CLASSIC GRAPHICS — Against the Odds

“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.

Classic Graphics’ first customers were the priest that Gardner was rooming with at the time and Pitts’ grandmother. But other clients soon followed. Gardner quit Piedmont and became Classic’s first full-time employee at a salary of $100 per week. As sales climbed from $65,000 in 1983 to $250,000 in 1984, Pitts joined Gardner in a full-time capacity.

The partners’ belief that their abilities as skilled press operators would ensure their advancement turned out to be correct. “We believed that if we stuck to the concept of high-quality work, coupled with excellent customer service, we’d succeed eventually,” remarks Pitts.

It turned out to be an excellent plan. The pair, who started in a 600-square-foot warehouse behind a convenience store with a Hamada press, a used camera, a paper cutter and $600 in working capital, began adding equipment, employees, square footage and, most importantly, sales.

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