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The Barnhart Group — Trumpeting Family Business

September 2007 By Erik Cagle
Senior Editor
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WHAT WOULD you give up for a life in the music business? Brent Barnhart unwittingly sacrificed his childhood.

Barnhart, chairman of The Barnhart Group in Canton, OH, wasn’t always in the sheetfed printing business, though the firm has been in his family for more than 80 years. At the age of 8, the now 37-year-old Barnhart—even as a child, an accomplished trumpet player—began touring the world with a sundry of evangelists. For the next 20 years, it was an annual diet of 30 weeks on the road and 100-plus cities.

He quickly spread his wings by cutting an album every other year beginning at the age of 12, and put out nine records in all. At the age of 16, he was a featured soloist with the U.S. Collegiate Wind Band and circled the globe twice. At 17, the veteran musician was a featured guest soloist with the “President’s Own” Marine Corps Band.

While attending Trevecca Nazarene University in Nashville, Barnhart received an invitation to perform on the Grand Ole Opry. For the next five years, he performed alongside some of the biggest names in country, bluegrass and gospel.

After the Opry, it was on to Las Vegas, where Barnhart was executive producer of The Legends of Country Music at the Aladdin Resort & Casino. Armed with a budget of $7 million, he booked acts such as Tim McGraw, Trisha Yearwood, Kenny Rogers, Randy Travis, Tammy Wynette and Waylon Jennings. Barnhart even had the Jordanaires—noted for having sung with Elvis—as his personal backup singers.

Suffice to say, Barnhart packed a wealth of experiences into his scrapbook before most people have figured out what they want to do in life. In fact, he penned his life story, “Joy in the Journey,” at the age of 25. But such a rich life at a tender age cost Barnhart the more mainstream childhood memories.

On the Road Again

“I was never a kid. I was with adults constantly since the time I was 8 years old,” he says. “To this day, my best friends are in their 50s and 60s. In 2050, when I’m 80 years old, I’ll be talking about artists who were famous 120 years before that, like Roy Acuff.

“That’s why I published my life story. I was worried that if I didn’t write it down at the time, I wouldn’t remember it later. Without the documentation, people would think I was nuts, some senile guy.”

About five years ago, Barnhart decided to obtain the company founded by his great-grandfather, Charles Benjamin Barnhart. As a musician, the printing trade appealed to his creative side; as a result, The Barnhart Group has grown in ways the founder could not have imagined.

In addition to printing, the firm specializes in advertising marketing, commercial photography, publishing (its Styles magazine boasts 1.4 million readers annually), writing services and modeling.

Modeling?

“With the photography division and advertising marketing, you’ve got to have something to shoot,” Barnhart explains. “We started working with girls, teaching them how to be print models, and slowly built up a list of models we use. We want to work on developing that division, so (the models) can move on and make a career of it.”

The Barnhart Group consists of four divisions: printing, advertising marketing, publishing and direct mail (called Jetstream). Barnhart Printing consists of a small fleet of Heidelbergs—four- and five-color half-size perfecting presses. Having a single format size provides more versatility, as jobs can be run on any of the machines. It also saves on space from a footprint standpoint.

The printer has a long tradition of providing product labels, from paint, stain and varnish cans to retail and wholesale food labels. It also produces utility bill inserts, along with magazines and catalogs. The company touts the ability to lay out, design, print and then mail with in-line ink-jet addressing.

Incredibly, the company has just 18 full-time employees. Barnhart gets the maximum value out of his force (“we’re small, but mighty”) by offering design-to-destination capabilities. The single-source mantra keeps customers under one roof, and coming back.

“We won’t take a client who just wants the marketing agency to design a Website,” Barnhart says. “We want everything—printing, mailing, Websites, commercial photography. I’m not going to tie up our graphic artists, who are laying out catalogs that generate $70,000 apiece, for a $6,000 Website.”

Most of Barnhart’s capex is currently being aimed at fortifying the photography business, but the company did shell out $225,000 not long ago for a Theisen & Bonitz collator from MBO America. In the fall of 2006, Barnhart went computer-to-plate (CTP) with the acquisition of a four-up Fujifilm thermal Dart 4300S platesetter running Brillia HD thermal plates.

As for the musician in Barnhart, he hasn’t completely packed away his trumpet or given up involvement in the entertainment business. He has a club band that does gigs for fun, but occasionally makes trips with some performers.

Barnhart treasures a collection of more than 4,000 photos of playing onstage with various artists; in recent years the Country Music Hall of Fame purchased more than 600 items from his personal collection.

Barnhart also books acts and negotiates contracts for some music and TV personalities. He is currently managing Donna Douglas, best known for her role as Elly May on “The Beverly Hillbillies.” Douglas does speaking engagements at churches, an occasional TV appearance and autograph/memorabilia shows. Barnhart also has appeared alongside such Hollywood stars as Burt Reynolds and Lee Majors, as well as nearly every living country music personality, pre-1999.

He also dabbles in land development. All of this from someone who retired from touring after 20-plus years in the music business.

“I’ve really lived an amazing life,” he says. “The thing I’ll remember most is the friendships I made with various artists. My friendships with them were based on their individual character, as opposed to how famous they were.” PI
 

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