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CLASSIC GRAPHICS -- Against the Odds

October 2001
BY CAROLINE MILLER


What do you get when you mix two 23-year-old night shift pressmen, a $15,000 loan, the dream of being your own boss, no sales experience, a little luck and a lot of hard work?


Answer: a $22 million company.

The story of Charlotte, NC-based Classic Graphics might sound a little unorthodox to most, but owners David Pitts and Bill Gardner have never been ones to hold with tradition.

"It was absolute ignorance on our part. We had no idea how hard it would be," remembers Pitts."We were just two pressmen working together at a local printing company. We thought that starting our own print shop would be a good idea," he laughs.

So, in 1983, the partners decided to see if they could bring their dream to fruition. Pitts and Gardner borrowed money from their families, gave notice to their employer and found other jobs to help support themselves until they could get their new company up and running.

"Bill got a job as a gate agent at Piedmont Airlines. I figured I'd get a job at Arby's or something," remarks Pitts.

Instead, Pitts got a call from his former employer, offering him his old job back because his replacement had not worked out. "I think they figured we wouldn't make it, so why lose a pressman over it? They thought I'd learn my lesson and come back," says Pitts, adding, "We are still great friends with that company today."

Pitts went back to work for his employer for the next eight months while they continued to build their own business.

Jumping Right In
What came next was a baptism in fire. The two did not have any sales background, little prepress knowledge and no business management experience. Gardner's skills had come as a result of on-the-job training. Pitts had attended a local vocational college's printing program in Kentucky before moving to Charlotte.

"The extent of my sales experience was selling band candy in high school," Pitts admits. "I knew a little bit about how to make negatives and all of that. So I essentially became in charge of prepress, invoicing, estimating and sales."

Gardner oversaw the manufacturing side of the business and Pitts' grandmother did the books for the company. "The first time I saw a profit/loss statement was when I saw one for Classic Graphics. I had absolutely no financial experience," he reports.

Despite their lack of experience, the two were determined to make their new venture work. "When we only had to work five 12-hour days in a week it felt like we were getting a vacation. In the early years, we usually worked 14- and-16-hour days six or seven days a week. We put in some unbelievable hours because we were doing so much of the work ourselves. But that's why you do it when you are young," Pitts chuckles.
 

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