Friday, April 23, 2010

How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Recession

By Matt Valentine

At KDF Reprographics, we are, as our name suggests, in the reprographics industry. Lately, there is a growing fear that the reprographics industry is facing a crisis of sorts. This crisis is not just some imaginary fear derived from the panic of a recession; it is fear based on some very real and very scary facts. For example, some estimates suggest that the printing industry lost 2,844 firms in 2009.

Furthermore, while many sectors of the economy are slowly recovering, the construction industry, the industry many reprographics companies rely on heavily to generate revenue, has continued to lag far behind.  According to an article in Business Week, written by Courtney Schlisserman on April 1, 2010, construction spending in the U.S. fell in February to the lowest level in more than seven years, signaling this part of the economy remains in a recession.

While these stats are frightening enough there are several other factors that should and are giving us in the industry cause for concern. First, we live in an increasingly paperless world. As information and communication are decimated through different electronic mediums the use of paper documents has become less relevant. Not exactly a new trend, but a troubling one for those of us in a paper based industry. Second, as previously stated, the recession has had a profound impact on the reprographics and printing industry. And as a direct result of the first two factors there has been a decrease in the available volume of printing projects and therefore a smaller pie for all of us to eat. 

Before we go any further let me make one thing clear, because I don’t want to give people the wrong impression. We, at KDF, are not struggling; in fact we just had one of our best months ever. We achieved this mainly by positioning ourselves as the company to turn to for large format printing needs from reprographics, to vehicle wrapsbannerspostersdocument scanning and trade show displays. Mention one of these items and we are likely the first name to come up in our local area.

While this is obviously good for us, the fact remains that the reprographics industry and the printing industry as a whole are in a state of flux. The days of mom and pop operations are rapidly coming to an end as they struggle to meet the challenges from large national chains, other local competitors, and outside factors like the recession.


We started taking  more of a "Long-Tail" approach. If there was, as I stated earlier, a smaller piece of the pie to be had by all in our traditional markets, then we would have to move into others. We launched new product lines, and new websites, focused on different niches and demographics well outside our "usual" customer base.  If we couldn't sell a ton of our traditional services then we would sell smaller amounts of a wide range of products and services.  Which led us to the next key strategy.

Embracing Technology

I consider myself to be fairly tech savvy, having grown up in the digital age where I've seen my cell phone go from green screens, to color screens, to touch screens, and watched my desktop shrink to a laptop, which shrank to an iPad. It's clear that in order to stay ahead we have to embrace new technologies; including new ways to reach out to customers. Embracing new trends like social media, and even SMS (text message) advertising, though I have debated against it here in the past  ( are crucial  if we intend to stay in business. Which brings me to my next point.

Targeting Generation Y

Gearing our efforts toward attracting Generation Y-ers will be integral for the future of every business for several reasons. First, Generation Y is the largest generation in American history. At 77 million strong, they even outnumber the baby-boomers. Which means soon enough every business will be relying on the economic power of Generation Y to keep them afloat. If you are not speaking to them on terms they understand you're continued existence will be put in jeopardy.

Another important factor to consider is that while all of the other generations changed their spending habits during the recession the Y-ers remained remarkably consistent, hardly changing their spending habits at all. Which means that if you are able to capture their attention and retain them as customers you can rely on them in good times and bad.

Second, Generation Y is extremely influential. In fact, they are the trend-setters. Trends trickle up from them to their parents and so on. They may have been the single biggest factor in determining the outcome of the previous Presidential election, and as far as I can tell it doesn't get much more influential then that. More importantly to us, is that they have the ability to influence the buying decisions of older generations, as well as their peers.

Third, they are incredibly tech savvy. Being a part of Generation Y, in my mid-twenties, I have a deep understanding of what these people look for and the ways in which they obtain, and spread information. That is why it is integral that we embrace emerging technological trends be it, SMS, social media, or whatever else emerges in the years to come.We as a generation are constantly plugged in, we never leave home without our phones. We want to be in touch and respond instantaneously and we demand immediate gratification.  If you cannot provide that for us, we will find someone else who can.

Knowing how and when to adapt is the key to survival, be it in business or life in general. I believe adopting these strategies, amongst others, will be key to the survival of many businesses.

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