Save 25% on 2015-16 Mailing Services Study

NPRC is running a special 25% off sale on one of its most popular industry studies – The 2015-16 Mailing Services Pricing Study. This information-packed report contains pricing info on more than 45 key services and products provided in the mailing services industry. This special sale ends Nov. 31, 2017.

Retail price is $179, but for a limited time you can save 25% and pay only $134.25. NPRC members pay only $89. This study is available as either a PDF or hard-copy. As always, all NPRC publications are sold on a 100% money-back guarantee if you are not totally satisfied. Click here to visit the NPRC Bookstore and to place your order.

NPRC Releases Hourly Rates Report

The 2017 Hourly Rates & Mark-up Practices Report, a 58-page special report published by NPRC, will be available for purchase on June 28, 2017. This brand-new publication, based upon a recent survey conducted by NPRC in early June, attracted more than 240 printing firms.

The new report offers a special look at the popularity of various computerized estimating systems, and then quickly moves to various budgeted hourly rates used in graphic arts departments as well as hand labor rates for a variety of bindery and other back-shop tasks. The report also reports on mark-up rates used for handling sub-contracted services and products as well as rates used to mark-up paper used in offset printing. 

SPECIAL ALERT – If you believe you participated in this survey but have not received the PDF report then it is due to it either going into either your trash or spam folders, OR you accidentally deleted the email we sent you. It is also possible that you never received it because the email address from which it was sent ( was not “whitelisted” as we requested during the release of this survey. The PDF of this report was sent to 245 email addresses on both June 26th and then again on June 27. The subject line was, “Your Complimentary Copy of the Hourly Rates Report.” Please thoroughly check all email folders prior to contacting us.

Table of Contents… Click here to view the Table of Contents for this new report.

Table of Contents

Retail pricing for this new study is $49.95 (PDF) and $56.95 (Printed);

NPRC member pricing is $24.95 (PDF) and $31.95 (Printed).

Order your copy via the NPRC Bookstore.

Save 40% On Digital Pricing Survey

Take advantage of this special, limited-time offer from NPRC.

Place your order for this popular study no later than Aug. 16, 2017 and save 40% or $91.50 on the 2016-2017 Printing Industry Digital Pricing Study.

This special NPRC Study is 114-pages in length and illustrates the latest pricing for digital products and services.

To read more about this study’s content or to read “real-world” testimonials from folks who have already purchased this study visit the NPRC Bookstore here.

Download a free, 4-page PDF from this report by clicking here.

Improving SPE Can Add $200,000 to Bottom Line


Like it or not, there is an enormous chasm between printing firms when we measure them based upon their sales per employee (SPE).

On the one side, we have firms reporting average SPEs of $160,000 or greater while on the other side we have firms reporting average SPEs of $126,000 and below – sometimes much lower!

Although the differences in SPE between those at the top and those at the bottom are significant, the differences in profitability reported by each group are even greater. When we take a close look at the numbers and how they play out in terms of various ratios related to profitability and productivity, we quickly observe that relatively modest increases in SPE can lead to increasing “excess earnings” by  as much as $200,000!

It is also clear that moving an additional $200,000 to the bottom line can increase the value of a firm by $700,000 to $800,000 or even more, since a typical multiplier used to arrive at valuations will typically be in the 3.5 to 4 range. Mind you, when we talk about firms producing “excess earnings” of $200,000, we are not talking about firms with sales of $3-4 million, but rather about firms who reported 2016 annual sales of just about $1 million in 2016.

SPE – A Quick Definition

Although we’ve done it seems like a thousand times, let’s quickly define SPE in the simplest of terms. Sales Per Employee (SPE) is arrived at by dividing total annual sales (or monthly sales annualized) by the equivalent number of employees required to produce those sales. The latter would include all working owners and partners as well as outside sales representatives. Technically, it also includes a spouse who may work in the business but does not even draw a salary or paycheck.

SPE can be calculated quickly and is used to compare overall productivity between one firm and the next. SPE is an expression that allows someone to compare, in relative terms, the productivity of one firm against another.

Let’s take a look at two firms each producing $1 million in sales and each relying on approximately the same sales mix. When we calculate our SPE for each firm, we will discover that one company will be able to produce $1 million in sales with approximately 6.5 employees, while another firm just down the road or across town, producing the same mix of products, will require almost 9 employees to produce those same sales?

By the way, every time we initiate a discussion of SPE we consider leaving the definition of SPE out of the article, assuming everyone already knows what we are talking about. And yet hardly a time goes by when we don’t get at least one or two private emails asking us to define the term. That happened recently when I released a column titled “Stewart Shares Key Takeaways Uncovered In Latest Financial Ratio Report.” (See NPRC Blog at

The ink was hardly dry on the column when we received two private emails asking us to explain the term. We answered the emails privately, but couldn’t help but wonder how many other basic financial terms such as “current ratio” and “excess earnings” did these owners not understand as well?

The Lack of Financial Oversight

There are worse things than not knowing what SPE stands for. I am still appalled by the number of owners who do not receive monthly financial statements. Almost as bad are owners who do receive monthly financial statements but give them only a cursory 15-minute look before heading back to the bindery to resolve some problem with the booklet maker.

Equally challenging are owners who receive monthly financial statements that fail to provide a column of ratios expressing each expense item as a percent of total sales. You cannot properly or adequately manage a business of any type by simply looking at a column of raw dollars – You need ratios for each expense item if you wanted to make informed decisions.

 “I think I am ranting now, so I have to move on before my blood pressure rises to the dangerous level.”

How the heck an owner can analyze his or her operations without having access to an adjoining  column of financial ratios is beyond me. When I receive financial statements and ask owners why their statements lack ratios some just shrug their shoulders, while others tell me they don’t know how to get Quickbooks or some other accounting package to generate them!

Every accounting software program can produce these ratios, you just need to know where to click. Shame on owners who don’t get this basic type of information. I think I am ranting now, so I have to move on before my blood pressure rises to the dangerous level.

Comparing (2) $1 Million Dollar Firms

Let’s use data obtained directly from the latest Financial Benchmarking Study published by the National Printing Research Council (NPRC), and translate a few of the ratios we’ve already mentioned into real world examples. Let’s examine what we already know…

We already know that firms in the top 25% of the industry (the Profit Leaders) in terms of net owner’s compensation reported average sales in 2016 of approximately $1 million. We also know that these firms reported an average SPE of $156,000. Using those two numbers and working backwards it means that the average firm in the top quartile employed approximately 6.4 employees to produce that $1 million in sales.

Relying on similar data for firms in the bottom profitability quartile, we know that these firms actually averaged slightly more in sales ($1.1 million) in 2016 but reported a SPE of approximately $125,000. Once again, working backwards, we can calculate that firms in the bottom quartile employed an average of 9 employees (or 2.6 more employees) to produce almost the same level of sales!

“The only noticeable difference is that the firms in the bottom quartile report brokering out significantly more in sales (18% to 11%) than do firms in the top quartile…. somewhat ironic considering the fact that companies with more employees still end up turning to outside firms to help them produce some of their annual sales!”

So, now we have two groups of printing firms with one group falling into the top quartile and the other group falling into the bottom. One group is able to produce its annual sales with approximately 6.4 employees, while the other group requires approximately 2.6 more employees to produce only slightly more in sales – $1 million vs. $1.1 million!

Breakout                                SPE*                   EXCESS EARNINGS*
   Top Performers                    $156,000                      $200,000
   Bottom Performers              $125,500                     $(3,100)
* $$$ amounts are approximate. See study actual entries.

We also know that firms with the highest SPEs (those in the top quartile) also report “excess earnings” of almost $200,000, while firms in the lowest SPEs actually report negative “excess earnings.” By the way, it is “excess earnings,” and not the net value of assets, that plays the primary role in determining the value or worth of a company. If you are reporting little if any “excess earnings” then your company is worth very, very little to others!

What about profits per employee? It’s the same story as above. Companies who find themselves in the bottom in terms of profitability oftentimes report negative profits per employee, while those at the very top produce profits per employee of $30,000 or more! (Note, these terms are clearly defined in the 2017-2018 Financial Benchmarking Study.)

By the way, it is interesting to note that the job mix (source of sales) for these two quartiles is almost identical, meaning that each of these groups report approximately the same percentages for sales in terms of sales for pre-press (graphics), offset printing, digital printing (color and BW) and even mailing services.

“The latter is somewhat ironic considering the fact that companies with excess employees still end up turning to outside firms to help them produce some of their annual sales!”

The only noticeable difference between those firms in the top quartile and those at the bottom is that firms at the bottom report brokering out significantly more in sales (18% vs. 11%) than do firms in the top quartile. The latter is somewhat ironic considering the fact that companies with excess employees still end up turning to outside firms to help them produce some of their annual sales!

Should Employees Wear Signs?

Wouldn’t it be great if employees were required to walk around with signs on their back identifying their levels of productivity or competency? Signs like, “Bad Apple,” “Generally Expendable,” “Somewhat Lazy,” “Company Gossip or Trouble-maker,” “Many Personal Problems,” “Pot Head,” or “Family Member – Can’t be Fired.” Ok, I will admit that might be a bit extreme, but wouldn’t be great if those problem employees were “tagged” with signs like that, if for no other reason to remind the owner who he needs to terminate! Start with a family member!

Not to be too simplistic, but sometimes the most obvious cause of low SPEs is in fact the result of employing too many employees to produce the work in question. Yes, it is that simple. I believe I have consulted for more small to medium size companies in the industry than any other consultant, and I can tell you that “excess employees” was and continues to be near the top of the list when it comes to reasons for either low profits or low productivity.

Although the sample “employee signs” mentioned above are somewhat “tongue-in-cheek,” they are in fact the types of signs (figuratively speaking) that I encountered in many of my shop encounters. Take me to a firm employing approximately 8-10 employees and I will almost guarantee that the company has at least one “bad apple.” How do I determine that? Hell, in many cases the other employees will tell me, if not directly then in answering “Yes” when asked if the company they work for employs at least one bad apple employed!

“Of course, one of the worst causes of low SPEs in this industry is the employment of family members who otherwise couldn’t get a job as a ticket taker at a local cinema.”

There’s almost always an employee with serious personal problems, all of which seem to be brought to the workplace. Some employees have abused drugs and alcohol in the past, which of course is Ok, if they have sought treatment and are “cured.” It’s the employees who continue to show up high for work each day or repeatedly come in late or call in sick that need to be terminated, but owners too often seem reluctant to take these types of remedial steps.

Of course, one of the worst causes of low SPEs in this industry is the employment of family members who otherwise couldn’t get a job as a ticket taker at a local cinema. Sometimes it is a brother-in-law, uncle or worse case of all a son or daughter who joins the firms with a heightened sense of entitlement! Arrggg! I would never, never, never hire a family member unless they had at least 3-5 years of on the job experience working for someone else.

The biggest problem with employing family members is that the basis for their pay is often different than for other employees. Most employees are paid on the basis of their value to the company. Family members are often paid based upon what they need or are entitled to, not on what they contribute to the business.

Your Employees Already Know

Believe me when I tell you that your employees already know if you have an employee (family member or otherwise) that should have been terminated months if not years ago. They’ve seen the favoritism, the coddling and they’ve heard all the excuses offered up by the owner about why Cathy or Mike have not been terminated. After a while, they too start caring a bit less and maybe not working quite as hard as they used to because they perceive, rightfully or not, that if the owner doesn’t seem to care why should they.

It is a rare company indeed, certainly those with SPE levels in the $120,000 – $130,000 range, that doesn’t have at least one excess employee! Assuming we are talking about an $18 per hour employee, his or her termination would free up more than $38,000 in excess cash – some of which could be distributed as raises of $2,000 for each of six or seven remaining employees and still put $24,000 into savings, or available for lease payments for that digital press you’ve been looking at.

Pricing & Equipment Can Produce Low SPEs

It is important to note in this discussion that excess employees are only part of the problem. Pricing techniques and practices can also play a role in contributing to lower SPEs. No matter how good a team and no matter how hard they work, if the prices they are quoting are lower than they should be it will automatically result in a lower than expected SPE.

However, while firms with higher SPEs do in fact typically report charging more for their products than do firms with low SPEs, the differences in pricing remain somewhat subtle.

Low SPEs can also be the result of poor equipment selections or the unwillingness of owners to listen to their employees when it comes production problems and suggestions for fixing them. Owners who insist that their employees “make do with what we have” or owners who simply fail to reinvest in their businesses are almost always going to end up with lower SPEs than some of their peers in the industry.

Knowing Which Ratios to Use?

Owners who have come to rely on the biennial financial benchmarking studies turn to different sections of the study depending upon their experience and expertise. However, you don’t have to be a financial wizard or former CPA to benefit from the study.

The 2017-2018 NPRC Financial Benchmarking Study is basically divided into four key sections.

  1. Executive Summary by Larry Hunt – The summary written by industry author and financial guru Larry Hunt is a great “short” read about this industry, including where it has been and where it is going in terms of profitability and other key ratios. Spending 15-20 minutes reading this section alone will advance your knowledge of this industry ten-fold.
  1. Profit & Loss Statements – Broken down into various breakouts based upon sales, product mix, and profitability (including profitability quartiles), this section is packed with useful profit and loss statements that can be used to compare your firm’s performance against others. Compare ratios for expenses such as depreciation, rent, interest, accounting & legal and a dozen other expenses as depicted in the study and compare them to your own P&Ls.
  1. Balance Sheets – Similar in breakouts provided for profit and loss statements, this section includes a variety of balance sheets allowing you to compare current and long-term assets, in both really dollars as well as ratios, against current and long-term liabilities.
  1. 2016 Key Ratio Extractions – This section of the study provides a number of breakouts, each of which provide 29 key ratios that you can compare against those for your own firm. Ratios and breakouts include average sales, COG, payroll and overhead expenses, as well as owner’s compensation, excess earnings as well as discretionary income.

Interested in reading more about the new 2017-2018 Study? Visit the NPRC website at This just-released study is available at a record low, low price of ONLY $115 and includes S&H. It is sold on a 100% money-back guarantee.

Sorry, this study is only available as a hard copy – no PDFs! Even though it is considerably more expensive to provide and mail hard copies, we believe this study is simply too valuable to be transmitted and stored electronically. This study needs to be printed and readers need to be encouraged to use paperclips and yellow highlighters to truly benefit from this study.  








Huge Takeaways from Latest NPRC Ratio Study

 Although the just-released 72-page, 2017-2018 Financial Benchmarking Study published by NPRC is filled with key financial ratios, there is one page that virtually screams out at the reader with the following warning…

“You cannot survive, let-alone prosper in this industry if you allow your business to report key performance ratios this low!”

As of June 5, 2017 this just-released study is
in both PDF and hard-copy formats! 

Despite the fact that the new Benchmarking Study offers up a variety of breakouts such as comparisons based upon annual sales, percentage of sales produced via offset printing versus digital printing, as well as breakouts based upon “sales per employee,” page 64, titled Key Ratios of All Firms by Profitability Quartiles, offers up some shocking comparisons.

If It Was Up to Me…

John Stewart Executive Director NPRC

The “Key Ratios” page is so important, so valuable, that if it was up to me, I would insist that every owner, especially those who are troubled by the fact that they are not making the kind of money they expect, make a copy of page 64 and tape it to a wall next to their desk. Of course, owners of the more successful companies in this industry have already been doing this for years, it is the troubled firms that I am most concerned with.

The “Key Ratio” section of the study offers up 29 key ratios or percentages used to identify or distinguish top performers in the printing industry against those at the very bottom. The ratios use to analyze firms in various quartiles aren’t inconsequential ratios found in accounting textbooks but rather key financial that impact exactly how much an owner and sometimes his or her spouse take out of the business every two weeks.

“Even more important, the ratios you will discover, when compared to your own ratios, will determine whether, after spending 15-20 years in this industry, you will have anything of substance to either sell or transfer over to a son or daughter!”

Depending upon how your ratios compare to those detailed in the study, these ratios ultimately will determine whether in fact you should return to your previous field of employment or stick it out and try to turn your business around in the next 12-18 months. Even more important, the ratios you will discover, when compared to your own ratios, will determine whether, after spending 15-20 years in this industry you will have anything of substance to either sell or transfer over to a son or daughter!

Comparative Ratios – Winners vs. Laggards

What types of ratios are we talking about? The ratios range from the simplest ones such as annual sales and rates of annual growth based upon four profitability quartiles, to percentage comparisons for fundamental expense categories such as cost of goods, payroll expenses and overhead expenses.

The Benchmarking Study delves far deeper than the basic ratios noted above, with comparisons of ratios such as owner’s compensation, excess earnings, and profits per employee. Other ratios examined include current and quick ratios (all ratios and terms are thoroughly explained in the study), as well as average Accounts Receivable collection days, to return on net assets.  

Below are are just a few of the shocking comparisons between firms at the very top as compared with those at the very bottom.  Remember, the results we are reporting are based upon real-world firms with employee teams, job and equipment mix, and types of sales very similar to your own. Whatever you do, don’t make the mistake of rationalizing and saying that, “Things in my market are really different from these companies… my business is really different and there is no way I could achieve these types of ratios. I just can’t worry about things I cannot change.”

 Average Cost of Goods

Although COG, as a percent of sales, has remained fairly steady for almost 30 years in this industry, it is still worth nothing that the “Profit Leaders” in this industry still end up spending 9% less than the “Profit Laggards” when it comes to cost of goods – A shocking indicator that some owners are simply running very poor, very inefficient operations combined most likely with terrible pricing discipline!

“If your COG, as a percent of sales, is 31% or higher you are most likely destined to mediocrity in terms of financial success in this industry.”

The bottom line? If your COG, as a percent of sales, is 31% or higher you are most likely destined to mediocrity in terms of financial success in this industry. Most likely, it is almost impossible for you to become a “profit leader” in this industry with a ratio of 31% or greater. 

Payroll and Overhead Expenses

Once again, according to the Key Ratio Extractions, poorly managed firms in this industry, despite the fact that many of them are averaging annual sales of $1.1 million or more, are doing a terrible job when it comes to controlling both payroll and overhead expenses. In many cases, some of the most troubled firms are paying 4-6 percent more for payroll and overhead than companies in the top quartile!

“How owners can possibly manage, let alone improve their operations, by relying on financial statements that lack even the most basic tools is beyond me!” 

Rest assured that the reasons these companies are paying so much than those at the top are rarely, if ever, related to geographic or demographic reasons. The most common cause is the failure of owners to carefully examine their monthly financial statements and then to take the necessary actions that are so clearly dictated.

To be perfectly blunt, how any owner could discover a total payroll cost ratio (excluding money paid to the owner) of 33-35% from his current financial statements and still be able to sleep well at night is beyond my comprehension. Note too that I am now 73 and really “cranky” sometimes but there are some owners out there who need to be grabbed firmly by the shoulders and given a good shake. 

A special footnote worth mentioning – it is shocking to discover how many owners receive monthly profit and loss statements lacking a vertical column of financial ratios – i.e. the percentage of total sales represented by each expense item. How owners can possibly manage, let alone improve their operations, by relying on financial statements that lack even the most basic tools is beyond me! 

Excess Earnings of Winners

Excess earnings is defined as those funds or profits generated by the business after paying a single owner a fair-market salary for his or her efforts. Excess earnings is often a key factor in determining the value of a business. It is typically subjected to an excess earnings multiplier and used to calculate the value or worth of a business.

“Sad to realize that companies can ignore this type of data for so long, only to realize after spending 15-20 or more years in this industry that their business has no value whatsoever!”

Suffice it to say, that companies in the top quartile in terms of profitability reported an average excess earnings figure of almost $200,000 while firms in the bottom 25% actually reported a negative amount. The latter meaning that these companies have very little if any net worth other than the “street market” value of their equipment.

Sad to realize that companies can ignore this type of data for so long, only to realize after spending 15-20 or more years in this industry that their business has no value whatsoever!

“However, before you start patting yourself on the back, realize that 25% of the entire industry is actually reporting an SPE of $180,000 or greater!”

Sales Per Employee

SPE has always been a reliable indicator of overall productivity, and once again those at the top, according to NPRC’s latest Financial Benchmarking Study, consistently report a considerably higher SPE than those at the bottom. Almost 13% of our participants reported an SPE of less than $100,000!

If your firm’s SPE is below $126,000 you will discover you are in the bottom 25% of the industry – Like it or not, you are clearly doing something wrong, at least compared to your peers, when it comes to either pricing, personnel management or equipment selection and you need to make some dramatic changes in the way you run your business.

If your SPE is in the $156,000 or above range then consider yourself fortunate because that would place you in the top 25% quartile. However, before you start patting yourself on the back, realize that 25% of the entire industry is actually reporting an SPE of $180,000 or greater!

Purchasing this Brand-New Report

The 2017-2018 Financial Benchmarking Study, published by the National Printing Research Council (NPRC), is available for purchase through the NPRC Bookstore. It is priced at $115 and sold on a 100% money-back guarantee. It is only available as a hard copy. Sorry, no PDFs available. To read testimonials from fellow printers, click here.


Special Pricing on Benchmark Study Ends June 7th!

Based upon the feedback received from recent surveys, as well as a strong desire to get critical information about profitability into the hands of as many printers as possible, the National Printing Research Council (NPRC) recently broke with a 34-year industry tradition and slashed pricing on its latest study.

Since it was first released in April 2017, the study has been offered at an exceptionally low, low price of only $115. That special introductory pricing ends on Wed., June 7, 2017. The study is now available as either a PDF or hard-copy!

Traditionally, the biennial Financial Benchmarking Study, due to higher than normal research and production costs, has always been one of the more expensive studies sold in the industry, typically selling in the $175-$225 range. However, a recent survey of both NRPC members and non-members strongly suggested we would better achieve our goal of getting this type of critical information into the hands of as many readers as possible by considering a drastic reduction in price!

And that’s what we have done! – Because we believe this study has the real potential of dramatically improving the profitability of every printing firm that purchases it, we have decided to drastically reduce the price of this study to ONLY $115. In addition, even though it is far more expensive for us to do so, we are limiting the distribution of this study to hard copies only, rather than offering PDF copies as an alternative. To place your order visit the NPRC Bookstore. All orders are shipped within 24 hours or less via USPS Priority Mail. Order processing begins April 12, 2017. Participants have already received their complimentary, VIP copies.

With an overall margin of error of better than +/-4.4%, this year’s 2017-2018 Financial Benchmarking Study provides an analysis based upon the input of 130 firms ranging in size from $200,000 to $5 million 2016 annual Sales. The study offers up almost 100 individual breakouts and analyses. This 66+ page report provides detailed breakouts based upon annual sales, sales per employee, franchise vs. independent as well as firms that emphasize brokering as opposed to those that don’t.

Discover the kinds of financial ratios being reported by the companies at the very top – discover the kinds of ratios being reported by the top 25% of our participants that enable them to achieve owner’s compensation levels of between 25-27%! Analyze their ratios for cost of goods, payroll and overhead expenses and compare those ratios against those reported by others in our survey. Compare the “profit leader” ratios against your own and then use our special worksheet at the end to set real-world goals for the next 12-18 months!

Some Study Facts… The average study participant reported 2016 average annual sales of $1,080,000; reported median sales was $727,200. Average owner’s compensation for 2016 was 16% – the highest reported in years. Broken down by quartiles, owner’s compensation ranged between 5.9% for those in the lowest quartile to 25% for those in the top quartile.sales. The study details the types of key ratios required for cost of goods, payroll and overhead expenses required to produce above average profits.

Sponsored by AccuZIP, this latest study by NPRC features an “Executive Summary” by highly acclaimed industry expert and author Larry Hunt. Hunt has authored the the “Executive Summary” of this biennial report since it was first published in the early 1980s. Hunt’s special industry analysis, takes you through a step-by-step look at what has transpired in the industry since the early 1980s – both the good and the bad!

Not only does Hunt examine and explain key trends that have developed during the past 33 years, he also offers up insight as to why some firms are actually achieving higher levels of profitability today than ever before. He details the key ratios you need to track and improve in order to achieve “profit leader” status. 

To order, visit the NPRC Bookstore today. 

2017 Benchmark Testimonials Pour In…

If you’re having doubts as to whether you should order the latest, 2017-2018 Financial Benchmarking Study, read some of the early testimonials we have received in the past few days. This new study is available at a record-setting low, low price of only $115, including S&H. This study is sold on a 100% money-back guarantee. All orders are processed and shipped same day as received. Must be placed by 2 p.m. to be shipped same day.

Now here are some of the kind words offered by fellow printers…

Just wanted to say how good it is to see how my business is compared to others in the industry. Just a quick look at the key profit ratios – gross profit, cost of goods sold, salaries, and net profit and I know which areas of my business I need to improve. This is a great tool to help focus on the key areas to take my business in the right direction.

Manish Patel, Kwik Kopy Business Center
Frisco, TX

John, I have always (when available) used the Financial Benchmark Studies to guide my 33-year-old business. I have found it the best way to keep track of business. How else do you compare yourself to the winners and losers? I watch and follow the winners. And that’s what I consider myself. My net worth is now in the millions and I work two days a week. Working these days keeps my mind sharp and it is almost like getting paid to have a hobby.

Bill Howard, Princeton
Printer of Princeton, Princeton, NJ

While it is difficult to self-examine businesses we are close to, it helps so much to have peer review and comparison to either spur us on or pat us on the back as the case might be. It’s a great chance to come out of the minutia of a day and really get an excellent evaluation of where we are and where we can improve. Thanks for the study. I will review it frequently.

Tom Short, Trademark Printing,
Cookeville, TN

The Benchmark studies help us compare our business to others in the industry. Without it, how do you know if it’s just you having the problem or if your firm should be doing better than it is?

Michael Brown, Sir Speedy,
Havertown, PA

The Financial Benchmarking Study is one book in the Printer’s Bible. When my father passed away back in 1988, I was 26-years-old and didn’t have a lot of experience. I joined NAQP, met John Stewart, and I have participated and grown for the past 37 years because of the benchmarking value in these reports. They are priceless when it comes to knowing where the financial numbers ‘should be.’

Mike Henle, Henle Printing Co.,
Marshall, MN

The Benchmarking Study is the single most important study for success in the quick print industry. The opportunity to see where highly successful and less than successful printing companies are landing in terms of their cost of goods, payroll and their overhead ratios is a tremendous resource to be used to gauge your own business…. Are you charging enough compared to what you are spending on the products that you sell? Is your payroll in line with similar firms in today’s market? These are measurements that are readily available in the pages of the Benchmark Study.

Jeff Swales, GM, XPress Printing, Inc.,
Sisters, OR

I have been running my small print shop for 32 years. During that time I have relied on the Financial Benchmark Study to help keep me up to date with national trends. In my opinion, everyone who owns a print shop should participate, then fully read and understand what our industry is doing nationwide.

Ralph Dunavant, American Printing & Promotions,
Manassas, VA

Running the printing portion of this business is easy compared to doing the financial side. The surveys and ratio studies that John Stewart and NPRC produce are an enormous benefit. Participating and utilizing them will make a huge difference to your bottom line.

Danny Correll, First Impressions Printing & Design,
Springfield, MO

There are few resources for small to mid-size printers more valuable than the Financial Benchmarking Study John Stewart and Larry Hunt generate biennially. We use this report to evaluate where we are as a company as well as being able to to insure we are making the right decisions to remaiin viable as a company. The report shines a bright light on areas that we need to improve and reinforces our belief in what we are doing right. Without this report and other surveys produced by this team, we would be at a significant disadvantage to the larger print providers.

Jim Fairweather, Hudson Printing,
Carlsbad, CA

Turning Printing Firms Around…

Turning Printing Companies Around One Firm at a Time!
By John Stewart… Between the late 1990s and well into the first decade of this century I made my living providing individualized, on-site consulting services to printing firms throughout the U.S. and abroad. I sometimes joke with folks that while my short-term memory has really gotten bad recently, I can recall almost every single detail, including the layout of the shop and the problems encountered, involving the 400+ consulting visits I undertook in those days.

I consulted with printers in almost every state in the U.S. including two separate firms in Alaska. I also traveled to Australia, Brazil and Venezuela, the latter visit being exceptionally memorable because to this day I still vividly remember the press operators using gasoline as a press wash! I was still smoking in those days, but I was not alone – the press operators seemed fine with have a cigarette themselves as they washed up their presses!

I’ve often thought I could put on a pretty interesting seminar about all those consulting visits, and one of the first stories I would probably tell would be one about the owner of a business, who during an early morning conversation, asked me to step outside for some additional privacy.

Once outside, he confessed with a couple of tears running down his cheek that he had a personal crisis on his hands, a crisis so bad in his own mind that he had seriously contemplated suicide. He told me he actually had been thinking about taking this action during the past few weeks and was actually waiting to hear what advice I might have to offer.

“Once outside, he confessed with a couple of tears running down his cheek that he had a personal crisis on his hands, a crisis so bad in his own mind that he had seriously contemplated suicide.”

Someday, I hope to write more detailed account about that visit, but suffice it to say it we were able to resolve his major personal problems far quicker than many situations I had encountered in the past. The solution to his problem was so simple I still shake my head that it took a visit from me to resolve the problem.

The Secret Tool I Used

The problems I encountered during my many consulting visits covered the gamut from brand new owners perplexed as how to proceed with their new business to dealing with cantankerous owners who hated their employees and couldn’t wait to get out of the business. The variety of situations I encountered amazes me even to this day. I recall a couple that broke out into a horrendous argument in front of me and their employees. I remember another owner who had a heart of gold and believed she should clock-in on the time clock just to prove she was one of the team members.

Occasionally, I even found myself being hired by couples who were in the midst of purchasing a printing firm but had no hands-on experience doing so. They wanted a quick primer on the industry and that’s what I often ended up offering – an intense two-day seminar, sometimes in their living rooms, about the printing industry, especially what is often referred to even today as the “quick printing” of the industry.

During those many years of on-site consulting, I had one distinct advantage over other consultants in the printing industry – I had been the co-author of one of the printing industry’s oldest and most beneficial studies of all – the Printing Industry’s Operating Ratio Reports.

As the author and publisher of what is now referred to as the printing industry’s Financial Benchmarking Studies, I almost always brought along a couple of copies to share with clients. I invariably ended up using the facts and key ratios highlighted in these studies to illustrate my observations about achieving high levels of profitability. These studies, especially the benchmarking studies, turned out to be my “secret consulting tools” that I used during my consulting visits.

“These studies, especially the benchmarking studies, turned out to be
my ‘secret consulting tools’ that I used during my consulting visits.”

If the above sounds like a plug for the just-released 2017-2018 Financial Benchmarking Study I guess it is, although it was unintended when first written. I do know, deep in my heart, that the value of the information contained in these studies is unmatched, and I only wish I had the one-on-one time to convince printers that they ought give serious thought to ordering their own copy.

Visit for more information. Remember too that this study is sold on a 100% money-back guarantee. No questions asked.

Key Ratios and Profit Quartiles

During a typical on-site consulting visit, it was not unusual for me to spend two to three hours reviewing some of the key financial data contained in these studies. I would often turn to my favorite section in the studies, the “profitability quartiles,” and point out the kinds of key ratios these folks needed to achieve to succeed in the industry. “You need to study this stuff, just like when you were in school, and commit some of these figures to memory,” I would preach.

By the end of a typical visit, I would leave with them a copy of the benchmarking report with various sections high-lighted with a yellow marker and a number pages with either a paperclip at the top or the corners turned down.

“Look, your payroll costs, compared to the companies in the top 25-35% of the industry, are way out of line. The bottom line is not that you are paying folks too much, but rather you have far more employees than you need to sell what you are selling. If you want to succeed and really prosper in this industry, you need to make some hard decisions before I leave,” I would tell them.

Sometimes, I would really get excited trying to emphasize key industry trends and point out the changes that had occurred in the industry. By the time I concluded a visit, the typical client had been provided an abundance of data indicating the steps needed in order to truly improve their profitability.

I remember one unusual consulting assignment I undertook that involved visiting four firms (all members of a specific franchise) within the course of a single week. I spent one day with each client. By the end of three of the visits, I remember talking to Mary and describing an unusual rash that had developed on my neck.

I described the rash and how it was bothering me, and without missing a beat she said, “You know of course what is causing your rash, don’t you?” I said “no,” and she told me the rash was being caused by all the individual crises I had previously described to her during the week. Every day I would call her first thing in the morning and describe what had transpired the previous day, and unbeknownst to me, I had been describing to her the types of situations that would make many individuals breakout in a terrible rash!

“You know of course what is causing your rash, don’t you?” I said “no,” and she told me the rash was being caused by all the individual crises I had previously described to her during the week.

Sometimes, before I left, we were able to turn raw data taken from these benchmarking studies, into practical action steps that needed to be taken in the next few days. It wasn’t that difficult, after spending a couple of days on site, to determine who were the productive employees that needed to be kept and those employees that were clearly expendable. Tough decisions for sure, but then again making tough decisions is what it takes to run a profitable business.

Sometimes, the problems facing a company were not quite as obvious, but I never recall a consulting visit where I did not feel I had left the owners with sound recommendations as to how they could improve their profitability and the overall operations of the firm. I estimate that 80% or more of the problems I encountered during these consulting visits were directly related to problems uncovered during an examination of their financial statements.

I am still amazed even today at the number of owners who send me financial statements lacking the most basic element of a profit & loss statement – the ratios (percentages) that should appear adjacent to each expense item that breakout the expense item as a percent of total sales.

Leading a Horse to Water
I am sometimes amused when I read some of the thousands of posts that appear on some of the industry listservs to notice how very, very few posts seem to question or deal with financial ratios in the printing industry. It often amazes me to read how many owners are so consumed with discussing equipment selection, solving personnel problems, running kraft envelopes and where to to buy golf shirts while seeming to ignore issues that I think ought to dominate every listserv. Firms that desire to move to the head of the pack need to spend a lot more time analyzing and improving key profitability ratios and spending far less time worrying about sourcing kraft envelopes and ball caps.

Proofing the above paragraph leads me to wonder how I ever attracted any followers or friends in this industry! <g>

“It often amazes me to read how many owners are so consumed with discussing equipment selection, solving personnel problems, running kraft envelopes and where to to buy golf shirts while seeming to ignore issues that I think ought to dominate every listserv.”

Almost everyone is familiar with the saying, “You can lead a horse to water but you can’t make him drink.” Well, that saying is quite appropriate when it comes to convincing printers how important and how valuable a benchmarking study can be to their business and the bottom line.

Ironically, most industries and most of the trade associations that serve them, simply do not publish operating ratio studies, and when they do, they often are under appreciated and rarely get the “rave” reviews they deserve. The printing industry is a case in point. The printing industry was one of the first major industries in the U.S. to publish operating ratio studies, but historically it has always been difficult to encourage printers to participate in the initial surveys or to purchase a study after it was published.

Unfortunately, you can’t make an owner participate in these surveys nor can you make them purchase a study and put into practice what they might discover inside if they spent the two to three hours (that’s really all it takes) required to really master what these studies have to offer.

Ratios Worth Analyzing

There are many ratios worth examining when running a printing business, but if the typical owner just concentrated on learning and mastering three key ratios they could easily surpass the profitability levels of most in this industry. Owners need to fully understand how to control and adjust ratios dealing with (1) payroll costs (all costs, direct and indirect, excluding those attributed to a single owner), (2) cost of goods and (3) overhead costs.

When you can analyze what other companies, similar in size to your own are reporting for these ratios, and when you can look at a breakout of printers broken down into four different quartiles and see what they are reporting you have a plateful of evidence upon which to act. Most of the time, it is not enough to just discover that your ratios are “off,” you need to have the guts and fortitude to make changes based upon what you uncover.

“Most of the time, it is not enough to just discover that your ratios are ‘off,’ you need to have the guts and fortitude to make changes based upon what you uncover.”

The problem with many owners in this industry (my opinion of course) is that they will rationalize to death that the facts revealed in these studies simply don’t apply to them, and furthermore, they will insist that their market is different and they can’t possibly make the changes that would otherwise seem pretty logical to anyone else armed with the same facts and scenarios.

A Closing Thought…

I actually miss writing for Quick Printing magazine, but then again it isn’t the same magazine that I wrote for for more than 25+ years. In those days, most issues averaged 100+ pages in length, and circulation and actual readership was much larger. Today, Quick Printing magazine can be more accurately described as a newsletter as opposed to a magazine. In the “old days” the editors (I went through four during my 25+ years as a senior columnist) rarely imposed strict word counts on my columns. Today, they would have a heart attack with the length of an article such as this.

I might consider bringing back to life my monthly column to this website, if I thought there was enough interest. As many readers know, I love to tell stories and I probably mentioned three or four possible stories just in this column. Your thoughts? Email me at:

Benchmarking Study Available April 11, 2017!

Available in NPRC Bookstore April 11, 2017

“I’ve been involved in the printing industry since the early 1980s, working with various industry trade associations, and I can never recall a key study such as the Financial Benchmarking Study being released and sold at the ‘rock-bottom’ price that this study is being offered,” notes NPRC Executive Director John Stewart.

“The turning point in convincing us to release this study at such a low, low introductory price was a survey NPRC just completed,” explains Stewart. “Many survey participants, even those who have participated in studies and received their free copies, urged us to lower the price, if only temporarily and for this study alone, so that we can put this study in the hands of as many print owners as possible, and let folks who have never before participated or seen one of these studies purchase their own copy and see for themselves the exceptional value they offer.”

This just-released study can now be purchased through the NPRC Bookstore for ONLY $115.00 (including shipping & handling.) Orders are processed and shipped within 24-hours or less. 

Below are just a few of the breakouts and comparisons offered in this just-released study. Every breakout category is broken down into three separate reports – profit & loss statements, balance sheets and a lengthy list of key ratios further defining that breakout:

  • All firms – Independents vs. Franchises
  • Single vs. Multiple Location
  • Association Members
  • Offset Printing vs. Digital Printing
  • Analysis by Percent of Brokered Sales
  • Analysis by 2016 Sales Volume (4 breakouts)
  • Firms by Sales Per Employee (4 breakouts)
  • Profitability Quartile Analysis (all firms)
  • Profitability Quartile Analysis (independent firms)
  • Analysis Peer Group Members vs. Non-members
  • Analysis of firms with and without Sales Representatives

A few key facts from this just-released study… 

  • Firms in the top profitability quartile report average 2016 annual sales of $1,052,704 and an owner’s compensation of 25.0%.
  • Firms in the bottom quartile report slightly higher annual sales but an average owner’s compensation of only 5.9%.
  • Payroll costs and Cost of Goods are clearly the distinguishing factors that separate those at the top from those at the bottom!
  • Average industry payroll is currently running at 31.6%.
  • Average cost of goods for all participants is 30.7%
  • Average overhead expenses for all participants is 21.7%
  • Approximately 80% of survey participants were “independents” while the rest were “franchisees.”

New Net Worth Survey Published!

The National Printing Research Council (NPRC) has released its latest industry survey providing a detailed analysis of the personal net worth of printers. The report was mailed 1st Class and or distributed via email to more than 120 participating firms. The report is now available for sale (hard copies only) in the NPRC Bookstore.

“Successes, regrets and advice section was priceless. I have followed many of those suggestions over the years and it has paid off.”
John Byrd, Bryd Printing Co., Norcross, GA

“I have been in the printing business for over 36 years and always wondered how I was doing compared to other print shops. With this Net Worth Study, now I know. No more guessing.” 
Dan Tiedt Sr., PIP Marketing/Signs/Print,Iowa City, Iowa

Click here to review additional testimonials provided by fellow printers. Read what they have to say about the value of this just-released report.

Retail Price… $225    
NPRC Member Price… $112.50
At the present time, this report is only available as a hard copy. No PDFs.

In the meantime, NPRC has released some preliminary statistics uncovered in the survey:

  • 24% of survey participants report a net worth between $501,000 and $1 million.
  • Average net worth of all participants is $2.2 million
  • Average 2016 sales of participants is $1.5 million
  • Approximately 62% of all owners surveyed indicated they owned their own building. It’s even higher among those with the highest net worth.
  • Estimated average value of building (if owned) is $709,000.
  • 28% of owners indicate they also own other commercial real estate.
  • Approximately 37%  of those surveyed indicated they owned other “non-commercial” real estate such as second homes, vacation cottages, etc.

The National Printing Research Council is dedicated to publishing hard-hitting, fact-based research studies and surveys that directly benefit its members. We employ a full-time executive director with extensive knowledge of the industry, and we are available 24/7 to answer questions about pricing, profitability, wages, key financial ratios, and valuation methods. And best yet, we offer those services and more for low annual dues of ONLY $240!

A special new-member bonus! Printers who join NPRC between now and March 16, 2017 will receive a FREE copy of the above-mentioned confidential report on personal net worth. This is a “first-of-its-kind” report and is sure to spark a lot of discussion in the printing industry. 

This represents data representing the net worth of the average American Household in 2013 (latest available). As you can see, as the owner of a small, closely held business the odds are in your favor of far exceeding the average net worth of most Americans.

More than 120 owners, with sales ranging from $200,000 to $7.5 million, shared highly personal data about their personal net worth and told us where and how this wealth was acquired. This report, which will retail for $295.00, is expected to be released no later than Jan. 31, 2017. No other industry trade organization gathers, analyzes and provides this type of in-depth information.