Manish Sharma's five-point pandemic prescription for handling adversity

The Printo CEO and co-founder listed measures for print — ranging from survival to shelving under-performing businesses and products — as the pandemic rattles on.

17 May 2021 | By Charmiane Alexander

Sharma: Get a reality check by looking at the real numbers rather than a guesstimate

As the print industry figures out how to keep their brands afloat in the prolonged Covid-19 pandemic, the BMPA invited Manish Sharma, the CEO and co-founder of Printo which has 36 printing stores across six cities on shared suggestions about how to keep the lights on and to use this tough time to streamline offerings.

He offered the following advice to print delegates looking to retool themselves during this time and prepare for a future. He felt they need to learn to communicate with customers in new ways. One message that shone through during his interaction with industry leaders during the Q&A was: "This is not a hunker down to survive to fight another day scenario. A large swathe of us may not be relevant any longer and we need to change or move on - and do it fast".

Here's what Sharma told attendees during the BMPA webinar:

1. Do what you can control and do it quickly: Sharma shared his experience from the first lockdown. He said, first stop all payouts till you have time to reset the finances. Also to calculate operating profit. (EBITDA) with simulated revenues drop of100% and 50%. With the unprecedented impact of Covid, the industry is looking for new solutions and answers.

2. Look at costs: Sharma suggested a re-look at all fixed costs to zero, including rent and people costs which plays a big role in Printo's P&L. And finally, he said, to communicate with everyone. He mentioned how he deployed Zoom and WhatsApp video calls with his team to discuss sales and profit numbers plus tap weekly strategy. Sharma said one must speak to the internal team very early about all the bad news. Internal communications is a cornerstone of a successful purpose-led strategy and should be at the forefront of leaders’ minds for 2021.

3. Conserve your cash cows: Everyone has something in their product line that doesn't take too much more investment to keep up to date and squeeze valuable cash to keep the business going. For example, as 'Wartime Acting CEO" at Printo, Sharma spoke to both vendors and clients himself. He said, "Cash is everything and from a market standpoint, it is about survival." The Printo strategy was: inform vendors very early and pay the small guys with real inputs costs; delay the large companies who have the capacity to absorb but inform them proactively and agree on a payout schedule.

4. Act with speed: In a pandemic, there are so many variables for a marketer to contend with—your customer may not be able to open, or may even go out of business. Which is why, Printo acted quickly in March 2020. The steps they implemented were: expansion Capex was stopped; hiring was frozen; increments cancelled; marketing / discretionary expenses stopped; and finally focus on receivables and conserving cash. Sharma shared that all of this was done in 10 days by the Printo team during March 2020.
5. Be in touch with your customers. Stand first in the queue. Sharma said, discuss your cashflow and business directly with the customers. You need to tap your customer database to boost your odds of success in clearing dues. Sharma cautioned that commercial print businesses will need to re-think and re-invent. He said the commercial print firms will need to ask: therefore, what? Consider your industry and segment, and the trends affecting your market. Print firm CEOs need to work backwards and ask what customers want.

(clockwise) Manish Sharma, Milap Shah, Anuj Bhargava and Faheem Agboatwala 

He shared pointers to evaluate one's strength. Sharma felt that the print needs to create a unique and valuable business module. He cited innumerable examples with the delegates during the Q&A and said, commercial print will have to te-invent to stay relevant.

The message that stayed with the delegates was: "If we want to save this industry: Get a reality check by looking at the real numbers rather than a guesstimate. We all have strengths so use them to act fast and move to where the money is going."

The BMPA will host its next session on 12 June. It's a session about "understanding numbers that drive our business". To register for the session, contact the BMPA Secretariat.

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