Ambrose Printing : Meaningful Enough to PrintAugust 2011
Change is inevitable, and to be a commercial printer is to know this is a fact of life. To be in any manufacturing sector, for that matter, is to be all too aware of how technology can take a time-tested production process and snuff it out.
In the movie "Field of Dreams," actor James Earl Jones famously delivered the "people will come" speech about how baseball has survived the passage of time and our country's constant reinvention. "America," he declared, "has rolled by like an army of steamrollers. It's been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt and erased again."
Well, baseball might have emerged from the generations largely intact and original, but the printing industry has endured more style changes than Madonna. Take a look at the historical profiles of any printing company that has been around more than 100 years, and you'll note the massive shifts in markets and products. Printing gets pushed around and dismissed as mature technology, but it trudges forward. Market segments die like endangered species, only to be replaced by new print products.
Why? What is the fascination with ink on paper? What could possibly be romantic about clutching print? There's no warm-n-fuzzies; try to show paper affection, and you'll end up with a painful, nagging cut. So why won't it just die?
John Ambrose offers an observation that seems intuitively true. He is the president of Ambrose Printing, the fourth generation in his family to guide this 145-year-old Nashville, TN-based commercial printer serving the religious, collegiate sports and retail point-of-purchase/point-of-sale (POP/POS) sectors. The company was founded in 1865 and acquired by Ambrose's great-grandfather—who provided printed products for the railroad—in 1880.
Religious publishing and related items—church bulletins, catalogs and kitting—represent a lion's share of the work produced at Ambrose Printing. For the past 30-plus years, the company has enjoyed a close and fruitful relationship with one of the country's largest religious publishers.
"We feel it is a pretty stable market; we put a lot of stock into it," Ambrose says of the religious sector. "People will always seek spiritual guidance, in good times and bad. And man will always be on a quest to learn about God."
While the market may never go away, it does seem to be insulated, to a degree, from the threat of a wholesale shift to online dissemination. Can it be that the congregational nature of religious groups calls for portable, tangible literature and educational documents? Ambrose himself offers a printing epiphany.