I recently chatted with Donald N. Gain, President of Harmony Printing in Etobicoke, Ontario who has seen a lot evolve in his more than four decades in this industry.
You purchased Harmony Printing in 1988 and have guided it from a small shop to one of the most successful and respected mid-sized printers in the industry. What were some of the key turning points?
It comes down to basics – and your reputation is number one. Harmony’s was excellent when I purchased it, and we have all worked hard to maintain and enhance our reputation. People are key – and we have retained many original employees and added some outstanding new talent. We maintain a high level of pride in our work, have a strong team spirit and help each other continually.
One of my most invaluable assets is a strong group of friends from outside the industry (mostly professionals) who act as unofficial advisors when I make crucial decisions. Our success was also due to protecting our current customer base while we diversified our markets – to reduce our risk factors and expand our volume. We also manage our cash wisely, minimize loan dependency, maintain strict credit policies and carefully monitor receivables.
Given your past success, if you were starting out in this industry or expanding, what specific advice would you offer?
Run like hell in the opposite direction (just kidding). Start by asking yourself “why this industry?”
Do your homework. Which market(s) do you want to enter, what resources will you need for your target group (including facilities, capital, staff and equipment), who will be your competition and what’s your future growth potential?
Build a team that includes a diverse group of people with common interests and goals, but different perspectives and backgrounds. This will facilitate the growth of new ideas and knowledge. Identify everyone’s strengths and weaknesses and never let your ego get in the way.
- Find people outside the industry who you trust to help you build your business.
- Have a plan that measures accomplishments and fine tune it as you grow.
- Expect the unexpected and deal with it quickly. Ignored issues usually get worse.
- Always be prepared for change.
Your involvement with industry organizations such as the CPIA, OPIA and others has been unwavering. What role are these associations now playing across Canada?
A crucial role. For example, I would bet that anyone reading this, at one time or another, has needed advice on any particular facet of printing. So, networking is just one of several benefits of membership. Right now, for instance, I could call any one of dozens of printers in Canada for specific expertise and get an immediate response – because we had either networked together or met personally through these organizations. There are all kinds of other perks too, such as discounts, access to research reports, newsletters, etc.
These associations are printers working for printers, acting as consultants as well as well as government watchdogs. They lobby government relentlessly to make decisions that are in the best interests of our industry. Please visit the websites of these organizations, investigate the benefits of joining and see the impact of the work they do. They also welcome feedback.
It’s also time for every province to rally together as one focused team for the benefit of all printers across Canada. Let’s take inter-provincial co-operation to a new level in 2011. Finally, I want every printer to know that there is indeed a huge support network out there – but you’ll have to take the first step. Read CPIA President Bob Elliott’s advertorial on page 34.
What’s your take on the future? Any additional comments?
Today, knowledge that wasn’t available in the past because it was too costly to print can now be found on the Internet. I do believe in the future of print, though it’s continuing to evolve. Some litho work is going digital but in many applications, conventional print is more cost-effective and permanent.
Some “trade” printers are now competing with their own clients by selling directly to the end user, which in my view contradicts the definition of their business. However, this shouldn’t surprise us as some of our equipment vendors also “broker” print for some of our potential clients, and one may even compete head-on with their print customers. It’s frustrating when your suppliers are doing an end-run by competing with us for the same work.
The “commoditization” of print is something we all have to challenge. We are manufacturers of custom-made products and even though we are registered as manufacturers, we are basically in the service business. If we are unable to bring a high level of service and value-added benefit to our clients, we should pursue a different career.