Archive for March, 2018

Is You Company Customer Focused?

dan21When was the last time you sat around with your team talking about how you could produce better products and services for your customers? I mean doing things better, making the customers experience extraordinary and putting the “wow” factor in your products.

I would guess never. We are all so busy just trying to meet our customers’ expectations that we spend very little or maybe no time thinking about exceeding those expectations. We are only focused on getting the job done…just getting the job done and over with that we are much more reactive than we are proactive.

Just think how much fun it would be to think up ways to blow your customers’ minds when it comes to your products. Think how great it would be if you thought up ways to make your customers, customers for life.

Think about your own life, think about the times that a company has surprised you to the point of delight; How about the flight attendant who came up to you on the plane to thank you for your loyalty to their airline. That felt pretty good didn’t it? Or how great it is when the host at your favorite restaurant calls you by name and asks if you want your favorite table? Or how about when your car dealer’s service department’s representative advises you on what’s best for your car even if the parts or tires they recommend for your car costs less than the ones you were going to buy? That feels great. That feels like the person is looking out for you right? It feels like that person knows you so well, understand so clearly what your needs are that they are taking responsibility for your welfare. They care so much about you that they are actually your experts when it comes to what you are buying from them.

Now think about how great it would be if actually spent time thinking about our customers, learning their needs and how our products can exceed those needs.

That is what a customer purposed company does. They make it their business to know everything about their customers, they put themselves in their customer’s shoes so deeply that they can sense not only what the customer needs today but what she is going to need tomorrow as well.

Being a customer purposed company means understanding how your products add value to your customers companies’ purposes and goals. As Steve Jobs once said, “It isn’t the consumer’s job to know want they want.” Now it is our job to figure out what they want. Think about it. Why Apple is so successful is that they made it their purpose to know what their customers wanted, what they wanted and what would capture their imaginations and create ultimate customer loyalty.

Look Apple has done it why can’t we? Why can’t we think up ways to delight our customers? Why can’t we come up with processes and technologies that would exceed our customers’ needs? Apple has done it in retail, they had to invent products from scratch, often products that people had never heard of, products that people wondering why do would need them as all…that is until they tried them for a while and then wondered how they could ever have even thought of living without them.

And it should be easier for us in the board industry. We don’t have to invent a product, we don’t have to deal with a retail market. The fact that we are actually building someone else product, that we are in the job shop business should actually make things easier. There is already a product on the print, we just have to figure out how to make it better. We just have to figure out just what it is the customer is going to use our board for and then come up with a more appropriate way of processing it. We just have to concentrate on developing the very best process anyone has ever developed aimed at making the best boards that anyone has ever seen. Oh I know it’s not as simple as all of that, but still…we can try can’t we? And how about the way we deal with our customers? Why are we all quoting the same way? Why are we packing the boards the same way? Why are we all fabricating them the same way? Why aren’t we thinking about better way to do everything?

Look try it, all I ask is that you just give it a try. Set up a team of your smart people, your creative people your best customer oriented people and sit around for one hours each week…just one hour thinking about how you could provide more value to your customers. How you could be a true customer purposed company. I promise you that it will be the most valuable thing you do this week. It’s only common sense

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Listen Up Or Lose Out

dan-3Listen up or lose out, is not only the title of this column, its not only the title of a great new book I just came across, but it’s also the best advice that you can give anyone no matter what their field of business is. And, of course it is especially cogent advice for those of in sales.

Looking back over past columns, I see that I have done a many of columns on listening, true intentional listening. But obviously never enough because it is still the number one problem I deal with when I am training sales people. And frankly, I think it is getting worse. People are practicing the at of intentional listening less today than ever before. We are all so in love with the sound of our own voices that we seldom actually stop for a minute and listen to what the other person is saying.

Think of the political situation in this country today for example….er nope not going there, never mind. Let’s instead turn to the art of listening that successful communicators practice.

First of all I would urge you all to run out and buys this book by Robert Bolton and Dorothy Grover Bolton. I mean run out right now…I’ll wait. That’s how important I think this new book is. Its not only one of the rare books on this extremely important subject, it could be the book on the subject.

The book covers everything you need to know about listening including how to develop the right skills to be a great listener, not an easy task. Here are some of the subjects covered in this book:

  • Knowing when to listen and when to speak: Full disclosure, this is one of the challenges that I face every day, especially on the phone. It happens when I think that the person I am talking has finished saying what she wanted to say and there is a pause, and I take that opportunity to jump in, only to realize she was taking a short break and wasn’t done. Then we have one of those awkward verbal dances filled with, “sorry go ahead.” “No, you go.” “No you.” And that goes on for a while. This happens to me because I am petrified of pauses. I hate the pause, its scares the heck out of me. This book address how to handle the pauses.
  • Asking the right questions at the right time: Listening is also key to a great conversation and then the right questions, the questions whose answers are going to move the conversation forward and lead it to where you want it to go. Obviously, this is a very important tactic when driving a sales pitch.
  • Listening intentionally, instead of thinking about what you are going to say when this person stops talking: Oh, I am guilty of this one. It’s another one I need to work on. Honestly, I think this is the most challenging issue to overcome. We are so busy focusing on what we are going to say next. that we can miss the gist of what the person is saying right now. And, in many cases by not listening intently we can be missing something the person says that could make the answer we are preparing, ridiculous. Example: You are talking to your customer about when she is going to place that next order. While she is talking about all the things her company must consider when placing that order, you are preparing to ask her point blank if she can tell you whether or not the order will be placed this month yet. And while your formulating that question she is saying that the order will be placed next week. When she is done talking, you jump in and ask her when the order will be placed! Busted! That eye-roll you get from her is saying, ‘if you had been paying attention you would have the answer to your question.”
  • Listening like you mean it: When you’re listening intently, really listening to someone your entire being takes part. Your eyes are looking at the person, your body is hunched forward, you find yourself nodding in agreement. Your body is telling that person that you are listening…that you are paying attention.
  • Knowing when the person has more to say but just needs the time to say it: Oh, that dreadful pause again. Relax while your listening. Let a little pause in there once in a while it will be worth it.

Finally, one quick story about when intentional listening and living with the pause paid off. Years ago, I was trying to close a military contract with a customer down in Tampa, Florida. I had been working on this contract for months. The customer was stalling, and I knew there was another supplier nipping at my heels. I had a heard that the other supplier had been to visit this customer only the week before. So, I called the buyer to see what the situation was; and I could tell…by listening like my life was depending on it (because it was)- that he was wavering. He had gone from, “All you have the do is sharpen your pencil a little bit more and the contract is yours.” To now on this phone call he had started wavering. So, I made s snap decision and told him that my pencil was sharp, I would put the finishing touches on my final proposal, send it to him and I would be there Monday to close the deal.

Monday, I flew to Tampa, was there for our meeting at 1:30 sitting across the desk from him. We had discussed the new proposal, He said he liked it but that he would still have to think about it for a few days. I looked him straight in the eye and told him, “no, I flew down here to close this deal, and this is what I am going to do.” I then put my pen, a gold Cross pen, in front of him and told him he needed to sign our contract. And then I sat back and shut up…and he shut up, and we sat there for over five minutes without either of us saying a word, seeing who was going to be able to handle the silence the longest and then he caved. He looked at me, shook his head, said “you &&^%&& and picked up the pen and signed the contract! And that ladies and gentlemen is what can happen when you are not living in fear of the dreadful silent pause.

The book is published by Amacon. It’s called Listen up or Lose Out I urge you to buy. and read it. It’ll be the best twenty bucks you’ve spent this year. It’s only common Sense

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Who Is The Customer…Really?

Dan 8Great question that. If you buy into the golden rule, not that “who has the gold wins” rule, but the real one, “do unto others as you have them do unto you”, then just about everyone you deal with is your customer, and yes you should treat everyone as a customer, because that is the way you want to be treated in return.

That being said let’s look at our business and talk about who our customer is?

First of all, you have your traditional customer, the guy you sell stuff to so that he in return can give you money and that makes your business work. Some would say you have to be nice to this guy or you will go out of business. The first reason to treat this transactional customer like gold is because, yes in this case the other golden rule does apply. He has the gold and you want it so; give him something so he gives it to you. We get that, it’s called business.

But customer service goes far beyond that. The thing is, when running a business, we do not want just one deal, one transaction, with any of our customers. We want to gain our customers’ business for life. In the grocery business, for example, they take the long view when it comes to their customers. They figure our how much the customer spends in store every week, and they multiply that by fifty-two weeks, then they multiply that by ten years and they get the true value of a customer. That’s why they offer you all those handy-dandy little discount card clubs and other loyalty programs. It also doesn’t hurt that by getting you to join their loyalty clubs that also get to know everything about you, including what you buy and how often you buy it, which is incredibly valuable information. Information that they then sell to big data companies for a lot more then the measly discounts they are passing along to you, their customer. But the important thing is that they spend time, effort, and money to study their customers, learning their buying habits to get to know them better and also to service them better, which is not a bad thing.

In terms of our business, we have to find other ways to do this. We must find ways to learn everything we can about our customers including their buying habits. We should find out the following:

  1. What they spend every year on our product?
  2. What are their buying habits? When do they place their orders?
  3. When do they decide who their vendors are going to be?
  4. What is their criteria for choosing a vendor?
  5. What really matters to them in terms of what they get from a vendor?
  6. What is the size of an average order?
  7. Who else are they buying from? Who is our competition?
  8. Do they have a high vendor turnover?
  9. Do they have a high employee turnover?
  10. Do they communicate well with their vendors?
  11. What kind of business are they in?
  12. What does it take to be successful in that business?
  13. What position do they hold in their marketplace?
  14. Are the industry leaders?
  15. Do they have a great product?
  16. Do they have a product with a future?
  17. Are they innovators?
  18. What is their business strategy?
  19. Where will they be in one year? In five years?
  20. What services can you provide to help them be successful in their business?
  21. What do they look for in supplier?
  22. What do they consider an outstanding supplier?
  23. How difficult or easy are they to do business with?
  24. What problems have they had with suppliers in the past?
  25. If your business is building custom products, what do their tools (the data they provide you to build their products) look like?
  26. Is the company profitable?
  27. Do they pay their bills on time?
  28. Do they understand and appreciate total value or are they all about price?
  29. Are they likeable? (This is much more important than you think)
  30. Do you believe you can have a future with them? Can they be a customer for life?

And one more, under promise, and overdeliver right? (And that by the way is a great customer service tactic on its own). Is there chemistry between your two companies? Do you fit in well together? Can you work as partners in the future, sharing the same ideas, values, and goals? If you have that, you have everything.

If you answer all of these questions diligently and you get all the right answers, chances are, you will have a good idea as to not only who your customer is, but everything else about her and that will help you to provide her with great service and outstanding products. Which is of course the goal of being a great vendor. It’s only common sense.

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Where Will We Be In Five Years?

dan-7A friend of mine got me thinking the other day when he asked me what I thought the North American PCB industry would look like five years from now. That’s an intriguing question isn’t it? A question that I decided to really think about for the next few days.

Certainly, I knew already that the next few years would be the most transitional years in the long history of the North American PCB industry. An industry that started in 1951 when America’s first independent board fabrication company, Photocircuits was started. That made me think of some of the big names in the industry, companies that had once dominated, but now were gone. That list is long obviously, since we have gone from well over one thousand shops (some same as high as eighteen hundred while others say the number was twelve hundred) to now where there are just around two hundred. Shops left in North America. Remember them? Photocircuits, Maine Electronics, General Circuits, Capital Circuits, ACI, The Bureau, Altron, Zycon, Hadco, Pacific, Diceon, Rockwell Collins, Advanced Quick Circuits, Tingstol, Coretec, Bartlett, ASI, Continental, and many others too many to remember, all gone, existing only in the memories of those of us who worked for them.

So, back to the question of the day. Where is our industry going? What will it look like in five years…or maybe less? Well, here are a few things I know:

  • Some of our more prominent companies are on buying sprees right now. At least three American companies are buying everything they can get their hands on, with an end game of a big payout in the next few years. These companies have three things in common. One,, they have an aging management team looking for that last payout. Two they have venture capital money behind them and three, they are more interested in the top like than the bottom-line, don’t get me wrong the bottom-line is still important since a company’s selling price is determined by a multiple of their EBITA. But, that all important top line is what attracts buyers and their investors. So, watch these companies keep buying and growing. They are the ones I am talking about. This means that there will be fewer and fewer shops as the small ones get “vacuumed” up or as I prefer to call it, “TTM’ed”
  • So, who is going to buy these companies? Who is going to spend those big bucks on these American-based companies. Well, think for a minute…what country in the world has big bucks? Ummm, let me think. Yes, that’s right China. The Chinese are coming, and they are coming with their dollars, and their global ambition. Some of the big Chinese companies have already bought companies in Europe and they are now setting their sights on North America. This is a not a prediction this is a fact. In the next twelve months you are going to see a Chinese company swoop in and buy an American PCB company. It will not be a large acquisition at first, but it will be the beginning of a trend.
  • Sadly, we will continue to lose North American shops. Those who refuse to change will choke on their own immobility. They will go down and the last thing we will hear from them will be the dying words. “but I never had to do any sales or marketing in the 70’s and had all the business I needed” It will be too bad for sure, but it is inevitable as these companies hold on to the past a and refuse to adapt to the times.
  • The North American market will continue to grow. Right now, the North American market is rising to over eleven billion dollars and growing every day. At this time barely three billion dollars-worth of PCBs are being built in this country while over eleven billion are purchased, obviously that means that eight billion dollars are built offshore. That will change with global acquisitions on the horizon, a larger percentage will come back to be built here in North American…but by foreign owned (fully or partially) companies.
  • Mexico will start to be a factor as the Mexican demand for PCBs increases at a steady rate. This will also contribute to the growth of North American PCB fabrication.

Finally combining these trends this is what the North American PCB industry will look like in five years. First, we will be part of the global PCB market place as the world gets flatter. Our companies will be larger and multinational. The number of shops will diminish but the capabilities and capacities of the American shops will grow. The North American fabricators will be part of multinational companies with locations all over the world.

Take the automotive market for example, the prototypes and pre-production phases of a part number will be fabricated in the U.S. and then the production will go to Asia. But the difference being that the part number  will remain in the hands of the same company for the life of that part number. The same will apply to other markets as well.

These are exciting, if not outright historic, times but that the North American market will go in this direction is inevitable. As the great economist Thomas Friedman continues to advise us, commerce dictates the flow of the world economy and there is really nothing that governments and particularly politicians can do about it. Commerce like water always rises to its own level. And yes, as will be demonstrated by what happens here to our own PCB industry, the world is indeed getting flatter. It’s only common sense.

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Great Leaders Do These Things

dan21I once had a boss who wanted to sit in his office all day, never participate in any meetings and then ask us, his managers, to write long tediously detailed reports and give them to him so he would know what was going on. In short he wanted to know everything we were doing without having to participate in anything.

On Mondays for example, I would have to put together an updated rolling forecast for the next three months and give it to him at the end of the day. So then I would have to go into his office at 4:30 Monday afternoon and review the forecast with him. Now, I am not saying that there should be no reporting, but what I am saying is that I could just as easily done a status report and turned it in to him every Monday morning for him to read at his leisure.

Oh, and there is another thing he could have done. He could have come to our Monday morning status meetings and heard everything from all of his managers first hand. That way in the space of an hour he would have been completely updated. He could have given us his appropriate feedback and we could have all spent a much more productive Monday.

My point is that he was wasting our time, his time and the company’s time. As a leader, of course you have to know what is going on. You have to make sure that all things are going in the right direction and yes, you do have to set that direction. But you should not be wasting your managers’ time on long individual meetings so that they can dedicate their lives to keeping you updated at all times. That should happen automatically through a more sophisticated and productive reporting system.

As a leader you should be always working on making your managers and the people who work for them as productive and effective as possible.

This is what I believe a leader should be doing:

  1. He should be a visionary: He should be setting the company’s vision, mission and direction. He should be the person who is always looking towards the future to see what is on the next horizon and then leading his people in that direction all the time developing that strategic direction of that company.
  2. She should be the chief strategist: She has to be the one who sets the direction. The person who assimilates all of the company’s information, combines it will all of the market information including customer and competitor information and forms the company’s strategic direction. And she should make sure that everyone in the company understands the company’s direction.
  3. He should develop the company’s values: The rest of the company should be able to look at towards leader as an example of how to behave, how to treat customers, how to treat people and how to treat even the competitors. The leader’s value must be impeccable
  4. She should set the pace for the company: She is the company driver. She makes sure that the company is always moving forward and in the right direction.
  5. He should be the chief communicator: He should always be communicating the company’s message. He is the one person who is the keeper of the company’s culture making sure that everyone in the company understands everything about the company including not only what it stands for but also where it is going. If the message is clear to the people they will be able to enact it, to live it.
  6. He should be the face of the company: When it comes to the public. The leader represents the company. He should do so with personality, dignity and integrity he should not only be his company’s leader but he should be an industry leader as well. When it comes to the industry he has to make sure that his company has a strong and valid place at the table.
  7. She should be the company’s number one customer advocate: The leader has the biggest voice in the company, all of the other team members take their cue on how to behave from their company leader. They also take how to treat their customers from their leader. She should never ever bad mouth a customers because once she does she is giving tacit approval to all of her associates to do the same. She must keep the highest standards when it comes to customer service insisting that customers be treated like gold. She has to set the standard, a gold standard at that for customer treatment and service. She has to show her people how to always do the right thing; how to always take the high road.

Finally the company leader has to always assume the role of leadership. He must be on duty at all time. On his best behavior at all times. There is no room for sloppiness, no room for less than exemplary behavior, no room for ever giving the job anything but his or her very best at all times. The leader has to lead by example because her entire team from the top VP’s to the people on the floor is watching her and taking their cue from her. The way her team behaves and performs will always be indicative of the kind of leader she is.

Its only common sense

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The Perfect Customer

dan-5If only…

If only our customers understood us, Oh, what a wonderful world that would be! We have spent a great deal of time in this column talking about the perfect sales person, and the perfect fabricator and the perfect customer service person, so I thought it would be interested, and only fair, to write about the perfect customer…the ideal customer.

In a perfect world, all the customers would be perfect, which would make our life so much easier. I’m sure many of you have heard this statement more than once, usually said through gritted teeth by a frustrated production manager, “this business would run so much smoother if it wouldn’t be for those gosh darn customers.” Well, of course we all are smart enough to realize that we would not have a business to run smoother if it wasn’t for those gosh darn customers.

But, certainly building our customers’ boards would go much smoother if our customers had the slightest understanding of how a printed circuit board is built. We have passed the age of the educated printed circuit board customers. Once upon a time in those days of yore, we’ll call, “the good old days” or as my old friend Pat Wetli was fond of saying, the good old day,” because he said that in all his forty plus years of being in the PCB industry there was probably only one day when things ran smoothly. But, back in those old days, most of our OEM customers had their own board shops staffed by their own board experts who all had complete knowledge of PCBs and how they were built. In many instances they were smarter than we were and taught us how to build their boards in our shops. But those days are gone. OEMs have closed their PCB shops and many of them have stop manufacturing their products, turning over that part of their business to the contract manufacturers, who often openly admit that they don’t know much about PCB technology. And to add to this growing problem of our customers not understanding our technology many of the designers who did know something about our technology have aged out and we are now dealing with a group of much younger PCB designers who have never spent even an hour in a board shop and admit they don’t really understand the technology. And as well-intentioned as these entities, CM’s and designers and OEMs of today are they, their lack of understanding of how a PCB is built is creating more problems than we’ve ever had.

When I ask my customers, the board houses why they cannot get their quotes out faster (especially in these times when many of our customers are awarding the orders to the vendor who gets the quote in the fastest, the issue of quote response is a very serious one) they tell me that the real problem lies in getting incomplete or incorrect RFQ data packages from their customers. Which cause them to have to put the quote on hold which of course brings the quote process to s screeching halt will they wait for the customers to get back to them with an answer.

And here’s the worst part; many times, the customers actually get angry that the PCB vendor is calling with question. In some cases, chastising the vendor to “stop asking these questions and just build according to the data we sent you!”

What are the PCB fabricators supposed to do with this kind of feedback? Are they supposed to build boards that will not work? This has become a very real dilemma for all the PCB fabricators. For the past few months I have been performing an informal survey of many of the shops I know asking them how they handle this problem and here in a nutshell are my findings. The diligent PCB fabricators still man up and call the customer until the get their questions answers. The more let’s say “aggressive” board shops simply make assumptions and move on, sometimes they get burnt but they tell me that it’s not that often, percentages are on their side and that they have given up calling customers only to get yelled at for “holding up the quote with these stupid questions!” And the truly scary thing about this is that it is the latter shops that win the orders most of the time and who the heck knows how functional the boards they building are in the end.

So back to being that perfect customer? Here are three things you can do:

Get closer to your PCB vendors. Talk to them, visit their shops, and learn everything you can about how a board is built,

Ask your PCB vendors what it is that makes up a perfect data package.

Consider your PCB vendors your PCB experts, your consultants of you will when it comes to everything PCB

And one more, under promise and over deliver, listen to them when they are asking you questions instead of getting mad at them, stop and realize that they are not asking these questions to be a pain in your neck but to fabricate the very best board for your company. Doesn’t that make sense? Yes, only common sense.

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Time Tested Methods That Cause PCB Companies To Crater

dan-6I know it sounds pretty brutal but hey I have to use any method I can to get your attention, because the fact is if you don’t change your ways you will go out of business in the next twelve months.

Don’t get me wrong, there are opportunities out there, more of them than there has been in quite a long time but the problem is that you have to first of all recognize those opportunities and then do something about them.

The market is opening up. I spoke with someone the other day who mentioned that the average difference between Chinese prices and American prices is under 30%. That’s a long way from the days when you could pay the Chinese two bucks for a board that would cost ten bucks in the good old USA. If you consider all of the hassles of doing business with a country all the way around the world a differential of 30% is just not worth it.

There are also, as I have been saying for months now, reasons for our customers to want to buy more American. Ranging from new product introduction, to sheer convenience to just plain old American nationalism companies are spending more of their PCB dollars with domestic board shops.

So there is opportunity if you choose take it. But hey if you want to just keep doing what you’ve always done well good luck with that.

So with my tongue firmly lodged in my cheek here are eight ways to make sure you go out of business in the next year:

  1. Believe in the “build it and they will come” theory of sales and marketing or rather lack of sales and marketing. Face it, once and for all they will not come if they don’t know who you are and what you can do…so if you want to go out of business…don’t tell anybody what you can do.
  2. Don’t hire any sales people, but buy a piece of equipment instead. We all know how much new business that new etcher will bring in don’t we?
  3. Stick to your guns when it comes to high prices. Look it worked once on that customer last year who needed boards so desperately that he paid you ten times what they were worth. So keep it up, price all of your boards that way. You never know that customer just might need that board again sometime in the next couple of years.
  4. Forget sales people altogether. All they are is a pain in the neck, always complaining, always making stuff up about the customer being angry because your boards are consistently three weeks late. Get rid of that person, who needs to hear that stuff. Everyone knows a great sales person is the one who can sell what you build: crappy boards that are always late. Keep judging your sales people by how well they can apologize rather than how well they can sell.
  5. Get rid of your reps too. Yeah don’t forget that one after all, what have they done for you lately? So what if they got you that million dollar a year account two years ago, your team is able to handle it now so what do you need them for? Besides, think of all the money you can save if you don’t have to pay them anymore? And by the way why do they need that commission check every month send them the check when you feel like it, let them complain why should you care?
  6. Marketing? Who needs that? I don’t see any evidence of that working, why should I spend any more money on that? If you don’t believe me refer to item #1, If you build it they will come. They’ll find you somehow.
  7. And social media? Why should you get involved in that key’s stuff? It’s just a passing that will go so why should you care about it anyway. Just let it pass you by.
  8. Don’t pay any attention to that performance stuff either. That just doesn’t make any sense at all with the industry average for on time deliver at 83% same as yields what does it matter what your performance is. After all remember your motto, “We’re no worse than anyone else.”

And one more always under promise and over deliver. Or maybe if you really want your company to fail it should be the other way around, but anyway the bonus way to make sure your company fails in 2018 is:

9. To remember that whatever happens it’s not your fault, not at all. Everything would be great if it wasn’t for those darn Chinese, and Canadians and IPC and the US Government and of yes of course everything would be much better if it wasn’t for those darn customers!

There you have it, if you promise to follow all of these special guidelines in the coming year, you too could become one of the twelve hundred American board shops who have failed in the past twenty years.

It’s only common sense

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