Wooing clients in a slower economy

The best time to woo new business, as Joe Gass sees it, is during a downturn.

The president of Heritage Printing and Graphics, Gass opened an office in Charlotte about three years ago.

His pitch sounds like this: I know you've worked with your existing printer for years. But in an economy like this, it may be a great time to check prices and do some comparisons, to make sure your current printer is being honest.

He says it's working and that one company with about a dozen branches has promised to use his services.

“Several groups said they felt they were just paying the bills without checking the accuracy of the prices,” Gass said.

His 31-year-old printing company operates out of Maryland. The Charlotte office has three employees.

Gass uses environmentally friendly printing technologies, including soy-based inks and glossy paper made of 50 percent recycled material. He said he could shave 6 to 7 percent off his annual paper costs by switching to paper with less recycled content. But, he said, “I have a responsibility beyond simple profitability and what goes in my pocket.”

In the Washington market, Gass works mostly with federal agencies and lobbyists, whose budgets don't change much during economic downturns. In Charlotte, he's targeting smaller and mid-sized emerging companies.

He said he started with zero sales in December 2007 and expects to post revenues of “several million” by the end of next year. He plans to expand his creative services to include Web and video-based marketing tools.

“We've made the decision to invest,” he said. “We know it may not pay immediate dividends but when there is a full-fledged upswing we'll be on top of clients' minds.”