In 2014, Governor Andrew Cuomo increased the MWBE goal to 30 percent, the highest in the nation, a move that Chow deemed “critical” as well. To date, GM Printing has been offered more than ten long-term contracts with government agencies, in addition to many Request for Proposals (RFPs) and Request for Quotations (RFQs).
Despite their success, Chow said MWBEs often face many barriers, including perceptions that they are not capable enough for large jobs. He said many diversity directors at agencies already have a relationship with a particular firm, and are unwilling to change.
He credited both John Liu and Scott Stringer, the former and current city comptroller, for “cracking down” on city agencies that don’t meet the 30 percent goal.
To illustrate his point, Chow shared the story of how he secured his first contract with the Office of Court Administration (OCA), a state agency serving courts from New York City up to Buffalo, to print their annual report. It took GM Printing three tries to get it.
On his first shot, Chow said he applied diligently. He thought hard about what kind of edge his shop might have over the existing vendor, a question he believes every MWBE should ask themselves.
“If you do not have an edge, you are wasting your time,” he said. “Then you have to push it on the proposal.”
Chow attended the pre-bid meeting, learning all of the specifications of the project. He saw who his competitors were, and conducted research on who they were and what kind of equipment they used.
Though he worked hard on the bid, his first attempt fell flat.
The next year, he applied again. Learning from his mistakes the first time around, Chow priced out his bid aggressively. He was beyond happy to learn that his bid was one of the lowest.
Chow recalled waiting at his office for two months, thinking he was going to get the job. But the letter from OCA came back, informing him that he didn’t get the contract because they were still “doubtful” about GM Printing’s capabilities and performance.
Chow then called up the agency and set up an appointment. Upon meeting the diversity director, they exchanged business cards, establishing an initial relationship. Chow saw this as his best chance.
“I knew I had to break through this lock,” he said. “If you’re not able to open it, you’ll never get it through.”
To showcase the type of printing job his company could do, Chow repeatedly sent OCA examples of works he completed, such as recipe books and calendars. He wanted to “open up his mind” about the company’s abilities.
It took three years, but on his third attempt, Chow secured an important contract with a big state agency.
He said MWBEs have to be consistent and determined to win over contracts like the ones GM Printing have secured. It’s even harder for someone like Chow, an immigrant who had built-in challenges.
But he said business owners have to let the agencies know that they’re not only better than competitors, but better than the current vendor.
“Simple as that, but it takes a long time, the consistency,” Chow said. “It’s not one day, it’s a long-term process.”