The Dhote mantra for ease in printing

A printer cum CA, Uday Dhote has been interpreting the vagaries of doing business. He exemplifies the strengths and weaknesses of today's competitive milieu - and offers 11 practical tips

22 Dec 2010 | By Uday Dhote

Mumbai Mudrak Sangh’s (MMS) initiative, At Your Doorstep, with the support of PrintWeek India was launched in Thane and Kandivali. Both sessions were attended by print CEOs who discussed the challenges they encountered in their day-to-day practice.

Both sessions were chaired by Uday Dhote, past president of MMS, who provided participants with tips for costing and running a profitable sign-and-print-based business
1. Have a plan

For any plan to have a meaning, it needs to set out a basic set of assumptions about its internal and external environment.

Dhote Offset added a monochrome digital in 2008. It was a simple Xerox machine, which was worth Rs 15-16 lakh. We had to print corporate manuals on it. Recently we bought a second monochrome machine and a four-colour digital. We began the digital unit to complement offset. All three machines work for 20 hours each, despite being digital.

Work automatically began to flow in. I concentrate on the two-colour and four-colour machines and whatever work I can get out of them. I can choose clients now and take up jobs accordingly. Also, I had a good post-press bindery that’s coming in handy with all the digital work now. I take up digital orders outside Thane, Mumbai and beyond.

Work comes in through word-of-mouth publicity. I don’t have a marketing team in place. Just two-three seniors in our company, market our work. I haven’t even seen most of my clients. But if you check the emails I exchange with them, you’d think we are the best of friends. But that’s okay, I guess. I get all my files on time via FTP servers, I download them, get precise instructions over email, send proofs across via digital and then the delivery takes place. It’s important to read the instructions and interpret them, so much so that we have created the post of ‘co-ordinator’, who just absorbs instructions and translates them precisely. Everyone should speak a common language of communication.

My point is, today a small-to-medium enterprise or medium enterprise need not be disadvantaged from large corporations. Even if they lack the resources and tools to make forecasts, they can do certain things to plan ahead.

2. It’s all about the money

We accept that no two businesses are the same just as no two people are the same. And yet, printers expect prices to be matched or be the same?

Printers to develop an understanding of hidden costs and get to know their press better. Most firms, when they are costing, begin with designing, plate-making and CTP, plus paper and printing. This is the rate I’m talking about.

No one considers finishing according to the complexity of the job. What about salary, AC, the rent, depreciation of machinery, etc. Therefore decide the rate, properly.

The actual printing costs involve so many acrobatics. There are so many overheads – and yet try to cover with rates like Rs 150 per 1000 sheets! Who has determined these rates and how can we standardise them? It’s just not possible. Also, there are depreciation costs that we tend to ignore. Then we ignore profitability too. We think of profitability as something recovered over jobs. The successful print firms are those which believe profitability can be tapped from each process and profit centre.
3. Be organised

Organisation is an art. For some printers it is so difficult that they feel as if they’re just meant to be unorganised.

Some printers fear getting organised. But getting organised doesn’t take too much time at all. The strategy is to work it into your life in small steps. Once your strategy is in place and you use it, you will find things just flow naturally.

At Dhote, we always take an advance for large orders. For instance, annual reports. These are standard jobs that are expected and we budget it accordingly. We take a 50-60% advance for material and substrate, no matter how reputed the company is. We enter into a year-long contract for digital printing with corporate companies.

It’s imperative that print firms build basic financial spreadsheets. As a business operator, if they can’t build a basic spreadsheet representing what the business does, then seek help from an accountant or a financial advisor.

4. Change bad habits

Try to change things that don’t work. Sounds easy? Well, once you have the knack, it is.

One of our friends, a label converter narrated this incident. He decided not to take up even a four-paise job without a purchase order. He told his clients that in case they don’t have time to give him a purchase order, he would send someone to get the order. With this system, he saves 55% energy on recovery and getting clients to pay.Now he can utilise about 95% energy on production and marketing.

Printers need to review and revisit their business and introduce changes so that it grows. For example, investing in low cost technology is an effective way to fast track a business organisation. I feel, database software will typically return its investment in a few months, offering years of benefits. Even an investment in an MIS software to automate a quote to manage business functions can save time and improve the speed and accuracy of quoting, job tickets and invoicing, thereby improving cash-flow.

5. Innovate or die

Again, this is a simple thing. Ask yourself the five basic questions:

  1. What did you innovate last month?
  2. Did you try to improve the technological prowess of your people, last month?
  3. How do you look at improvement in your business –randomly or planned?
  4. In what ways might you improve your printed product, this month?
  5. What do you think is causing the problem and what can one do to solve it?

6. Web site and e-marketing

The internet is a very powerful platform. It has changed the way we do business, and the way we communicate. A lot of our files are  being sourced through FTP servers, PDFs are being emailed. Plus there’s online communication.

Therefore print firms, especially in India can do much more in terms of reaching out to a very large market, directly, fast and economically.

With a very low investment in a website or a portal, the print firm can reach out to customers (and future customers).

7. Go legal

As mentioned above, a verbal agreement is not worth the paper it’s written on. Mumbai’s print association has a grievance committee, and one can see that we are becoming a litigious society.

I think print firms must make the effort to:

  • Publish terms and conditions on quotes,paperwork and
  • Publish terms and conditions on the website.
  • Make sure terms of trade are appropriate, if not, seek professional legal advice.
  • Add the association logo to outgoing communications; it carries weightage
  • Never do anything without documentation in place.
  • Ensure you are legally employing people.
  • Ensure your workplace is safe and legal.

8. Licensed versions of softwares

Recently there has been police raid in the premises of print firms.

This has caused much consternation to the community. I believe there is no solution apart from keeping licensed versions of the software.

Having said that, whenever someone comes to raid your premises, you need to know the law, to be able to protect your rights. Some people have an authorisation from their company, say for instance, Corel or Adobe. With this, they are authorised to conduct a search, provided they have permissions from the local DCPs. At the time of the raid, the local senior PIs must give them the permission to conduct a raid.

If you have good relations with the local police station, they will give you a heads up before a raid is to be conducted. If the person has to check for Corel Draw, he can only check Corel Draw and leave.

He has no right to check other softwares on your system. Secondly, the policeman accompanying the person doesn’t know anything.

The complainant’s engineer has no right to check anything on your system. You are allowed to frisk them to check if they have any devices like CDs, pen drives, where they can carry information out of your press. There is no point bribing these people, since it becomes an unending saga.

9. Ask for help when needed

Printers have to talk to each other and seek help.

Co-operation is the key. Recently, a few print firms came together and negotiated with a MIS company for a software which they required. As a result, they were able to pool their technological resources – and get a good price for the purchase.

Also, this will enable a common database where we will know how to buy a speciality paper when one is stuck with a particular job. We could create an agency, which we could dial and get answers to queries. I think this sort of technical guidance is a need of the hour.
But it can happen only if more printers start trusting each other.

10. Value based relationship

It’s important to communicate with customers.

A printer has to absorb a 5-10% paper rise. But he should inform the client about the risen costs. However, the approvals from the client come in after six months, by which time the costs have gone up by 25%.

There is no provision for a future price rise. Sometimes printers do consider the price rise, but this is a conservative price increase of 5-10% of the costs. Unfortunately what happens is, for a 25-30% rise, the printer is not able to demand a price hike. For this to happen, all printers who are supplying to the client must demand a simultaneous price hike at the same time.

That’s why printers must respond immediately to a cost rise – and inform the client of the new rates and demand a revision in the contract. This information should be supported with authentic proof from a paper mill or the printing association.

11. Learn to relax

And above all, I think printers need to learn to take time out from their busy lives, relax and reduce stress. There are different ways of doing this.

Playing golf (like Pratap Kamat or Bimal Mehta) or cricket (Chittaranjan Das Choudhary or Mukesh Dhruve). Travelling to Ranthambore (like Roopesh Sawant) or Europe with the family (like most of us). A good book (Mehul Desai) or music concert (Jayraj Salgaonkar) or a long walk around Shivaji Park (like my brother Tushar Dhote). Or the latest Bollywood stress buster can have a number of benefits such as reducing blood pressure, better clarity and rejuvenation. And boost for the next day at work.

For additional information,
Uday Dhote can be contacted on:

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