believe that it is “politically incorrect” to criticize government or government agency issued procurements. Since I’ve never been politically correct, I never let being “politically incorrect” bother me or get in my way. After all, they (government agencies) are owned by us and work for us… President Lincoln said, “government (is) of the people, by the people, (and) for the people”.