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Tuesday, April 29, 2008

"Shaun's Corner" - Opportunities In Today’s Marketplace

By Shaun Meany, President, The PEiR Group

Many of you are feeling the impact the current economic climate is having on the design and construction marketplace.

It reminds me of a similar time (1999 to 2000) when I was the director of sales for a reprographics company in Hawaii. Our economy was experiencing an unprecedented downturn at the time and, as a result, all of the local design and construction companies had to compete on a very limited number of funded projects.

But – with luck and lots of planning – I was able to position my company to actually grow and gain market share in a down market. Here’s how we did it:

Stay close to your customers. We made a point to make weekly and in some cases daily contact with our best customers. This is important for several reasons. First, you want to be sure your competitors are not gaining a foothold. Second, the more time you spend getting to know your customers the more you will begin to learn about new opportunities for offering additional services and increased sales.

Another important reason for staying close is to identify those customers who may be having financial difficulties. This is obviously so that payment issues can be identified early or completely avoided; protecting both you and your customer. In some cases I found that I could offer my design customers the option to bill the project owners and developers direct so the client did not have the responsibility for managing their reimbursable billings.

Research and thoroughly understand the latest technologies your customers will need to be more competitive in today’s marketplace.

Back in 1999 my most progressive design clients where looking for high quality color output to help them with their marketing efforts. Many these firms wanted to buy expensive color printers from Canon or Xerox to do everything in-house and not use our color reprographic services. They felt it was cheaper! They were also being pressured by their management to reduce costs and at the same time improve the quality of their design printing… so their designs would stand out against their competition.

If I had not been close to these clients I would have lost considerable revenues, and in the worst of economic times. But as it turned out I was able to introduce our clients to an FM program with new technologies that allowed tracking of all costs using an automated cost recovery system.

Today, the same opportunities exist even if the technologies are different. I see several new devices on the market today that you may wish to bring to the attention of clients. The Oce ColorWave is a production speed large format color printer that will soon be introduced into the market at the upcoming IRgA in May. This new printer will provide your design clients fast, high quality, color output from their CAD models. I believe design firms will be adopting BIM (building information modeling) technology to increase productivity and this will drive the demand for these new printing services. I can see the day when color completely replaces monochrome output, especially if the service is priced reasonably.

Construction companies offer great opportunities for reprographers who are on top of the technologies game. Back in 1999 many of my construction firms were being introduced to the Federal Government’s Electronic Bid Sets initiative. This initiative forced many of my contractors and subcontractors to learn to work with electronic files, something they did not know anything about until that time. I saw an opportunity and worked with the local AGC office to offer training on using Electronic Bid Sets. I was allowed exclusive training access to all of the membership of the local AGC chapter. This opportunity gave me more visibility in Hawaii’s construction community and resulted in significant new business.

I truly believe the hottest construction technology in these economic times is Bid Communications. As the market becomes more competitive; owners, developers and GC’s will want to lower project costs by bidding to more bidders. Automating the ITB (invitation to bid) workflow and document distribution will benefit both the project owners and those reprographers who learn to offer these exciting new services.

Make no mistake about it – things are tough right now. You can join the naysayers and doomsday seekers or you can apply the sort of strategies you’ll need to uncover opportunities for your business during this economic downturn.

I say: “Seek, and ye shall find…”



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