Gary Cone

Gary Cone • Written August 2018

Gary Cone entered the printing industry immediately after graduation from the University of Washington in 1968. At the same time, he began a career-long involvement in industry associations, often serving in leadership positions.  

In 1977, he partnered with Bill Webber, and later with Bill’s son, Brian. Together, they built Litho Craft into a financially stable stalwart among Puget Sound area printers, with a reputation for quality and personal attention to clients and vendors alike.  

For nearly 20 years, through the 1980s and 1990s, Gary and Bill co-hosted a Valentine’s Day Vendor Appreciation Breakfast, setting a new standard and a high bar for maintaining close relationships with suppliers. They also held a customer “Thank You” Breakfast the day before Thanksgiving each year. This built a unique bond between Litho Craft and its customers as well as among the customers themselves, who returned year-after-year.

During those years, Gary focused on outside sales, particularly to graphic designers and advertising agencies. He built many long-lasting partnerships with the area’s top firms through regular weekly drop-bys at their offices. His unique sales approach was based on dealing directly with the decision maker, closing before the price was quoted and understanding that the customers were making their buying decisions emotionally, and then justifying them intellectually. 

The word “price” was not a part of Gary’s sales vocabulary; he would quote price when asked, but always treated it simply as a step to reach the end results the customer desired. It was never the  focus. And he always personally returned every phone call, email and inquiry without delay—as he does to this day. 

At the request of magazine editors, Gary contributed many articles to trade publications, all centered around sales, marketing and the attitudes toward pricing in the printing industry.  He is the author of two books, Price Doesn’t Count—Getting Customers to Want to Buy from You, and Why Marketing? Building Momentum to Profit.  The Price Doesn’t Count book became a standard “sales manual” in the printing industry, and its influence has spread to many totally unrelated business sectors. 

With his career-long involvement in the printing industry, Gary has been invited to speak or present at more than 50 regional and national trade association conferences throughout the U.S. He also has been the recipient of numerous honors and awards, including the PPI Ben Franklin Award, induction into the Idealliance Soderstrom Society for outstanding contributions to the print industry and the Independent Printers Worldwide “Mentor” Award.

At home on Mercer Island, Gary is out in the yard and garden nearly every day during the Spring and Summer, planting, pruning and fine-tuning.  An annual highlight is a family trip to Palm Desert every February  with his wife, three daughters and son, and six grandkids, all taking full advantage of the warmer weather and resort activities.


I was raised in a family that owned a printing company.  Letterpress was as common as lithography, and there were still a number of typesetting companies in town that provided handset metal type, or “Linotype.” I learned all aspects of the business. When I started my own career in printing, offset lithography was the dominate method, and my interest was in marketing and selling. My simple differentiation between those two activities is very unpretentious: Marketing attracts the prospect to my service/product; Selling is completing the actual transaction. At the same time, I always had a particular bent toward the economics and pricing of printing. After 50 years in the industry, my philosophy, attitude and approach have not changed: “Price” is not the driving factor behind long-term successful marketing or selling of a custom-produced service or product, particularly printing. I have prepared and handed-out thousands of price quotes, and, when specifically asked, played the game of “matching” another price.  What counted the most, however, to the prospects who became loyal repeat customers, was not price. It was me.

A lot of people disagree with me on my sales and marketing perspective. I often hear, “Customers ask for price—if that part of the equation is removed, how do you sell?” In a nutshell, (a very small nutshell), here is what I have learned to focus on:

  • Talk to the Decision Maker. Always. There is very little long-term gain from talking to anyone other than the person actually responsible for accepting or not accepting the proposal or solutions I am offering. And by saying “talking to” I mean actually “talking to.” Email, voice-mail, letters or cards are no substitute for in-person, one-on-one communication.
  • The most effective selling is before the price is quoted. My goal is for the prospect to want to buy from me. A decision made to buy from me based on price alone, is not the foundation for an ongoing relationship.
  • Buying decisions are made emotionally, then justified intellectually. That’s how all of us make decisions. We make them emotionally—I am attracted to the color of that product, or “the feeling” I anticipate receiving from that product or service—and then, regardless of how that price may compare one way or another, I will find away to justify the purchase of “what I want.”
  • It is never “Apples-to-Apples.” Anytime a customer tells me they want to compare apples-to-apples, they are telling me that I have not differentiated myself in any way whatsoever from anyone else or from any other service or product.  If I am told I am not making a sale due to price, it is up to me to realize that “price” is an excuse for not buying from me, it is not the reason. 
  • Know the results the customer is looking for, the results I am looking for, and how those results will be measured. Without this knowledge, I am constantly guessing or making assumptions, which is a big gamble as to whether things will end well. I need to know the desired results to offer a true solution. 
  • Never leave without a clear future.  There is a subtle difference between leaving any type of sales situation with a clear future or without. There is, however, a very sharp difference in the results that I can expect. And I have found that comments from a customer such as, “Give me a quote,” or “Check back with me in a couple weeks,” or “I’ll think it over,” are not a clear future.

Reflecting back, and looking at the printing industry now, what most people take for granted today was not even in our foresight 50, 35 or even 20 years ago. While new developments were on the distant horizon, the breadth and speed of change that ensued in the subsequent years became “mind boggling” to many industry veterans and, at the same time, “mind-opening” to those, like myself, enchanted by these unforeseen methods of communication. Every day, or every month, and particularly every year requires a fresh approach.

Most important of all, I try to strike a balance between life and work, home and hobbies, adult activities and kids’ activities.