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A Master Salesman

November 1999 By Marie Ranoia Alonso
Todd Abrams created Empire Graphics in 1991. He sold it in 1999. In the intervening years, Abrams turned a small printing brokerage firm into one New York printer slick enough to catch the eye of industry consolidator, Integrated Graphics.

Empire, growing to 75 employees over its eight-year existence, skyrocketed to become one of INC. Magazine's "Fastest Growing Companies" for two years straight.

Empire also snared the "Growth Company of the Year Award" for 1998 given by the New York City Chamber of Commerce.

So very attractive was Empire Graphics as a printing commodity that, in February of this year, Empire became a part of the Integrated Graphics group of printing companies.

What's Abrams' secret?

Why did he sell his company—what were the compelling reasons behind this well-recognized New York entrepreneur's decision to point his company in an Integrated Graphics direction? And how did Abrams build his company so fast, so successfully? Was it management style, or a commitment to investing in the latest digital technologies? Was it a smart sales staff, or a particularly talented pressroom?

Recently, Abrams met with Printing Impressions. The purpose: Share the wealth—rather, share the knowledge.

Intensely approachable, Abrams clued Printing Impressions in on how he orchestrated Empire Graphics' accent. He also shared his views on investing in digital technologies, marketing business capabilities and positioning for greater territories, the likes of Integrated Graphics.

PI: When you started Empire Graphics, what were your objectives? What was the company like the first year?

Abrams: We wanted to take an opportunity and grow with it. After five years, we were presented with the ability to buy an existing trade operation in the heart of the "new communications" district. Our objectives were to change the workflow to a more direct sales approach and attract new salespeople, production people and clients. We also wanted to maintain the strong relationships we had developed throughout the trade. The first year I started the company, the entire operation was in a room that was barely big enough to hold a desk, phone and fax machine, with $20,000 in the bank and lots of ideas on how to be a successful print broker.

PI: As the company grew from a print brokerage firm to a digital prepress provider and a printer itself, what digital technologies did you invest in? Also, what is your opinion of digital investments—and marketing those investments to your customer base?

Abrams: Over the years (obviously moving out of that one-room start), we invested in a new prep and prepress department, which included desktop scanning, high-end drum scanning, full Mac workstations, PC workstations, and the latest in retouching and imposition software tools. We invested in digital prepress hardware from Screen (USA).

Marketing our services was easy because the reason for the investment was to fulfill an existing need from our customers. They felt comfortable coming to the prep department, and often we would sit them down at the Mac and have them work with our prepress people directly. Talk about hands-on. We believe open communication with the client is critical. The client must feel like he or she is a welcome part of the print production team.

PI: Speaking of the client, how did you grow Empire Graphics from eight customers the first year to 200 customer by 1999? What is your management secret for promoting your cause?

Abrams: In 1995, we created a new identity, look and series of promotional brochures and related promotional items.We also took advantage of the need for a customer-friendly printing plant in the SOHO area of New York. Clients wanted to be able to go to a printer quickly, check their job and get back to work.

Most of our clients walk or cab their way to our offices. Some even roller blade or skateboard to us, although not the corporate types. We have a very open approach to the customer—we work in a consultative way. We always want to show how something can be done, as opposed to listing all the difficulties about how it can't be done.

PI: After all that work to promote your company, why sell it to Integrated Graphics?

Abrams: Integrated Graphics offered a unique extension to our original ideas and dreams. Integrated Graphics is helping grow and build the Empire facility in Manhattan as we speak, with new state-of-the-art equipment and staffing. This would have taken much longer without them. With many New York printing firms of all sizes vacating Manhattan, building up our operation there affords us a unique opportunity going into the new millennium. Integrated Graphics also created a unique network that we are now a part of, a network that enables all our salespeople to sell into the other Integrated Graphics plants. That puts us in a wonderful competitive situation and enables us to sell and market services we usually would not sell and market. The Integrated Graphics executives also represent many generations of printing and management experience that we counsel with frequently.

PI: Is there any advice you can give to our readers? Any tips on how to grow a printing business and how to market not only the capabilities of the business to existing and new clients—but market the business itself, in this age of consolidation?

Abrams: The key to success is to keep your eyes open—but stay on your toes. There are many companies that just want to buy sales. That's an old-fashioned way to do business. I would recommend to any business owner that the need to create strategic alliances with companies that possess vision, resources and an eagerness to try new things is essential.

The printers that succeed in the future will be the ones for which printing is the means—not the ends—and is part of a strong communications solution for the client.

*********

Todd Abrams' comfortable, open approach to networking with the customer, coupled with his enthusiasm for pushing promotional materials and investing in digital prepress, has made him (and his once-small, one-room print brokerage firm) a true Cinderella story.

Integrated Graphics noticed Empire Graphics. A glass slipper was offered. And Empire, strengthened by Integrated's financial integrity, is on its way to new levels of prepress and print production success.

Looks like going to the ball worked out well for Empire Graphics—from eight to 200 clients in less than 10 years, and now aligned with a major commercial printing force.

In a recent interview with Printing Impressions, Peter Faucetta Sr., chairman and CEO of Integrated Graphics, reported his firm is looking at companies with at least $10 million to $20 million in revenues, which will complement Integrated's existing network by either increasing capacity or providing additional graphic services. For the New York-based giant, smaller commercial printers poised to fortify Integrated's already established presence in key regions are in demand.

Makes one ponder the limitless opportunities that still exist for the small, but mighty, printer that knows how to grow, sell and strengthen its services. Perhaps the executive reading this article is part of a business that's an undiscovered commodity for Integrated Graphics, the next small success story—perhaps a sleeping beauty.
 

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