Outlook Restructures After Tough Times

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Print production firm Outlook Group Inc., Neenah, WI, said its restructuring efforts -- completed last month -- should recover the company from financial losses of recent years.

The company consolidated its printing, packaging and mailing facilities, and upgraded its production software, according to president Joe Baksha. In addition, he said the company can now offer quick graphics-to-mailbox production.

"We can't handle billion-dollar orders, and there's about 1 million printing companies to compete with," Baksha said. "However, we can offer clients a simple single-solution to their direct mail needs. We used to be like three stores for a guy who only wanted one sandwich. There was a meat store, a bread store and a cheese store. That was a slower and more costly process. We all know that direct mail is time sensitive. The newer (technology) allows us to proof, make changes and meet deadlines faster."

According to Craig Press, president of marketing consulting firm Profectus Inc., Coral Springs, FL, print firms should follow Outlook Group's example of purchasing fast business-to-business software. "The printers that don't adapt with new technology -- won't be here tomorrow," he said.

Press said firms that produce faster also will do better with the growing number of e-businesses that want to use direct mail to brand offline. The Internet as an e-commerce tool and a client market, he said, will do for the industry "what color printers did to the merchants who only reproduced black and white way back when. The Internet not only has increased productivity for printers, but it has created another market that demands speed."

Another medium-sized printing firm, Advanced Response, said that Internet companies will begin diverting part of the large sums of money they are now spending on TV ads into direct mailing. The Rogers, MN-based company specializes in direct mail productions for publishing and financial firms.

While acknowledging that some direct marketing experts believe the industry's future is in e-mail, Baksha said his company wouldn't abandon print services because firms would always look offline for channels to their markets. "I don't feel worried about e-mail because even Internet companies will use direct mail," he said. "The Internet's going to be good to us."

Outlook Group marketing director Patricia Heckman said that Outlook Group's profitability would increase now that the company has sharpened its systems in anticipation of an expanding Internet-influenced market. Food, publishing and computer software have been among the industries that her company has served. While only three of her firm's 600 clients are e-commerce businesses, Heckman said, "that should change now that we've entered into the sales and marketing phase of this fine-tuning process."

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