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Management Counts

Management Counts

By Ray Chambers

About Ray

Ray Chambers, CGCM, MBA, has invested over 30 years managing and directing printing plants, copy centers, mail centers and award-winning document management facilities in higher education and government.

Most recently, Chambers served as vice president and chief information officer at Juniata College. Chambers is currently a doctoral candidate studying Higher Education Administration at the Pennsylvania State University (PSU). His research interests include outsourcing in higher education and its impact on support services in higher education and managing support services. He also consults (Chambers Management Group) with leaders in both the public and private sectors to help them understand and improve in-plant printing and document services operations.

PIA/NAPL Unification Talks: Good for In-plants?

The printing industry, like a lot of the economy, is hurting. We all know that. Nationally, printing industry sales are down. There are fewer commercial printing companies. Organizations are closing or downsizing in-plants. The used-press dealers are overstocked with some pretty sophisticated hardware acquired from out-of-business printers at bargain prices. It’s not a pretty picture.

So it should come as no surprise that two preeminent printing trade groups—Printing Industries of America (PIA) and the National Association of Printing Leadership (NAPL)—have started “unification” talks. In a February 23 release, Michael Makin, president and CEO of Printing Industries of America, said “...after a full day of very productive and open discussions, the group [industry leaders attending the Vision 3 Summit] was able to reach unanimous consensus to move forward with a plan and process to address the above issues which will greatly benefit members of the groups as well as the industry in general [my emphasis].”

Mr. Makin continues: “A special task force has been formed consisting of representatives from both NAPL and Printing Industries of America which will collaborate and move forward with a unification process.”

In a letter to NAPL members, NAPL President & CEO Joe Truncale stated, “In response to requests from many company and associate members, NAPL’s leadership entered into discussions with the leadership of Printing Industries of America about the possible unification of the associations into a single entity that would best serve the interests of all our members and our industry [my emphasis].”

So that sounds like it’s a done deal, and while there are planning and organizational issues to iron out, the two organizations appear to be on a path to merge. A similar proposal was rejected by NAPL in 2009. I wonder what’s changed.

How will this affect us as in-plant managers? That’s a good question. Last time I looked we’re part of the printing industry. A pretty sizeable part of it, in fact. But as usual, with the exception of In-Plant Graphics, printing and graphic arts media coverage will focus on how the unification impacts the commercial printing industry, but not the industry in general—and certainly not in-plants.

According to the Hoover Industry Snapshot, the commercial printing industry is comprised of roughly 35,000 companies with total sales in 2010 of $78 billion. Roughly 80% of commercial printers have annual sales of $2 million or less. On the other hand, estimates on the number of in-plant operations range from 45,000 to 50,000 shops. That’s right, there are more in-plants than commercial shops.

But even though in-plant printing facilities represent a sizeable market, we won’t be invited to the party. Why? Could it be that neither group considers in-plants to be “real” printers?

PIA has waged a war against in-plants, and especially public sector in-plants for years, probably because in-plants are seen as taking business away from its core constituency, commercial printers.

In a policy statement dated January 8, 2007, PIA stated, “Outsourcing is desirable for the Federal and state governments, as it increases services while lowering costs. It is equally desirable for printers, because it moves existing volume to the private sector, at a time when overall print volume may be stagnant or decreasing [my emphasis]. Federal and state in-plant printing operations should use one of the outsourcing methods outlined above to move work into the private sector.”


According to a recent article published by an NAPL senior consultant “. . . a well run in-plant [print shop] with enough demand can save the parent organization [my emphasis] between 10-30% on commercial printing costs.” Doesn’t it make sense that if in-plants can save 10-30% over commercial printers’ prices, the responsible action for Federal and state agencies would be to insource more work?

In other words, in a stagnant economy, when commercial print revenues are falling, PIA wants Federal and state agencies to forget that in-plants generally provide better-cheaper-faster services and move existing volume to commercial sources—at a higher cost!

The policy also states that print outsourcing “increases services while lowering costs,” but how these are supposed to come about is not clear. Or stated. I guess we’re supposed to believe it because they say so.

So it seems like we may have some tension here. PIA says that governmental agencies should outsource more printing to lower costs and improve services, while NAPL recognizes that in-plants can save significant amounts of money. (See Editor Bob Neubauer's column for more on this topic.)

In all fairness, increasing print outsourcing is a long-standing PIA position. Many of us bear the scars of wounds inflicted by PIA “expert” testimony to various legislative bodies. I earned mine when PIA-affiliated groups lobbied the legislature of my home state to close all of the state-operated print shops, including those at public colleges and universities, several years ago. I’ve been told, but have not substantiated, that PIA-sponsored lobbyists continue to rail against public in-plants as state and local lawmakers deal with the economy and look for ways to cut costs.

NAPL, on the other hand, has taken steps, albeit small ones, to embrace in-plants. It has included a category for in-plant managers in its Management Plus awards, and NAPL consultants have worked with some in-plants to help them improve operations. However, no one at NAPL seems to have any in-plant experience or background, and NAPL’s board lacks in-plant representation. Still, it is making an effort.

Will unification change that? Will NAPL continue to involve in-plants, and will it continue to point out the advantages of in-plants, a strategy diametrically opposed to PIA’s stated positions? And if they do, will the confidential data gathered in the in-plant analysis performed by NAPL consultants be protected from PIA exploitation?

Maybe it’s time that the trade organizations recognize that in-plants are a vibrant, valuable, efficient, and, yes, important segment of the PRINTING INDUSTRY. Let’s get away from the mentality that seems to be “The only good in-plant is one that’s been closed” (I’ve heard that from more than one commercial print owner) and embrace NAPL’s apparent position that in-plants have a role in industry, and how can we help them improve?

While the CEOs of the two organizations don’t come out and say so, one gets the feeling that the initiative to unify is driven, at least in part, by declining membership, which is a result of the overall decline in the printing industry as a whole.

If the leaders of NAPL and PIA want to think about a real growth strategy, try this: There are 50,000 or so in-plants that provide critical services to their parent organizations and the printing industry. The reason many, if not most of them, exist is because a commercial printer dropped the ball somewhere along the way, and the parent organization (customer) had to move to internal production to get the services they need. Then ask yourselves: Are there programs that the new, improved PIA/NAPL could offer in-plant managers to help them grow and succeed?

After all, aren’t we all part of the same industry?

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