The printing industry isn't what it used to be. There's no denying that. While I absolutely still believe there are tremendous opportunities in print media for smart marketers right now, it's hard to argue that anybody is or should be doing more total print volume now than the same size business was doing 20 years ago.

So a market correction is a natural occurrence. Especially in an industry where equipment costs run into the millions of dollars for a single printing press, there was and is a tremendous amount of pressure to keep those presses running. A solid industry with good margins and plenty of work for everybody turned into a cutthroat battle over who could sell what they had at the cheapest price to keep the machinery running and their people busy.

High-volume print shops traditionally operated on three eight-hour shifts per day, seven days a week. Their pricing and business models were built on that kind of volume, so the investments these printing companies made were based on a press that operated 24/7. As volumes decreased, rather than trying to adjust to the marketplace, many printers simply continued to slash prices in a desperate attempt to preserve a dying business model.

Here on Long Island printers have done the same, and we've seen the carnage that has resulted, both in the print industry itself and, more importantly, in what it's done to their customers. Sure, it was hard for a little while watching a few (but fortunately not many) good clients jump ship because they were offered a price they couldn't refuse. But while we were busy changing, adapting, and maintaining our quality of work and service, most of those Long Island printing companies either are no longer with us or they're barely hanging on with no ability to produce quality work because they slashed expenses to the bone to support a pricing model that's not sustainable.

Happily, just about any client that's ever left us for price reasons has returned because they realized that with printing, as with everything else, you get what you pay for. Somebody that cares only about price will always only care about price, regardless of the service you provide. That means the only thing you can ever do to keep that customer happy is be the cheapest. The minute you're not the cheapest, they'll find a competitor that is.

This business philosophy can work, Walmart is an amazingly successful company. But there's only one Walmart, and you can't out-Walmart Walmart, as the saying goes. Target, on the other hand, found a way to compete with Walmart by offering high-end design at mass scale. This allowed for lower prices than people were used to paying for similar items, but prices that were still higher than Walmart.

Some people are willing to pay for quality, but not all people. Some people are willing to pay for amazing service, but not all people. Some people are willing to pay for outstanding reliability, but not all people. And some people simply want the lowest price possible without regard for quality, service, or reliability - but not all people. Somewhere in there is where you need to find your niche. We don't compete on price because we know that to do so would compromise the outstanding quality, service, and reliability our customers have come to know and expect from us. And once you take your business down that road, there's no coming back.

That doesn't mean we're never the lowest price (we often are, or are at least close enough for it not to matter), or even that we don't make concessions every once in a while for great clients when they need it (we do). It just means that we're confident that those who value quality, service, and reliability will happily pay a reasonable price for those attributes, and that we need to charge what we need to charge to offer that to our customers. We've built our business on the simple philosophy that we offer the absolute best value anywhere. We don't have a single competitor that provides higher quality or better service at our price point, and that's something we're simply unwilling to compromise on.

If you have a sustainable business model that allows you to always be the cheapest option, go for it. There are definitely customers out there that will find you and work with you. But if your business is built on more than just price, be confident that there are customers who also value what you bring to the table. If you find that you need to steeply discount your products and services just to stay in business, you've not done a good enough job establishing why you're worth a bit of a price premium. If that's the case, spend your time finding out where you're falling short and working to improve in those areas to show your customers why they have no choice but to work with you.

Stand for something meaningful and live or die by it.

Chris Searles is President of Searles Media and specializes in helping small businesses maximize their available resources to market themselves effectively using a wide variety of media. Visit Website

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