Strength in Numbers

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Why your partners matter more than ever

At the height of the pandemic, when the demand for print materials slowed down, many of the peer groups that worked with The Standard Group discussed the idea of producing Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)—face shields, shield barriers, etc. Their prospects were driven by the stories of printers that were already having success in the area.

Thanh Nguyen says the temptation was there. The Standard Group could have shifted its sales and manufacturing to chase the PPE market. But after further discussions within its peer group, the printer decided that it was more prudent for other manufacturers that were better equipped to produce the volume needed to get the job done.

“Instead of entering the PPE market, many of us chose to focus on our core competency and optimize our business,” says Nguyen, CMO for The Standard Group, a premier print management and marketing logistics company located in Reading and Lancaster County, Pennsylvania.

The Standard Group’s core competency lies in its ability to partner with its customers to streamline and automate processes, facilitate ordering, improve quality, manage inventory and reduce obsolescence. Its efforts have resulted in an award-winning company specializing in digital and print communications for everything from small, non-profit organizations to Fortune 500 companies.

Like companies everywhere, COVID-19 continues to be new and uncharted waters, something that Nguyen says offers its share of lessons. “There isn’t an instruction guide on what we should and should not do. We strive to make the best decision based on the most reliable information available to us in business, but we are sometimes second-guessing our decision. Having a peer group of printers around the continental United States to talk to about everything from COVID-19 best practices, PPP loans and personal protection equipment was tremendously helpful.”

At the height of the pandemic, The Standard Group took part in weekly conference calls with printer colleagues designed to help each other survive and make sense of the craziness. One member even created a series of COVID-19 educational posters to give to customers and shared them with the peer group.

“In business, we are typically good at some things and bad at others,” Nguyen says. “We have lots of experience in some aspects of our offering and novice in others. Why make the same mistakes when we can learn from our peers who have gone before us. Also, as executives, some things are often challenging to discuss, even with your employees. To be able to get advice on critical decisions from another executive in a similar industry is invaluable. Our peer group allows us to get outside of our four walls and hear what is going on—not just locally, but on a national level and what initiatives are being used to better our businesses.”

“In business, we are typically good at some things and bad at others. Why make the same mistakes when we can learn from our peers who have gone before us?”
— Thanh Nguyen, CMO, The Standard Group

Steven Pearlman believes that in today’s fast-paced, networked-oriented world, building close, working relationships with peers from within your industry can offer different, yet valuable perspectives. If done correctly, you build strong relationships with forward-thinking organizations that can offer the resources you need, but lack the time to develop yourself.

“Building peer alliances can serve deeper purposes when organizations become attuned to the needs of each other,” says Pearlman, co-founder of The Critical Thinking Initiative. “Rather than cookie-cutter connections, deeper partner alliances attend to a company’s needs and long-term strategic plans. When partnerships emerge in concert with strategic planning rather than in service to existing plans, it enables you to create an infrastructure for success.”

The Standard Group’s peer group members help accelerate and guide many of its projects, providing the printer with buying power potential, and intel on best practices and equipment decisions. For example, when Standard started on its Continuous Improvement (Lean Manufacturing) journey, it was able to talk to employees of its peer group who were already certified. The discussions enabled Standard the ability to offer solid advice and visit their facilities to see the program in action.

“Business can be a lonely and stressful place,” Nguyen says. “The world is big enough for all of us to win and share in the piece of the pie. It’s crucial to find a print peer group of like-minded individuals who share your morals and have a similar business attitude. It also helps if your peer group is from another geographic location so that there is less chance of running into the same customers.”

Just do it…

After more than 32 years in the business, Rick Baker knows his way around the process. Along every step of the way, he has seen the benefits of building and sustaining long-lasting relationships. And in a time when regardless of experience, everyone has been in the same boat, having partners that you can turn to has been critical.

“You get to see other’s point of view—a way of thinking of something different than you think,” says Baker, President of the Pittsburgh-based Print Tech. “We have all had moments of, ‘Why didn’t I think of that?’ Why not look to others who have had similar issues or challenges and may be able to give you the answer you are looking for?”

As a member of a peer group consisting of some 20 printers from across the country, Baker has benefited immensely from the yearly meetings and email connections. Along with suppliers that give personalized product demonstrations, Print Tech has been privy to its share of sales techniques, production tricks, and insights on new and emerging technologies it doesn’t currently use.

Baker recalls the time he was invited to visit a vendor facility to check out a die cutter the Steel City printer was interested in acquiring. While he was there, Baker found a folder that he did not know existed on the simplicity of operation. He ended up buying the folder instead of the die cutter, of which he admitted Print Tech eventually purchased.

“We have all had moments of, ‘Why didn’t I think of that?’ Look to others who have had similar issues or challenges, and may be able to give you the answer you are looking for.”
— Rick Baker, President, Print Tech

When it comes to building and fostering relationships, Baker says the decision is a no brainer. “Just do it. Take the time to work on the business, rather than work in the business. The rewards will be well worth it.”

The takeaway, which is plain to see, is that without question, the best avenue for success is to open dialogue with peer organizations early and maintain them often. Too often, while partnerships are seen as ways to meet predetermined goals, these goals sometimes could have been better informed by perspectives brought by peer organizations in terms of where trends are headed, what is needed, and, most of all, what is possible.

“In my experience, many business initiatives for critical thinking stall, or never even launch, because leaders cannot conceptualize how to define critical thinking, much less teach it or assess it,” Pearlman says. “But companies open to early discussions on those issues might find that existing breakthroughs can empower the very initiatives with which they might otherwise struggle.”

Stronger together is always more practical than standing alone.