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DON WALSWORTH III -- Selling Peace of Mind

September 2003
By Erik Cagle

The truth of the matter: Don Walsworth III is not in the printing business. His true line of work is security.

Sure, the 69-year-old Walsworth, a 2003 Printing Impressions/RIT Printing Industry Hall of Fame inductee, has been involved in the family business, Walsworth Publishing, for a majority of its 65 years. And while ink on paper is the final product, the goods that he truly peddles are satisfaction and peace of mind. This is especially important to customers who are, by and large, wet behind the ears.

It's not that the customers are naive. They're high school students who have found themselves in the publishing business for the first, and most likely last, time in their lives. They are members of their high school's yearbook staff, which has an annual turnover near 100 percent. Thus, it falls upon Walsworth Publishing to bring its own educational component to the fray.

"One of the key factors is simplicity. We try to make it as easy as possible for customers to perform whatever they have to do, be it commercial printing or yearbooks," notes Walsworth, the company's president and CEO. "We're not selling printing per se; we're selling security, and that's the philosophy of our company. We have to produce product on time, at the price we quoted and we need to meet the quality expectations of our customers."

Walsworth Publishing is the pride of Marceline, MO, a commercial and yearbook printer that posted sales of approximately $85 million in 2002. The company was started by his father, Don Jr., in 1938 as a vehicle for promoting local theater. His parents staged hometown plays—mother Joy would do the casting and rehearsals while the elder Walsworth sold show bills and advertising for the bills. In addition to the bills, the Walsworths also printed cookbooks compiled by relatives.

A Mover and Shaker

Don Walsworth contributed to the family business as early as his elementary school years. The play bills were produced via a photographic method using paper film, and Walsworth would shake 30 one-gallon jugs of hypo and 15 one-gallon jugs of developer every day.

"Man, did I hate doing that," Walsworth laughs. "But once I got into high school, I worked on making plates and became pretty efficient at that."

The Walsworths found another outlet for selling advertising in the form of yearbooks. In its nascency, the concept of the yearbook consisted of the printer/publisher selling yearbook advertising in the community, then giving the books to the schools free of charge. After a while, Walsworth Publishing removed itself from the advertising component and focused on selling yearbooks to the schools.

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