How can we help smaller printing businesses up sales per employee?

Printweek editor Darryl Danielli

Not so long ago, when it came to balancing the revenue of a well-run print business and its number of employees, the rule of thumb was that, broadly speaking, sales of £100,000 per employee was the sweet spot.

However, like so much previously received wisdom in a rapidly evolving industry, what was once a universal business truth no longer automatically holds true.

This was relatively new news to me. And while there has in the past always been the occasional outlier, now it seems increasingly common for a company to report sales per employee two or even three times what used to be considered a respectable figure.

Disclaimer: that’s not to say that if a company is achieving sales per employee of less than £100k then it can’t be in rude fiscal health. Far from it. Equally, I’m sure there are perhaps businesses out there with higher revenue run rates that are operating hand-to-mouth on wafer-thin margins.

But when reading some of the articles about UK printers that had spent big at Drupa, a fair few had what can only be described as spectacular sales per employee stats – which got me thinking about the reasons for the correlation.

Inflation is a factor no doubt, but the single biggest influence has to be the rise in automation, something borne out by the fact that companies that went all-in at Drupa were largely well invested, digital-focused, highly automated operations that have worked hard to reduce their production touchpoints.

So, figuring out why their sales per employee ratios are higher than those of old is hardly rocket science.

What would be, though, is figuring out ways that smaller businesses, many of which didn’t go to Drupa and aren’t in a position to spend millions on the latest cutting-edge technology, can similarly raise sales per employee.

Because while the figure they’re quite rightly focused on is the bottom line, tightening the numbers in the middle can sometimes be easier and have a bigger impact than growing the figure at the top.