CEO Martin Candelaria and President Tony Hale confer by the offset press at 4 Directions Creative Services
By Adolfo Vasquez
When in college, our agriculture professor assigned a research paper on what William Jennings Bryan meant by: “Burn down your cities and leave our farms, and your cities will spring up again as if by magic. But destroy our farms and the grass will grow in the streets of every city in the country.” This became a principle philosophy in my careers as a military officer, a professional educator and now as a seasoned business advisor.
This philosophy was brought to light again while watching a PBS TV program on progressive farming. A young farmer was sitting in his pickup truck, looking out over hundreds of acres of wheat being harvested by a dozen combines followed by their accompanying grain trucks. They were all in staggered precision, turning in sequence in a steady rhythm and all operated from his laptop! No drivers, just a GPS mechanism with software and technology that has improved the machine and replaced the human element, except for the “controller,” who really only monitors the program to insure that it purrs along.
As I watched the program, I reminisced on my experiences growing up on my dad’s small farm, driving an old 1948 kerosene fueled John Deere Model A tractor, pulling a double flip plow. I would manhandle that tractor and plow 12 hours a day to get two acres plowed.
During harvest season, it was harvesting corn with that same “put-put” tractor straddling two rows of corn while pulling a grain trailer. If I harvested 5 acres a day it was a good day’s work. Watching an acre of wheat being harvested in one pass is not only amazing, it’s mindboggling!
So what does this have to do with the little engine that still can?
March 2017 was the annual National Center’s RES Las Vegas event. If you don’t know what RES is, or have never attended one, put this on your bucket list. This is a congregation of Native American businesses, Native American business leaders, Native American government officials and Native American tribal leaders with one mission—to help advance Native American Businesses and improve the economic posture and well-being of Indian Country.
It was there that I had the pleasure of meeting the owners of 4 Directions Creative Services, www.4directions-inc.com, a Navajo and Veteran owned small business that still does printing the old fashioned way. No, not the way Johannes Gutenberg did in 1439, but with good old fashioned paper, ink, modern presses and technology that you can still touch, feel and it is done by skilled pressmen!
Their shop is very efficient and can adapt to any customer’s demand. Their product quality can compete with any of the largest printing companies in the country and, they are a union shop. This means they take care of their skilled labor and reward the efforts of their workforce.
While talking to the owners and getting to know the niches of their business, I was impressed by just how much this small printing business can truly compete with the delivery, quality, caliber and responsiveness of the larger printing presses. But, like the plight of the human driven wheat combines and my Model A tractor, they just cannot continue to compete with price in a volume driven world that eliminates labor and replaces it with tireless, non-complaining robots that churn out reams and reams of cheaper print at record speeds and super-efficient output. Or can they?
They could with just a fraction of the volume work that Native American small businesses contract to large non-Native American companies. As Martin Candelaria, one of the owners stated, “If only a dozen Native American businesses that are here at RES would give us their current annual printing volume, we could easily compete with their current non-native commercial printing costs, with more eye catching quality, delivery and responsiveness, because we still answer our own phones, use skilled pressmen and with today’s technology, we can match any large printing company’s work in all categories!”
I was skeptical until Martin physically showed me the flaws in the printing material that was being handed out by exhibitors at RES, including the larger businesses that spare no cost in advertising. I was impressed by this lesson in the art of printing. And more importantly, after assessing our own high-end National Center material, I was convinced about his quality! I asked why more businesses didn’t go with what is obviously better quality and service? Martin stated, “Volume trumps quality when your basis for marketing is only price.”
There were many other issues we discussed, including the inevitable notion of the “dying trade of print” in today’s digital world. But, from what I saw at the event, there was no shortage of paper print there! And, there probably won’t be in the near future.
In closing, and I promise to get back to technical procurement tips next month, my take away from this experience is that if Indian Country is going to keep its promise to protect and improve the quality of life for its people and businesses, perhaps the message that resonates at all RES events—Buy Indian—needs to be practiced.
We need to invest in our Native Americna small businesses to keep them competitive and working. After all, even with all the new technology in harvest equipment, I pay more for my loaf of bread now than when I harvested it with my old John Deere tractor! But, I can’t go back to harvesting my own corn because my old tractor rusted away!
Perhaps if a few dozen Native-owned Businesses contract their printing to 4Directions, that little engine that still can may live to print another day! ♦