100+ Words to Avoid in Email Subject Lines

NPRC sends out upwards of 30,000 or more emails each week. Most of our emails are designed to promote industry studies, research surveys and general articles about the printing, mailing and sign industries. We learned early on that half the battle in getting folks to open and read our emails is based upon the “subject lines” we create and use. In fact, we often spend more time writing and re-writing a subject line than we will spend on the body of the email.

If you achieve open rates of 15% or more you are doing quite well. Pat yourself on the back! If you’re not getting open rates that high, then you might consider avoiding using one or more of the following words or phrases since they are likely to trigger spam filters at your recipient’s end and place your email in a spam or trash folder rather than in your customer’s “in-box.”

We know it’s hard sometimes, especially when you are emotionally close to the subject at hand, to avoid some of these words. Nonetheless, you need to avoid many of the words below if you want to boost readership. Sometimes it seems like every catchy word or phrase you want to use appears in the “no-no” list below, but don’t give up. On the other, try to think out of the box!

Other email subject-line tips offered by the experts… Avoid exclamation marks, using all caps, subject lines longer than 5-6 words. Be careful with attempts at humor, they can definitely backfire. We messed up big-time one time many years ago with a promo for our printing firm. The subject line? “A special offer for Doctors & Dentists.”

Did you catch the mistake? Dentists are of course doctors, and half the dentists that opened the email were offended to one degree or another by unintentional slight in our subject line!

Common email spam words and phrases to avoid

#1 $$$ 100%
Act now Action Additional income
Affordable All natural/new Amazed
Apply now Avoid Be amazed/your own boss
Beneficiary Billing Billion
Bonus Boss Buy
Call free/now Cancel Cash
Casino Certified Cheap
Click here Clearance Collect
Compare rates Congratulations Credit card/check/offers
Cures Deal Dear friend/somebody
Debt Discount Direct email
Don’t delete/hesitate Double your income/cash Earn
Extra Expire Fantastic
Free access/money/gift Freedom Friend
Get it now/started/paid Great Guarantee
Hello Income Increase sales/traffic
Instant Investment Junk
Limited Lose Lowest price
Luxury Make $/money Medicine
Money Name No credit check/experience
Now Obligation Offer
Only Open Order now
Please Presently Problem
Promise Purchase Quote
Rates Refinance Refund
Remove Request Risk-free
Sales Satisfaction Save
Score Serious Spam
Success Supplies Take action
Terms Traffic Trial
Unlimited Urgent Weight
While supplies last Win Winner

 

262

NPRC Report Projects Sales Decline of 25%

Melbourne, FL, July 23-2020 – The National Printing Research Council (NPRC) has just published its latest report that explores the impact of Convid-19 on the printing industry. The report is based on a survey conducted between July 10-16, 2020. The 24-question survey attracted more than 190 participants.

Distribution of the initial 9-page report was and is being limited to participants only. Survey participants were provided confidential download instructions between July 22-23.

The complete report, however, will be made available to all printers, regardless of participation status, on Aug. 10, 2020. “We are slowly learning our lessons. Having now conducted three Covid-19 Surveys, we couldn’t help but notice a subtle decline in participation levels,” notes John Stewart, Executive Director of NPRC. “We believe many firms chose not to complete additional surveys because they assumed they would be able to read the results anyway,” adds Stewart.

“Free distribution of survey results will not longer be the case,” notes Stewart. “Henceforth, we will make it clear in our survey promotions that results of our surveys will only be provided to survey participants. Additional distribution to non-participants will be at our discretion.” adds Stewart.

Sharing of Some Results…

Based upon the results of our survey, it is easy to conclude on the one hand that the printing industry appears quite resilient. On the other hand, it is also quite clear that the vast majority of printers will be facing major challenges in the months and possibly years ahead. While it is no surprise that 2nd quarter sales would be down significantly, projections for the 3rd quarter of 2020 appear even worse, according to our data.

Looking forward to the 4th quarter, we find that printers are projecting a 26% decline in sales ($415,295 down to $307,025). Examining median figures we find that the projected drop in sales is even worse at almost 32%.

Dramatic Decline in SPE

With the dramatic decline in sales beginning in early March 2020, it is also no surprise that sales per employee (SPE) took an even greater dramatic hit due to the delayed reaction by most printers as to how they would handle payroll and staffing issues.

The chart below illustrates the dramatic decline in sales per employee as first calculated for Jan-Mar. 2020 and then for subsequent periods. Notice the dramatic 44% decline in average SPE between the 1st quarter and the 2nd quarter.

While the 1st quarter SPEs might be considered somewhat “optimistic” in terms of national averages reported in the past, the SPEs reported for the remaining three time-frames are signs of a troubled industry, especially if this trend continues into 2021.

Generally speaking, SPEs are indicative of relative degrees of productivity and there is little doubt that Covid-19 has directly and indirectly impacted productivity of the average printing firm. We suspect it will be at least 12-18 months before we see a return to healthier SPEs.

A special note as to our SPE calculations. The data below is most useful and informative when examined within its own context, as opposed to comparing to historical SPEs reported in other studies.  Nonetheless, the periodic changes are reliable in terms of the time frames noted.

Impact of Convid-19 on Your Business

Our survey asked printers to what degree has Covid-19 impacted their business during the January-June time-frame. As you can see from the graph below, approximately 78% of all participants said Covid-19 has had a significant if not catastrophic negative impact on their business. The results are certainly not surprising. Some printers will clearly learn to roll with the punches, but many others will keep absorbing them until they can’t take it anymore.

Clearly, learning to closely monitor, control and reduce total labor costs will continue to be the single greatest challenge facing printers in the next 6-12 months. Printers who fail to grasp the critical significance of payroll costs as a percent of sales and who fail to react quickly to these “red flags” may find themselves facing even greater changes in the 2nd half of this year than they faced in the first half.

Reacting quickly to sharp declines in sales with equivalent adjustments in labor costs is a skill that needs to be sharpened in this era of Covid-19.

Cash Reserves

Despite an abundance of discouraging “negative data” collected in our most recent survey, we were surprised and encouraged to find that almost 24% of our participants told us the they have enough cash reserves to last at least six months, while an additional 50% say the can last one year or more.

Confidence Level

One of our key survey questions posed the following: “Taking into account all that has transpired in the past four months (March – June), how would you rate your confidence level that your business will be somewhat ‘back to normal’ or better by July 2021?” The scale we used went from “-100” on the left, “0”0 at the center point to “100” on the right.

We intended and interpreted that firms selecting the center point were indicating a 50-50 confidence level that things would return to normal. Or, another interpretation might be that 28% of participants were sort of “neutral” in their predictions, selecting neither a positive or negative view of what might happen between now and July 2021.

Participation in Future Surveys?

As noted earlier, we intend to supply the entire 9-page Covid-19 #3 Summer report no later than August 10, 2020. We strongly encourage you to participate in future surveys. We are the only association serving the printing industry that brings you up-to-the-minute surveys and reports. We are proud of the caliber and quality of the reports we publish, whether they be various pricing reports, mailing and signs studies, or statistical studies reporting on the latest financial benchmarks in our industry.

We encourage you to visit our Blog (See tab at top of HOME page) or our Bookstore. When visiting the Bookstore, you can click on any of the dozen or more studies depicted to obtain additional information. In most cases, we offer a free preview of the Table of Contents for each study. Oftentimes, we also provide for free down loads of sample pages as well. Best yet, all of our studies are offered on a 100% money-back guaranteed basis.

Revision date: 7-23-20, 4:45 p.m.

437

Are Grants & Loans Really Necessary for Survival?

By John Stewart, Executive Director, NPRC

Are printers counting on government grants and Loans to survive the Covid-19 crisis?  Well, checking out various printing industry list servs, it certainly appears that many printers are indeed doing just that!

Instead of returning to the basics and concentrating on improving key financial ratios such as SPE, payroll and profits per employee many printers seem to be spending the better part of their days worrying how to fine tune loan applications and mastering SBA regulations.

Ironically, more printers appear to have mastered the myriad of new government regulations involved in securing PPP and EIDL loans and grants far better than they have mastered their own financial ratios. To be blunt, I have seen more posts in the past two weeks about how to secure various government loans than I have seen discussions in the past two years regarding  achieving higher SPEs and best practices for lowering payroll costs.

Most profit leaders in this industry (the top quartile in terms of profitability) appear well prepared to deal with the challenges that Covid-19 represents. Sure, there will be struggles and bumps along the way, but there is little doubt that they will survive and prosper both in the short term and the long term. Profit laggards, on the other hand, were ill-prepared to weather even a small financial storm, long before Covid-19 even existed. Now they find themselves in a cash and profit crisis mostly of their own making.

Sure, receiving a loan for $20,000, $50,000 or even $100,000 or more sounds great, but if that loan or grant is viewed as making the difference between “closing your doors” and your surviving to see 2021 then I would seriously question the financial strength and stability of your firm, Covid-19 not withstanding!

If you’ve been running a marginal or below average firm for the past two or three years, or possibly even longer, any loan or grant that you receive will end up being nothing more than a small band-aid where a tourniquet is required instead. Covid-19 related loans and grants are not likely to save firms that are foundering financially. At best, the inflow of new money will simply prolong the inevitable.

I talk to profit leaders all the time, and virtually all of them admit to me admit to me that while the loans and grants they have received are certainly helpful, they note that their firms are not dependent upon them for their survival. Some are treating these loans as “icing on the cake.” Ironically, because they are profitable to begin with, the loans and grants these firms will receive will end up making them even stronger in terms of profitability in 2020 and 2021.

Don’t misunderstand me when I talk about “icing on the cake.” Yes, even the strongest companies in our industry surely welcome the help, and they will indeed put these grants and loans to good use. Weaker firms, however, will likely use the money to patch holes in a sinking ship – a ship that was sinking long before we ever heard of Covid-19. In fact, many troubled firms will end up using the influx of cash to patch holes above the water line, instead of the more serious ones down below.

Don’t misunderstand me when I talk about “icing on the cake.” Yes, even the strongest companies in our industry surely welcome the help, and they will indeed put these grants and loans to good use. Weaker firms, however, will likely use the money to patch holes in a sinking ship – a ship that was sinking long before we ever heard of Covid-19.

Six months from now – I strongly suspect that that many of the troubled firms that so desperately need government grants and loans to survive will have blown through those funds faster than a speeding bullet, and six months from now they will be once again desperate for more loans and grants. As always, this industry, like all industries, has “profit leaders” and “profit laggards.” The difference between the two groups is that the former know there ratios inside and out and recognize that they are indeed in that top quartile. On the other hand, the “profit laggards” are generally poorly informed as to the types of key financial ratios it takes to operate a profitable firm in this industry, and thus struggle along, week to week, month to month.

In turbulent and uncertain times such as  we are facing today, it is more important than ever that you understand the kinds of key financial ratios required to survive and prosper. Granted, “increasing profitability” may be a bit “pollyannish” during the Covid-19 era, but the last thing you want to encounter these days is a slow, yet subtle decline in key ratios.

One fact we know for sure – Six months from now “profit leaders” will continue to be “profit leaders,” while many of the “profit laggards” of today will be struggling even more so than they are today, regardless of any loans or grants they may have received.

Granted, “increasing profitability” may be a bit “pollyannish” during the Covid-19 era, but the last thing you want to encounter these days is a slow, yet subtle decline in key ratios.

We’ve been publishing Financial Benchmarking Studies for the Printing industry for more than 30 years and we have tracked dozens of key ratios in our industry. Most important of all, we’ve been able to compare and breakdown ratios of of the top firms vs. those at the bottom in terms of profitability. Suffice it to say that the “profit leaders” in our industry seem far better prepared to weather the “storm” than the “profit laggards.”

Below are just a few of the key ratios that we look at closely when analyzing the value of firms and their survivability score. Average sales for the firms in this extraction was $1,100,000. These ratios are extracted from the NPRC 2019-2020 financial Benchmarking Study. The 64-page study is a comprehensive analysis of Key financial benchmarks and ratios for the quick and small commercial printing industry. See page 48 for specific definitions and formulas used to report the following. (Click here to read more about this info-packed study.)

Key Ratios – All Firms by Profitability Quartiles

 

Key Financial Ratio* Bottom Profit Qrtl Top Profit Qrtl
2018 Average Gross Sales $1,448,004 $1,037,417
Cost of Goods % 30.6% 29.0%
Payroll Expense % 38.8% 25.8%
Overhead Expense % 25.2% 19.4%
Owner’s Compensation % 5.4% 25.7%
Excess Earnings $ -$7,135 $201,258
Profits Per Employee $ -$637 $32,461
Sales Per Employee $ $118,688 $144,085

Definitions as to specific ratios reported below can be found in 2019-2020 Financial Benchmarking Study

Sales Per Employee can often act as instant indicator of overall financial health. You don’t need a P&L or a Balance sheet and you don’t need the help of a CPA or bookkeeper to calculate it. SPE has nothing directly to do with payroll or wages so you don’t need that info either. Simply divide your annual sales (do not include postage income) by the total number of FT equivalent employees, including all working owners, partners, etc. used to produce those sales. SPE is generally calculated and expressed in annual terms, not monthly, although it can change somewhat from month to month.

By the way, a SPE in the $140-$150,000 range, even though that puts it in the “Profit Leader ” category, does not represent the top of what can be achieved. I know many firms, most of them heavily invested in digital printing, that report achieving SPEs of $160,000 to $180,000 and even more. So don’t be patting yourself on the back too quickly. You can always do better. On the other hand, if your SPE is $130,000 or below you are seriously under-performing in this industry compared to your peers.

Recent SPEs reported by NPRC – SPE varies modestly from report to report. Below are are recent SPEs as reported in various studies:

Study                                                               Average        Median
2019 Digital Color Pricing Study                    $139,830         $130,673
2020 Mailing Services Pricing Study             $156,179          $142,500
2019 Wage & Benefits Study                            $139,048         $134,444
2019 Financial Benchmarking Study              $139,595               NA

2019 Financial Benchmarking Study – Average SPE

821

California Mailer Praises Mailing Study

“The new NPRC Mailing Services Pricing Study is one of the best surveys to come out from NPRC in a long time,” says David Adams, owner of QPS Printing, Petaluma, CA.

“Although all of the association’s surveys are of immense help, this one hit a sweet spot for our company. It validated our pricing positions and gave us some items to add, services we should be breaking up into different price categories and not be ‘all-inclusive in pricing'”.

“We have grown our commercial printing firm to be in the top ten in the San Francisco north bay. Surveys like the Mailing Services Pricing Study keep us growing,” adds Adams.

Adams is one of many printers and mailers who have praised NPRC’s latest industry study, the 2020-2021 Mailing Services Pricing Study. This brand new, 100+ page study is packed with average and median prices for dozens and dozens of popular mailing products and services, including:

Full-Service IMb Charges
De-duping Fees
NCOA Processing Fees
Laser Letter Merging Fees
Markup Rates for Brokered Lists
Inkjet Addressing Fees
Insertion Charges for #10, 6×9″ and 9×12″ Envelopes
Metering Charges
Hand & Machine Application of Stamps
Self-Mailer Processing Fees
Plus, many, many other services & Products.

Click here to download the complete Table of Contents for this just-released study.

 

253

Check-Out Table of Contents for 2020 Mailing Study

More info @ Bookstore

Check-out NPRC’s Table of Contents for its soon-to-be-released study – the 2020-2021 Mailing Services Pricing Study. Official release date for study is Feb. 3, 2020.

Based upon feedback from almost 170 firms, this new study is packed with average and median prices for dozens and dozens of services and products in the mailing industry. Popular quantities covered include 1M, 5M, 10M & 25M, plus corresponding unit pricing.

To view specific products and services covered in this brand new study click: Table of Contents.

Place Your Order Today – This new study will begin shipping February 3, 2020, but you can place your order today by visiting the NPRC Bookstore. Retail price for the 110-page study is $175 (PDF) and $189 for hard copies.

Orders are processed and shipped same-day as ordered. All orders are offered on a 100% money-back guarantee if you are not totally satisfied it is everything we promise.

193

Save 18% With NPRC’s Latest Coupon!

Interested in buying NPRC’s newest research publication – the 2019-2020 Digital Color Pricing Study? If so, this is your lucky month. NPRC is offering 18% off this special study if purchased in January. Instead of paying the retail price of $225, you’ll pay only $184.50 when you use our special promotional coupon.

When asked on the order form, enter coupon code NPRCVIP18. This 80+ page study is packed with pricing information for dozens and dozens of digital products and services currently being offered in our industry. Compare your prices against others in the industry, or at least be reassured your pricing is in the “ballpark” and not way out of line like some customers would have you believe. Visit our bookstore today.

35

NPRC Offers Printing Goals Sheet

NPRC Offers Free Financial Printing Goals Sheet

NPRC has just released its latest 2018 Financial Printing Goals sheet for the printing industry. Based upon years of research conducted by QP Consulting, Inc., as well as data available in NPRC’s 2017-2018 Financial Benchmarking Study, this new handout offers specific financial printing goals required to attain “profit leader” status.

Printing Goals  

The data is based upon information provided by printers falling into the top quartile in this industry in terms of profitability. This new Financial Goals Sheet for the printing industry details specific ratios for cost of sales, payroll expenses (excluding owners) and overhead expenses.

Download Printing Goals Sheet…

Free Financial Printing Goals Sheet with key ratios

Free Financial Printing Goals Sheet with key ratios

Our advice, download and print the PDF provided and tape or staple to the wall next to your desk. Simply viewing these key profitability ratios on a daily basis, according to many printers who have used this sheet in the past, will help you improve your profitability.

To view and download a PDF of this goal sheet, click here.

244

2018 Digital Pricing Study

New Digital Pricing Study Proves Popular

NPRC has released its highly anticipated 2018 Digital Color Pricing Study. This new 100+ page report offers up average and median pricing for dozens of color digital products and services in the printing industry. Data on digital pricing is provided in various formats, including average and median prices for a range of quantities, plus in many cases the price per booklet, sheet or in some cases per signature.

“Hello John,
I just had to let you know how impressed I was with the Digital Pricing Study you just released. While I only spent 30 minutes going over the study, my initial impression is that the quality of this study is as good if not better than previous studies. Thanks for the hard work you and NPRC put into these studies, The printing industry is better off because of studies such as this.”
Armand Girard, Curry Printing & Marketing, Auburn, ME

To NPRC,
“An excellent study. It is great to see what other printers are charging for the same products and be able to compare those prices in an organized fashion.”
Kevin Williams, Systems Print & Mail, Laguna Hills, CA

Pricing Study Cover

Cover of New Pricing Study

Publication Price…
PDF Copies… $179.00
Hard Copies… $191.00

NPRC Member Pricing
PDF Pricing… $89.50
Hard Copies… $95.50

 Discover what fellow printers from
around the country are charging for…
Graphic Services – Standard and Complex
Variable Data 4/4 cards (sizes 4.25 x 5.5 and 5.5 x 8.5)
Flat sheets, 100# Text & Cover (finished sizes 8.5 x 11 and 11 x 17)
Rack Cards – 4/0 and 4/4, finished size 4 x 9, full-bleed
2-Part and 3-Part Carbonless forms, plain and numbered
Click Charges Only for quantities ranging from 500 to 5,000!
16-page and 32-page newsletters (qtys. 100 – 2,500)
32-page Booklets – finished size.5 x 8.5 (qtys. 100 – 2,500)
#10 and 9 x 12 Envelopes – Blk only and 4-C (qtys. 100 – 2,500)
Plus many, many other prices with majority high-low guidelines

Special Note to Survey Participants – Please note that printing firms who participated in our Digital Color Pricing survey receive an email and link for downloading the FREE PDF of the study on Dec. 2oth and Dec. 21st, 2017. Please check your trash and deleted folders as well as your spam folders if you are unable to find the email used to distribute this study. The subject line used to advise participants was: “Urgent – Here’s Your 2018 Digital Color Pricing Study.”

Visit the NPRC Bookstore to place your order.

358

10 Tips for Increasing Company Value

Analysis Reveals Huge Disparities in Company Values
Among Firms Reporting Almost Identical Sales!
By John Stewart
Printing Firm Valuation Chart

35 Valuations – Even the small portion of valuations excerpted above illustrate the huge variations in valuations for printing firms in this country. For explanations of the “headers” please visit the full chart at the end of this post. As to why the huge variances? Click here or the chart above to download a PDF of the above chart. Read further…

Rules of Thumb

In the old days, one of the most popular rules of thumb for determining what a printing business was worth or company valuations was based upon nothing more than a multiple of sales –one times annual sales was probably the most common.Sometimes that multiplier even exceeded one! The amazing thing about that rule was that it never took into account profitability or what a working owner was able to take out of the business.

Other valuation rules that are still floating around today may be a bit more logical in that they take profitability into account. Some rules rely on a multiple of excess earnings, and some modify that by adding in the value of net assets. Still other rules use a average of owner’s compensation over a period of time multiplied by a factor between 2-6.

Unfortunately, many owners don’t understand the term “excess earnings,” or give much thought to company valuations until they near retirement and suddenly realize that the business isn’t worth half what they thought it would be! Very few owners fully understand terms such as “owner’s compensation,” or “earnings multipliers” and thus have great difficulty determining the value of their own firm.

“Print Shop For Sale” Published

In 2007 Larry Hunt (a highly respected printing consultant) and I published a book titled, “Print Shop for Sale.” PSFS, a 280+ page publication, has been reprinted numerous times and at last count had sold more than 3,800 copies. At the time “Print Shop for Sale” was published it was the only book in the printing industry dedicated strictly to valuing printing firms. It continues to hold that distinction today. As noted on the cover of the book, it is intended to provide readers with, “A step-by-step guide for establishing a fair market value for your printing firm, or one you are looking to buy.”

Writing the book with Larry was a true labor of love. Neither of us imagined that it would eventually lead to numerous inquiries from printers around the country asking if we would value their firm. Naively, we assumed our $89 book would do the trick. We figured the book did a pretty good job at explaining the “Modified Excess Earnings” approach and how to use that to arrive at the value of a printing firm.

Wow, were we wrong! We began getting calls from both independents and franchises alike asking us if we would prepare a valuation for their firm. Larry decided he would prefer to retire early and play golf. I don’t play golf, but I do own an airplane which is very expensive to operate and maintain, thus I continue offering valuation services when asked. <g> (Interestingly enough, after we evacuated the plane during the last hurricane we returned to Melbourne only to discover that we had developed a crack in the engine block and we are now looking at a $37,500 cost for a re-built engine!)

When an independent or franchise owner would call about valuations one of the first things I would recommend is that they should buy the book and gather together the various forms suggested in the book and then provide answers to our valuation questionnaire. If they still had questions then they should call me.

Sometimes, you just have to do the “hard” work. There are no “rules of thumb” or shortcuts to valuing most firms.

Interestingly enough, many of the printers told me they had already bought to book but still wanted me to do the work. They wanted more than “Print Shop for Sale” had to offer.

Some owners, although telling me they had purchased the book, admitted they were not really into the “numbers” and wanted me to do the work. Some wanted a detailed valuation of their firm and were willing to pay the price. Other owners had found a business they were interested in buying but wanted my help in coming up with a “fair market” offering price.

Avoiding Valuation Pitfalls

Since that time, I have conducted more than 450 valuations and I continue to provide valuation services today. However, I am NOT trying to sell valuation services. What I would like to share with you are some general comments about valuations and why some owners are able to receive “top dollar” for their businesses, while other owners end up, even after 10-15 years of operation, with businesses with little if any value. The result, they work it to the very end and then close the doors.

For those of you who used to read my columns in Quick Printing magazine, or have read some of my recent articles posted on the National Printing Research Council website (www.printingresearch.org) you know that I tend to rant and rave sometimes just to make a point.

That’s what I am going to do with the column – Offering up some “rants” and “raves” about company valuations and what causes some to be valued extremely high, while others end up being shockingly low.

First, let me observe that in today’s world, it does strike me that many of the owners that I encounter are far more realistic than they were in the past as to what they think their business might be worth. Buyers also strike me as being better informed and more realistic as to what they are looking for and what they are willing to pay. You’re probably not going get away with the old, “Hey, this business is a goldmine and someone with some real marketing skills and who is a good sales person can easily take this business to the next level.”

Unfortunately, there is also a substantial number of owners who have worked more than half their life to build a business, only to discover that it is worth far less than they thought it was. They had put most of their eggs into one basket (the business), only to discover too late that they had been making poor decisions almost from day one – decisions that would really hurt them in the long run.

Low Valuations and Lost Friends

The sad thing is that I have actually lost a couple of friends along the way as the result of valuations that came in much lower than what they had expected, and they blamed me for the low valuations. They had been counting on a valuation of $$$ for the last few years, and then I prepare a valuation based upon the numbers they provided and I end up telling them their business was worth less than 50% of what they thought.

Another owner bragged about how much money he was able to take out under the table and thus avoid taxes. When I valued his firm, and told him we couldn’t use that “stolen cash” to value his business he was shocked!

Still another owner bragged to me about his excellent package of equipment and that he could produce 95% of all his work in house. What we discovered was that he was asset-rich and excess earnings poor. He had accumulated far more in equipment than he really needed to produce his annual sales.

Sure, the equipment was really neat, and worked extremely well, but a lot of it was only used 2-3 times a month and for the remainder of the time it sat in the corner collecting dust. Excessive amounts of hard assets, as a percent of sales, combined with low excess earnings, typically produce low company valuations. Most savvy buyers are not interested in buying all of your fancy assets, but rather what those assets can produce in terms of excess earnings!

The Worst Case of All!

Of course, the worst case of all is to put a fairly-valued firm up for sale hoping to get lots of offers only to hear dead silence. Even the best, most logical, common-sense valuation doesn’t guarantee and that that you are going to find qualified buyers in your market willing and able to pay your asking price. Bottom line, that unlike in the residential real estate market, there really isn’t much of a market in which to advertise, let alone sell printing businesses.

Special Editorial Note: Actually this entire article is an “editorial note” <g>, but I want to point out the values assigned to various businesses noted in this article are not meant to imply that these businesses sold for those prices, or in fact sold at all! Many businesses just never sell. Some are taken off the market by the business owner or broker and some never get even a nibble because of excessive value placed on the business by the owner, a business broker and yes, even a consultant. 

“Print Shop for Sale” quotes a well know author on valuations as saying:

“Despite the commonly held belief that markets are efficient, and efficient market does not exist for privately held businesses… unlike the NYSE or the NASDAQ, there is no place to buy and sell privately held businesses aside from the business brokerage community, which is small in scope. As a result, it is very difficult to determine what a privately held business is worth in the marketplace. This lack of an efficient market presents a critical need for valuation services.

This study is “worth its weight in gold,” say many of the profit leaders in the industry. Unfortunately, this may indeed be the last edition of this study to be published in the industry due to a lack of support by printers.

Let’s face it, this industry, taken as whole, is also a very mature industry. Sure, we’ve evolved in the products we produce and how we produce them, and we’ve added more services and products but it is difficult to argue against it being a mature industry. To claim that the printing industry offers up boundless opportunities for sales, growth and profits has to be taken with a grain of salt.

When it comes to valuations there is one thing you don’t want to do and that is to be caught with “your pants down” when you are are approached by a competitor asking, “Have you guys ever thought of selling your business, and if so what do you think it is worth?” That’s not the time to be scrambling around to come up with some value.

To be blunt, valuing your own firm ought to be done every couple of years, just like to update your statements of personal net worth – Of course you do that, don’t you? If the value of your firm has continued to grow over the years then congratulations! If it hasn’t, then do something about it. See my list of “Key Take-aways” near the end of this article.

35 Randomly Selected Printing Firms

Recently I was looking for a specific chart I prepared a few years listing and comparing company valuations but for the life of me I could not find it. So I went searching out some of hundreds of valuations I have conducted in the last 7-10 years and started opening up one folder after another, retrieving basic information from each valuation.

I extracted data for 35 firms. I could have easily extracted 50 or even 100! However, I know from experience that once I passed the 25 count or so, that the average and median data I was searching for would change little if any.

I assigned a fictional name to each company folder I opened, and then retrieved the following items:
       • Annual Sales
       • Calculated Excess Earnings
       • Value of Net Assets* (sold)
       • Excess Earnings Multiplier used in the valuation
       • Estimated Valuation of Firm

*NET ASSETS, as defined in the accompanying charts, is the true, market value of the essential assets (equipment, furniture and fixtures) transferred and sold to the buyer. This value is not necessarily “book” value, but rather the value that a savvy buyer would pay if he or she had to go out on the street and replace the equipment used to produce the sales in question.  As a general observation, many owners want to assign a much higher value on their equipment package than would be warranted in the real-world marketplace!

For purposes of comparison and sorting, I also calculated the percent of net assets to annual sales as well as the value of the firm expressed as a percent of annual sales. Below is one of four charts I prepared. It illustrates, without sorting, the first 17 firms for which I recorded data. Note that we eliminated two “outlier” firms (#4 and #17) – One was worth 110% its annual sales (certainly possible but still a clear “outlier”) and one firm that actually had a negative value – that scenario is also quite possible, but it too was an outlier that would have otherwise distorted our average.

SPECIAL CAUTION: Be advised that the above company names are totally fictional and have no relationship whatsoever to firms that might coincidentally have the same name. You don’t know how hard it is to actually come up with a fictional name without a real firm name coming to mind.

Of the 35 companies for which we retrieved valuation data, the smallest firm we uncovered (Instant Copy) reported annual sales of $230,256 and was eventually valued at $114,905, or 49.9% of its annual sales.

The largest firm in our selection of 35 firms (Signature Offset) reported $4,199,105 in sales, and it was ultimately valued at $931,116, or 22.4% of its annual sales.

All Firms Ranked – Although the above chart reflects the remaining 18 firms we analyzed, we have included at the end of this article a single table ranking the above firm in terms of calculated value to annual sales.

As you examine the two tables above, you can’t help but notice the range of valuations based upon annual sales. Some firms are valued extremely low at 3-29% of annual sales, while other firms, those near the top, are valued at 52-75% (and some even higher) of annual sales.

Each of the valuations were subjected to the same valuation tests and formulas. You would like to think that the highest valued firms were those with the highest ratio of “Excess Earnings” to “value” but that is not always the case. The same expectation might be said for “Net Assets to Value” but that too cannot be said. What we can say is there are so many variables when it comes to preparing a valuation that it pretty much precludes the ability to offer up a neat “rule of thumb” that you could quickly apply to just two or three ratios.

Below is the entire list of 35 firms sorted by their value as a percent of annual sales:

Click image to download PDF of this chart

Partial Definitions of headers:
   Annual Sales – Self explantory
   Excess Earnings – Total owner’s compensation less “fair market salary” for working owner. Explained in detail in Print Shop for Sale.
   Net Assets – Hard assets (“real world” street market value of equipment, furniture & leasehold improvements) transferred free & clear at time of sales. Does    not include cash, AR, etc. as those normally are retained by seller.)
   % Of Assets to Total Sales – A comparative ratio of Net Assets to Sales.
   Earnings Multiplier – Multiplier and score arrived when sellers complete valuation questionnaire as explained in Print Shop for Sale. Questionnaire is also available for inspection at our Valuation Services Page on our companion site.
   Estimated Valuation – This is the value (we sometimes determine a range rather than a specific figure) that we arrived at when applying and using the Modified Excess Earnings Approach.
   Value as a Percent of Sales – We divided estimated value by annual sales to arrive at this ratio.

Key Take-Aways for Increasing Value

While I cannot offer up hard “rules of thumb,” I can still rant a bit and offer up suggestions for improving the overall profitability of your firm and thus its value. Some are common sense, others are not as obvious:

1. Monthly Financial Statements – Generally speaking, the most troubled firms I have encountered over the years, including many of those with a low valuation as a percent of sales, are those that either don’t receive monthly financial statements, or if they do they don’t read them! Some owners just don’t seem to care too much about the “numbers” and it shows when it comes time to value their firm. It’s probably preaching the the choir, but my guess is a vast majority of the most troubled firms in this industry have never, never examined an Industry Financial Benchmarking Study  and that is a tragedy. (This link directs you to our bookstore where this key study can be purchased)  Hell, Larry Hunt’s Executive Summary is a treasure trove of suggestions for becoming a profit leader! Do I feel sorry for these folks? Not a bit. That’s a rant!

2. Properly Formatted Financial Statements – Of Course, you can get financial statements every month, but if they are not formatted properly you’re not going to be able to find the key info that you need to manage the business. At the very least, your financial statements need to breakout expenses into three basic categories – Total Payroll, Cost of Goods and Overhead Expenses. When it comes to payroll, you also need to be able to quickly distinguish payroll costs and benefits paid to a single owner as compared to what is paid for all other employees. This is critical info required for a valuation. P.S. If both husband and wife work the business, one of those salaries needs to be shifted to general payroll. By the way, it is up to you and not your CPA or bookkeeper to determine how your P&L should be formatted.

3. A Huge Mistake Made by Many – Far too many owners allow either their CPA or their internal bookkeeper to provide raw dollar figures without providing them with an adjacent column reflecting the the actual ratios or percent of annual sales that each cost item or category represents – These are critical ratios you need to commit to memory and if someone isn’t giving these ratios to you then fire them! These ratios, whether good or bad, can be used to compare to the ratios for profit leaders and laggards found in industry benchmarking studies.

4. Excess Earnings vs. Owner’s Compensation – “For a business to have any appreciable value to a potential buyer, it must produce a cash flow above and beyond what would be required to pay a fair market salary to the new owner or manager. It is this ‘excess cash flow’ or ‘excess earnings’ that is used to purchase the business from the former owner.” (Excerpt from Print Shop for Sale.) If you’re unfamiliar with this principle or don’t understand it you need to hit the books! If you think someone is going to buy your business and not take out a reasonable salary while he/she uses the profits of the business to pay you off you are sadly mistaken. That new buyer is entitled to pay himself/herself a fair market salary and still have enough money left over to pay you! Where is that money?

5. Truly Understanding Owner’s Compensation – Most owners don’t fully understand what is meant by the term “Owner’s Compensation.” “Owner’s Compensation” is defined as, “all the money that is left over in the business after covering all expenses of the business (cost of goods, payroll and overhead expenses) but before paying the primary working owner a salary or giving that owner any fringe benefits.” “Owner’s Compensation” DOES NOT include combined salaries or benefits paid to a spouse or partner. You should be able to calculate your owner’s compensation quickly and without trying to play games with the numbers.

6. Blood Sweat and Tears Don’t Count – Just because you and your spouse or partner have worked the business very hard for so many years plays little if any role in its value to others. In “Print Shop for Sale” we discuss the “Endowment Principle” – “The endowment principle suggests that an owner of an object tends to attribute a higher value to that object because he owns it. Consequently, the owner of a business may think that the business has a higher value than it actually does, merely because he or she started it, nurtured it, etc.” That principle is often the cause for the vast differences in valuations prepared by sellers as opposed to those prepared by potential buyers.

7. Whatever You Do, Clean-Up Your Balance Sheets – In 90% or more of sales involving small businesses, the seller typically keeps or retains all cash and AR and assumes responsibility for paying off all short and long-term accounts payable, including notes, loans, etc. (Operating Leases remain on the books as an expense) As for all those special liabilities or notes payable to owners or relatives forget about them! No buyer is going to pay-off those types of liabilities. If the company owes you money you better take care of it now because it won’t happen at the time of sale. The same is true for fictional entries like “amortization” or trade secrets or other ill-defined items listed as assets.

8. Increasing Value by Decreasing Costs – You may think you are running a tight ship. Chances are you’re not, certainly not when compared to the real “profit leaders” in this industry. For every $10,000 in annual expenses that can be trimmed means that the value of your business can increase by anywhere between $25,000 and $60,000!

9. Inability to Make Hard Choices – Sometimes, owners with the best of intentions fail to make decisions that would almost immediately enhance the value of their business. Terminating bad apples or at least apples that are starting to rot. Like it or not, almost every company with six or more employees has one of these employees. Failure to act on the obvious ultimately leads to lower excess earnings and lower valuations. It is also possible that you have a great team of long-term, very loyal employees, all of who are highly valued AND YET it is also quite possible that you may have one more employee than you really need.  If you terminate just one $40,000 employee that could easily increase the value of your firm by $120,000 to $200,000! But you can’t do that at the very end and expect to benefit from that increased value!

10. Spending Too Much Time on Social Networks – While I rarely go out in the field these days, I can tell you that many owners I know spend an enormous amount of time on social networks. In many respects, I believe Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn as well as various listservs can be tremendous time-wasters, preventing even the best-intentioned owners from really pursuing what needs to be done. What’s fun to do, is not the same as what needs to be done!

Thanks for Reading

Tired of my rants? I understand if you nod “yes.” If you spotted a couple of grammatical mistakes or missing words I am constantly reproofing so if you notice a mistake chances are good it will be corrected soon. On the other hand, if you find something wrong or unclear let me know ASAP and I will correct it. For those that finished this article I want to say thanks as well. I welcome your comments, although I can’t promise that I will be able to get back to all of them. You can email me at johnstewart@printingresearch.org

SPECIAL NOTE – Last week, we launched a special 22% Discount Sale on all NPRC publications. The offer was originally set to expire Sept. 26th, but that offer has now been extended until Sept. 29th! You must use “Irma2017” for your coupon code. “Print Shop For Sale” is excluded from this special offer.

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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.

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