Southern Hospitality

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Vision & friendliness set Bennett Graphics apart

By David Bennett

About six years ago, I sat down with my executive team—Mark Adent, Executive VP, Scott Carroll, VP of Operations, and Bill Gillespie, VP of Sales—to scope out how we could grow and diversify our company. We prepared a spreadsheet that profiled each business segment, and then drilled down into what areas might be advantageous to attack. The meeting was not based on something a competitor did or what was happening in the industry at the time. The meeting was about what Bennett Graphics will look like in six months. One year. Two years down the road.

David Bennett (center) with his management team.

The concept is pretty simple. We are not a company that is satisfied with operating in the status quo. Companies that succeed—the leaders—create big change. They don’t follow it. In other words, complacency is an easy trap to get caught in, so our mindset is to always stay ahead of the curve and we want to execute with a culture of hospitality.

The machines are the hammer and nails. Our people are the magic.

We spend zero amount of our time thinking about the competition. As a group, we believe that worrying about somebody else’s next move or what equipment they have is a waste of time. We focus on the validity of ideas, the power of our solutions and the impact that a friendly and generous culture has on the marketplace. In turn, we believe leadership indicates that you are confident that the solutions you offer are the best in the market. Bill and the sales team have bought into this mindset and that allows us to stand out from the rest. All in all, we encourage our employees to let everyone know that this is the best place to work and that hospitality matters.

The humble swagger is part of our image.

For us, no matter what history says about our growth—and we have been blessed to have done well—the work is not promised; it is earned. As printers, we are tasked to build a business in an industry where there are no guaranteed orders tomorrow. Or the next day. So we keep looking into the future.

Following that pivotal meeting, our brain trust decided to make wide format our next new venture. We attended a show focused on this space so that we could see possibilities, applications and devices. Few were doing this at the time.

Over the course of the past few years, we have met regularly. We discussed industry trends, product innovations, best practices and an industry racked with aging employees. One of the edicts we made was to get more involved on the Clemson University campus, where we could focus on sales and client service recruiting. Clemson’s Intern/Employer Day event became our new best friend, leading us to be on campus at least twice a year. Bill even started teaching printing sales classes, which extends our impact and allows us to connect with the next generation.

In three years, we added five graduates to our team—two salespeople, two client service reps and one estimator. After a few years into the job, one of those sales reps is expected to generate more than $1 million in sales this year. What makes us really proud is that Clemson talks about Bennett Graphics as if we are an extension of their program. It is just another example of leading through a hospitable culture.

The Bennett Way

Over the past 50 years, Bennett Graphics has built a brand that thrives in a marketplace subjected to margin pressures and overcapacity. We have constructed a dynamic team that is dedicated to always looking for exciting and innovative ways to build our portfolio. We have a collective mindset that there is always something new to learn in an industry that is constantly changing. We are not afraid to take risks.

That mindset matters most when a client comes to us with a vague idea of what they want, but might need a little direction in polishing it up. Our clients know they can ask us anything. They know we listen, learn and deliver.

I think that the secret to success—the Holy Grail that we all chase—comes down to culture. When you have the right culture, you make it easier for good people to want to be a part of what you are doing—and stick around for the ride.

A hospitable culture is infectious, not just for your staff, but your clients, too. Bennett Graphics’ clients know that we will do what it takes to deliver what they want. We invite them to test ideas and are set on showing them all the possibilities that exist on any given project. When your clients, sales rep and production team are all on the same side, it makes everything better.

One of our clients told us recently that Bennett Graphics is a special place. “I’m not talking about your equipment; I’m talking about your people. I’ve seen printing equipment before. All of my vendors have them. It’s your excitement, your vision, the way you involve people in your success and make it theirs.”

I have quoted this person, who represents a nationally recognized brand, scores of times since the day she shared her thoughts with us. You cannot write better marketing copy than her testimonial. Her words are something that every one of our employees takes to heart.

On the marketing side, we strive to show really cool applications in everything we do. Our focus is always on the creative process. We are creative enablers. We say yes, except for when we have to say, “I don’t know. Let’s try it.” When we create content, whether for a printed piece or a social media initiative, we focus on what clients want, not whether it has to be printed. We rarely talk about specific devices. We talk about what we can do today—functions, outcomes, etc. There is nothing better than seeing a client switch from how much something costs to what possibilities exist.

As I look at where Bennett Graphics stands today and where we are heading, I thought it might be helpful to share some of the tenets our team uses to drive business in print’s new age.

The customer comes first

Giving your customers what they want means you must be willing to do what it takes. Too many printers rely on price to sell jobs. Companies that think along those lines miss the real sales triggers and end up hurting their own business. While a customer might want the best price, in the end, success is when you become fluent in their world, and use your tools and expertise to better solve their problems. At Bennett Graphics, we have a seven-step system that helps us become more fluent in our customers’ business:

  • Engage
  • Identify
  • Develop solutions
  • Share your plan
  • Evaluate and adjust
  • Test
  • Plan actions and execute
  • Get the process down

The combination of a systemic process of understanding and our hospitable culture works beautifully. I recall a salt ingredient client who needed a box that would contain crackers and chips, and could be sent to 19 different countries. In addition to protecting the salty snacks, the kit was to be personalized. Learning how to get food into 19 countries, each with different guidelines and protocols, felt like salt in the wound. But we researched, scripted solutions, evaluated ideas and tested appropriately. We realized that each kit required its own plan, including paperwork, loading protocols, and different languages. And the plan worked, with 19 kits selling for more than $40,000. The fact that we got the kits to the right person without any hang-ups was the sales trigger, not price.

Listen. Respond. Produce. Repeat.

When you incubate a culture of generosity, other characteristics—openness, honesty and consistency—begin to emerge. Don’t get me wrong, we are not perfect, and nobody expects us to be. But if you want your customers and employees to follow your lead, those qualities count. Building a brand people want to be a part of means you have to be honest and consistent in your practice. I always tell my team to look for ways to say, “Yes, we can do that.” If you do not, someone else will. It does not have to be a new solution every time, but you want to put some distance between you and the competition. Focus on the “why” over the “what,” and see the value of every communication from the client’s perspective.

I always tell my team to look for ways to say, “Yes, we can do that.” If you do not, someone else will.

Find your lane

We are comfortable being a print company. I continue to hear the conversation about Marketing Service Provider (MSP) versus Print Service Provider (PSP). I think that discussion distracts from who we truly are. Print is already a marketing service, so we have chosen to define our company by the people we serve. We are a solutions provider that can deliver many things, to many people, in many situations. And thanks to a team that is truly hospitable, we have become synonymous with excellence, averaging three awards every 10 days for more than 15 years in everything from offset, digital, wide format, packaging, finishing and sustainability.

Lead, not follow

It is good to be respected for what you do. Bennett Graphics invests a tremendous amount of energy in understanding why clients print. Their outcomes are our outcomes. So, when you invite them to share their “why” before you turn your focus to the “what,” you win. This leads to service invention, solution design, technology investments, and the recruitment of elite talent. It is all a result of marrying vision with good ole’ fashioned southern hospitality.

Bennett Graphics invests a tremendous amount of energy in understanding why clients print. Their outcomes are our outcomes. So, when you invite them to share their “why” before you turn your focus to the “what,” you win.

As long as we continually remember that craftsmanship and client compassion are what matter most, we will be able to stand out. The machines are the hammer and nails. Our people are the magic. Every one of our employees is convinced that they are at the best place in the world. That’s hard to beat.

David Bennett, a second generation printer, is the President of Bennett Graphics, a nationally recognized printing and marketing company in Tucker, Georgia. As leader of one of the industry’s most forward-thinking companies, he is recognized internationally for his vision and leadership with respect to communication technologies and business strategy. Connect via