Threat of bankruptcy forces printing firm's business model pivot

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Turning a business model around amid changing market forces and declining revenues is a daunting prospect. Two senior executives leading the retooling of one conventional Ottawa printing firm use words such as “fear” and “anxiety” to describe their feelings before stepping outside their organization’s comfort zone to retool the business.

Dean McJannet is the sales director at Trico.

By Reid Parker


It began three years ago with the recognition that the future was not looking very bright for the 30-year-old company known at the time as the Tri-Co Group, whose flagship print division provided traditional printing and direct mail services, including advertising flyers, newspaper inserts and books. Despite more than $7 million in annual sales and a workforce of 75 employees, Trico Print was operating at a loss.

From the company’s perspective, Ottawa’s printing market had been in steady decline for at least a decade and Trico’s executives felt the company was just two or three years away from bankruptcy if it failed to adapt.

Two veteran business leaders, Scott Falconer and Dean McJannet, were hired to implement a realistic and viable business plan to transform Trico Print into a fully integrated, multi-channel communications company, with printing as just one of its services.

Trico Print was rebranded as Trico Evolution following intensive research and consultations with clients, industry leaders and by forming strategic partnerships with established marketing and creative agencies.

“We clearly saw a there was a new way of doing business, a way that a print organization could be bold enough to step out of the comfort zone and say, ‘We’re actually in the communications business,’ ” Mr. McJannet says.

Many organizations must currently deal with an overwhelming amount of data as digital technologies create new ways of assessing customer needs and behaviours. The Trico team saw a need to interpret and manage all that data while staying on top of opportunities, potential strategies and changing market conditions. Known as data analytics, its purpose is to allow organizations to harvest and interpret all that information before making fact-based decisions about how to reach their communication objectives.

A suite of new services and proprietary software was introduced, targeted at smaller organizations. The company initially avoided going after larger organizations with deeper pockets and access to traditional advertising agencies.

Trico marketing manager Olivia Nixon says the company wanted to provide its customers’ marketing teams with the information needed to make their campaigns relevant and profitable. Once the clients have defined their strategy accordingly, Trico is available to implement all elements of a co-ordinated campaign, including design and printing, traditional and electronic direct mail and personalized websites.

All this led to a significant culture shift in the workplace. Slightly more than 20 jobs were cut through attrition and layoffs, while other employees were retrained, as managers searched for new employees who had the skill and passion to risk experimenting with a new business model. Among the new hires was a senior developer from IBM/Cognos who joined Trico as a technology manager and, more recently, a senior financial analyst from a bank in Montreal.

“They had something inside them that said, ‘You know what? I haven’t been fulfilled yet,’” recalls Mr. Falconer. “They believed in (Trico’s plan) and bought into the story.”   

Both Mr. McJannet and Mr. Falconer say their initial worries and doubts about changing the company’s focus while keeping Trico’s board of directors happy were alleviated by two positive developments: strong feedback from clients and an encouraging visit from two senior executives from Xerox Canada who compared Trico’s new service suite to the iPhone, because it combined multiple applications in a single, easily accessible place.

Three years after the beginning of the turnaround, the initial fears and anxiety have dissipated as the firm booked $6 million in revenues last year and was profitable.

“We’re not sitting around watching the industry fall apart,” Mr. McJannet says. “We’re making a new industry, we’re taking something out of the ashes and moving it forward.”

Or, as Ms. Nixon puts it: “We’re not a startup, we’re a start-over.”

Organizations: IBM, Cognos, Xerox Canada

Geographic location: Ottawa, Montreal

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