Chain Reaction

There are issues aplenty for the printing industry. The challenges are varied and complex.
October 12, 2022

Print leaders discuss biggest industry challenges

There are issues aplenty for the printing industry. The challenges are varied and complex. We sat down with three print industry leaders to get some perspective and advice. Gina Danner, President at NextPage in Kansas City; Dean Petrulakis, Vice President at Lake County Press in Chicago; and Tom Moe, President of Daily Printing in Minneapolis shared their thoughts.

What are your thoughts on the supply chain and how to keep your sanity?

Tom Moe: The supply chain issues are daunting, and it is not only paper, but all materials including ink, toner, plates and so on. The issues are real, and they require a very good process to deal with it. In order to stay sane, you have to really trust your suppliers to come through, and keep you posted on lead time, increases, freight surcharges and so on. The pricing aspect is a constant change that you need to stay up to date on in order to pass along the increases in a timely manner and make a profit. We hold weekly meetings to go over open orders and upcoming needs. Open and honest communication is a must!

Gina Danner: Supply chain issues are best served by setting reasonable expectations with clients, vendors, and the bank. If we don’t have paper (or other raw materials), we don’t have a business. Using appropriate credit facilities and planning helps, but fluidity is important. Flexibility and commitments are critical and communication is paramount.

Dean Petrulakis: To a certain extent, it’s out of our control. What we can control is how we communicate proactively with our clients about the challenges so that we can help manage expectations around larger projects. Outside of that, we must continue to build upon the strong relationships with our paper partners. It is really no use to drive yourself crazy over this madness.

What are the silver linings to the shortages?  

Moe: We have been able to create a better dialog with our customers, on many aspects not just supply chain and paper. The current situation has given rise to increased communication, strategy sessions and more planning on every job. The client is now far less concerned with paper “Brands” and is more understanding of what we can get versus what they think they want. The pending postal increases have also given rise to more communication on data analytics, postage optimization and so on. Clients want/need to communicate and they are still choosing print, so in some ways there have been positives from this current situation!

Danner: This supply chain situation has required over-communication and better planning. It has also required us to have more strategic conversations with our clients and ensure that we are planning for longer-term relationships instead of just winning the job.

Petrulakis: This is forcing us to be more proactive and think less transactional. It is providing opportunities to be a valued partner to our clients in unprecedented times for sure!

wooden blocks in a line being knocked over

Can you share your top concerns on staffing issues? 

Moe: Our top concern on the staffing issues are simple, where will the next generation of employees come from? Our area’s last location of Higher Education for Print Production has closed its doors to incoming freshman, and will cease the program as soon as the current classes have completed their requirements. While there are still many options for graphic design, print production education is no longer provided in our area. So who will recruit and train the next generation of employees? We have had to create and establish a significant program for recruiting and training new employees. We are working with local high schools to identify possible candidates and we are offering internships as an introduction to our industry. We are working with several other organizations that offer “pre-employment training” and working to establish a pipeline of workers to enter our industry. Working with the state agencies, we hope to establish an apprenticeship program as well, to train employees for the industry. We are looking to “grow our own” employees and to train them in our process and culture from the start.

Danner: We are all fighting for skilled labor. The reality is that we all need to also focus on staff training and development. We need to hire in younger players and set a vision for them to make the print industry their career of choice. It takes a concerted effort across the plant.

Petrulakis: Outside of the general shortage of employees most of America is facing, our industry continues to face real challenges in bringing in young talent to the industry. That has been a concern for many years now. How do we attract and retain younger, hungry talent? This will be a big concern in the years ahead.

What positive ideas have come from the lack of human resources?

Moe: It is forcing us to look at new ways to automate our production processes and to find ways to bring in a new type of employee; less skilled labor to “monitor” machines versus skilled labor to “operate and set up” while running. This will provide some more opportunity for our senior workers for advancement and salary growth, while helping to train the new employees. Working with local agencies that provide employment opportunities for populations that are restricted or challenged, we have found new avenues for employees recruitment and so on.

Danner: The lack of staff has required deeper thinking by our middle management staff. They have needed to use highly skilled operators and non-skilled technicians in different ways. They have had to break work down to its smallest denominator and figure out how to get the work done within the time allowed and the staff available. It has stretched their thinking.
Petrulakis: It’s forcing us to be more and more creative to produce work on time and on budget with less staff. Our operations team works daily to meet the demands of our clients, and they do so with less staff to produce the work. It’s also making it paramount for sales to be more invested up front with operations in setting realistic schedules before a project goes live. We can’t just give a casual yes to a client on a deadline request without collaborating with operations. That sets all of us up for failure.

What new ways to get clients to call you back have emerged over the past year? 

Moe: Haha, we simply tell them we have 10,000 lbs. of paper available to the next person to call us back!

Danner: Clients call back when there is a reason to call back. The supply chain situation has gifted us with a reason. Using that conversation talking point helps ensure that the right type of client is engaged in the conversation.

Petrulakis: A client will respond if the message you send has value and speaks to a need they have now or one they anticipate they will have in the near future. You have to paint a picture of the problem they may be facing and position yourself as the one who can bring the solution to them. But it’s definitely harder to get a client to give you their time these days. You have to be someone they trust or someone who came referred to them.