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014: The Art of Customer Accountability and Quality Printing – Bryan Vielhauer
Unstoppable Talk Interviews

 
 
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In this episode of Unstoppable Talk, I sit down with my good friend, Bryan Vielhauer, President of downtown Cincinnati based Decal Impressions. We discussed the lengths that Bryan goes to in order to keep a customer happy, how the printing business has changed since his company started 50 years ago, and how he keeps innovating in a tough business.





Podcast Transcript:

Sam Schutte:                Okay. Today we have Bryan Vielhauer. Bryan is the owner of Decal Impressions in Cincinnati, Ohio. I met Bryan through the Cincinnati Rotary Club. And today, we’re going to talk about innovation and change in the graphics arts industry.

Bryan Vielhauer:           Good afternoon Sam. Thank you very much for having me.

Sam Schutte:                Yeah, welcome to the show Bryan. So maybe a good place to start is tell us a little bit how you got started with your company and how did you get into this field?

Bryan Vielhauer:           I got started in the industry really at an early age from a supply side standpoint. My father was a manufacturer to the industry that I’m currently in, and I spent a great number of years as a younger person working not just in the office doing sample kids packaging and things of that nature. But also, as I grew older I got to work in the plant manufacturing products that were actually sold to the graphic arts industry.

Bryan Vielhauer:           So I had an early early engagement in it. Had a great high school and collegiate experience. And when I returned to Cincinnati, I went to work in the graphic arts industry after a small stop in the telecommunications business. One of my customers said, “You need to meet somebody. They’ve got this graphic arts company, you’d be a great fit for it.” And it turned out it was a great opportunity to learn about the industry, but not quite the right time for that company and I to stay together. So I moved on and my father and I bought a bankrupt company. And I started turning it around at about the age of 24.

Sam Schutte:                And how long ago was that?

Bryan Vielhauer:           That was in 2001.

Sam Schutte:                Okay, great. So been in business about 18 years doing that.

Bryan Vielhauer:           I’ve been at the leadership role for 18 years.

Sam Schutte:                Okay. Great.

Bryan Vielhauer:           Company is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year.

Sam Schutte:                Wow. So when you took over Decal Impressions, like you said, it was a bankrupt company. So what was really the first big break you had to turn it around? And I guess also what was your strategy for turning around?

Bryan Vielhauer:           Our first big break really didn’t happen immediately. Initially, we were faced with a variety of factors. The company hadn’t just failed for performance reasons in terms of the actual business model, but the community that the business was located in had gone through a very trying time. So the business was located in the Cincinnati community of Over-The-Rhine. And in 2001, that community had been dealt a pretty tough blow. There was a lot of businesses and people leaving the community that people were afraid to come there. We were able to get there shortly after 9/11 and really start on a turnaround project where we decided we weren’t leaving, we were staying and we were going to put some roots in the ground and make it work with what we had, where we had it.

Bryan Vielhauer:           And really, what we found. You do the best due diligence can when you’re trying to take over something that’s failing you. There’s plenty of skeletons in the closet. And there were plenty in our case. We had a good person in that we bought the company and they stayed on to help us. But predominantly what we found is that everything was in worse condition than anybody thought because really he was a tired and beat owner that didn’t have a good handle of what was happening.

Bryan Vielhauer:           So really, we spent the first six months to a year pulling together what we needed to put back into business and updating technology. The company was really a screen printing business. And in 2001, technology was impacting our industry in a breakneck pace. Computer-aided cutting, the software that was being generated, the internet. I mean when I arrived at the company, didn’t have an email address. It didn’t even have a concept of a website or an FTP transfer site. We started our first eCommerce platform very early in 2003 I believe. So we were on the bleeding edge of a lot of fronts of technology because of my age and what I had come from, and university. We were using computers all the way. So I started bringing those components while having to go back and rebuild the old technology of screen printing, which was a photographic process where you made a print plate, and pushed ink through a stencil, and cured it in a couple of different ways. Whether it was air-dry inks or whether, we use ultraviolet light to cure the inks.

Bryan Vielhauer:           But really, the beginning part was putting things back together and being in a position to produce work for our customers. And really we established ourselves as a service provider. There’s plenty of people that do what we do then and now. But what most people don’t do well is service. And that’s where we found our niche in providing phenomenal service to people and being able to respond in a professional manner to professional people.

Sam Schutte:                So when you took over the company, I’ve been to your location and all of the machines and stuff you’re using now are very high tech and like I said they’re all computer control and all this. What was the machinery like in say 2000 or even late ’90s, how was it different? Was it all just completely manual?

Bryan Vielhauer:           That is an excellent question. I mean fundamentally, everything changed. There were manual processes that we were using in late ’90s. There were certainly machines and printing presses which have been improved tremendously over the years. But we were still a single color clamshell press, a pretty early model of an ultraviolet light curing unit. Our plotting equipment when I first took over was in pretty rough shape. So I wound up acquiring new equipment, new software, re-formatting and rebooting everything to be up to speed. Bringing that into the forefront. And then really what was happening from 2002 to 2004 was the impact of wide format digital printing.

Bryan Vielhauer:           And that for us was where we got on the bleeding edge of technology. It became apparent that the pace at which innovation was going to take place was starting to escalate, and the ability to print four color process for outdoor use in small to medium sized runs was going to be happening. Because now that people had personal computers, they were using Microsoft Paint and various other desktop applications to design their own materials. But really didn’t understand how those materials were going to be output in the real world. You had your dot matrix printer that may be was black and white and color. You never knew. Laser printers. But you started to have, people felt empowered to make their own or their own design product. And then they would send it to us and say, “Here, we want this to be four foot by three foot.” And in 2001, that was virtually impossible. You had to be a huge business to get four color process printing that was going to last six months outdoors.

Bryan Vielhauer:           And they were still working very much in a technological standpoint of the ink technology, the printhead technology, even the software technology to be able to shoot dots onto larger materials at bigger size at a higher pay. So computing power, file size. These were all things that were literally happening in real time. I mean, the beta test was, “Hey, can we sell it to that guy and see if he can use it?”

Bryan Vielhauer:           So that was the world that we were living in. We lept into wide format printing in late 2003, early 2004. And had one of the first 63 inch wide printing machines in our community for a company of our size. I think it was one of the first 300 in the country. And it was wild because even the people that were selling the equipment didn’t really understand what the equipment could do, let alone how they could use it or how they could teach us to use it. It was this notion of, “You can just plug it and play it just like you bought a printer at Staples.” And that was very much not the case, and it was a crazy learning curve for not just the manufacturer of the equipment, but the people that were selling it through distribution and then the people like us who were buying and trying to figure out okay. Clearly this isn’t what the salesman said, so now we have to learn and teach ourselves. That was very much our situation is learning on the fly.

Sam Schutte:                Sure. Well I imagine it happens probably anytime you’re buying stuff that’s all brand new. I mean it’s new to everyone. It’s a new product. And you’ve talked before about how you have to have these vendors come on site and figure it out, and open them up, and deal with all kinds of programming issues with them or whatever, and read the manuals. It’s not easy to just like you said, it’s not plug and play.

Bryan Vielhauer:           Well even more interestingly is now today, you don’t even get a manual. You get the file that contains the manual and then the first thing you do when you buy a piece of equipment today is go print out the manual. So they cut the price of the machine, but they put some more needs in your need, you have to take care of it all.

Sam Schutte:                Well and I imagine you talked about sort of the consumer grade stuff. As people got and even today get higher and more powerful printers and everything at home. And of course, I mean it’s pretty standard nowadays. I think a lot of people, maybe not those people, but certainly a lot of people have color laser printers and such. So they don’t really need to have you print out flyers, or print out low end stuff. So I imagine has that pushed you more towards high end jobs, and like you said big or larger outdoor things? Because small businesses or whatever, they can more do some of that stuff themselves.

Bryan Vielhauer:           So it’s an interesting, I’m going to debunk what you said a little bit here. Because what folks in the small business community, and generally there’s a misunderstanding about where expense and time is. If you’ve got a leader of an organization involved in printing 100 flyers, those are the most expensive 100 flyers you can have. And what we see is people misunderstand value in service and what that means to the bottom line. “I can just do that here.” Sure you can. You can by your toner from X, Y, Z. You have your machine sitting right there, your paper costs nothing. But the reality is, is having a nonprofessional do a professional job costs you more money. It’s a battle that we face. And there are folks that get it, and those are our customers. And there are folks that don’t, and those are the ones that we don’t deal with. Because it really is a time value proposition. And we’re finding more and more frequently that due to the demand on people’s time in all areas of business, there simply isn’t time for them to be responsible for making something that they’re not really in the business of making.

Bryan Vielhauer:           You have a marketing director doing work that could be done by people in my shop. That marketing director is not understanding trends. They’re not focusing on who’s doing what, where, and when, and the things that are really going to impact their company’s sales. They’re focusing on whether there’s enough toner in the machine to get it done, or whether the banner that they bought from the generic online website’s going to show up on time, or they didn’t know that the file that they uploaded that really looked terrible was going to look even more terrible when they got it back.

Bryan Vielhauer:           So education is kind of a component for us in what we teach people in. And we found that once you develop an interpersonal relationship with your customers, the level of trust is built. They know we have to eat. We know they have to be able to pay everybody. They got to be able to pay us and produce their products, so we find a common ground in pricing and we really hang our hat on service and the efficiency that we provide for high power people that are in roles that they simply can’t be bothered with small things. It’s the ever famous, what does it cost Bill Gates to bend down and pick up a 100 dollar bill?

Sam Schutte:                Yeah.

Bryan Vielhauer:           Think about how much that costs. It’s hard for somebody that really needs 100 bucks to understand that. But if you’re a person who’s trying very hard to close a lot of business and do a lot of deals. Your output directly relates to your company’s bottom line. You need to be very militant with your time. And wasting it with substandard providers of service or doing it yourself is just not an efficient, effective way to do it.

Sam Schutte:                Yeah. It is interesting how it does seem like sometimes the mundane tasks. Like you said, picking up $100, whatever. Or ordering a sandwich. The more easy in some ways a thing is, booking a flight. It’s hard to get to because you have to take your mind out of the focus on closing deals and all this sort of high level thought, and then go look up airplane tickets or something. And something like that of course. Very easy to have somebody do, an assistant or something. So I guess the higher up you can go up that chain of things that are not easy to do, they’re still hard to do. But they still take a lot of your attention. If you can outsource that, the better, right?

Bryan Vielhauer:           That’s correct. I mean, you used the word outsource. And really, that’s what this is. You don’t want to be doing things in house that aren’t your primary business. You want that to a competent vendor partner that’s going to meet your objectives on time and efficiently, and not create a lot of wasting time in your operation.

Sam Schutte:                Yeah. So what kind of relationship do you typically have or grow with your longterm customers? I mean, is it a real advisory thing where you meet and help them plan what they should be doing and design all that? Or is it something where they just send you the files, they know that you’re going to do the job and do it well, and produce a good product? How consultative I guess, do you get with them on their projects?

Bryan Vielhauer:           It really depends on the client. Everybody’s different. Everybody wants to be handled different. And that’s again, one of the differentiating factors for us is we don’t force our agenda onto our customers. We work with them in the manner that’s consistent with how they want to be worked with. We have a saying, the customer is always right, most especially when they’re wrong. And we believe that the customer is always right, and there are times where we have to humble ourselves and remind ourselves that we really don’t have the full picture that the client does. So that the client is asking us to do something crazy or perhaps even wrong, that we might think it is. It would be arrogant and presumptuous for us to not listen to them. So what we do is we try very hard to listen at all times, do what they need us to do. And if asked, we’re prepared to answer with the answer that we think is best for them, which ultimately should be best for us.

Sam Schutte:                And I know you have a lot of, you’re a man of many core beliefs about your business. So I guess what are some other core beliefs you have in terms of how you’re dealing with customers and employees, and just the way you work?

Bryan Vielhauer:           You asked earlier about what our biggest break was. And it wasn’t immediate, but for us we treated everybody as if they were the only piece of business we were ever going to have. Sometimes you’re doing over and over $5, $10, $20 jobs, $100 dollar jobs. It’s a tough way to make a living, but you’re treating that person like that’s a $100 million job. And for us, we had a customer that we’d done some business with and been doing it pretty consistently. We’d solved a technical challenge from them. They had a problem printing on a product that they really needed it printed on because they had other reasons. And I knew exactly what it was. I knew exactly why everybody else was failing. And I was very fortunate because of my background working with my father when I was young. I understood what the problem was at a chemical level that most people really didn’t or didn’t have the effort to put into solve the issue because it didn’t seem like a very big piece of business if they did solve the challenge.

Bryan Vielhauer:           So when we were able to prove that we could do that and we did that for quite some time. The order might be a little bit bigger, a few hundred bucks here or there. And then the next thing we knew, we were producing our single largest job at that time, which was close to $300,000 from a client that prior to that hadn’t spent $5,000. So treating everybody as if they’re the most important client that you have and making them feel that way is what differentiates us from our competitors. You’ve got folks that we have a $500 minimum, we’re not even going to talk to you.

Bryan Vielhauer:           Well, I can understand that. I can understand certain business models that that might not fit. But we haven’t found that that’s exactly where we need to be. We need to be really focused on the customer and their needs. And what we try very hard to do is never say no. We may not say yes, but we try militantly to stay away from the concept that we’re going to tell somebody no. Because no is a very final and very aggressive thing for someone to hear where as opposed to no, we might say, “Would you be open to this outcome, at this time table, to meet this?” If that’s what you can do, you can do. And then that happens.

Bryan Vielhauer:           So by not making statements that create impassable boundaries, it keeps us engaged in the process with the customer and keeps them focused on us and getting the job done. And that’s really been going through for years. At this point, almost two decades. Saying yes, being there when they need you, and making them feel important.

Bryan Vielhauer:           And I’ve had number of customers, we have a unique situation in that we deal with people all across the country. We deal with businesses that have locations all across the U.S. And that enables us to have a lot of, we have people that we’ve never seen before. We’ve talked to them for years and never laid eyes on them. And they’ll say, “Golly, we must be one of your biggest accounts. How big of an account are we for you?” And typically, my business model is to never have any one account be more than 10% of our business. And when they hear that, they’re just dumbfounded. “What do you mean we’re only 10% of it? How can that possibly be? The way you treat us, you’d think we were the only one buttering your bread.” Perfect. I’m doing my job perfectly. And that’s important.

Sam Schutte:                I think it’s very hard to achieve. I think it’s a great, I had that philosophy too that everyone should feel like our most important customer. And I think it’s if you look at even a big company, say like GE or somebody calls you and they say, “Well, I need $500 of printing.” You think, well why am I doing $500 of printing for a company that size? Well, that person has a $500 problem. Right? And could they do millions of dollars a year? Absolutely. But all big companies are just a bunch of small companies, right? Put together. So your customer who was doing $100 here, and then they did 300,000. You have to give them a chance to get there. And what some people do is they hear even you could done with that customer. They’re a big company. We don’t do $100 dollar jobs for you. We do $20,000 jobs for you for the same work. Right? People get a little unethical there sometimes. So I think it’s important to have those standards and allow small opportunities to grow. Right?

Bryan Vielhauer:           I totally agree with you. Really, we’re incubating business. We never know what the first job’s going to be. We never know when it’s going to come. We might quote a job today and hear from somebody in six months. “Hey, we’re ready to get moving on that project.” Oh really? Never. Never really saw that coming through.

Bryan Vielhauer:           It’s being able to adapt to their needs when they need it. Because sometimes and many times, they don’t know their needs. They don’t know what the market is going to demand from them. Right now for instance, you’re working on a project and everything’s moving right along. And then one of your customer’s competitors makes a significant splash in their industry. And it’s you’re now all of a sudden a partner for your partner trying to reposition them. You’re about face. I often think of General Patton. He turned and marched his troops something around 100 miles to relieve the troops in Bastogne. He was prepared. His men were trained, they were ready to go.

Bryan Vielhauer:           And you have to be prepared to stop the attack, turn and march on, and attack in another place. And you have to be prepared. And you have to be trained for that, and you have to have folks that are willing to humble themselves. One day, you’re the general manager, and the next day you’ve got a plumbing problem and you’re the general manager. So the fact that we have folks that are humble and willing to serve the needs of the customer at the needs, when they need it, that’s why we’re such a weapon that our customers wield. They know that if they call and say, “Hey, we’re in a pinch here.” We know. We know. We know right now it’s time to get on, send the reinforcements. Get somebody up to the line.

Bryan Vielhauer:           And that that has its pros and cons. I mean, it definitely can create a stressful environment. I have many customers that are very much waiting for me to complete a time machine. The impact of speed and the need to produce immediately has changed dramatically in 20 years. It was nothing on January 1st to receive a stack of blanket purchase orders for a year’s worth of work. That concept doesn’t even exist. I mean, that has been eliminated from the supply chain model. Right now it’s on demand, on demand, on demand. Print on demand, install on demand, source on demand. On demand is the demand. And if you can’t be prepared for that and ready to solve your client’s on demand need, you’re pretty well useless.

Sam Schutte:                Interesting.

Bryan Vielhauer:           Everybody can do anything in three weeks. It’s being able to do it in three hours. Sometimes you’ve got a big company and you’ve got two people involved in the process. And they have a breakdown in their organization and they both order something. Two ways you can deal with that. You can produce both and say, “Well, we both ordered it.” Or you can say, “I just want to be clear. You both didn’t forget to copy each other on this intentionally and that you both really want to order almost the same thing, but just slightly different? Oh my gosh, thank you so much.” “We would’ve ordered that twice and thrown it away.”

Bryan Vielhauer:           We had a scenario today. I literally could not believe the email I was reading. We produced a product that client had ordered. We’d proofed, shown them exactly how it was going to be made. They ordered it, they received it. They in their mind decided that it was not the correct product. Threw it away, and then realized, contact us and said, “You made it wrong.” We went through their supply chain and went through what they were ordering, and how they were using it and went, “Oh my gosh, I just threw away perfectly good product that you made for me. I need it again.” And how does that happen? I mean, you’ve got folks in every level of every business that are overworked. Overworked, and that creates mistakes at every level. And one of the things that I’ve gotten our folks to really understand and our team members to be accountable to is that yeah. Sometimes, our customers are going to make mistakes. Honest mistakes, just like we make honest mistakes. You know what we do? We work it out. Because you cannot succeed with customer relationships by sticking your customer’s mistake in their face. We all know it was a mistake. It’s screaming. Why do we need to go any further than that? We got to get a solution. We know the problem, now get the solution.

Sam Schutte:                Sure. Well, and I think if you give people room to make mistakes, give customers room to make mistakes, in turn they’ll be more understanding if you make mistakes too. I mean typically, they’re not going to be as as hard on you. Because hey, you don’t make mistakes too.

Bryan Vielhauer:           And when we make mistakes. We’re in printing, right? So the first thing everybody does is evaluate the product. Nobody looks at the proof. Nobody takes the opportunity to stop the mistake before it happens. But boy, let me tell you. The pallet full of product shows up, and the first thing somebody does is pull it out and start looking for a problem. I mean, that’s their entire purpose. And no question. I’ve had to pick up the phone, I’ve had to call presidents of companies and said, “Hey, there is nowhere to run. I am the leader of this organization. We did not meet the objective that you hired us to, and here’s how we’re going to fix it. And I’m trying to get to you before you get 300 people telling you that there’s a problem. I want you to know from me so that when they call and say, ‘Gosh, what kind of goofballs do you have doing this work thing?’ ‘You mean the goofball that called me? Said hey, we made a mistake. We’re sorry. And they’re already working to fix it?'” I mean that pretty much is a mic drop. The show ends when you own it.

Bryan Vielhauer:           And it doesn’t make it easy. It’s hard. It’s painful. I mean, our team members take great pride in their work. And that is just heartbreaking when things happen. We have a slogan that’s throughout the building that we want 100% of our customers to return, not our products. And you say it and you think, “Well, what does that mean?” Well it means that we’ve really let somebody down if they’re calling us to tell us what we made them is not usable, or not quality, or not effective. There’s just no worse. But when they call and say, “Golly, we don’t even understand how you did it.” I mean, I hear that so often, right? “I don’t, I don’t understand. I don’t understand how. We called you at this time. You proved it, produced it. It’s delivered where we need it. How do we say thank you?” “You did. Thank you. You said thank you. That’s worth its weight in gold to us.”

Sam Schutte:                Well, and I think also it’s like you said, actually picking up the phone and calling someone. Right? And getting around the issue instead of saying, “Well, I hope they don’t notice. I’ll wait until they email or whatever, and I’ll write an email back.” No, pick up the phone. Right?

Bryan Vielhauer:           Yes. Have a conversation human to human and say, “Look, this is the score.” And I think that’s what’s missing. But coming back a little bit in our world. Personal accountability is important, and we’re accountable to our customers. And the more accountable we are to them, the more accountable they are to us. It’s a special thing.”

Sam Schutte:                Well, and it’s like one of my advisors I’ve worked with in the past. He always says anytime a customer interacts with you. Email, text, whatever, is an opportunity to call them. Right? They initiated a conversation, a phone conversation. And it’s true. I mean, you get so much more out of it than if you just say I’m going to be lazy and just follow the text. Now sometimes I’ll say, “Stop calling me. I’m texting you because I want to text. I don’t have time to talk on the phone to you.” But hey, invariably I find that’s when again, it’s more relationship building, more opportunity than everything else to take advantage of that. And for that, like I said, that human interaction.

Bryan Vielhauer:           I think what I find is when we really, or I have really made headway with an account is where we do all the business in the most efficient manner. So if it’s email or texting. And then we save the phone calls to catch up on each other’s personal lives, to schedule a dinner, maybe some cocktails. Or some social activities. Because we’re very much in our society, ingrained in our business. I mean it’s very, very, very strange when you don’t get an email a certain time of the day or night. Your phone is buzzing at 6:30 in the morning and it doesn’t stop buzzing until nine 30 at night. And you have to draw the line in the sand sometimes. When am I going to get some time from me and still be accountable to my customer? But today, we try to make it so that we do the business under everybody’s terms that everybody’s most happy with.

Sam Schutte:                Well, it is true. I think too, it kind of depends on the type of message, how you’re going to communicate with a person, right? I mean, if they just say, “What was the price for that?” That’s kind of a waste of everybody’s time to call them and tell them that. But if it’s a problem, they’re emailing about a problem, that’s when you should call, right?

Bryan Vielhauer:           Absolutely. Dispute resolution via email and text messaging, it is absolutely a tragedy. And it’s amazing a medium that can contain no emotion. That isn’t personally implied. “Well, I know that you are mad at me.” How did you know that? I needed information? I just need information, and I needed concisely and clearly. So I find that, I encourage folks please, let’s get on the phone. Let’s figure this out. Let’s get this resolved and get this moving.

Sam Schutte:                Yeah. Now you mentioned earlier that you’re working with folks all over the country. So I what geographical markets are you working in? Are there any real hotspots? I mean, obviously locally here in Cincinnati. Is there a particular type of target customer you work with? I know you work locally with restaurants and their menus and such. And how are those folks finding you? So a couple of-

Bryan Vielhauer:           I have one question broken into 27 individual parts. Thank you Rodney. Rest in peace. We find our customers, for the first 15, 16 years that I was at the helm of the company, we simply grew through referral growth. A couple of years ago, I hired a marketing director who’s just phenomenal. He’s completely changed our presence, not just locally but nationally. With targeted marketing, looking in the right places, making sure we’re in front of the right things. And I frankly don’t totally understand it. I hired a professional to do the job, and the proof is in the bottom line.

Bryan Vielhauer:           But what we found is that the services that we provide and how we provide them are required all over the country. And once someone typically finds us and does their first job, they’re only looking for ways to give us more jobs. So we work with companies that have sites all over the country. So they might be based in Cincinnati, they might be based in New York, they might be based in L.A. You never know where they’re based, but they have different tentacles all across the country. So we’re servicing all their branches through essentially eCommerce portals that we have on our website. Which we started doing that very, very early. When I look back at our first eCommerce website and how rudimentary it was, but functional. And the people at the time were blown away. “You mean I can go on here and tell you what I want, and I don’t even have to talk to you?” I mean, it was spectacular.

Bryan Vielhauer:           And it was really nice for the small businesses we were dealing with, small franchise, home-based franchise businesses where the owner was doing everything. So the owner being able to just log on at 7:00 at night and place the order was so efficient for them. They didn’t have to take their 8:30 to five time to deal with a vendor. They could do it after hours, which made them more efficient to generate revenue during the workday. And then they could do their administrative items after hours. So it was just a huge, huge breakthrough for us. And then varying levels of complexity to that model. But essentially, we have folks that are set up to log in, order. And they can get whatever is available through their corporation or through their marketing director. We ship it out and they can customize it. So hotspot, I mean we’re a blanket organization. We really just are shipping where people are and need it.

Sam Schutte:                I see. And isn’t there a pretty big affinity for local providers? Like say a company in New York. There’s printers and graphic producers and such in New York. How hard is it to compete against those local providers that they can just go drive over and pick something up as opposed to shipping it from Cincinnati?

Bryan Vielhauer:           The nice thing about Cincinnati is, and New York, Boston, all the way up to Maine. I mean, when you look at these things, the reality is Cincinnati, Ohio is in the heart of it all. So we can-

Sam Schutte:                I’ve heard that somewhere.

Bryan Vielhauer:           Yeah. Is that already in use? I might look into that. But we really can get anywhere in the United States faster than somebody on the East Coast. So there’s a logistical benefit to being where we are and being able to be prompt. So yes, you’re 100% correct, but we can get to more places faster than somebody on the far East coast.

Bryan Vielhauer:           And we have challenges. California’s pretty far out there. It’s four days. That does create challenges. And we’ve worked to address those challenges through better shipping, better turn time for actual production so we can still get things out there pretty quick. And then you’ve got different areas where the cost of production are different, and you’ve got different things that we can bring from a sourcing standpoint. Sometimes we’re closer to the raw materials so we can turn and pivot faster. It really is all about logistics in that respect. I think that’s, we don’t really target customers per se. But what we’re looking for are like-minded organizations. I have a real hard time dealing with companies that just want to talk about why I can get that for less. We should stop immediately. You can get anything for less. I can get water for less. I can get anything I need for less than I currently pay. But it only takes one mistake from that low cost provider to eat up any savings.

Bryan Vielhauer:           So if you have a time critical project or you have a time critical person that is now waiting because the item that you save 3 cents on didn’t show up and that person makes $100 dollars an hour, and they just waited for five hours, you have to stop and look at the time value of money. And you have to understand that there is value in trusting your vendor to complete it on time, on budget, and have it in the right place. There’s plenty of problems. Trains derail, UPS trucks get wrecked. Things happen, things don’t deliver. Nothing’s perfect in the world. But the idea that you would make a change on a few pennies here, a few pennies there on the notion that that’s actually saving your organization money is probably very shortsighted. And I think of all the expenses that we have as a company. And the ones that we pay the most for typically bring us the most value and ability to make the most profit.

Bryan Vielhauer:           And it’s hard sometimes. Budgets get tight, you’re starting to get to the end of the year going, “Could we save a few bucks? Sure. But are we really saving a few bucks? Or are we just one mistake away from it costing us a lot of bucks?” So we try to practice what we preach. Not easy, but always do it. And it works.

Sam Schutte:                Definitely you’re going after quality over quantity in terms of the customers you’re looking for. Which is important, because I often see larger businesses with more revenues and everything else. But they’re trying to work with just anybody and everybody. And they don’t necessarily have all the quality clients and customers. And like you said, how many of those are just more work than they’re worth and they’re losing money on them? It’s a nightmare. As opposed to, I think I look at my business and I say all of our customers are awesome. We’re very fortunate to have really high quality customers. And I think it’s because I’m not just, like you said, just don’t let anybody who calls and whatever. Right?

Bryan Vielhauer:           Absolutely. I mean I think you’ve hit the nail on the head. I used to scoff at the notion of some companies who would say, “We’re just going to fire the bottom 20%.” I used to think it’s just so shortsighted. And what I’m coming to realize is, is that it is very strategic. And if you are willing to pull out the scalpel and cut out the right part of the problem, you can be phenomenally efficient and phenomenally profitable by mitigating the challenges. There’s all kinds of cliches, the 80/20 rule. We can talk about those types of things, but they’re real. They’re real. And if you pay close attention, you can really catch things.

Bryan Vielhauer:           And what even I find more interesting, especially when you have longterm relationships with your customers, is if you’re really listening to the customers, they’re going to tell you all the things you need to fix. And there was a small period of time in my career where we were really, really growing. And it was, the growing pains were strong. I mean, it was tough, tough, tough, tough, tough on everybody. We had some customers complaining. And I kept thinking why are you complaining? I don’t really understand the problem. Everybody’s telling us how great we’re doing. We’ve got all these metrics would suggest that what you’re saying is incorrect. And I was watching a Gordon Ramsay kitchen rescue situation, which I really do enjoy those type of programs.

Sam Schutte:                I love that show too.

Bryan Vielhauer:           And it was fascinating because what I saw over and over and over again was this guy with all the credentials in the world, all the experience in the world, all the success in the world would go in, meet with these business owners. These businesses would prepare for him a meal. He would tell them this is garbage. And the first thing they did was argue with their customer about the quality of their product. And I would just laugh and laugh. How could you be sitting across from Gordon Ramsey telling him that the food that you’re serving him is good? And he’s telling you it’s not, and you have an argument about that. I mean that it’s just not right. And what I realized is, is that I was very quickly sliding into the same situation where I was not heeding the concerns of my customers for a variety of reasons that are mine and mine alone. Too busy, not focused, they hurt you. And wait a second, my customer is telling me we’re not doing a good job and I’m not listening. Wake up. That’s, what? So that was a huge turning point for me, and I really redoubled my efforts into listening, making sure that we were listening to every criticism and complaint.

Bryan Vielhauer:           And there are some that you’ll never be able to fix. Well, this isn’t fast enough. This isn’t this, this isn’t that. All of those are valid points, but you do have to accept that what we have does work very well. And you’re going to have to live with that. Or you know what, that’s a very valid concern. Let’s see how we can address it. And we try to take the latter very often. How can we address it? What can we do to make you make you happier?

Sam Schutte:                Yeah. I think it’s interesting because I’m a fan of the kitchen disasters shows and all those series as well. Because I think it also illustrates no matter what anyone tells you, it’s always a people problem. It’s not a food problem, it’s not an equipment problem. That’s not the reason that these folks he meets with are having problems.

Sam Schutte:                And like you said, he comes in and sort of these balloons. People have these artificial realities they live in. They have a successful business. And I guess, I think all of us at times as business owners can, it’s like when they talk about Steve Jobs always had this cloud of illusion, or I can’t remember the term. But basically, he lived in this all alternate universe about what was actually happening. We can all get like that. So I always identify sometimes with the people he goes on and sort of screams at. Maybe I’m doing that, the same things five.

Bryan Vielhauer:           I think you’re 100% right. I chuckle. The jobs, I don’t know, the one we’re all living under, but you look at a couple of the major faux pas that he made where I want to paint all the machines a certain color. It costs the company a fortune. It brought nothing but hardship. And it was a completely unnecessary, no value added thing. I look at the discussion that he had in his, the Walter Isaacson’s book about the glass for the iPhone. And how the guy with the glass company just, “You want to sit down, and shut your mouth, and learn something. Because if you don’t, then I don’t want to help you, because you don’t know what you’re talking about. You may know everything that and you may know it perfectly, but you don’t know anything about what I do.”

Bryan Vielhauer:           And I love it when people tell me the hard up truth. I mean smack me in the mouth, tell me what the problem is, and let’s move on. I mean those that know me will know that I’m somewhat like a stick of dynamite. The bang is loud, but it only lasts for a second, and the smoke clears, and you’d never know 20 minutes later that there was a big explosion right there. You got to get popped in the mouth sometimes and kind of get jolted back into the reality that you’re living in. And I think that’s a healthy thing. Little bit of friction, a little bit of frustration, a little bit of angst really pushes people to their best.

Bryan Vielhauer:           We’ve all been out there, I shouldn’t say we all. But my experience, I look at sports and being in a competitive environment. And everybody’s in the huddle, and you’re first in goal. And now you’re first in 15 because you jumped off sides. Everybody knows who did it. The only option you have is to own it, and get right back up on that line and hit the guy harder the next time. He’s got 10 yards to make up for it. So I think that that’s something that might be a little bit missing today in our world is, is that some people just, they’d rather not tell you the real issue because they don’t want to hurt your feelings. And it’s like hurt my feelings, help my business. Tell me what’s going on.

Sam Schutte:                Yeah, yeah. You’d rather hear now, hear the feedback and the criticism. Because otherwise, you’re just hiding from it. And it’s hurting you, you don’t even know it.

Bryan Vielhauer:           Yeah, that’s exactly right. Most of the time you don’t know you’ve lost a customer. You don’t even know they’re already gone and you’re still wondering where the order is going to come from. So you have to be in front of those types of things.

Sam Schutte:                Well, and the other thing too is I find that what I’m worse at than that is thinking there’s a problem that’s there and there’s not. I probably stress out more and lose more sort of a mental bandwidth thinking, “This guy, this customer is unhappy. [inaudible 00:40:09].” And if I just say, “Are you happy? And they’re like, “No, I’m fine.” And then it’s like I’m wasting time worrying about something that isn’t there. Granted I have the other problem sometimes too, but I feel like both of those are caused by a lack of communication. Right? Sometimes, whatever you think is there is not there.

Bryan Vielhauer:           Communication is most certainly the hardest part of any business. And I think I have one, if I had one characteristic that I think kept me going all these years is worrying is just something I’ve really never been into because I have absolutely no control over the things typically … there’s no sense in worrying about something you can’t control. Now I will focus diligently on fixing a problem. I will work hard at locating the problem and trying to resolve it. But I can’t sit across the table from you and keep worrying if Sam’s looking at my bald spot going, “Man, I think shining like crazy.” I mean there’s just no sense in worrying about that because I have no control.

Sam Schutte:                It wasn’t before.

Bryan Vielhauer:           Well now that I’ve brought it up, I’m sure it’s like, I’m sure.

Sam Schutte:                I’m unable to stop looking at.

Bryan Vielhauer:           Exactly. And that’s what a lot of people do. They call attention to the concern instead of saying let’s address it. So I’m glad I don’t worry. I have always been a good sleeper. The day is over, the head hits the pillow asleep, and wake up. I’ve never had too many issues with that.

Sam Schutte:                So let’s talk a little bit about Cincinnati. I mentioned other markets. Something you do a lot of I think is support all kinds of different organizations here in Cincinnati. With your business, with sponsorships, with other activities you’re involved in to try to get your name out. So for, I don’t know how many years you’ve done this, but you have a float in the opening day parade, for instance. How many years have you been doing that for?

Bryan Vielhauer:           I think we might be at 12 or 13 now.

Sam Schutte:                Yeah. So quite a few years.

Bryan Vielhauer:           That’s really our honor. I mean to be involved, we’re grateful to be a part of something like that. Any business would be honored to be a part of that tradition, 100 year old tradition in our community. But to your point, what I have found that giving back where you are. We have a nice size team, and those people are engaged in their community. And we made sure that our company is there to support them and their engagement in the community. So while I get a lot of credit, really I’m really not responsible for very much. What I’ve got is a group of people who recognize that hey, can we kick some signs over here to this organization? It’s raising money for this or it’s doing that. And the answer is absolutely. If we can help some of our local hometown organizations through helping them save a few budget dollars. And then they’re able to make more impact on our community. And I just find that we have always gotten far more out of the gifts that we’ve given than what we’ve actually given. It almost is just truly surreal. When you help people, they want to help you.

Bryan Vielhauer:           And a lot of times, we’re able to help out organizations that are really trying hard. They’re sometimes volunteer organizations and you’ve got a lot of people that are putting their own time in there. And then what’s the last thing you go, “Oh wow. You’re showing up here four hours before you need it. Here, let me give you five rush charges.” That’s not building good will and better friendships, that’s ticking people off. And I’m just grateful that I have a team of people that recognize that we have a responsibility to our community where we operate to help people in our community.

Bryan Vielhauer:           In our product, it’s like when somebody calls and says, “Hey, my son or daughter’s coming back from Afghanistan or from Iraq. We’d like to get a banner to welcome at the airport.” It’s like, “We would like to make that for you.” “Well, how much is it going to cost?” “Nothing.”

Sam Schutte:                How about nothing?

Bryan Vielhauer:           How about nothing? And those are the moments where I am just overwhelmed with what we’re able to do. We can’t do it for everybody, for everything, but we sure do try. There are just some things that people do in our community and they should be able to get a pass is the way I look at it.

Sam Schutte:                Was there a particular project like that, that it was really memorable to you? I mean, you mentioned the airport coming back from overseas or something.

Bryan Vielhauer:           I mean, that’s something that I think we’ve been able to do quite a bit of. Some tragedies, some loss that we’ve been able to help folks raise funds to support families and folks that have been dealt really tough, tough hand. And that just feels good. It’s really nice at the end of your work day, you can look back over everything and go, “You know what? We took all this technology, all this frustration, all this angst, and we were able to make an impact in somebody’s life today that they’ll never forget.”

Sam Schutte:                Well, and I should say. Probably one of your major outlets for impact that you spend a lot of your time working on is our local Cincinnati Rotary Club, which as I said is how we met. And you’re actually on the board of the club right now finishing up that term, I guess over the next so many months. What has being in that club sort of meant to you, and just being in rotary in general? What has that meant to you, and what have you gained from that?

Bryan Vielhauer:           Well Sam, thanks for asking. I think it’s a great question. When I think of the Rotary Club, the first thing I think is that first job I had in the graphic arts industry was working for a Rotarian. We didn’t go on permanently. We parted ways and I took over the company that I run now. And when it came time for him to get out of the business, he called me and said, “Hey, I want you to buy the company.” And I said, “Fantastic.” And I said, “My only condition is I want you to get me into the Rotary Club. I want you to invite me in and I want to go through that process.” And I was about 33 at the time. So that’s pretty young relative to being able to be fully committed to a service organization.

Bryan Vielhauer:           What the club’s meant to me is a great many things. Obviously you grow up and you see the rotary wheel all over the place every city you go into essentially, and you kind of ask yourself, what is that? What is that? And then you show up and somebody explains it to you and then you find out wow, this is an organization that a decided to eradicate a disease. Let’s do it. And they did it. You can split the fine hair if it’s eradicated or not. I personally believe that when you’re under a dozen cases worldwide, that’s a job well done. And then I think to myself-

Sam Schutte:                Speaking about polio?

Bryan Vielhauer:           Polio. Yeah. And then I think to myself I’m a 42 year old member of our club. I’ve been in the club a decade, and I’m probably one of the last people that’ll have a parent who had polio. Thankfully it was mild and didn’t have any lasting impact, but it was the stories of my grandmother pulling my dad in a wagon and my grandfather in a bigger wagon, because he was a roofer and he fell off the roof and broke his leg. So she had essentially two guys she was hauling around.

Bryan Vielhauer:           The club for me turned into a great place where we could highlight the works that we do. You look at the willpower that it took to build that organization to what it is today. I’m just so excited to be a part of it. I mean, we do phenomenal good things. And I think the future is only going to be brighter as we continue to leverage new ways of doing things, new people. And also live up to the traditions of the past.

Bryan Vielhauer:           I love reading history. I love looking back throughout the ages because there’s a lot to be learned. And you can prevent mistakes or you can head off potential issues. And you also want to honor some traditions. And a club that’s 100+ years old is going to have a lot of traditions, and it’s going to have some that have to go, and it’s going to have some that should be honored no matter what. And the more open and willing you are to look at that and say, “Hey, what are we keeping? What are we getting rid of? What’s good for business? What’s bad for business?” The more open and transparent you can be about what’s happening, the better any volunteer organization will be. And I’ve had the privilege of working with some really amazing people. And then you chuckle about Cincinnati in general about how it’s somewhat of a cul-de-sac. You can’t really get in and out without seeing everybody you know. So there’s just a phenomenal amount of things that can bring people together when you get to realize who knows who, who knows who, who knows who. And you leverage all those talents together and you get some really amazing things.

Bryan Vielhauer:           So I mean, I’m a lifer. I did K-12 in Madeira, went to Ohio State for five of the greatest years of my life. And promptly came back to Cincinnati. And I knew that’s what I was going to do. I mean, I knew it before I left. And I knew that there were huge probability I would be in small business. My great grandfather came to this country. He started a roofing company. His son, my grandfather, one of his brothers bought it. The Oakley Roofing Company. The building’s still on Brotherton Road. At least it was last time I saw it. My father went into the magnetics business, started a company that manufactured magnetics, sold it to BFGoodrich, ran it for them for many years. And here I am self-employed, running a family business. It’s the way it is. It’s just the way it is.

Sam Schutte:                Yeah, it’s interesting. I always think of my great-grandfather, my grandfather and my parents, they weren’t into a small businesses and stuff. But my great grandfather was a little bit of an entrepreneur. And hardware store at one point I think. There’s this great story where he licensed the ability to sell this device that was basically an automatic copper that would feed coal into your basement. Coal fire your furnace, right? He was going to sell this in Kentucky or whatever his territory was, right? So he started this business and all this, and he moved I think to Louisville or wherever. And they just about starved that winter, my grandfather would say. Because right at that time is when natural gas started being popular for furnaces. And he had spent a lot of money on this technology that was instantly obsolete. It was just like wow, what a lesson.

Bryan Vielhauer:           I mean, think about that. I think very much about the printing business. I mean, anybody know how many inches thick the phone book was in the year 2000? Think about how many inches thick the yellow pages was in 2000, and then think about do they even publish it today? Sure they do. Probably about a 10th of the size.

Sam Schutte:                More than half of them get thrown away.

Bryan Vielhauer:           Probably. And then you think about the fact that there were huge printing presses in this country that ran millions, and millions, and millions of feet of paper to make catalogs and phone books. It wasn’t just in Ohio or Cincinnati. That’s one book in one modest sized community. And now they’re all gone. Gone. And I mean, if you’d have told somebody in 1985 not going to need a phone book in 10 years, 15 years. Can you imagine that conversation? That I think is, I liken it to our business and the sign business. In 2001, when somebody called up and said, “Hey, I want a banner.” We said, “Great. It’s going to be white background, it’s going to have red letters. It’s going to say this, this, and this in this font. It’s going to be this much money. Do you want it or not?” And they said, “Well absolutely. And that’s amazing that you can do … you’re a wizard. How did you do that?”

Bryan Vielhauer:           And today, we don’t get to say any of those things because they show up with a file that they’ve created on their computer, they’ve uploaded it to our FTP site, and they darn well expect it to be exactly what they’re looking at. And nobody would have considered that in 2001 or ’02 because they didn’t even have the technology at their fingertips. Now, some people have two computers on their desk instead of one, running two different systems. So definitely a truly unbelievable situation.

Sam Schutte:                What are some of the more, I’m curious, what are some of the more complicated products that you’re making? I know you do vehicle wraps. I mean that’s a whole lot of service work and labor to install those I guess. But when you look at an individual product in terms of how much work it is to make, what are some of them were complicated ones that you’re making now?

Bryan Vielhauer:           Well really, what I would say the complexity in our business is the need for speed. I mean the idea that you don’t have the job at 8:00 AM and it’s delivered by 4:00 PM that day. And you didn’t have any idea that that was going to happen. And you already had your production day set.

Sam Schutte:                How do you handle that?

Bryan Vielhauer:           Well, in our case, we’ve invested heavily in technology. So we have some of the finest printing equipment that can be had. We have absolutely the best human resources. I mean, hands down the best human resources. And that’s what makes Decal Impressions better than anyone else in my opinion. Our human capital is second to none. We have a group of people that have been in this industry that are passionate about customers, passionate about service, passionate about meeting deadlines, and they care. And they talk. You’ve got a person who has a role as a graphic artist or as a press operator. Who equally could be on the phone with the CEO of a company that’s three or $400 million. And then the next call I get is, “I just want to let you know. That guy or gal. Wow. I don’t know where you found them. But I’ve been dealing with them for years. How do you get these people to stay?”

Bryan Vielhauer:           I keep them incentivized. I keep them at work. I keep them healthy. We pay for their health insurance, we have retirement savings. We have all type of different things to key people in our business so that our customers have continuity. I mean, can you imagine being a high powered marketing executive who’s had to talk to the seventh different person in the deal chain over the course of three years? What kind of comfort can you have that there’s never the same person answering the phone?

Sam Schutte:                Yeah. Yeah, exactly.

Bryan Vielhauer:           So no matter what technology brings to the table, human capital is what changes business. It’s what makes businesses great or it’s what makes businesses not great. And I’m never going to change that opinion. You can automate everything. I mean, I could have a building full of robots. You still got to have human capital that’s better than everybody else’s. And that is just bottom line for me.

Sam Schutte:                Your location down there, I was going to just bring up that the building that you’re in is kind of interesting. Because it used to be, I think it was a sausage factory or something.

Bryan Vielhauer:           It was Edelmann’s and Hofmann sausage factory. It’s a neat part of the city. It’s in the west end. We were in Over-The-Rhine from ’85 until 2010, and we outgrew our space.

Sam Schutte:                Where was that at?

Bryan Vielhauer:           That was on Stark Street on the Northern tip, up by some of the old breweries. Red Top and things of that nature. And we moved over to the west end and absolutely love it. Our building’s interesting. It’s a really old building cobbled together, and we’re really lucky to have it. We have an entryway. Since it was a food production facility, it was hard to get in and out of. So we have some long corridors to get into it because the USDA didn’t want people just walking in and walking into the old sausage factory. We have this hallway that we’ve updated with our marketing and showing our works. But the very top four inches of it was a listing of all the products that they had manufactured there before. And they were essentially stencils that were hand painted on the wall. And that was how it was done. The printer of the 1960s was a guy named Earl. And he had a paintbrush and he went out and did the job. And there were artists involved in this. That’s why I call it graphic arts. And now, we used to have people cutting [inaudible 00:55:51]. And nobody even knows what that is, let alone why you would cut it.

Bryan Vielhauer:           So I find it exciting that we’re able to keep some old school feelings, and show folks. “Hey look, this is how it used to be done. Look how we do it today.” Totally different, but yet somewhat the same. Still got the same outcome. Letters on a wall, see what you do.

Sam Schutte:                Old school values, new technologies.

Bryan Vielhauer:           I think that’s where our society is bumping up against things. We still need old school values. We need people to recognize that when they say that small business is the engine of America. That the fuel of that small business is our fellow citizens. And they’re in there working everyday in small business under tough circumstances. It’s not easy being in business at all. It’s full contact. And the people that go in everyday and work for a company that has between one and 50 employees has a totally different battle than showing up at some other organizations around town where hundreds and hundreds of people, where if you forget your key card, you can’t get. And if somebody were to let you in without your key card, then you’ve got two people in trouble. And every time you turn around there’s a new log book with a new entry that says so-and-so didn’t do so-and-so. Oh great. Wonderful. Now what?

Bryan Vielhauer:           Put people in charge. Make people accountable, let them thrive in their environment. And empower them to make a difference in the customer’s experience. And if they can’t deliver, then you find somebody else.

Sam Schutte:                Absolutely. Well Bryan, it’s been such a pleasure having you on the show and talking to you about your business, and your beliefs, and what really matters, and the changes you’re facing out there. The experiences you’ve gained over all these years running and working in this industry. I guess what are, if you had to summarize the two or three things, the two or three problems for folks out there that might be listening, what are the two or three issues that you can help them with, and that they should reach out to you for?

Bryan Vielhauer:           Wow, what a closer. Thank you. Let me really, really think about it now. I don’t know. I mean, I think if you are experiencing a situation where your supplier or your vendor partner doesn’t appreciate your time and your people’s time and the importance of taking accountability, Decal Impressions can help you with that. If you’re in a situation where you have a need and it’s an immediate need, there’s a really good chance Decal Impressions can help you. Those are I think the things, those are our strengths. Our ability to help our customers do things efficiently, effectively, and bring value to their bottom line is where we excel.

Sam Schutte:                Awesome. Very well said. Okay. And Bryan, what’s your website and your phone number?

Bryan Vielhauer:           You can find us at www.decalimpressions.com. And our 800 number is, (800) 747-0936.

Sam Schutte:                Well, thanks again.

Bryan Vielhauer:           Sam, it’s been spectacular being with you today. I really appreciate the invitation. I think what you’re doing helping small businesses and letting folks get on the airwaves here and kind of communicate. We’re creating a whole different educational segment out there. Folks can learn. And I think this is spectacular. I really appreciate you having me on and giving me the opportunity to talk about our company.

Sam Schutte:                Yeah, my pleasure. Thank you.

 

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