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From the Editor: The Battle of Diversification

The pressure is on print providers to be capable of just about anything.

Eating lunch at a conference recently, I sat at a table with a pre-assigned topic: signage and graphics. Good fit, right? As we made our way through the meal, fellow attendees and I swapped signage stories, then productivity tips. Ironically, that conversation stuck with me in ways that nothing else from the show has.

None of us had much insight. If anything, we agreed that it’s nearly impossible to crack the code of work-life balance. One guy told me he absolutely does not answer emails between 7 p.m. and 7 a.m. Another said he travels to upstate New York each summer, picking places without cell service or television to spend time with his kids. “If I say I’m unreachable,” he said, “it’s really true!”

Later that week, I visited CC West Printing in Austin, Texas, where the office Shih Tzu puppy made my heart stop, and owner James Diorio confessed that he doesn’t do too much in the way of marketing. Normally, I would jump in to persuade him, but I found myself holding back.

If Diorio isn’t mass marketing himself, he is making other wise decisions. When one manufacturer declined to pick up a printer trade-in, he kept it, revamping the eight-year-old machine, which is still in use. He’s built a following of local customers, with an infusion of non-Texans who meet him at the South by Southwest festival (“South by” to those in the know) each year. And the bigger, online, wide-format printer that opened in Austin? Instead of seeing them as a threat, Diorio says they’ve helped him get volume pricing on materials.

I had a spate of sleeplessness this month; odd late nights in which my brain seemed determined to sort out one more thing, then another, and another. I ran the situation by a psychologist friend, begging for a tip, but he was more interested in my daytime commitments than in my sleep habits. His advice was obvious: “You’re doing too much.”

It was hard to hear. I don’t want to do less; I want to finish everything on my list and get some sleep. But when I find myself dozing blissfully on weekends, yet wakeful in the wee hours on weeknights, I know he’s right.

Diorio has reasons to be wakeful, too: It’s easier than ever to enter the wide-format market, and employees who receive expensive training may as well start their own venture, driving experienced printers to diversify – which itself requires more skill and more staff. Who, after all, has existing personnel trained in fabric finishing techniques, or patterns for the odd customer who brings in a pillow they want covered with a custom print?

That’s the battle of diversification: It requires a step out of balance to ramp up training and equipment, and then a rebalancing, so that you can continue to focus on your strengths – and get some sleep at night.

Find more words from our editor-in-chief here.

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