In this series our CEO, Gord Griffiths, reflects on lessons learned throughout his years in the printing industry.
After my packaging company experience, I joined an organization in Toronto with 1,100+ employees. They had rotogravure, web-fed offset, sheet-fed offset, and letterpress. Yes, they were slow to drop letterpress believing web-fed offset would never reach the quality levels they required. Lesson one: technology wins.
I was young and everyone who reported to me in operations was older with more knowledge. Here I learned managers make things happen though people. I discovered that when you create a team where all employees think, feel, and act like owners true magic occurs. We had 11 unions, which made for some interesting challenges on the floor, but we had sales – in fact, we had more sales power than press power.
It kept us busy and there was no need to drop our price. Part of that lesson was to sell something that leads to print. The best example was selling the idea to Air Canada to have an inflight magazine. That magazine became enRoute which we published and printed for years on those web presses that were slow to be purchased.
The big lesson I learned here was never throw in the towel. We had just lost our two largest customers in one month. The first was 40% of our business, a large retail catalogue which ran on rotogravure presses. This caused me to shake hands with 300 plus people who were forced to leave. The second account was the weekly TV Guide we ran on offset where we lost another 60 people. It took almost 1.5 years to get our costs in line which was hard considering the catalogue was a cost-plus arrangement.
After getting the manufacturing ready, I made a call for sales – somewhat emotionally – and yes, next thing I knew I was VP Sales and learned you have to show up to in order for good things to happen.
With a keen interest in the print scene, I read trade magazines and learned newspaper and gravure press time was scarce in the USA. We were owned by a newspaper group so we had plenty of paper, so I offered to supply retailers with paper for some printing, as they did not have enough paper to supply their regular printers. It worked to the point where we had so much business from the US, specifically with Kmart, that we had to put in 4 new shipping doors to make the insertion dates on time. This led to coated orders for JCPenney, Sears, Bloomingdale’s, etc.
In Canada, we were told that a press that had one fixed size 8 x 11 was not going to replace the tabloid size for inserts (flyers) as the retailer would never change. Retailers sell square inches to their suppliers, so in turn we sold the same square inches, providing extra pages either 12,16, 24, 48, or 64. Plenty of fire power, we just needed to convince people to sell alternatives. Today one of those high-end retailers we converted still uses this size.
Being responsible for manufacturing then sales prepared me to be a General Manager. I believe more companies, as part of their succession plans, should have people in different roles – and just like in sales where you have a pipeline, this will be your talent pipeline.
By Gord Griffiths