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COURIER CORP. -- Textbook Example

October 2003
By Erik Cagle
Senior Editor

Although the company itself is 179 years old, Courier Corp. has the vitality of a teenager.

The North Chelmsford, MA-based book printer found the fountain of youth courtesy of a comprehensive strategic planning process that began in 1990 and provided Courier with a sleek, sexy and, most of all, fiscally lucrative overhaul. The publicly held printer shed a number of markets, and the company that once published newspapers and dabbled in commercial work narrowed its focus to three book manufacturing segments—education, religious and specialty trade.

The results have been outstanding. Through the first nine months of 2003, Courier has enjoyed its finest third quarter and three quarter performance in its history. Nine month sales stood at $148.5 million, on the heels of a four-year, $50 million capital investment initiative culminating with the 2002 launch of its FastPath Web-based front end tool and the fiscal 2004 first quarter installation of a four-color MAN Roland Lithoman IV web press at its Kendallville, IN, facility.

Pictured are the Courier Corp. executive team of (seated, from left) Peter Conway, vice president of sales; James Conway III, chairman and CEO; and Gary Gluckow, president, Book-mart Press. Standing (from left) are Stephen Franzino, vice president of technology; and Peter Tobin, executive vice president.
A pair of Massachusetts-based manufacturing plants, in Stoughton and Westford, complements Kendallville. National Publishing of Philadelphia adds a lightweight paper printing and binding component to go with Book-mart Press, a short- to medium-run book printer in North Bergen, NJ. Dover Publications, a former Courier publishing client for more than 50 years, was acquired three years ago to add yet another facet to the company's arsenal.

"For the last 10 to 15 years, our goal has been to become the top service provider in the industry," notes James F. Conway III, chairman and CEO of Courier Corp. "We've worked hard to speed up the manufacturing process so that our customers get their product efficiently. Our job is to help our clients be successful and, should they have any last-minute changes or product quantity shifts, to be responsive to those needs.

"One of our greatest advantages is that we're solely focused on three major book markets," Conway adds. "All we do is books, not periodicals or commercial work. Our publishing clients really appreciate that strong market focus."

The introduction of FastPath last year underscored the company's dedication to dramatically reducing product turnaround times via a streamlined, problem-sleuthing Web tool for file transfers. Its three components—Status Check, File Check and Proof Check—have removed an abundance of front-end headaches for the publisher and made product delivery easier for the printer, according to Steve Franzino, vice president of technology.

Keeping Posted

Status Check is an online job status reporting system and inventory management tool. Clients can use their Web browser to access their job status across the Courier manufacturing platform. A search and sort capability provides the most updated information, including inventory levels in the formats they desire.

"Many of today's newer print buyers want to monitor the status of their jobs via the Web," explains Franzino. "They want to access information online, which helps them get through the manufacturing process."

File Check is an online, inter-active preflight validation tool that ensures file compliance by matching files against Courier's "Right From the Start" manufacturing specifications publication. Customers get immediate feedback on whether each file has passed or failed. If it has failed, it provides the client with the corrective measures for compliance. "In the past, the front end was always a bit leaky as far as compliance goes," Franzino admits.

"In some ways, we're one step removed from the people who created the files. We sell to print buyers, but production manufacturing personnel at the publisher send the content to compositors. They work with the publisher, but the compositor actually sends us the files. So we wanted to put the tool directly in the compositor's hands."

File Check produces an inspection report that streamlines the process and facilitates publisher initiatives, including soft proofing and no-proofing workflows. "If you're going to take those leaps into soft proofing and no proofing, you really want to make sure those files are knuckled down and spec'd properly," Franzino advises.

The third component, Proof Check, is slated to go live this month. This system allows customers to link directly and upload files into Courier's Creo Prinergy front end, to proof pages and to conduct interactive, remote "markup sessions" with anyone linked into the system across the country. The Web-based proofing environment facilitates Courier's philosophy of interconnecting people and processes.

Franzino is also proud of the fact that Courier is embracing the technological revolution through its direct involvement with the computer-integrated manufacturing (CIM) concept in tandem with the R&E Council and the Digital Smart Factory. "All of the new equipment that we install today is computerized, and it's our goal to produce dynamic job tickets that populate the systems and provide a lot of presets," Franzino says.

Pictured from the left, Lead Pressman Bruce Palmer, Pressroom Supervisor Steve Richardson and Plant Manager Sybella Wilder form their strategy for a print job.
The addition of the Lithoman IV is another link in the chain toward a CIM workflow. The new press, which produces 48-page signatures from a single web, speaks to the growing market demand for four-color textbooks.

That demand comes from a volatile education market. The higher education business has been brisk for Courier, fueling its eight percent growth over 2002. On the other hand, the elementary-high school (el-hi) segment—dependent upon state funding—has been somewhat depressed, according to Peter Tobin, executive vice president. Even with the federal push from President Bush's "No Child Left Behind Act," states find themselves running on a deficit. Consequently, large adoption states such as California, Texas and Florida are delaying their decisions to purchase new educational materials.

The specialty trade segment has performed splendidly for Courier, with sales up more than 10 percent over the prior year, according to Tobin. Call it the "When Harry Met Hillary" syndrome—the fallout from massive best sellers from the Harry Potter franchise and the former First Lady, Hillary Clinton, helped stimulate the recent momentum in the U.S. trade market following a sluggish first half of 2003.

"Last year, publishers were still reeling from lighter demand and the impact of 9/11," Tobin says. "This year, publishers have allowed their inventories to build up a little more. There have been more titles and we've also seen reprint activity pick up."

Backlist titles have enjoyed an infusion from the rebirth of Oprah Winfrey's book club. For example, John Steinbeck's "East of Eden," published 55 years ago, received the kiss of life when Winfrey promoted it during the club's triumphant return. "The backlist fuels a publisher's profits and sales, which is nice to see," he comments.

The religious sector is off a tick from 2002 levels as publishers become more selective in their titles, according to Tobin, who envisions 2004 to mirror its predecessor year. "Trade will continue to hold its own and, if the economy gets stronger, trade gets stronger," he says.

"Higher ed continues to be healthy because enrollments are high. There are a lot of new titles and new publishing programs that are going into place. Demand continues to be strong for textbooks. Next year is not a major year for el-hi adoptions. Obviously, this area is highly dependent on a strong economy. But I think 2004 will be the same as 2003 for the el-hi and religion segments."

Big Acquisitions

Taking a closer look is Rob Chilton, plant manager for National Publishing.
Courier acquired National Publishing in 1975. According to National Chairman George Nichols, aggressive investments in a new Timsons web press and automated binding equipment have expanded its scope beyond lightweight paper printing.

"Courier is an organization that strives to find the best spots for a customer's product, and then services the daylights out of them," Nichols says. "Obviously, quality is a given and prices have to be competitive, and that is something we can address. But the keys, from my viewpoint, are all about being flexible, providing on-time delivery and partnering with customers.

"We've been a little more resistant to the recession because we only manufacture books," Nichols adds. "Magazine printing, for example, is dependent upon advertising revenues. Some of our competitors are major players in other market segments, some of which have been hit the hardest."

Courier has also reaped the benefits of a strong, complementary relationship with Book-mart Press, which it acquired in 1997. Founded by current President Gary Gluckow and his father, Seymour, Book-mart Press engenders an altruistic love of its trade, developed by its founders and fostered by Courier. Gluckow and his wife, Michelle (also Book-mart's executive vice president), are driven by their affinity for the printed word and have remained with the Courier team due in large part to their shared philosophy in areas such as company culture.

"You can't find very many people who have sold their businesses and, seven years later, are still with the company," Gary Gluckow stresses. "We opted for Courier because the company cultures are the same—we're both very customer service and employee oriented. Turnover at Book-mart is extremely low. Many workers have been here for more than 20 years, and it's the same at Courier. It's like a family business and Jim Conway sets the tone for the whole company. He's so dynamic and energetic; everyone loves working for him."

In the past two years, Book-mart has added a Kolbus casing-in line for case-bound book production, along with a state-of-the-art Kolbus perfect binder. Capping the capital investments is a four-color Heidelberg cover press.

"Morale in the plant is terrific because the employees get to work on the latest new equipment," Gluckow states. "When the new cover press was installed, the excitement throughout the plant was unimaginable. Our makereadies are probably 75 percent faster now. The same holds true for the bindery equipment that we installed. Our turnaround time is faster than ever before."

Diana Sawyer, vice president of human resources and a 16-year veteran of Courier, notes that despite a relatively large work force of 1,450 employees, the company still maintains a family-oriented atmosphere. In fact, the company has been named a "Best Workplace in America," award recipient by the Printing Industries of America (PIA) for the past three years—and a "Best of the Best" recipient the past two years.

An intensive training program has bolstered employee retention over the past four years, with the help of the web offset training curriculum from the Graphic Arts Technical Foundation (GATF).

"Not only has this helped increase worker skill levels and expertise, it has enabled employees to establish career paths," she notes. "The total training hours average 14 hours per year for each employee. This shows the ongoing commitment we have at Courier toward training."

Employee safety has also been a top priority, Sawyer notes, with an emphasis on ergonomics. In 2003, the printer established specialized focus teams to conduct job safety analysis. Courier has dedicated $800,000 in 2003 toward lifting devices and safety-related equipment alone, reaffirming its commitment to the ink-on-paper business.

The emergence of alternative media has actually bolstered growth in book printing, according to Conway, as opposed to scavenging product potential. He notes that there are more titles in print than ever before, with the total number doubling between 1990 and 2000. And, despite consolidation in the later half of the 1990s, the number of book publishers has also doubled.

"We see alternative media as actually prompting people to read more, and to be more inquisitive about different and unique topics," he says. "Instead of thinking about new ways and other products we might get involved in, our drive is to make print more competitive and to add services that will allow books to get to the marketplace even faster."

Staying the Course

"We have a good business model, we have chosen the right markets, we continue to sharpen our service offerings and we continue to invest in new equipment that makes us competitive," Conway adds. "We're going to stick to that model. We'll continue to demonstrate our focus as a company that publishers can rely on to deliver books in a prompt, efficient manner."

Courier has survived and thrived in a lackluster economy by developing even stronger relationships with its clientele, according to Tobin, and getting to know the challenges and needs of each customer. The addition of Dover Publications has been a profitable, and educational, venture for Courier, giving the printer the unique vantage point of looking at the business through the customer's eyes.

"In a time when the economy is tight, publishers are managing their inventories closely," Tobin adds. "They don't want to get stuck with inventory that won't sell, so they're making decisions on what to reprint at the last possible moment. Having Dover in-house, and watching it manage its inventory, has given us a greater appreciation for the challenges that other publishers face. We've also learned a lot about product development."

After 179 years in business—with some decades-old customer relationships—Courier Corp. is mindful of the success that has brought it to where it is today.

"It's evolution, not revolution," Tobin remarks. "We have to stay abreast of any shifts that our customers may experience. We have to continue to be in front of them all the time, and continue to invest in new technology. If we watch our business, we'll continue to be profitable."
 

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