Home Economics

Home Economics

I have long contended that, at its most fundamental level, keeping a household’s finances in the black has much in common with operating a profitable business. In both cases, you have to try to generate the greatest revenues, while at the same time keeping expenses in check. It’s not rocket science or brain surgery. In both worlds, success boils down to making – and keeping – more money than you spend.

These thoughts were percolating in my mind last fall, when I covered one of the printing industry’s largest conventions, the Graph Expo Show at Chicago’s McCormick Place. The show is both a showcase for printer manufacturers and suppliers, and an opportunity for printing companies large and small to learn about the latest technology.

On day one, I sat down to take notes at a presentation billed as “Heidelberg Presents the State of the Industry with Andy Paparozzi.” As vice-president and chief economist for the National Association for Printing Leadership, Paparozzi had been called on by printer maker Heidelberg to offer attendees an hour of well-chosen economic illumination.

If you ever get a chance to witness a talk by Andy, don’t miss it. Knute Rockne could have taken lessons from Paparozzi in exhorting listeners to greater glory. As impressed as I was by Andy’s gifts at a microphone, however, I was even more taken by the universal nature of his insights.

While Andy’s talk was geared to an audience of printing company honchos, it could just as well have fit virtually any other industry. Beyond that, almost every lesson he imparted to business held some parallel for those trying to hold household budgets together.

Let’s take a look at a few of Andy’s key points, and see how effectively they translate to the American household of Joe and Jane Sixpack and their 2-1/2 precocious youngsters.

Managing uncertainty

Paparozzi started by noting that as he talked to printing industry professionals, he sensed an aura of uncertainty from each. They didn’t know what to expect next.

“I’ve never seen that in my 28 years in this great industry, ” he said. “Recovery has been maddeningly slow, irritatingly sporadic and uneven. But recovery is nonetheless occurring. This recovery is not what we want it to be, but what we make it. That requires making smart investments, managing uncertainty, and learning from the last recession.”

Translation: We’re not happy with the bounce-back from the economic abyss of 2008, but why waste time and effort complaining about it? We can still exert some control over how we recover, and that in itself is energizing. We’re not helpless pawns in the recovery, but masters of our own ship. We can put extra time and consideration into what we spend, and manage uncertainty by husbanding our household savings and avoiding risky purchases. We can also avoid mistakes made last time, which for many centered on assuming good times would last.

“Nothing is more important to the future than getting capital investments correct, ” Andy went on. “We can’t pass inefficiencies on to our clients. The industry’s too competitive.”

Translation: One of the “capital investments” any family can make is in education and training. Being good is no longer good enough in the workforce of 2011. A struggling economy may be the best time to invest in training, because as the economy improves, it stands to make us more marketable in an ever more competitive employment landscape.

“We must stay lean, ” was Andy’s next message. “Recovery no longer provides a margin for error. And you can’t let being busy be an opportunity for not getting better. We’re getting better or falling behind. Retain multi-taskers and release those who can’t or won’t multi-task. And set up a cost-watch task force on the production floor.”

Translation: Let’s excise the fat from our household budgets, while also seeking an opportunity in our spare time to improve our financial circumstances. Let’s look at landing a second, part-time job, selling some unneeded camping equipment, clipping coupons or taking in a boarder. Let’s find a way to convert some of our relaxation time into productive use, and while we’re at it, set up a reward program for the kids when they identify places to cut costs.

“If we learn, we win, ” Andy next exhorted his listeners. “If we don’t, the Recession wins. If you aren’t doing things differently, you’re not in business. You can lose it all quite easily if you aren’t prepared to change your business model. We can do more with less. We have to keep our costs light, even in the good times.”

Translation: There’s nothing like tough times to force agonizing appraisals on any household. This is probably one of those times for re-examining. Can we find a lower-cost place to buy groceries? A more cost-effective phone plan? Can we trade in our car on a more fuel-efficient model? Can we scan the Internet for Deal-of-the-Day offers? We can do more with less. We have to keep our costs light, even in the good times.

“Create a ‘Recovery Manifesto, ‘” Andy urged in conclusion. “Improve continuously. Challenge your own success. Never use being busy as an excuse for not improving. Be adaptable and flexible, because those who are get stronger.”

Translation: You may be tired of the slow recovery, but that’s no reason not to embrace principles that make businesses successful, in printing or any industry.

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