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Success Stories

Our assignments are complex, so they’re difficult to summarize without the risk of oversimplification. And since all the work we do is highly sensitive, we take special care to preserve client confidentiality.That’s why success stories are often difficult to share. In fact, many of our greatest successes remain well-guarded secrets.

Every project requires a slightly different combination of services and skills, but many projects have common threads. We hope the following summaries will convey some sense of the ways in which we’ve succeeded across a broad range of assignments.

In every case, certain details have been adjusted to ensure confidentiality.

Earning more profits from the EXISTING business

The Situation: A $12 million commercial shop was doing fairly well, but wasn’t earning the kind of profits they wanted. We found that sales were unpredictable – varying considerably from month to month – and the company was maintaining plenty of extra capacity for its peak months. Profits were fairly good in the good months, but losses were fairly large in the bad months.

Our Approach: It was clear that the company needed more consistent sales volume. It was also clear that costs needed to be more closely aligned with likely volume. We identified the company’s three worst sales months and helped to build a plan for improving sales during those slowest periods – with a special focus on building new customer relationships. We also helped the company to align their cost structure with likely sales – which required making some tough choices. Ultimately, they cut their capacity by about 5%.

The Results: Sales for the next twelve months only rose 6%, but sales during the three worst months were up by more than 20%. Since costs had been lowered somewhat, this had a huge effect on profitability. Instead of suffering painful losses during problem sales months, the company essentially broke even, while becoming slightly more profitable during the rest of the year. Pre-tax profits rose from $300,000 to almost $800,000. While these are hardly record-setting results, they were a vast improvement, nonetheless.

Curing problem sales months

The Situation: Kay’s $12 million commercial shop was doing fairly well, but wasn’t earning the kind of profits they wanted. We found that sales were unpredictable – varying considerably from month to month – and the company was maintaining plenty of extra capacity for its peak months. Profits were fairly good in the good months, but losses were fairly large in the bad months.

Our Approach: It was clear that the company needed more consistent sales volume. It was also clear that costs needed to be more closely aligned with likely volume. We identified the company’s three worst sales months and helped to build a plan for improving sales during those slowest periods – with a special focus on building new customer relationships. Then we  helped the company to align their cost structure with likely sales – which required making some tough choices. Ultimately, they cut their capacity by about 5%.

We also started the process of improving their short-term sales projections – getting everyone to face up to the facts, so that there wouldn’t be sudden surprises when jobs were delayed or cancelled. The early warning permitted faster reaction in offering opportunistic pricing when there were likely holes in the schedule.

The Results: Sales for the next twelve months only rose 6%, but sales during the three worst months were up by more than 20%. Since costs had been lowered somewhat, this had a huge effect on profitability.

The improved sales projections allowed the company to be more aggressive in pricing when it was clear they would unexpectedly have unused capacity.

All the changes contributed to profitability. Instead of suffering painful losses during problem sales months, the company essentially broke even, while becoming slightly more profitable during the rest of the year. Pre-tax profits rose from $300,000 to almost $800,000. While these are hardly record-setting results, they were still a vast improvement.

Getting from 8% to 13% EBITDA – one bite at a time

The Situation: A $25 million sheetfed printer had successfully integrated value- added services into its product mix – with highly-personalized digital printing, marketing programs, data-management, mailing and fulfillment services playing an important role in their growth. Even though value-added content was very high, sales had been flat for a few years as traditional work dried up. The plant was turning out decent work and was handling complex jobs with relatively few screw-ups, but the company’s EBITDA was 8% -- not awful, but hardly what they were hoping for.

Our Approach: It was clear that everyone in management was working hard. The company had good operational and financial reporting, and good production data, but managers weren’t holding people responsible for results. Everyone was doing the best they could, but there were no standards for performance – or at least no accountability for performance. Even their most successful salespeople were relatively unfocused in their selling efforts.

We helped management to instill a sense of accountability in the plant, helped to install a systematic program to improve productivity, improved responsiveness by reducing turnaround times in pre-press, revamped the sales compensation system to focus on value-added and profitability, and worked to install a set of key indicators for management to use in judging their progress. During the process, we carried on a continuing series of biweekly phone calls with the CEO, making sure that priorities were clear, and results were on track, with prompt remedial action taken whenever the required progress wasn’t being made.

The Results: Within a few months, EBITDA had risen from 8% to 10%. By year- end, it was running at a 11% rate, and now even moderately good months are generating 13% EBITDA.

Productivity has grown – with more than 20% improvement in the pressroom alone – so the company has lots more capacity and can meet customer demands for faster turnarounds without panicking. Sales have begun growing, with both profitability and value-added content continuing to rise. As salespeople focus on bringing in the right kind of business and the right kinds of clients, they are earning more per dollar of sales. Everyone is happy.

The company will probably earn 13% EBITDA this year, and they’re working to see whether 15% might be a possible target. They certainly have the product mix and value-added content to make that possible.

Becoming easy to do business with

The Situation: For a reason they couldn’t identify, Arlen’s fairly large company was having difficulty competing for business. They could print well, and their prices weren’t out of line. They had all the right equipment and a decent salesforce, but they weren’t winning their share of desirable jobs. They had tried a variety of approaches – from lower pricing to a new sales manager. And they never stopped beating up their salesforce.

Our Approach: After a careful look around, it was easy for us to see where things had gone wrong. It wasn’t a problem with the salesforce. The company was difficult to do business with. Their  turnarounds were too slow, with far too many careless errors. Scheduling wasn’t very reliable either: even with slow turnaround time, jobs were often late. Clearly, order-entry was too difficult, and production scheduling  was dysfunctional.

We simplified their order-entry process, creating a faster workflow for entering most jobs, and getting the smallest jobs into another workflow path that was scheduled separately. We also convinced salespeople that it was in their interest to provide better information (can you believe it?) and reoriented the entire order processing flow to ensure things were handled more quickly and accurately.

The Results: Within 90 days, total turnaround time on most jobs was reduced by two days. Sixty days later, sales were up by almost 12%, as customers and salesperson noticed the change in output. As an added bonus, the faster turnaround times reduced the need for overtime in press and bindery by more than one- third.

It’s no surprise that profits showed a dramatic improvement.

Selling a troubled company

The Situation: A $7 million printing company had seen its market erode over several years. The owner was close to retirement age, and was worried about his son’s future in the business. The owner didn’t have the stomach to make investments in new equipment, or to try rebuilding his salesforce. After three years of increasing losses, it seemed clear that the company would have difficulty maintaining its independence.

Our Approach: Despite the losses, the company still had a desirable book of business that we believed would be valuable to other printers in the area. The key was to have prospective buyers look at how our client’s sales would fit within their companies, rather than focusing on our client’s financial results as a stand-alone entity.

We identified two potential buyers that made a particularly good fit with our client’s customers and the kind of work they did. We initiated conversations, and one candidate showed an immediate interest. They saw how well our client’s sales would fit into their present capabilities and customer mix, with no major account conflicts. (Since the buyer and seller were operating in the same market, we took special care to ensure confidentiality.)

The Results: After extended negotiations, we reached agreement on a really favorable deal: The company was sold for an attractive price, with extra incentives for the owner if sales remained at a reasonable level. Six months after the deal closed, the owner retired. His son continued to work as a salesperson, with a three-year employment contract.  With a broader range of services to offer his clients and lots more production capacity, the son’s sales had quickly risen from $800,000 to more than $1.25 million.

Improving account penetration and prospect development

The Situation: Rafael’s $18 million company was a high-quality printer that had seen a 15% drop-off in sales over a two year period – just like so many other mainstream printers.

It was clear the company lacked an effective process for managing sales in the changed competitive environment. The company’s assignment of accounts and prospects was hit or miss, and there were no real standards for sales performance. The company’s salespeople had long been content with low levels of account penetration. As a third-level supplier for many large companies, when sales budgets were cut they saw a huge drop-off in sales. It was equally clear that salespeople didn’t feel accountable for pursuing prospects in a systematic and focused manner.

Our Approach: We helped the company to evaluate its entire sales (and sales management) effort. We developed specific performance requirements for the sales manager, and we helped to develop a method of regular follow-up with the salespeople. We created a framework for assigning accounts and allocating prospects – with specific performance required to retain the accounts and prospects. Two non-performing salespeople were terminated, and their accounts were reassigned to more effective salespeople.

The Results: Within a few months, sales had begun to recover. And the volume was coming from much stronger client relationships. After terminating the two salespeople, every one of their worthwhile accounts had been retained. Two new $250,000 accounts had been developed from prospects that had been assigned to the two departed salespeople, and two other accounts were evolving from under $250,000 in volume to over $500,000. Three salespeople were well on their way to exceeding $2 million in sales for the first time.

More broadly, the company now had a much more mature and effective way of interacting with its salesforce, and seemed poised for further sales growth.

Why wasn’t the client earning more money?

The Situation: A specialty printer was competing in a market niche that had continued to grow. But sales were down and modest profits had given way to growing losses. Plant labor costs were extraordinarily high, rework was at record levels and delivery schedules were being extended further and further into the future.

Our Approach: Two three-day visits permitted us to interview virtually all the key employees. Part of our approach was to help them identify anything that stood in the way of them doing their jobs as quickly, as easily and as well as they should.
The answers pointed to a chaotic plant environment, where there was no time to do things right. Mistakes made jobs late, and there was no time for training or for the maintenance required for equipment to be productive.

Part of the problem lay with the company owner, who was always changing priorities and over-reacting to emergencies.

It was also clear that the plant manager wasn’t holding his department managers accountable for results, making excuses for them rather than setting performance standards and insisting progress was made in achieving those standards. He didn’t believe that real improvements could be made.

The Results: We helped the owner to calm down, and worked with him to build a performance plan with clear goals for improvement. He included his managers in the process, and promised to remove the obstacles to things going the way they should. He also made it clear he would hold them accountable for steadily improving results. The Plant Manager didn’t buy into the process and left. Things immediately improved, as managers began to see that improvements were possible.

Within 90 days, customers and salespeople had noticed the improved plant performance, and sales were up about 10%. The effect on profits was almost incalculable.

Finding a strategic fit in a business sale

The Situation: A $22 million printing company was doing very well, but the owner wanted to explore his options for a favorable exit. He wanted to see whether a favorable sale might be possible.

Our Approach: In order to keep the process under control, we decided to approach only two candidates. One wanted to establish a new presence in our client’s geographic area, and would treat our client’s company as a stand-alone operation.

The other prospective buyer was already operating in the same area, but wanted to strengthen its position and broaden its capabilities. The first prospective buyer was willing to pay a fair multiple of our client’s earnings as a stand-alone operation. The other buyer saw immediate prospects for increased sales because of expanded capabilities, and expected to reduce expenses through consolidating its existing division into the acquired company’s operation. The projected sales increases and the cost savings generated by consolidating operations made the acquisition seem especially desirable and considerably more valuable.

Our client was also concerned about that his employees be treated fairly. Happily, the prospective buyer had no intention of eliminating valuable employees simply to slash costs blindly.

The Results: Both prospective buyers made offers. Because of the excellent strategic fit, the second buyer offered a price that was almost 30% higher. The owner decided that the price was right and sold the company. But he was so excited at the growth opportunities that he decided to continue working as president of the combined regional entity. (As a postscript: after the deal was done and the two companies were combined, there had been some job eliminations. But every crucial employee had been retained – except two, who decided to relocate.)

Sales success, but little profit to show for it

The Situation: Norman’s mainstream commercial printing company was competing in a very tough geographic market. Generating a little more than $20 million in sales, they were producing complex jobs for very demanding clients, and had set themselves apart as an added-value competitor through savvy marketing and a high level of marketing and digital printing expertise. Their salespeople were doing a good job of selling the company’s new value-added capabilities, and clients seemed pleased with the company’s work. Yet somehow, the company wasn’t earning the kind of profits they felt they should be earning.

Our Approach: In a fairly short opportunity audit process, we interviewed a number of key employees and performed a detailed review of some operating information.

We found a number of issues. First was a large number of small orders. Digital jobs were mixed into a mainstream commercial workflow that was unwieldy for those fast-turnaround jobs. And all jobs required too much intervention, with far too many people supervising, all in an uncoordinated way.

The salespeople weren’t helping schedules by making silly delivery commitments, leaving customer service and production people scrambling.

The Results: Making big improvements was a matter of rationalizing the workflows – creating a new path for digital jobs – to reduce the number of steps and speed the process. We also took a new approach to handling many smaller conventional jobs as well. Next, the production staff was given the authority to schedule things more sensibly (not slowly, but sensibly), and the salespeople needed to accept responsibility for making rational delivery commitments.

Happily, with a better workflow, scheduling problems receded and the salespeople could get back to selling. As on-time performance improved, sales began picking up. With more stable schedules and less improvisation, errors were reduced and overtime dropped dramatically. Pre-tax profits rose from 4% to almost 8%. Was it because of higher sales or improved operational performance? The answer is yes.

Promoting people doesn’t automatically turn them into managers

The Situation: Harold’s $30 million company had a substantial fulfillment and hand assembly operation as part of their bundle of added-value services. They were experiencing  horrendous cost overruns on most hand-assembly jobs. Extra people were required to finish jobs at the last minute, and many jobs were late.

The supervisor had been the best handworker before she became the supervisor, and the people working for her thought she was a terrific boss. But the company was disappointing customers every week, and a few big jobs had been assembled incorrectly, threatening some important customer relationships.

Our Approach: We spoke with the supervisor and observed the hand assembly process. It was clear she felt uncomfortable being a supervisor, and she hadn’t been given any training. She didn’t feel it was her place to tell people how to do their jobs, and didn’t have a method for evaluating how fast work should be produced or for organizing the work  to ensure productivity and correctness.

We worked with the plant manager to teach her how to plan the work, evaluate how fast it could be done, and evaluate production speeds as the jobs were worked on.

The plant manager and the supervisor met twice weekly for about six weeks, until she developed her own method of evaluating production rates, deciding how many people were required to produce the job on time and how to evaluate progress as the job was being worked on.

The Results: Soon the plant manager was spending no time at all worrying about hand assembly jobs being late.

Within 45 days, overtime had been cut by almost one-half and within two months the number of temporary workers had been cut by a third. Actual vs. estimated performance on hand assembly showed that productivity had improved by more than 40%.

The supervisor said two things made a difference: The plant manager’s willingness to help showed her how important it was to improve her performance. Then she gave herself permission to ACT like a supervisor because she knew she wasn’t bossing people around, she was helping them to do their jobs better and more easily.

In the six months that followed, the crisis atmosphere disappeared. With customers happy, the salespeople began selling fulfillment services again, and the company was producing more work than ever– not only on time, but also consistently close to the estimated costs.

Keeping Estimators from playing it safe

The Situation: Herb’s company wasn’t winning enough of the really competitive jobs they were bidding on – even on jobs that fit the company particularly well. It was especially bad with bidding for new clients’ work. He was competing in a very tough geographic market, but he had a decent salesforce and a decent reputation. customers well, Something was out of line.

Our Approach: We found a hidden reason for his problem. From time to time, he had beaten up his estimators when there were job cost overruns. As a result, they had begun to play it safe – padding prices to “protect” the company (and themselves!) from unforeseen problems on jobs, especially with new customers (and difficult existing customers). As a result, many quotes had extra costs built in as a cushion. We convinced the estimators that playing it safe was keeping the company from getting the amount of work it needed – especially from new customers. And we showed them that losing good jobs was the riskiest thing we could do.

The Results: It took almost a month for the estimators to build new habits, but they began to play it straight, and their win ratio for really competitive work improved fairly quickly. It also removed the pricing mysteries on some jobs they really wanted, but had peviously been discouraged the required price reductions appeared too large to even bother.

Within six months, more new accounts were being opened than ever before, and three relatively new accounts had become real clients – growing from a run rate of about $50,000 each, to almost $600,000 in projected sales for the year.

Worse-looking cost sheets, but better-looking financials

The Situation: Fred was very careful in his pricing, and only took jobs at a certain mark-up. He had plenty of unused capacity, but was very fussy about the work he took. When sales continued to evaporate,  he didn’t replace the higher-priced sales with other work. There simply wasn’t enough full-priced work to fully cover his costs, so his job cost sheets looked very good, but his financial statements looked terrible.

Our Approach: We convinced Fred that if there’s not enough work to cover his fixed costs, the month’s results can be pretty dismal, no matter how high-priced the work might be.

The explanation is pretty simple. Your income statement doesn’t know anything about your cost sheets. It just knows you had X dollars of sales and Y dollars of expenses. It doesn’t care how you got there. It just wants more sales than expenses.

The single thing that sets the profit leaders apart is how busy they keep their plants – not how high their pricing is. They know they can never make up for having too little work, so they sell everything they can at high prices, and if they have any capacity left, they sell it at the highest prices they can get. But they make sure to SELL it.  

The Results: Fred tried his best not to disturb his normal pricing while he began using selective pricing as one way of competing for attractive new customers, or for winning new work from existing customers. He began developing some interesting new accounts, his plant got a little busier and his financial statements began to look a lot better. Yes, he did have some homely cost sheets, but after seeing his financials, he didn’t care.

xAligning Costs with the Business’s New Direction (and size)

The Situation: Keith was struggling in the transition from being a traditional printer to offering a range of value-added services. As a $12 million printer with a fair amount of promising new business, he still wasn’t making the kind of money he expected to be earning, and he couldn’t figure out why. The pricing was good, and the value-added content was excellent.

Our Approach: It turned out that Keith had several issues. First, he was being too optimistic and was overstaffed – staffing for peak demand rather than more realistic levels of business. We helped him to see that it’s far better to struggle producing too much work than it is to have too many employees with too little work for them to do.

He also saw that there was a poor fit between his existing organization and the skills his new business required.  Some people had only partial jobs and others simply didn’t fit the new business profile.

The Results: The effects were dramatic, but not surprising. First, he eliminated four jobs in the plant. Over the next six months, he saved $120,000 in salaries and benefits, and spent $23,000 in added overtime. Annualized, he was saving almost $200,000. He combined a number of administrative tasks, and eliminated three people. He replaced two expensive service people with one new project manager (at a lower salary), and eliminated one of his estimators by simplifying and standardizing the estimating approach.. The five job eliminations plus three in the plant saved more than $475,000 annually – not bad in a $12 million company!

More important, things started to go more quickly and easily as the organization became aligned with the new ways it needed to do things.

Getting better results from a new MIS system

The Situation: Mal had selected a new MIS system, biting the bullet on the cost, and hoping it would streamline the way things were done in his company.

But the system proved to be a big disappointment. It didn’t make order entry much easier, it didn’t help scheduling at all, billing and financial statements were just as slow, and he couldn’t even get the management reports he wanted – at least not in formats he could read.

Our Approach: We found the problem wasn’t with the MIS system at all. It was in the implementation. Mal hadn’t made clear to his staff how he envisioned the system being used to streamline certain operations. The staff members responsible for the implementation were also unclear as to what he needed in managerial reporting. As a result, they didn’t fully appreciate some of the choices they had to make. They were also in a hurry to make progress, and hadn’t coordinated processes with a range of users, which led to poor reporting practices and a lot of inaccurate data.

We revisited the entire system implementation – starting with Mal – getting him to outline his overall expectations and the analytical reporting he needed. We also spoke with users throughout the company, ensuring the company understood their needs and they understood the potential benefits of the new system.

The Results: Re-implementing the system took some time and some backward steps, but the payoff was huge, as order processing was simplified, estimating made easier and scheduling improved immensely.

It took a few months to find all the problems, and a few more months to fix them. Three administrative jobs were eliminated, turnaround time was reduced more than a day, and overtime was reduced substantially. On-time deliveries became easier to achieve, customer satisfaction improved and salespeople could sell enthusiastically, confident that schedules would be met. The payoff on the new MIS system proved to be even larger than Mal had planned.



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