Business cards, pants, and customer service

After nearly ten years doing without real business cards, I finally ordered a new set along with some stationery. I learned a lot and thought I would share my research along with some thoughts on customer service.

Hoban Cards of Centralia, Washington seems to have a neat business going for letterpress – one or two products, some nice variations, and a clear, affordable pricing scheme. I ordered some samples and quickly received them.

Letterpress can be beautiful, but I decided it wasn't the right fit for this project, so I kept looking. I like the intricate detail and saturated colors that the engraving process can provide but have found prices at Crane's or Dempsey & Carroll to greatly exceed my budget.

I kept searching and found Werner Printing, a family-owned business in Chicago since 1921. Over the years, I've walked past their West Loop building almost weekly without really noticing it (and I bet locals have seen their sign and clock, as well). They engrave, and their prices are competitive.

I emailed them and quickly heard back from Bob Werner, the current head whose grandfather founded the company. They've designed materials for local businesses, United States presidents, and many people and organizations in between. I thought my order might be a little small for them, but they gave my project significant attention.

A digression: some of the best service I've ever received is from a Chicago tailor who is often backlogged for a month or two. He's good, and his customers generally don't mind waiting.

This tailor gives terrific advice but also once said, "Look, they're your pants. It's not my business to tell you what to do. You're the one that is going to have to wear them, so they better be right by you – no one else."

I've been thinking about this idea lately while considering some poorer customer experiences I've encountered. I've seen vendors – unsolicited, and without asking many questions – purport to know a customer's business better than the customer himself. This might make one sale, but I doubt that it builds trust. So, the short-term result seems to benefit the vendor, but longer-term opportunities and any doses of helpfulness and goodwill are abandoned.

Back to the business cards: Werner fortunately seems to follow the former approach. Like my tailor, Bob educated me on the engraving process and standards but said, "Look, they're your cards. You're the one who is going to use them, so we better make sure you're happy with them." He provided significant expertise but ultimately let me decide.

Indeed, I am very happy with my order, which includes business cards, a few sizes of letterhead, and envelopes. We did encounter a couple of issues (one of which was my fault), but Bob promptly addressed them both, highlighting his company's commitment to quality.

It's no surprise to me that Werner Printing's customer-serving approach has served them so well for nearly one hundred years. I'm certainly already looking forward to the next project I might have with them.


Things I did in 2013

Happy new year! I've been working on planning 2014 and thought I would do a 2013 roundup first. 

Here's some stuff I did last year:

  1. Launched Interrupt Violence with Kartemquin Films, Kounterattack Design, Tribeca, and ITVS
  2. Produced a conference webcast and wrapup video for Arts Alliance Illinois
  3. Worked with Table XI and Ebert Digital to launch and maintain
  4. Made additional websites and videos with a handful of professionals
  5. Experimented with Trello for running projects
  6. Starting using a spreadsheet value sorting system to easily rank big lists (e.g. what movies I’d like to see)
  7. Launched this website and blog
  8. Finally found a desk that seems an appropriate height for me, drastically reducing ongoing wrist discomfort
  9. Printed new business cards and stationery with Werner Printing in Chicago
  10. Was particularly inspired by the work of psychologist Cynthia Ebert, surgeon Michael Levitt, and comedian Drew Michael
  11. Finally got around to creating a six-month financial forecast and quarterly tracking systems
  12. Created separate email accounts for actual correspondence and then newsletters/sales solicitations
  13. Began to more carefully balance protein, carbohydrates, and fats in my diet
  14. Bought and started using a food scale
  15. Began a bodyweight calisthenics routine
  16. Took class to improve my swimming stroke
  17. Traveled a bit
  18. Helped my dad begin assembling a classic car
  19. Made many interesting mistakes

The best books I can remember reading are:

Mindfulness in Plain English
Bhante Gunaratana 

The Signal and the Noise: Why So Many Predictions Fail — but Some Don't
Nate Silver 

The Complete Walker IV
Colin Fletcher

The Agile Samurai: How Agile Masters Deliver Great Software
Jonathan Rasmusson 

Even the Terrible Things Seem Beautiful to Me Now: The Best of Mary Schmich 
Mary Schmich

Your Money or Your Life: 9 Steps to Transforming Your Relationship with Money and Achieving Financial Independence
Vicki Robin and Joe Dominguez

Getting to Yes: Negotiating Agreement Without Giving In
Roger Fisher

Salt Sugar Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us
Michael Moss

Searching for Bobby Fischer: The Father of a Prodigy Observes the World of Chess
Fred Waitzkin

The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter
Carson McCullers

The albums I really liked:

Silence Yourself

Arcade Fire

Wakin On A Pretty Daze
Kurt Vile  

Richard Thompson

Hoodoo Man Blues
Junior Wells' Chicago Blues Band

Random Access Memories
Daft Punk

Fulfillingness First Finale
Stevie Wonder

Favorites of the movies that I saw:



2001: A Space Odyssey

Days of Heaven

Oslo, August 31st

The Ballad of Narayama


Les Miserables

The World’s End 

12 Years a Slave

The Spectacular Now


The only TV show I really watched:


The worst movie I saw:

Pacific Rim

My favorite excerpt from a book (Susan Cain's Quiet):

[Warren] Buffett takes pride not only in his track record, but also in following his own ‘inner scorecard.’ He divides the world into people who focus on their own instincts and those who follow the herd. ‘I feel like I’m on my back,’ says Buffett about his life as an investor, ‘and there’s the Sistine Chapel, and I’m painting away. I like it when people say, Gee, that’s a pretty good-looking painting. But it’s my painting, and when somebody says, Why don’t you use more red instead of blue? Good-bye. It’s my painting. And I don’t care what they sell it for. The painting itself will never be finished. That’s one of the great things about it.’

I was also lucky to spend a lot of time with old and new family, friends, and colleagues. Thanks for making 2013 a year to remember!

Things I learned in 2013

These are my personal discoveries of the year:

  1. "The most precious gift we can offer anyone is our attention."
    (Thich Nhat Hanh)
  2. Imprecise speech causes confusion and delay.
  3. There can be a difference between what is important and what is urgent.
  4. It's helpful to leave a little something left over in the tank.
  5. Rolling areas of focus can be more effective than annual goals.
    (via HBR)
  6. “The essence of economy lies not in savings, but in selection.” 
    (supposedly Edmund Burke)
  7. Less really can be more. I’ve shed many extraneous possessions and commitments lately and have found more capacity to think, focus, and simply be at rest and enjoy life.
  8. Board games can be incredibly fun, and we are likely in a golden age of smart, balanced games. Past a deep Scrabble love, I’ve been enjoying the entry-level Carcassonne, Ticket to Ride, and Settlers of Catan this year and am looking forward to trying even more new games in 2014.
  9. Regarding the holidays: it will all get done, and this year will never come again, so we might as well stop worrying and enjoy it. 
    (paraphrasing a few Mary Schmich columns)
  10. You can't simply blow up a dead whale and hope the problem will go away

Happy holidays!

Ten years

December will mark ten years since hanging my proverbial shingle. Thank you to Client #1 Arts Alliance Illinois and the many additional clients, collaborators, consolers, kibitzers, and advisors that have helped to meet this milestone!

To celebrate, I'm launching this website while wrapping up a couple of long-standing projects. I'm looking forward to a clear plate, solid web platform, and developing the next initiatives and projects!

Time flies. Here's to seeing where we are in another ten years.