December 28, 2012

Collaboration - Why Collaborative, Cooperative, Complimentary Sales Efforts Work.

Call it what you will, it’s all pretty much the same. Any time you can build a team of people who call on like customers, and refer those customers to each other, develop a win-win for all involved. It’s formalized/structured networking. BNI groups do this better, on a general business basis, than any others I have seen – they say “Givers Gain”. The giver, by making the referral, is building trust within the customer by recognizing a need and assisting outside their normal business scope. The customer, by receiving the referral has saved time by receiving it from someone they already trust thus shortening their search effort (even if they need to evaluate multiple suitors – one down).  Finally, the receiver of the lead - a warm lead - a sale that is theirs to lose. It still takes follow up with the lead and making the sale – Sales Is All About Numbers – I call this an easy number.

Collaboration multiplies your efforts, reduces risks and creates more opportunity - Why Pay Twice!

Don't play well with others? Learn.


Buy Eat Live Local
Buy Eat Live Local

December 26, 2012

Marketing Materials - Your Message In Your Marketing Material Needs To....

The first step in designing / making your marketing materials is to develop the theme; the message you want to convey or question you want to answer? This might be something as simple as how to fertilize your lawn to as complex as dental improvements and options. It's the message of how you can tie your products and services – and expertise – into answering their questions.  Your message should be completely informational and not a sales pitch. Write with a journalistic style - your words will be more sincere. Your business will also become branded as customers begin to trust you. You will establish credibility and authority, and by the end of your message your customers will know who to go to when they are ready to take the next step in the purchasing process.

Bottom line, the message in your marketing material should create desire, solve a problem, develop an offer and motivate action all at once.  ~KM

December 18, 2012

Localization - Franchising Does Not Mean: "NOT LOCAL"

Too often people think that "franchise" is synonymous with "out-of-town ownership" or "big company ownership".  In some cases this is true, but in most it is not.  The local Dairy Queen, Dunkin' Donuts, Domino's, and KFC are most likely owned by a local resident.  What franchise means to the consumer is consistency and if the consistency is acceptable to us, it also means quality - We know what the "Original Recipe" tastes like whether we are in Arizona, Minnesota or Maine.  Local, in my humble opinion, means local something; either local raw materials and/or local labor and/or local ownership.

ACE Hardware
Think about companies like Ace Hardware. They have made a business of giving the locally owned hardware stores a second life by providing collaborative and cooperative advertising and buying power under one recognizable brand - giving ACE a competitive chance against the big-box stores - without losing that home town ownership, service and feel.  This philosophy is similar to the charter and mission of Time4's Buy.Eat.Live.Local publication and the website.

What "Buy Local" will need to convey - to be successful is "Net Better"; a combination of a competitive price, quality, service, training, a meeting of expectations, a good economic decision, time to obtain, and last, but not least, the Feel Good Magic Dust that comes from knowing we are part of a better future - "Net Better".

December 6, 2012

Re-Urbanization - Let's Start with Reining in the Banks

Until the 1970s, banking was governed primarily by state laws, and banks could do business only in their home states. From the mid-70s through 1999, a series of laws deregulated banking eliminating state lines until banking became completely deregulated; those laws and acts included:
In my opinion, deregulating the banks was one of the biggest mistakes that our government made (allowed) over the last 30 years, but I can only say that in hindsight.  I believed in deregulation of all commerce; only wisdom has taught me differently.

So why did deregulation occur?  Technology, competitive opportunity and expansion, a spreading of the capital to where it was needed, and finally, an economy of scale - a more efficient system.  All of these reasons make sense - most occurred and some did not ("...banks peak in efficiency when they reach the size of a small regional institution". says Stacy Mitchell of The Institute of Self Reliance - watch her TED presentation).

So why was deregulation bad? Very simply, money no longer had to stay close to home.  Banks could invest your money in projects and products anywhere.  Since the idea of business is "to profit", money went to where the most profits could be obtained (the money business is much different than services or manufacturing where location in significant).  Sometimes the money went to bad mortgage instruments - the rules allowed this.  Sure there were problems like the ones the media made big, but things like big bonuses were earned by creative smart people working within the rules - oh yeah... Having banks working within state boundaries would have greatly limited the size of those bonuses as well - simply, the market would not have been as large.

So what is the solution here?  Keep money local - local mortgages, local business, local commerce, local people.  In my opinion, moving banks back to being state regulated would solve the problem.  This is a monumental task that some people would scream out to be impossible to accomplish. It's not.  It was done with ATT (modern history)  and Standard Oil (early in the 20th century); in both cases, the sum of the parts were greater then the whole as competition and creativity boomed.  So, how?  It will be a process much like, but much easier (IMHO) than the aforementioned examples.  Regretfully, only the people would share this interests - the banks, their lobbyists, and most importantly, the money would have no interest in this.  I would be perceived by the money (and thus the media) as a flaming liberal (whatever that means).


hmmmm...  no commercial opportunity here - just more foundation to the Local idea.

December 3, 2012

Buy Local - Ahead of the Sharp Curve - The 1st Step in Re-Urbanization

Part of the re-urbanization of this country is going to be driven by the Buy Local initiatives happening everywhere.  Buy Local initiatives will eventually emphasize a "Net Better" - Price competitive, better service and better products.

One of many Buy Local initiatives
in Maine near the Time4 offices.

Buy Local will take much more than just saying "buy local"; it is much more than a lip service trying to get locals to stay in town rather than going to the malls or online. It is going to take collaborative efforts by local commerce and local politicians working together as well as educating their community.  Buy Local must become a destination. Buy Local must be price and service competitive.  Buy Local will require an online presence of products and services like many grocery stores are trying today.  As a matter of fact, a good Buy Local model will require all the exact products and services that a shopping mall provides to ensure success - plus more - educating the community on why Buy Local is good for them.  This is not an option, this is a must and will happen - it is just going to be a matter of who recognizes this first and takes advantage of the opportunity most.

SOURCE: Civic Economics - "Local Works!"
Study, 2008. Commissioned by Local First.
According to an independent study commissioned
by Local First and conducted by Civic Economics,
approximately 73% more money stays in West Michigan
when consumers choose locally owned and
independent businesses.
By supporting locally owned businesses over their
national competitors, we are supporting our community:

Buy Local initiatives will require:
  • Collaborative Advertising
  • Collaborative customer sharing (being close together or easily cross accessible).
  • Being price competitive with the Internet retailers.
  • Collaboratively educating the community on "Local".
    • reduced energy
    • local jobs
    • higher and broader tax base
      • better schools
      • better roads
      • a safer community
    • face-to-face service
    • less travel time - more leisure time
Even the United States Postal Service (USPS) is getting into the Buy Local game; it's EDDM program and service, possibly its final encore, favors local business and does such at both a price and service level that its competitors cannot match.  EDDM targets local; as finite as an individual mail route (imagine real estate agents, the 500 homes around the one you are selling). - I have wondered if the USPS knew this upfront or was it just an unexpected by-product of their initiatives..

This is what Time4 / LightsOn's Buy.Eat.Live.Local. publication helps to address. The theme / affinity is your hometown.

It takes collaborative efforts in development, entertainment and advertising. This makes "Local" a destination; it makes "Local" the mall.  Some places were created with this in mind (though upscale) like West Palm Beach, Florida's CityPlace.  Some places were converted such as Boulder, Colorado's Pearl Street Mall.

What we will end up with is "self sustaining communities" - a topic in vogue in both political and academia worlds.

November 26, 2012

Re-Urbanization - Imagine No Personal Vehicle.

Brill Bullets were beautiful Interurban Trolleys
that were built by the J.G. Brill Company.
Lafayette Street in Schenectady (Circe 1931).
(Photo: Efner Research Center).

I imagine my hometown of Schenectady and Scotia, New York like it may have looked 80 years ago - with a population concentrated around the city - around where people worked, shopped and socially interacted.  A trolley running down the main street(s) with bus routes to and from the trolly stops.  People lived in an urbanized environment - simply "close".  We visited the country on our Sunday car rides or when we went on vacation.  Then came the 40s, 50s and 60s; cheap gas, a prospering economy, and a DOD project that became our Interstate Highway System (for moving troops quickly).  We went from a 15 minute commute to work to a 60 minute commute to work from the country.  I question the differences in quality of life, as a people, between the times of the early part of the 20th century and what we evolved into.  Would this have happened if energy had not been cheap, the Interstate Highway System had not been built and the times been less prosperous?  Maybe we would have been riding Brill's Baby Bullets to work and around town.

Now reset the clock to the current day.  Expensive energy, an aging interstate system in need of repair and a changing mindset where time is more valuable spent with family and friends than commuting on I95 (add to that the potential of shrinking service / professional wages).

I like San Francisco as my model city.  An arterial commuter train system (BART) that interconnects several major cities in the Bay Area.  A bus/subway system (MUNI) that connects from BART around and within the major cities and then free "around town" bus/trolleys that provide in town transportation between commerce and shopping locations. Oh, and just in case you need a car for a couple hours - walk up to the corner and get in a Zip Car - No more need for a personal vehicle - rent it by the hour. UPDATE: 1/2/2013 - Avis buying Zipcar in $500 million all-cash deal.

People will say "that they don't live near a city"... then for the sake of sleeping in the county, they will pay more for energy, pay more for vehicles, pay more for insurance and drive on roads that will remain in disrepair as the population will not pass the tax bonds to pay for the repair and replacement of roads they don't drive.  UPDATE: 1/3/2013 - Why This CEO Doesn’t Own A Car: The Rise Of Dis-Ownership.

Now imagine inner city/town high speed walkways (like in airports), convenient mass transportation, like in Portland, Oregon and high speed railways between large regional cities.

Which cities are ahead of the curve?  10 Best Cities for Public Transportation per U.S.News & World Report February 2011 article..

Will our cities and communities of the future look more like a Jetson's cartoon?

"Local" will become much more important in out future. Buy.Eat.Live.Local.

Quality of life will be redefined - In our lifetime.

November 16, 2012

Re-Urbanization - The Re-Urbanization of America - Reinventing Local

As much as I would like to take credit for this/these prediction(s), I can't as there are already so many government and business studies that talk about this trend, the whys and the outcomes.  What I will point out, in a series of blog entries, are the business opportunities that I believe will be created during, and as an outcome of, this evolution.

The biggest causes of the coming re-urbanization are somewhat obvious:
  • Energy Costs
  • Water Availability
  • Services Availability
  • Quality of Life
The whys and the outcomes are a bit less obvious.  Then there are the "Wheres"; where should you be in 2020 or 2030 and beyond.

I will relate this evolution to business and economic changes - changes that represent opportunities for some and a demise for others.

Buy Eat Live LocalThe Buy Local campaigns we see and hear about are just the beginning - some think they are just lip service put on by the local chambers - I believe they are beginnings of a change to self sustaining and complete socioeconomic microcosms - wow, that sounds way to technical; let's just call it our Hometown.

And yes, my thoughts and predictions are an opportunity I am betting on. - Buy. Eat. Live. Local. TM

I wish I were in my 20s again.

November 15, 2012

Localization - It's about Much More Than Printing.

Let's make this country a better place and there is no better place to start than in our own hometowns.

As anyone who follows this blog or knows the Time4 and LightsOn initiative; it is quite simple: Make Our Customer SucceedWe are all about recreating local in a world that knows more about a Jersey Shore celebrity than their own neighbor.  Lets fix this by starting in our own home town.  The following three past articles give some background to this idea.
Over the last couple months we have been testing our "Buy. Eat. Live. Local." concept with the purpose of moving "Buy Local" from a lip service to a way of life - our lives and our future.  We have made the objective of "Buy. Eat. Live. Local." a product (evolving as it is) to help communities across the country by providing it to local entrepreneurs who, most importantly, live there, work there and buy there.  Have you ever been there?

"Buy. Eat. Live. Local." is the coming together of many environmental, business, social and economic factors.  One of the biggest factors is the forth coming re-urbanization of America over the next 20-30 years which I will be writing about extensively.  For those as old as I, think about it as Megatrends 2013.

How well grasped is this concept?
Here is the Town of Windham Maine's ad - a paid ad - giving 10 reasons why this just makes sense.  So Shop Smart and Shop Local.

 ....and here is what we say:

”Natural Communities Form Around Community and Commerce Centers.
Buy. Eat. Live. Local
In almost all cases your Windham merchant will provide
Better Service at a Better Price with Less Hassle.
Why?  You know them – They depend on Windham people and they live in Windham.
Buy. Eat. Live. Local and watch Windham grow.

 This is not a concept coming to your home town, it's already there !!!

October 5, 2012

The Post Offices (USPS) Encore or the Beginning of the End

People unknowingly think the United States Postal Service is inefficient and burdened by "government employees".  Not true by any means - sure there are always a few bad apples, but that is true everywhere.

Imagine - a private company spending millions in research and then, the moment the research is complete it must be put into public domain for all competitors (UPS, FedEX, etc ) to use.  How can it survive when your competition, which you are not allowed to compete with, has access to all your market and product research and can skim the most profitable portions of the market with that research.

Add to that a collective of general, dis and mis information and attacks on an organization that does not have a PR budget to defend itself.

Every Door Direct Mail  (EDDM) could be the savior of the USPS.  A USPS encore? For the sake of the public, let's hope its not the beginning of the end.  More to come.

September 5, 2012

A Tale of Two Cities

I very rarely express a political opinion, but I believe our politicians are tying our hands behind our backs and then holding us responsible for scratching our bellies and fining us if we don't... I fear that in our lifetimes we will experience not only what we saw in Greece, but, as an extreme, what we saw in Egypt. It will not be one groups, classes, corporations, or parties fault, but what we, as a people, ignorantly chose and even voted for - thus its what we want. Then someone will, in their documentation of history, say: "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times..."..
From Wikipedia

In spite of what we learn, how smart we are, and the wisdom we have - history continues to repeat itself - Read about, (or even READ) A Tale of Two Cities.

August 30, 2012

The Perfect Storm (Economically Speaking)

The perfect storm involves many components coming together in sync creating a much larger storm as each of the components, rather than opposing each other in some way, support each other.

We have that in our economy now as the following components seem to be in sync, or at least they are in my opinion.

  1. Pent up capital goods demand - there is lots of need to spend and buy big things, from bridges to roads (in the infrastructure arena) to fork lifts, manufacturing equipment, communicating equipment, sales tools and systems.  This trickles down in a big way to household items and discretionary luxuries. UPDATE: September 5, 2012: Auto sales rise as higher gas prices, aging vehicles spur demand (Link Expired).
  2. Capital sitting and waiting for someplace to be spent.  Huge amounts of dollars are starving for a place to go - a major contributing factor to why our interest rates are so low.

So why isn't capital demand hooking up with capital supply?  In my opinion (for some reason I feel the need to clarify that all the time), political uncertainty and instability; people (its all about people) do not invest until the rules have been defined and show some form of stability.  So why do we have political uncertainty and instability today?  The media...  The media is creating news, in my opinion <smile>, for the sake of selling news - and luckily, rapidly failing as well.  Stability is here (or coming quickly).  No matter who or what is, or will be in power, stability is here, more spending will occur and the economy will be perceived and recognized as better.  The who or what will only effect the level of good - all's good.

It's a great time to have business problems and be a business owner as people dream to have the problems you are about to face.

UPDATE: September 6, 2012: Someone told me today how "Office Furniture" is one of the economies leading indicators (Forward Looking) - and how hot it is NOW...

UPDATE: December 27, 2012: Jobless claims fall to lowest in almost 4-1/2 years.  ~ Business.

UPDATE: January 3, 2013: Businesses added 215,000 jobs in Dec., survey shows.  ~ Business.

August 29, 2012

Search Engine Optimization (SEO)

SEO is one of those abstract needs where the return is difficult to quantify, but we know we need to do it because that's what everybody says (?#?#).

Here is my bottom line on this - if you have a need, learn to do it as the return is high (assuming you have the need).  The cost of good SEO is also high and since it is very much abstract, you want to know you are getting what you pay for - and watch out for the snake oil salespeople.  Note: We do it, we don't sell it - - - -

SEO comes in many flavors and levels.

The first, and least expensive, is that tuneup you may hear about frequently ($149 - $499). My opinion on this - if your website was built correctly in the first place it is already done. If you are being sold this, you probably don't need it.  But then again, its 500 bucks - it may be worth getting someone elses opinion.  You will hear people say things like relevant page name, page titles, page descriptions, meta tags, keywords and search engine submissions at this level.

The next level comes from those service providers who do monthly SEO service - it's kind of like getting maid service for the first time - a start-up fee (like $499) and then a monthly fee of anywhere from $39 - $99 per month.  Here we begin to move in the right direction as SEO is not a snapshot, but a process.  Regretfully, customers rarely see a return and terminate the service as this becomes apparent.  When this group is selling you, you will hear all the same words from the previous paragraph plus one other - "relevance"...

Finally, for those people who can actually benefit (financially speaking) - learn to do SEO as the process (yes, a process) needs to be continuously worked.  Think of it like marketing - it's not something you do once.  Add to that, people who know what they are doing with SEO are either doing something themselves or charge BIG $$.  Test your need with PPC (Pay-Per-Click (or CPC - Cost-Per-Click); it is not abstract.  If PPC provides a return, so will SEO and you will want to do BOTH - this, is not an either/or.

 Finally, we don't sell it - we don't buy it - we do it.

May 27, 2012

Quality, and How it is Marketed and thus Perceived will Define Success.

There are many definitions of quality in business.  The ISO 9000 definition is the "Degree to which a set of inherent characteristics fulfills requirements". "The standard defines requirement as need or expectation".

Quality is something a product has when it is reproduced the same over and over and over to a defined set of specifications.  Some companies maintain quality by producing the product in one place.  Some companies maintain quality with well defined and well engineered systems.

Consumers buy quality - they know what to expect because of the quality.  This does not mean that the consumer is getting a better product. or even good product; the consumer just knows what they are getting. Having a better hamburger is not enough to compete with McDonald's just as having a better print product is not be enough to compete with Vistaprint.

May 25, 2012

Followup on "Who Me, Who Three - Fixing the Local Print Business" Can the Local Printer Survive?

 There is an economy of scale that the local quick printer (franchise or independent) needs to have to survive.  Read my blog entry "Who Me, “Who Three” - Fixing the Local Print Business", it will provide some further background and insight.

The local printer's first issue is utilization of assets which means increasing it's business.  Since they have higher end and more capable equipment than the new competition (office product stores and postal stores), they have a bigger financial mouth to feed.  Reduced copy business revenue and traffic and then losing some of the higher end business to online printers has made this difficult and their future questionable. It will require some aggressive creativity for these businesses to continue as an ongoing entity.

The local printer needs to aggressively network to two groups, the graphic designer and the local postal stores and signing them up as partner/affiliates (sound familiar).  This will require very attractive commissions be paid to the partners; so attractive that they wont want to do it with anyone else.  As it is said in the venture capital business, "Do you want to own a percentage of something or 100% of nothing".  It's a strong argument.  This is one of those areas where I can tell everyone the answer, and for one reason or another (can't execute, too busy, don't have talents beyond retail, etc), its doesn't happen. Let's just say they need to begin to collaborate with each other more aggressively.

The franchisors should be all over this as they need to help (save) their franchisees.  BetaGraphics (our make believe franchisor) needs to do more than educate, but actually push their local franchise into partnering with local graphic artists and postal stores, basically offering satellite franchises (BizOps) and relationships to the local BetaGraphics.  These people are looking for a solution that the local quick printer has.

What you read is the why our business model at LightsOnGraphics exists.  A player needs to unify the fragmented local market or the local market will ultimately disappear causing everyone to lose; quality will suffer (as it already is) and prices will ultimately rise.

Bob Leonard
LightsOn Graphics

May 22, 2012

Collaborative Marketing Efforts Make The Impossible - Probable.

One misconception I have found in talking to prospective partners and affiliates is that they think we are selling them a website - we are not.  We are simply partnering to bring local exposure (everywhere) to in exchange for the local exposure of the partner and affiliate resulting in local foot traffic, additional revenues and commissions (commissions from LightsOn Graphics).

LightsOn Graphics' business objective is to increase traffic to the website, and the local partner/affiliate to appear when the user traffic is in their locale.  It is not to drive traffic to (or from) a local area. The results and objectives are achieved through collaboration and not brut force.

Taking this approach gives the local printer and postal store a chance to compete for the market which is slowly being lost to the major online printer(s) as described in this past blog entry - Understanding the Changing Print Market. 

Bob Leonard

Talk - Demo - Talk - Demo, etc... and Loving It

 I am enjoying the reception and feedback I am getting from postal stores as we prep to sign up our second phase of "BetaLocals".  They so clearly understand new business opportunities and the value of a referral and a customer.

The biggest obstacle seems to be developing an understanding of collaborative relationships and marketing as well as collaborative branding and collateral.  Read our thoughts on collaboration and then what the local printer needs to do.  Learn a little more about collaboration at Wikipedia.

The print stores are going to be a different animal as we start to roll that out in a couple weeks.  Because of the tightly reined in and restrictive UFOCS, we may have to limit our sales effort to the franchisors.  The "why's" on why they should will be the subject of a forthcoming blog entry.


May 15, 2012

“Who Four” - The Biggest Target - Fixing the Local Print Business – Part Four

"Who Four":  The local postal store, franchise or independent.  Many years ago someone told me about a company (a start-up at the time) called Mailboxes, Etc. (now The UPS Store)  My original thought was, why use them instead of the post office?  I believed the business concept was flawed - I was way wrong.  Yes, many of these businesses are feeling the strain of the economy and being a franchisee, but the outlook for this group is very positive in my opinion - just walk into one on any given weekday (especially after 2pm).  The question I have is - can the franchisors bring in higher margin products to more utilize their current foot traffic - and give the franchisee a chance to succeed?

Being a target market for LightsOn Graphics is the wrong phrase; it is much more a prediction. Postal stores provide a convenience that creates foot traffic and business in that it is hyper localized - one stop to send mail, UPS, Fed-X, get the boxes and packing you need to complete your mailing.  They have morphed from a post office box and shipping center to a business center providing copy service, document shredding, limited but critical office supplies, and limited emergency print (copies, business cards).  Just a note - If you need shredding, buy a shredder.

Offering print and collateral marketing services is a natural expansion to their business; some would say they already do.  I tend to use Postnet in my examples because, not only are they in that postal store target bunch, but they also use a service that, from my research, provides nothing except the satisfaction that they can say, "we have an online print site".  No they don't, but that is just my opinion.  I have interviewed several small printers that use the same system - orderless (like zero) - they stretch to find value in something they pay for every month.  The system they use does provide marketing benefits and a few  convenience tools, but not sales.

Now that the market has been identified, we can start talking about the product and what makes different (better) in both product and concept - see our forthcoming blog entries (or see an an earlier taste - Fixing the Local Print Business).

In Review - Targets:
  1. Postal Stores - this is where the customers are..
  2. Local Quick Printers with poor web presence.
  3. Postal Store Franchisors Postnet, Postal Annex, Goin' Postal, etc.)
  4. Quick Print Franchisors (AlphaGraphics, Minuteman Press, Sir Speedy)
  5. Local Graphic Designers.
  6. Vertical Market providers (newly identified)
Thank You For Reading.!.!


May 12, 2012

Why Branded Websites Don't Work With Any Business, Especially with Local Printing

Several of the larger trade printers will provide their customers with somewhat sophisticated websites for them to call their own.  There are several problems with these which are listed below.

1 - When there are more and more websites, especially websites that are both functionally and visually identical, the net result is noise in the market place (web market place).  The only people that are going to find these sites are people that the local printer tells.  This is a big negative in my mind as the job of the local printer is to service the local customer; sending the customer online is reducing service levels and introducing your customer to the online competition.

2 - Maintaining the website (just the prices) is a job in and of itself assuming the branded site allows you to determine prices.  If you have the time to spend on this, you may already be out-of-business.  My most commonly used 'line' for printers that say "We already have a website" is "how many orders have come in from your website" or "Have you ever had ANY order from your website?"

3 - Limited Product Line - Typically limited to the trade printer providing the branded site.

4 - Getting Traffic - As was pointed out in the first problem, you do not want to send your face-to-face customer to your website (EVER IMO).  SEO is a very very expensive process as it is a job, not a task - don't be sold SEO by the "expert around the corner"; in my opinion, 99% of the people that sell SEO are fraudulent and don't know the meaning...  Just my opinion ... as a friend of mine says, "tell me how you really feel...!!"  The other way to get traffic is Pay-Per-Click which is expensive, but very real; you will be competing with the big boys and you must position your products against the big boys to convert that click into an order.  Just a note, we estimate the cost of a converted lead in the printing business to be about $150 - How does anyone make money at it?  They do - maybe for some future blog entry.

Finally, I ask,  does anyone know a local printer whose website (branded from a trade printer, or their own home grown) makes them money?  I don't.  All I ever hear is people complaining (always off the record) about Vistaprint - sometimes they will spend 20 - 30 minutes telling me how Vista doesn't effect them - touch a cord..!!

What makes different?  Follow me.

I need to start talking about the business rather than the business plan - soon.

April 30, 2012

Identifying Potential Clients - Those That Have "Bad" and "Really Bad" Web Presence

The "Who's" have been identified.  For the local printer there seems to be only two types of web sites; "Bad" and "Really Bad".  The classifications are limited to printers, but since that is the subject of my white paper / business plan, it is here.  This is obviously going to sound self serving to LightsOn's business model, but identifying these weaknesses and niche / cracks in the market are part of any business and execution plan.

The "Bad"
Several large trade printers provide local printers with branded websites at little to no cost.  The local printer gets a good site that brands themselves.  The trade printer gets many local representations of their products. Why don't theses "Bad" websites work?
  • Products are limited to what the trade printer supplies (the trade printer that provided the branded site for the local printer).
  • The local printer has limited price control (None IMHO).
  • Local printers buy from multiple trade printers.
  • Branded sites do not help to promote service nor foot traffic to the local printer.
  • Branded sites have failed for the local printer in the market place. 
The "Really Bad".
This one is kind of funny to me because many of these sites are only for the purpose of being able to say: "yea we have a website too" (IMO).  Actually, they are much more, but the much more in about preservation of business rather than growth and new business. Regretfully, when you are in defensive mode, and your competition is on the offense, there is only one direction for the ball to go (there are very few interceptions in business).

Sampling of their customer sites:
A PostNet Site

I am not sure where to begin - what I do know is, the printers that use this product are our target.  They so obviously want more.  I always tell them to ask themselves - Have you ever received an unsolicited online order?  - Not one where you told the customer to go there and upload their files.  Some local printers actually pay for this ....  and wow, I will be asking them all... "who owns your domain name?"

No wonder Vistaprint is winning.


April 26, 2012

Who Me, “Who Three” - Fixing the Local Print Business – Part Three

Just in case you did not read the last blog entry, “Who Three” is the franchise local printer and the independent local printer.  Forget for a moment that this group is the second of the target markets as the obvious (IMO) is explained here.

Why does the local printer need to collaborate with printers in other local areas?  Then, why do they need to become part of the LightsOn network to do so?

The local printer can't compete alone with the online companies like Vistaprint, PSPrint, Over Night Prints, etc, etc, etc.  Why?  Very simply those companies have invested heavily in Pay-Per-Click and SEO marketing for their online sites.  Pay-Per-Click has lower cost of entry but has costs for every click through to your site.  SEO has high development and maintenance costs but minimal to no cost per click. Both are very complex and expensive and are a game of numbers.  In addition, when many many try alone, they simply end up being noise in the search.

The first step is to collaborate with other companies that are providing copy/print/graphic services; not only local to you, but local everywhere.  Regretfully, this is much more than providing a franchise website - just ask yourself how much business you get from that website; is ZERO the right answer?  Maybe this website thingy doesn't work.  Ask Vistaprint... has been built, from day one, as a site for collaboration with the objective of taking back and to stop the encroachment of that business that Vistaprint is taking from the local print service provider.  Our expertise in print, SEO and collaborative systems will make print local again and make you locally, the printer again.

The second step is to collaborate locally with other service providers.  Local printers need to recruit local graphic designers, web designers and advertising companies; there are many locally everywhere.  Make what you perceive as competition today, your sales rep tomorrow.  Collaborate with them a variety of products and services that let them make more money as well as you make back some of what you are currently losing.  This will take some proactive marketing, sales and networking.  Franchisors - make these non-retail mini-franchises (biz-ops) around your franchises - Please - Steal This Idea.!.!.!

Our objective at LightsOn is not to move your business to our website.  When a client calls you from the our website (I include you in "our") we strongly suggest you provide the service and sell that customer directly, bypassing the LightsOn site.  Our objective is not to get your foot traffic, but to get the traffic you are losing to online.

Next, "Who Four" - why local postal stores may be the local graphics shop of tomorrow.

Thanks again for reading


April 23, 2012

Fixing the Local Print Business – The LightsOn Solution – Part Two – "Who" is Invited to Dinner.

Previous blog entries have outlined the changing market, the problems (as I see it), and solutions with general business examples that were somewhat vague, non-specific and non-committal; this entry begins changing that.  As I always note, these blog entries are my white paper outline / business plan.

To be specific in our “how’s", "why’s" and "who’s”, we must define a specific “who” and then the “why” – Those are the easy parts; “how” is the magic part - I am going to pretend I have that answer too (No, I did not major in Dr. Seuss in college (RIT BS ’79 - - UnivDayton MBA '83).  Dr. Seuss's microscopic creatures were "whos").

The biggest obstacle to get over (common amongst all the ‘who’s’) is that they can bypass us and draw a higher gross margin (we pay 30%) – let’s pretend that is true, which if it mattered, I would argue, but it doesn’t. If the phone rings to one of our affiliates, we tell them, take the order and bypass the website – it is all about the service you provide.  Our objective is not to get your customer, but get the Vistaprint customer to come to you.  You will come to us most of the time as our program is ‘priced right’, but this is not the entry for defining this.

The Who’s
‘Who One’: Independent and Freelance Web & Print Designers.  This is by far the easiest group to identify and get to – the problem is, it is individuals, each one, needing to go through the learning and training process individually – remember, we are not selling a product, but a collaborative process.  Some of these ‘Who One’s’ just do design, some partner with a printer, some broker the work themselves and some (our favorites) broker through us.  By the designer affiliating with us, not only do they make the 30%, but they stand to get new clients as well being our local affiliate. The most important thing here though, is that they have made it easier on the customer, the print buyer, who now has one less vendor to deal with saving them time (and thus, money).  Remember, printing is a service business – sell service with the product – your client will love you more for it.

‘Who Two”:  Independent local printers, marketing and promotional product firms.  Much like the ‘Who One’s’, but typically have a larger base and physical location.  To be a Local Primary Affiliate / Partner, they must be at least this.  The best thing about this group is that they are happy with 30% of something (because they understand the ‘why’s’) versus 35%-40% of nothing.

‘Who Three’:  The franchise local printer and the local independent printer.  When I first conceived this concept, this was my logical and obvious 1st choice – the problem comes with the bureaucracy of the franchisor, current UFOC stringencies and an attitude of defeatism (maintain business rather than get more).  This is a slow process, but will have one soon – they seem to understand the opportunity when we talk about mini-franchisees (our secondary affiliate) to their retail franchisee (our primary affiliate).  This is the only area when we may have an exclusive grouping, even though not an exclusive LightsOn affiliation.  These local print franchisee’s understand this and us better than anyone else.

‘Who Four”:  The local postal store, franchise or independent.  These businesses are winning purely on the market’s force, with little knowledge or expertise – and they are everywhere.  The only stores with more organic foot traffic are the Apple stores (but it’s Location – Location – Location).  I would venture to say, they are the water cooler of the 2010s – where busy (key word = “busy”) small business people pass almost daily.  Most, if not all, are already in the low end print business.  Just one funny note – I was in a postal store the other day (doing research) mailing a package and the client ahead of me requested EDDM help – He sent them to a local printer to get their brochure printed and said “come back when you have that and we will handle the EDDM”.  That customer never came back as the printer surely closed the loop and did the EDDM as well (many are today).  I shook my head thinking “box of rocks’…. Shame on the franchisor for inadequate / incomplete training (or simply not keeping the franchisees up-to-speed).

For more information about how the LightsOn Graphics affiliate program works go to

Blog entries (expanded insight) specific to “Who Three” and “Who Four” coming soon – Stay Tuned.