Friday, March 16, 2012

Consultative Selling – the Key to Customer Retention and Growth

When a potential customer walks into your shop and requests product X do you happily process their request or are you prepared to offer product Y and Z too?  Do you take the time to inquire about how the product is going to be used, what impact the customer is trying to make, or what they hope the end result will be?  When we get busy it is far too easy to become an order taker, but with a little consultative selling you can quickly become a partner in your clients’ success.

Often, your clients are trying to build brand identity or highlight a specific value proposition for their customers.  They are looking for new ways to implement their business strategy, so they are open to learning. When you offer to educate the customer on how their business strategy translates into new or alternative product opportunities, you are helping them solve their problems, so they come to trust you and value your opinion.

Here at Beacon Graphics, the value we bring to our clients is not only providing a one stop shopping experience, but also to make sure they have the right product for the job.  We’re fortunate to have several industry professionals on staff which allows us to provide an application based approach to ensuring our clients have what they need to be successful.  This might mean suggesting a similar but better suited product for the specific task at hand; it also might mean identifying product extensions or design suggestions.  In a highly competitive marketplace, this approach can make the difference between a one-time customer and a long term partnership.

Take the time to practice consultative selling, not just profit selling.  Your customers will thank you for it…time after time.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Take Care of Your Cutter and It Will Take Care of You

It’s no secret that the vinyl cutter/plotter is the workhorse of the sign making industry.  Ever since the first CAD Cutting Plotter was introduced by Gerber in 1982, people have been finding creative new ways to put these machines to use.  The versatility of these simple machines is amazing.  Our customers use them for making decals, lettering vehicles, cutting paint mask and sandblast stencils, all types of outdoor and indoor signage, … the list is endless. 

Part of what makes the cutter/plotter such a work horse is its simplicity.   It’s not unusual for customers to tell me about their 20 year old vinyl cutter that works as well or better today than the day that they purchased it.  There are only a few parts that need to be maintained and/or occasionally replaced.  If you keep any eye on them and maintain them regularly you can expect your vinyl cutter/plotter to last a lifetime.  Even a those not mechanically inclined can change all of the items listed below (with a little practice) in less than 30 minutes.

The regular replacement parts are:

·         Cutter Protection Strip (CPS): Perhaps the most abused and misunderstood part of the vinyl cutter.  Usually made from smooth durable rubber or Teflon.  The cutter protection strip protects the blade from damage if the cutting force and depth is set to high. When left unmaintained or not replaced, the cutter will no longer make straight, true, clean cuts and may result in very jagged edges. 

It’s Time to Replace When: Your shapes and letters are starting to have jagged edges or unfinished cut paths. Your cuts are not weeding as easily as they used to, or weeding easier in some areas vs others.  Your CPS has any noticeable lines or grooves in it. 

Time to Replace: 10 – 15 minutes, Difficulty - Moderate
·         Cutting Blade:  The cutting blade is typically a thin, angled, piece of metal, carbide, or steel that cuts through the media creating the image desired left to be weeded out. It is recommended to replace your cutter blade every year with moderate to heavy use on standard material. Sandblast, metalized or reflective film will require a specific, thicker angled blade which requires a more regular replacement. There is no exact time frame at which the blade needs replacement and varies per machine but there are a few things to keep an eye out for.

It’s Time to Replace When: Your shapes and letters are starting to have jagged edges and weeding around the cut letters or image is becoming increasingly difficult. You will also notice the ends of cut paths sometimes are not completed or not cut all the way through resulting in  you having to punch or poke the letter or image downward to release it from the rest of the material surrounding it.

Time to Replace:  2 minutes, Difficulty - Easy

·       Blade Holder: This holds the blade in place when cutting material. It is recommended to replace the blade   holder within a year of moderate to heavy cutting. Most people are unaware that this is a wearable object under constant movement and needs replacing. Once worn down, it can degrade cut quality tremendously resulting in what seems to be near impossible weeding of material. Some machines offer a metal counterpart which will extend the life of the holder even with everyday use.

It’s Time to Replace When: Your shapes and letters are starting to have jagged edges and weeding around the cut letters or image is becoming increasingly difficult.  As with the blade and cps, random paths will be unfinished but more apparent. Weeding material will become increasingly difficult and sporadic around the cut letters or image.  You might also notice a "stitch pattern" on your letters.  Curved edges such as zeros, O’s, and inside of letters or numbers will no longer have a smooth curve and will resemble that of a stair case or vibrating line.

Time to Replace:  2 minutes, Difficulty - Easy

·         Pinch Rollers: These small rollers that are to be positioned above the designated grip rollers are what holds onto the material and progresses it back and forth during cutting. Typically they last quite a while and can be maintained simply by taking them off and cleaning them of any dirt, dust, or vinyl scrap stuck to them. They do wear out and need to be replaced from time to time resulting in straighter tracking of media at longer distances.

It’s Time to Replace When: Your vinyl is not moving back and forth in the cutter in a straight line.  You're unable to feed 6 - 10ft of material continuously through your cutter without running off the pinch rollers.

Time to Replace:  5 - 10 minutes, Difficulty - Moderate

These quick fixes will keep your cutter humming and ensure a long and creative life.

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Don't Sell Yourself Short

How Using A Price Guide Can Increase Your Profit by 25 - 30%

One of the most interesting conversations I’ve had recently came the other day when I was talking to a customer about Pricing Guides.   The customer was raving about how the 2012 Sign Contractor’s Pricing Guide was an invaluable selling tool.   My own experience with estimating tools and/or price guides was that they were a nice tool ballpark a quote, but at the end of the day you have to price your products to be competitive in the market and some of the guides and tools I’ve looked at get pretty expensive pretty fast.
                The interesting part of the conversation came when my customer explained how she used the Pricing Guide as a selling tool with her customers.  She explained that when quoting a job, she actually sits down with the customer, pricing guide in hand and costs out the job to her customers’ specifications directly from the book.  She walks them through each item, adding up the costs and discounts to arrive at a final price for the job.  According to her, 90% of the time her customers accept the quote without even asking for a discount.  As we talked I realized that it was the transparency of the process (sharing all of the information with the customer) that helped build trust between the sign maker and sign buyer and the use of a third party tool like the Sign Contractor’s Pricing Guide reinforces that trust.
There are a lot of choices when it comes to pricing guides and/or job estimators.  There are software estimators that are available at a very reasonable price such as EstiMate and Sign Estimating Calculator.  And there are free software versions from Roland and SAi that come free with VersaWorks and FlexiSignPro.  There are also several hard copy versions like the Sign Contractor’s Pricing Guide that are available for around $20.   The point here is that you don't have to try and reinvent the wheel.  The nice thing about most of these tools is that they capture and itemize all of the costs of a job taking into account shop overhead, labor, design costs and many other costs of running a business that people often forget about.  The end result is usually a price that is 25 – 30% higher than what you would have quoted the customer without a pricing guide.  That translates to 25 – 30% more profit per job!  Simply because you were honest and upfront with your customer about what the job really costs.
So give it a try the next time you’re quoting a job.  Crack open that dusty pricing guide or turn your computer screen around and show your customer the job estimator you’ll use to quote their project.  And whatever you do, don’t sell yourself short!

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

To Blog or Not To Blog?  That is the question.

Welcome to the first addition of the Beacon Blog.  I’ve struggled with the idea of starting a blog for the last couple of years and finally decided to pull the trigger after a bunch of hemming and hawing. 

When I came to Beacon Graphics 5 years ago, was one of the most popular websites for sign and graphic supplies on the internet and it became my personal mission to make us #1!  So I started reading everything I could about how to drive traffic to your website.  I tried to make sure we were following all the rules to make our site “search engine friendly”.  By doing so, it would make easier for customers to find and as a result we would rocket to the top of the search rankings making us the most popular site on the internet – rivaling Google, Yahoo and  Sounds easy right?

Well as it turns out, Google is pretty protective of the “formula” that they use to rank pages.  There is no magic bullet.  You can’t just run out and buy “SEO for Dummies” and in a couple of days have your site humming.  You have to give your customers a reason to visit your website and hope that your site is helpful enough that they will want to come back to it again.  The more interesting and informative your website is, the more likely they are to keep coming back to it.  That means you have to provide them with a constantly changing buffet of products, tools and articles that will capture and hold their attention in the long-run.

This brings us to the topic of my first blog.  Everything I read said “you need to be on-line blogging”.  If you’re like me, that sentence immediately conjures images of Julie/Julia in your mind.  The mere thought of sitting in front of a glowing computer screen, late at night with flour in my hair, complaining about how my soufflĂ© burned in the oven is embarrassing and seemed like a complete waste of my time and yours.  Do my customers really care that my son’s team won the championship game or that my daughter is in the school play?  Those of you who know me, know that I’m a no-nonsense kind of guy.  And blogging seemed like just that to me, a lot of nonsense.

So I ignored the so-called experts for a couple of years.  Until I had the good sense to attend a seminar on “Social Networking” and my eyes were opened (a little).  One of the key moments in the seminar came early on when the instructor was talking about Twitter (I know not blogging but I’ll get there). 

The instructor posed a question - “Do you I really care if the line at Starbucks is really long and it’s taking a while for you to get your coffee?  --  If you’re the manager at that Starbucks you sure do!”

It sounds silly, but that’s when the light bulb went off for me.  Social Media (Facebook, Twitter and yes Blogs) are about saving time, not wasting time.  They give small businesses like yours and mine the ability to connect on a more personal level with a large number of customers through the magic of the internet.  The trick is to make sure the content you’re posting is relevant and important to your customers.   In order for it not to be a waste of time for both of us, what I post in my blog needs to be important to you.

So, what can you expect to see in the Beacon Blog in the coming weeks, months and years?
  • Tips and Tricks to save you time (and money)
  • Business ideas that can help you make you more money with your existing customer base
  • Marketing strategies we’re using, that we think can be applied to your business as well
  • New product reviews
  • And I hope you won’t kill me if occasionally I throw in a blurb our two bragging about my kids or the success of the Beacon Bombers softball team. 
No matter what, my #1 goal is to ensure that the Beacon Blog will not be a waste of your time or mine. 

Comments on the blog are appreciated.  Remember, my goal is to write about what’s important to you.  So if there’s something you’re interested in please let me know and I’ll do my best to answer your questions.

Thanks and Happy blogging!

Kevin Hartnett
Managing Director
Beacon Graphics