Best of PI - Misc

Spring 1986 T-S Installs An ESOP

In this world of initials and acronyms, we have found one that we feel suits the operation of Thomson-Shore. Beginning January lst, we have instituted an ESOP ... or Employee Stock Ownership Plan.

This is a form of retirement plan where the company donates its own stock to a trust fund set up for the benefit of all the company employees. The company makes a donation to the trust each year with the size of the donation depending on the year's profits.

The shares are divided up and allocated to every employee of the company. Eventually when the employee retires, he or she can sell their shares back to the trust fund. The dollars to buy this also come from company donations. The theory behind this sort of plan is that the people who work for a company will take a deeper interest in its success if they are its owners. In addition to this stock retirement profit sharing plan, we continue to have our regular profit sharing whereby a fixed percentage of profits are paid out to all employees in cash several times a year.

It is our intention that, somewhere down the road, the entire company will be owned by the employees.

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January 1988 See Jane Run

In a recent issue I mentioned that this past summer we switched from having an instructor for our aerobics classes to using Jane Fonda tapes. I also said that I was impressed by Jane's physical condition.

We have since received an unsigned letter written on a sheet of paper with no letterhead saying they would never let us print another book for them until I publicly apologized for speaking well of her.

In answer to that person, I certainly didn't mean to imply any endorsement, pro or con, of Jane Fonda's political views. Nor do I intend to comment on her political views now. But I will say that she sure is in good physical condition.

Perhaps the anonymous letter writer will be content to know that this Fall we did go back to using an instructor for the classes and she's also in amazing physical condition.

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January 1988 Man ... Have You Guys Got It Made

One of our customers who remembers the days 15 years ago when we started this company made that comment to me the other day. He remembers the "good old days" when he could call me on Sunday afternoon and know I'd be at work ... when the work days were from 10 to 16 hours long and if it wasn't Christmas day, all the days were work days.

Well those days are over now but his comment caused me to spend the next morning, from about 4:30 to 6:00 AM, wondering if he knew something I didn't. The conclusion I arrived at merely identified something that I've really known all along but never stopped to recognize.

That conclusion is that there is no business entity ... or individual for that matter ... that "has it made." There is no business so successful and secure that there isn't the chance of a big surprise just around the corner. Success is a thing of the past, not the future, because you can never be sure what's coming. About all you can predict is that things will change and there will be surprises. Your own individual efforts can help make those changes positive ones but if you relax in those efforts, you can stumble.

The Super Bowl Champion rarely repeats, the American League has had 7 different champions in 7 years. Ford is now making more money than GM, Texas banks are going under, IBM is getting beaten by companies only 1/1000 their size. At one time, all these organizations may have thought they "had it made" ... but they were wrong. The past isn't necessarily prologue.

I think my point is that no business can afford to relax and enjoy their "success" because that very moment there are competitors out there looking for ways to beat you. You can never stop running. If you look back, someone's going to pass you.

Fortunately, the struggle to get an organization moving forward and performing a bit better all the time is fun and that's probably the major reward in starting or running a business. There can be great personal satisfaction in witnessing results of your company's efforts.

The challenge of competing and contributing each day and seeing others around you do the same is likely the best reward you're going to have because there is no judgment day when someone says, "Congratulations! You won and you're going to live happily forever after."

Success has to be an hour by hour, day by day achievement for tomorrow is not guaranteed.

Afew months ago our treasurer came into my office and told me we'd had our first $1,000,000.00 sales month and it came with a profit percentage in double digits. For a brief moment I was tempted to celebrate but then I reminded myself that that achievement was already past history. Today's challenge is this month, not last month, and I have no idea how this month will turn out. Fortunately I enjoy the effort and challenge of making the next hour, day and month as successful as is possible and to that extent maybe I've got it made.

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Spring 1992 Printer's Ink Audience Grows

Printer's Ink began with 2000 copies and has grown to over 19,000 copies, four times a year. The size and format haven't changed but, looking back and re-reading those early issues, I believe the quality has improved. Those early issues were pretty bad but now there are so many comments after each issue that we have a better feel for what our audience is interested in. At least that's what we think.

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Winter 1990 Here's to Life in the Slow Lane

I believe that in the overall makeup of communities in the USA, Dexter would probably qualify as a rural community. Any road you take into town goes through the woods.

Once you get into town, you'll find two traffic lights, one bank (a branch of the Ann Arbor Bank), a savings and loan, a post office, a two block long main street, an IGA and a small downtown square with a gazebo for things like summer band concerts and a nativity scene at Christmas.

We printed Dexter's sesquicentennial book a few years back and the center spread featured full page aerial photos of Dexter in 1900 and again in 1984. In 1984 the trees were larger and there were cars parked along the streets. Otherwise, there was virtually no discernible difference in the two pictures.

From the founding of Thomson-Shore in 1972 until today, I have never put money in any of the 30 or so parking meters in Dexter. I don't know anyone else who does and I have never gotten a meter violation ticket. My first ten years at Thomson-Shore I never took the keys out of my car when it was in Dexter and I probably still wouldn't except that an employee told me that leaving keys in a parked car was against the law and he thought I should stop doing that.

Now in Ann Arbor, where I live, life is different. Ann Arbor must have thousands of parking meters and they do pay attention to them. It's very possible to get parking tickets which cost $2.00 if paid within an hour or $4.00 if it takes you longer. They never seem to be particularly fussy about payment and I've been told you can usually ignore the citations unless you accumulate a half dozen or so. At that point, if they catch you they attach something called a "Denver Boot" to your rear wheels and your car is incapacitated. I'm sure this would prove to be embarrassing, time consuming and probably expensive to rectify.

Now, moving into the really big time, I have an interesting example of how life in the big city operates.

Our daughter, Ann, recently got out of college and went to Washington, D.C. where she got a job as a vital cog in our nation's government. Ann, I believe, would describe Washington as a town with one million cars and 500 parking spaces. She tries not to drive other than to work and back but she occasionally can't avoid it.

We learned of her most recent Washington driving experience when the phone rang at 11:30 at night, about a half hour beyond our usual bed time.

As she tells the story, she had to drive into the city for some vital reason and she was blessed by finding a parking spot. Unfortunately, the meter time expired before she returned and she was given a ticket. She was given a second ticket for leaving her front tire more than 12" from the curb and a third ticket because her rear bumper extended into a handicap parking space behind her.

The total fine was $105.00 and the ticket said it would escalate automatically to $210.00 if not paid in full within two weeks. There was also the threat of jail if you were tardy in paying or if you had the misfortune to have your check bounce.

My immediate reaction at 11:30 at night was that Ann should be pleased to live in an area where the local authorities went to such lengths to keep the streets safe. She, on the other hand, had a different view of the whole episode.

There is no moral to this story... not even much of a punch line... but I believe it is an interesting illustration of one of the differences in rural and urban lifestyles.

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Fall 1990 At Last We Find Out What Success Is All About!

I recently read an article that I couldn't help commenting on. It appeared in a printing industry newsletter and told of the prediction by the president of one of the country's largest printing companies of the eminent demise of the midsize boutique or niche printer with sales from $10 million to $60 million.

That description pretty well fits our company and, I believe, most every other company that we compete with in the short run book manufacturing business. It seems all our days are numbered. This man has decided that companies like us are going to be used as cannon fodder by companies like his. He says "with money and people it's a lead pipe cinch to make a company go." "In the short term there will be more consolidation of companies and more "power buying" by big companies as weaker players are bought up or eliminated. The mid-size company will find survival very difficult."

However, this threat to the midsize printer is seen as an opportunity for his company. He intends to gobble them up as they fall and concludes, "Our mission and our ability, because of our size, is to assist in the consolidation of the industry. "

It seems one of our (the small to mid-size company) shortcomings is our unwillingness or lack of ability to train employees. We apparently don't have the brains or the money to train people while his company, on the other hand, "is going to hook some rising stars and turn them into printing professionals." They already have a full-time training director for their 26 autonomous companies with goodness only knows how many thousand employees.

In addition to not training our people, the small company has a second fatal flaw. We apparently lack the funds to add new machinery, equipment and plant space, while cash is no problem for the big guy. They just borrow it.

This man's company has set a company goal of 9% growth and they hope to achieve this by buying up us weak sisters. He concludes his story by issuing a "warning to our competitors. To reach our goal we'll have to take a lot of market share."

Maybe I've had it wrong all this time. I thought if you did your best to encourage your people to turn out the best product you can, treat customers fairly and honestly, reinvest 100 % of your net profit (after profit sharing with your employees) back into the business, make every employee a stockholder and convince them the company's success depends on their contribution, that you had a chance to succeed and remain independent ... even if you weren't big. But now I read that quality, service and all that stuff ain't where it's at. What's important turns out to be size and borrowed money. It's really pretty simple, you're either an acquirer or an acquiree, you gobble or get gobbled by those "rising star printing professionals. "

I can hardly wait for some rising star to come in and tell Harry and me how to run this business right.

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