Tricky business

Are the bad times back? Last month I mentioned in passing that there seemed to be a mini-recession going on in our trade, at least in the Sydney market. So many people I know seem to be struggling at the moment, with low sales, slow payments and a weird general malaise.

I have seen several businesses that have been around for a while slip quietly onto the market. A few have been genuine sales with good books, but more have been last ditch efforts to get out before they either have to shut the doors or call in the receivers.

Some of the owners I have known for a long time and could talk frankly to them. For the ones who are jumping before they are pushed, there are all the usual reasons. A bad piece of gear here, a lost client there, and every once in a while a dodgy partner. But for all of them the final straw seems to be this downturn that is going on in the Sydney market.

And it does not look like it is just Sydney. I do not have any connection to the Melbourne market, but the number of collapses going on down there brings to mind the tough times of a few years ago, when it seemed like every week another printer fell over, whether they were good or bad.

I cannot complain though, and I kind of feel guilty about that. The year just done was a record for us, coming off another record in 2015. We had the biggest quarter we have ever had in the dag end of 2016.

It was during this busy period that I started to really notice the decline around me. Paper reps would come in and tell me a lot of other shops were struggling, or complain about the lack of quotes they were getting. This is nothing new – I have long thought when you are busy and a rep tells you everyone else is slow, it is just them trying to flatter a sale out of you.

But I keep in good contact with lots of other printers and a lot of them were very slow. I was getting phone calls from printers I had not heard from in years looking for overflow.

And then the financial year ended and our own sales dropped off a cliff. I had two to three weeks of the slackest sales I have ever had, coming off three months of being the busiest I ever had. The doldrums did not worry me – the time has allowed us to finally get to work on our Xmpie installation. But knowing what I knew about how my competitors were travelling, I did not want to take any chances, so I dusted off my suit and started doing sales calls.

I have managed to avoid spruiking for new sales for two years now – things have been going well organically and frankly I just did not need to expend the effort. But this weakness in the market and the disasters in Melbourne have got me very nervous and my new-financial-year resolution is new clients, new sales. If I am right about where we are heading, and I hope I am not, I would advise you all to do the same.

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