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Printing Rebirths — Finding True Love Again

January 2008 By Erik Cagle
Senior Editor
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INDUSTRY consolidators exist for a number of reasons, the main being an opportunity to make money by acquiring complementary (geographically or synergistically speaking) printing companies from owners who are looking for an exit to either retirement or another business opportunity.

OK, so that less-than-shocking news doesn’t exactly leave you gagging on your afternoon coffee. But what does raise the eyebrows a bit is the notion that some printers would actually sell their printing business and (gulp) start another. No, not to run a custard stand, but actually embark on a second printing career.

At first blush, this sounds like a questionable move, like divorcing your wife and marrying her sister. Sure, it may strike you as different at first, but before long it will seem very familiar and some of the same issues will cause you more grief.

Ah, but there are some hopeless romantics in the world of printing who have taken the plunge a second time and found the waters to be very comfortable, thank you. We have a pair of examples where tangible differences in the variety of printing provided a fresh perspective and a new lease on a professional life for two industry veterans.

BOB Tursack Jr. found himself at the helm of a well-oiled machine. Tursack Printing, the pride of Morgantown, PA, started by his father in 1959, was humming along at $60 million in annual revenues between the mother ship and its complementary fulfillment and marketing/advertising firms. And truth be known, Tursack had to get away from it.

“I was burned out and ready to leave,” he said of his decision to sell the printing and fulfillment concerns to Consolidated Graphics (CGX). “There was certainly a lot of emotional investment there, but my passion is really in prints. I have a fine arts studio at home and I make copper plate etchings at night for artists and photographers. What I didn’t like was dealing with 300 employees and three divisions.”

After completing the sale to CGX, Tursack remained with the company for a year and benefitted from the tutelage of top executive Joe Davis, who provided insight that would later come in handy. For the time being, Tursack wanted to clear his head and spent 18 months shuttling back and forth between his home and Port-au-Prince, Haiti. It was there that Tursack spent one week per month working with a children’s school.

More and more Tursack gained the realization that he needed to get back to his roots. “(Haiti) was a great experience but, while I was home between trips, I really missed what I did,” he says. “It didn’t take much of a vacation to be relaxed and wanting to get back.”

Little did Tursack know how far back he would travel. It started out small with a fine arts business in his basement, Brilliant Studio, which provided exhibition prints for the likes of painters and photographers. The 4 a.m. nights prompted Tursack to hire one employee, and that freed him to do invitations and catalogs. Brilliant would do the prep work and Tursack would farm out the printing.

“I did not like being a broker at all,” Tursack recalls. “It sounded good. But the thought of putting your career, your money, your clients’ money and your reputation on the line every time you go to another printer—who certainly isn’t going to put into it what you put into it—started keeping me up at night.”

Back by Popular Demand

Instead of taking Ambien, Tursack built a post and beam barn and moved all of his equipment in there, along with a four-color Ryobi DI press. The plan was to do all the invitations and catalogs, along with four-pagers and direct mailers, on the Ryobi while jobbing out only the biggest gigs, since there wouldn’t be many. Within six months, he had two press shifts running.

It didn’t take too long for some of Tursack’s old commercial accounts to get wind of Brilliant’s commercial exploits and offer him the chance to bid on jobs. The temptation was difficult to resist, and at first he was farming out the bids he won. But it only took one phone call, from longtime salesman and friend Harold Hepler, who convinced Tursack to partner on a full-blown commercial shop. Just like that, Brilliant Graphics was born.

Had Tursack forgotten about, or at least glazed over the negative aspects of running a commercial printing operation? No, for this opportunity afforded him the chance to start from scratch and avoid the pitfalls that had turned him away from the business originally.

“All the things I dreamed about doing if I started over again, we got to do,” he says. “We had a greenfield company, so I didn’t have the disadvantage of having a lot of legacy equipment and money tied up in older equipment.”

Tursack built from the ground up using an all-Heidelberg equipment arsenal and an entire JDF/JMF workflow. Finding a single-source provider was the deal maker for him, noting, “There would be no way I’d go back to working with so many different folks.”

Having Hepler as a partner was a huge plus for Tursack, providing a yin and yang counterbalance to go with a 25-year business relationship. Another primary change for Tursack was his approach to personnel and his zero overhead growth mantra.

“At (Tursack Printing) we had such significant growth that our solution to problems was to throw bodies at things,” he says. “Now we really look at systems and make sure a system is being exploited to its fullest capability before we add bodies.”

His Joe Davis experience paid off with Brilliant Graphics. Davis espoused the importance of cost control and provided an education for Tursack, who had spent most of his time monitoring presses, checking on production operations and dealing with customers. This time around, Tursack pays as much attention to the bottom line as he does to the quality of product being created.

Tursack also took great care to foster a productive corporate culture at Brilliant Graphics. “We talk as a company about how to preserve the camaraderie we have, the team spirit, and how to keep it from going away as we grow. That’s a big question without an easy answer.”

Tursack’s advice for ex-printers who are considering getting back in the game? Take your time and be very methodical about starting with a fresh slate. He credits a carefully prepared business plan with getting rapid financing.

Above all else, it seems Tursack is in this business for the love of art, the appreciation for a well-printed piece and the craftsmanship behind it. A great day and a great client, he notes, can more than cover up for 10 bad days.

“People warned me, ‘Don’t come back; you’ll be sorry. You love quality and people don’t care anymore—it’s all about price, price price,’ ” he recalls. “There is more emphasis on price today than there was at the start of the millennium. But, I’ve never heard someone say, ‘I want it cheap and I don’t care what it looks like.’ ”

* * *

AS Grover Daniels saw it, he had two choices when it came to the future of Daniels Printing, the Boston-based firm that had been in his family since 1880. He could either grow the business through acquisition or sell it to another company.

In April of 1999, he opted for the latter, as Daniels Printing was acquired by Merrill Corp. Emotion didn’t play a role in Daniels’ decision, but he wanted to seek out a situation that would allow the company to grow and prosper.

“It was apparent that a combination of external forces were having a direct impact on our ability to run the company the way we were used to running it,” Daniels says. “Those impacts were the commercialization of the Internet, the rapid escalation of publicly traded consolidators in the New England market, and the future (impact) of digital printing on commercial and financial printing.”

Finding the right buyer was important for the sake of the company’s future. Daniels didn’t want to see a “synergistic” buyer lay off employees to reduce cost and profit at the company’s expense. He also pondered moving it to an industry consolidator, but ultimately chose Merrill because the deal represented a strategic move, where the buyer could leverage Daniels Printing’s platform.

“We had almost 400 employees when we sold, and only four people lost their jobs,” Daniels notes. “The company was secure, our employees were safe and our customers were satisfied with Merrill. In fact, my dad stayed on with the company until this day; it was sold again to Millennium Graphics last August.”

Millennium Graphics is a financial-backed printing company with a consolidator’s path toward growth. “It’s interesting how these trends change over time,” Daniels says.

Take Five, Years That Is

At any rate, it seemed unlikely Daniels would return to the industry. He left the company two days after it was sold to Merrill, and the agreement included a whopping five-year noncompete. With printing in the rearview mirror, Daniels took a job in New Hampshire with the world’s largest lobster and snowcrab supplier. While there, he helped the owner buy and sell seafood in Portsmouth, NH, and Greenland. He also started Agency 101, an online marketing and design company.

At the conclusion of his noncompete, Daniels was contacted by a business broker regarding an opportunity to acquire a Boston-based retail business called Copy Cop. What helped speed along the deal was Daniels’ familiarity with Copy Cop owner Michael Gerstein. Through extensive talks with Gerstein and thorough due diligence, a deal was struck.

It was a tough decision for Daniels, as Copy Cop was in need of a turnaround, but also represented a challenge that he relished.

“I determined that retail—the opportunity to have a company that had 4,000 to 5,000 customers doing lots of small orders for short-run color and black-and-white—was the way to go,” Daniels remarks. “Copy Cop was a perfect company that fit the new wave of short-run color, print-on-demand, and Web-to-print needs. Because that trend had started when we sold in ’99, I felt that Copy Cop was well positioned in the Boston market to work with customers and look at services that enable them to save money, increase quality and provide an end-to-end solution, from design to mailing, for short-run color and small format black-and-white.”

Copy Cop has seven retail locations, backed by The Digital Printing Company, located in South Boston. Daniels also launched a consumer driven Web-to-print solution, www.pixxlz.com, for retail printed products. The three interdependent concerns each have their niche, rooted in short-run color and black-and-white printing.

Since Copy Cop represented a turnaround situation, Daniels focused on bringing over the healthy habits that had been developed at Daniels Printing. “At Daniels, we prided ourselves for our technical experience in customer service,” he says. “We’re training and retraining here so these companies can have the same level of competency for technical customer service.”

Daniels also wanted to bring with him the ability to transmit data and network information seamlessly between facilities. He points out that his old company was one of the early adopters of non-proprietary systems to allow information to be transmitted within the organization.

It was quite an experience for Daniels, whose previous printing career saw him at the head of a very successful family operation. Now, instead of playing the caretaker role, he was faced with becoming a savior.

“We’ve turned it around and I’ve proven to myself and to others that I am capable of understanding how to fix something that’s broken in this industry,” Daniels says.

Because Copy Cop has a 24/7 operation, Daniels isn’t afforded the opportunity to enjoy any satisfaction. Or relax.

“What’s really interesting for me is trying to take 25 years of knowledge in the printing industry and apply it to the fastest growing industry segment,” he adds. “I actually get to enjoy the best of both worlds. The time was perfect for me personally. I turned 51 in November and I feel like I’ve got another 20 years in front of me to do what I’m doing right now.” PI
 

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