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...

LightsOnGraphics.com 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 LightsOnGraphics.com 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 www.LightsOnGraphics.com/affiliate_long/.

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


April 13, 2012

Addressing The Questions and Calls My Last Blog Entry Generated - "Fixing the Local Print Business – The LightsOn Solution – Part One - First Taste".

Several calls with several similar questions were generated and asked from my last blog entry Fixing the Local Print Business – The LightsOn Solution – Part One - First Taste – so let’s address those questions for everyone.  I have summarized and paraphrased the questions and are in the order of the interest.

Just a note - if you want to leave a comment, there is a problem with Firefox, use IE or Chrome or Log-in to your G-Mail account and post anonymously (if necessary).

“Why would I use the LightsOnGraphics.com website rather than my own?”  There are several reasons here making this a complex answer unless broken out into individual pieces – I am trying here.
  • Cost in knowledge, time and dollars.  If you have the knowledge and the time and dollars to do this, you are most likely not in the printing business and definitely not a potential partner of ours.  I am not questioning the knowledge (you would not be here if you did not have that), but the time and dollars; I estimate at least 5 person years in this so far.
  • Doing this alone, as in your storefront, will not get the traffic it needs to satisfy the objective.  The objective is to get new business that is currently going online, recapture that business that has been lost to online and finally, add new foot traffic to your store. Our object IS NOT (and your object should not be) to move your foot traffic online.  When someone picks up the phone and calls, you should bypass the website, assuming you make more by doing so, and strongly suggest in-store pickups for obvious reasons.
  • By our estimates, at about 200 partners we will be on top of the search engines almost everywhere because of “relevance”, an important component in being on top and on the 1st page.  We know that business really well.
  • Collaboration brings the knowledge and power of many to one place and shared amongst the collaborators.  The knowledge and power is much much larger than the sum of its participants.
“I understand this, I like this and I want this, but… I am part of a franchise group and do not have this flexibility to do so per my UFOC, what do I do?”
  • Contact your franchisor and have them contact us!  If their interest is to the franchisors prospering and not in just selling more franchises, they will be all over this.  The quick print franchisee and the shipping store franchisee will have different reasons for doing this, but the results for everyone is the same – increased business opportunity, increased market share and increased revenue.
“Why can’t my franchisor do this for me?”
  • They can, but will they recreate the wheel; probably not.  For those that have a “oh, we have one of them” answer, you really don’t.  I am going to seem to pick on the PostNet franchises here; only because they are such a perfect example (several companies use this exact same service).  The website component (it’s not theirs) does not permit ordering, it permits, basically, a request for information (no prices either) Click here to try it.  They would be better, in my opinion, to simply say on their website “We Will Do Your Printing Too – Call ###.###.####”.  This is not a debate; simply ask yourself, “have I EVER received an unsolicited order from the site?”  Go back to our objectives addressed in the first question.
  • Collaboration and the benefits that will come from having broader geographic coverage which no franchise has enough of, in our opinion.
  • Finally, the postal store franchisor and the quick print franchisor have different reason to do this which I will lay out in future blog entries.
More questions, email me or call me, here is my cell - 561-371-4113

April 12, 2012

Fixing the Local Print Business – The LightsOn Solution – Part One - First Taste.

It is always easy to find critics and be critical, but is by far more difficult to have and execute a solution.  When the critic works for you, you make the critic responsible for fixing the problem; it eliminates those who only criticize.  When an individual is critical of a business situation (an opportunity) and tries to fix it we call them entrepreneurial.

In the local print business, fragmentation has been the norm since before the days of Benjamin Franklin.  The Internet has and is changing that as economies of scale are easily made online.  It has equally changed the trade suppliers business as well who supply many products to the local printer.  So why haven’t some of the local printers embraced the Internet opportunity?  Some actually have, but none to the extent that Vistaprint did which from day one was about economies of scale and collecting and reselling that information they collect and service they provide.  The economies of scale exist with the printed product, but not with the service.  Eliminating the service slowly has and is causing the elimination of the local provider.  The slow loss of revenue is causing for more and more printers to close shop; ultimately what we end up with is a lower quality product – without question – and eventually higher prices and fewer local jobs; both already taking place.  This equates very much to the big box stores and Walmart’s entry to local markets.  Compound this with McPrints and the squeeze on the local printer is almost always insurmountable.

So what does the local printer need to do? We group the local postal services store in here as what they are doing seems to have more impact in fixing the problem than the local printer, in my opinion.

They need to group together in a collaborative and cooperative way in both product and brand.  The problem is that none of the individual franchise companies have the expertise, or primary interest, to work together; not much different than Ace Hardware does in a brick and mortar world – survival of the local hardware store has become as simple as becoming an Ace Hardware providing both collaborative advertising and coop style buying power.  The trade association for quick printers, the NAQP (National Association of Quick Printers), whom merged with the NAPL about 6 years ago, should be pointing out this collaborative need but has the problem of shrinking membership – for obvious reason.

So how does LightsOn solve this problem? In several ways, more than we are going to list here, but the gist will hopefully be understood.
  • When the consumer finds LightsOn online, the local printer to that consumer is promoted on the LightsOnGraphics.com pages; this localization can be observed on the right side of every page.  This is accomplished in our own proprietary process by identifying where the consumer connects to the Internet
  • The local printer needs to be able to identify and ‘mark’ their current customers.  LightsOn provides, what is commonly called an affiliate code which will make those customers such that, no matter where they are from, the affiliate's information displays on the right (www.LightsOnGraphics.com?loc=HQEBWC)
  • Once a prospect becomes a customer, that customer will always see the affiliate's information.
  • Local price control by the affiliate.
  • The ability for the affiliate to claim the customer, even after they have ordered.
  • Pay very high commissions to the local affiliate/partner.
The objective is not to move the local customer online, but to make the local prospect know there are local choices that provide more than the online only suppliers can.  You may ask, why this is better than the local printer’s own website or one of the many branded websites that can be purchased from some of the trade suppliers. And then, so who is LightsOnGraphics.com’s customer and how does that happen?  Too many unanswered questions here.!.!  Remember, I am building the white paper and business plan – If you want to read ahead, read the affiliate brief at LightsOnGraphics.com.

An entry that answers some questions that came after I posted this entry.

More answers in my next piece – Stay Tuned.

April 10, 2012

Fixing the Local Print Business. Other Companies Solutions (so they think).

Within a Changing Print Market (and the marketplace in general) we inevitably have chaos created by the noise of so many ideas being tested.  This is true in the local print market as companies have the next best idea in fixing the business.  As in any business plan (a white paper in this case), we must have knowledge of what other companies are doing to address the same problem and issues we are trying to solve.  When there is no one else trying to address the same problem and issues, you should question the model itself. First, is there a real need?  In our case, there are plenty of people trying, thus we can more comfortably assume there is a market for what we are trying to do.

LightsOn Graphic’s objective is to provide a tool to acquire locally that share of business being lost to the online exclusive world, ie: Vistaprint as well as the McPrints - We are not just trying to move the same business from one pocket to the other.

What doesn’t work:
                 Any system that provides a web tool for simply communicating to the printer glorified email).  Your customers know you and your number – don’t move them online – printing is still a service business (and they know that).  The companies I am going to appear to pick on today are PostNet and Minuteman Press, both are franchise businesses that are locally owned and operated (the good guys).

Observe where both PostNet’s and MinuteMan Press business card pages go (the resulting URL after you click) (Just a note, we can list many other companies here using this service and ending up at the same URL):

A Minuteman Press in Austin Texas: http://www.austinmmp.com/index.iml?mdl=jobcenter/main.mdl.  This is NOT a Minuteman Press standard.  Most Minuteman Press websites actually have a pretty good online presence and tool in my opinion.

Note the similarity in the URL (resulting forwarded URL after you click); they both use the same service for the online component. The problem is, this online component is nothing more than a glorified email system for the postal store/printer.  What this allows is the PostNet franchisee to say: “Oh yea, we have an online printing component too”, or should I say, what the franchisor says to the prospective franchisee.  Try to order something (there is no way); in my very humble opinion, it has no value.  I question whether it ever generates orders. Compare that to Vistaprint, which is mult-multi click, but at least you can complete an order there.  Finally compare that to LightsOnGraphics.com where entry is real quick (few clicks), especially if you are a repeat customer.  There are no Vista distractions on LightsOnGraphics.com.

Adding one other note to this - their Alexa ranking (the print redirect page) is 239,302; considering there are about 300 PostNet’s using this (as well as a multitude of other printers, etc.) that is a pretty bad number.  That compares to LightsOn Graphic’s Alexa rating which is 317,360 which we have not rolled out yet.  Alexa is a website ranking company owned by Amazon; download their tool bar; I find it fun to see who is real and who is not.  Note the PostNet and the MinuteMan Press pages have the exact same Alexa number.

Finally, we have to also consider the McPrints in this comparison as they are local and do have very good online presence and websites.  The problem comes from expertise, knowledge and customer service that the real local printer provides; the McPrints don’t compare in my opinion (including in price).  This makes them one of the bad guys in my opinion.  As an analogy, compare ACE Hardware (a Good Guy) to the Big Box Stores (Bad Guys) – I am sure I don’t need to say any more.

So what will make LightsOnGraphics.com different?  Stay tuned..!!

April 8, 2012

Understanding the Changing Print Market

As in each of the blog entries I have done over the last few weeks, I need to qualify my work by pointing out the complexity of the print market and that I am defining and describing the market with generalizations that could easily be argued.  I am also doing this for the first time with relevant diagrams that are not meant to accurately reflect market sizes but instead meant much more as a tool of general perspective.

The first diagram represents the Vistaprint share of the market.  I would argue that Vistaprint created the "Consumer, Super Small, MLM Business" print market.  There were products being sold to this market prior to the 'Vista era', but those products are specialized and are still being handled by specialized 'high-service' companies and the trade suppliers that supply those local 'high-service' companies (ie: wedding invitations).  Vistaprint, I would argue is not in the printing business, but in the data collection and marketing business.  The real issue with Vistaprint is their presence and the perception they have created in the marketplace.  It is also without argument that their market share continues to grow faster than the market.  I would go as far as saying, they have played the Internet game as well as anyone.

The second diagram represents the local 'high-service' market.  Suppliers in this market include the traditional local independent printer/quick printer, the franchise quick printer and entering this market recently (last 15 years) are the office products super stores (Staples, Office Max, Office Depot) whom I will generically refer to them as McPrint.  I group these all together as they satisfy the exact same markets and their trade print suppliers are the same as well.  The local independent printer and franchise printer, whom I consider the 'high-end' of this market are obviously squeezed in the market by the "online mega-print website"(Vistaprint), the McPrints and now, add to that, the postal service stores most recently.

Finally, the last supplier of print, as depicted in this diagram, is that to Big Business and that Large Commercial Printer and Agency Supplier.  These are the least threatened by the Internet supplier, but are much more threatened by the Internet itself (ie: Britannica ending print versions this year, thinner magazines, etc.).  Where this does come into play in the local market is that many of these printers are the trade printers that supply products and services to the local printer.  Obviously a complex, complicated and convoluted business market - and I am only scratching the surface.  Add technological improvements, economies of scale and an abundance of used 'old-technology' equipment on the market and the business is beyond understanding and really 100s if not 1000s of different businesses.

So what will LightsOn Graphics business game be?  Making the 'local', whomever that may be, much more efficient and creating an advantage over the threat from Vistaprint.  Several big companies have Vista kill projects - We have the answer that makes this possible - which will save this local service market and ultimately keep quality up and prices in check for the consumer - stay tuned.

April 5, 2012

Identifying the Opportunity - Having a Vision - More Cause (not the effect- yet).

As I have said before, even though my focus is local printers and saving the local printer, what I am saying can be applied to so many different businesses today.

Local printers are having a great deal of difficulty competing with the 'online mega-print website'; why?

1) Perceived price - the 'online mega-print website' advertises low prices that are not real, especially if you, the buyer, are really in business.  You don't want the printers information on the back of the card, you want it faster than 3 1/2 weeks, you want it to represent you and not some generic template and you want it on a card stock, not a heavy paper.  Of course you can pay for the "upgrades" that make it a normal business card, but then you would pay about the same, and sometimes more, than you would if you had bought it from the local printer (without the local printer guidance for you).

2) Advertising - the 'online mega-print website' can advertise in big ways, painting a picture that they are the norm.  They are not, but consumers don't interact enough with printers thus they have no knowledge of any other place to go.  This is why the online mega-print websites have won the B2C business, but have not been able to pierce the B2B opportunity.  Once your business becomes real, you no longer have the time to waste 45 minutes placing an order, wait 3-4 weeks (std delivery) for the order and then finally receive the inferior-undersized product.

In reality (in my head), the local printer needs to NOT try to fight this battle with the online mega-print websites; it is a waste of their resources and they can not convince the consumer until they experience both the product and process first hand.  The local printer must focus on real businesses.

A funny footnote... I was talking to someone last weekend about this and they said they liked the 'online mega-print websites' as they saved money, did not mind the 'online mega-print website' ad on the back, did not need it fast and the quality was not important.  I said, "your law firm orders from 'online mega-print website'"?  Her response was "Oh no. for my side business, they (the law firm) would never order 'online mega-print website' cards".

Finally, if the printer focuses on competing with 'online mega-print website' we will see the end to this local business and service and the cost of this product will only increase in the long run.

Yes, I think I have the solution and am getting around to telling you about it.  Visit www.LightsOnGraphics.com - figure out what we are doing.  Rolling this out on a broader basis shortly.

April 2, 2012

Identifying the Opportunity - Having a Vision - The Cause (not the effect)

I am writing this specific to the local printing market, but the concepts and the decisions apply to business in general as this blog entry demonstrates.

Prior to the 1960s, most home town business was locally owned and managed  - a time long gone.  We remember (some of us) the local pharmacist, the diner, the tailor, the cleaners, the corner store, the local printer, etc...  We then experienced a transformation where enterprising individuals (opportunists) expanded their businesses by packaging their business such that it could be sold to individuals looking for opportunities in distant locations. The 1950s and 1960s were the "Wild-Wild-West" era of franchising - minimal regulation and scams in a "buyer-beware" world.  The boom in franchising began.  Franchising brought us (arguably) consistent quality, business buying power and trusted/recognized brands.  With time, regulations from the FTC and its state equivalents made the purchase of a franchise much more transparent if only by making cost-of-entry so much higher.

The Internet era brought new competition; "local" was redefined as being as close as your computer.  Regulations ended up not being needed, even though they were frequently brought up and discussed.  The Internet (as a market) has evolved into a self-regulated market with minimal government regulation (not making a political argument here).  The 1990s and early 2000s were the Internets "Wild-Wild-West" era; today, we have evolved, like franchising evolved, into a market where we have trusted shopping locations, consistent quality and trusted brands.

The bad side of the Internet, IMHO, is the elimination of local service in business transactions that require service (again IMHO).  I have a story that should hit home pretty hard.  Remember the Hobby Shop?  I was in one in South Florida in, I think around 2002,  I witnessed the owner becoming very upset with a consumer who was a slot car enthusiast.  The consumer, I guess, would frequently come in, evaluate a products quality and suck knowledge and demonstration from the store owner and then buy the product online for the purpose of saving $3 on a $30 item.  What I witnessed was the store owner losing-it and kicking the consumer out of the store.  Who won here?  The store eventually went out of business and the consumer lost their ability to touch and evaluate the product before buying it.  Bought one of those radio-controlled helicopters lately? - Junk.!.!  Even worse, they cost more for the return shipping than original cost of the product... ugh..!!

How is the local printing market similar to this?  Next entry...