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2010 Hall of Fame: Ed Garvey - All the Right Moves

September 2010 By Erik Cagle
Senior Editor
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There are those people who look at the successful innovations of the past 10 to 15 years—many of them Internet related—and snap their fingers wistfully. Simple concepts, one and all, yet precious few people have the prescient confidence and stomach to follow through on them.

Well, the printing industry has long demanded that its members invest in a crystal ball, or become mind readers/prognosticators, in order to remain viable over a long period of time. Sure, only a few people are able to hit upon the next big thing and earn a king's ransom in the process. But many printers have guessed/speculated/prognosticated incorrectly when it comes to selecting the technologies that will benefit their customers, and themselves, in the long run. And, their king's ransom turned into a bankruptcy sale.

But, for those who follow technology closely, stay in-tune with their customers' needs and correctly gauge the market(s) course, there's the opportunity to live to see another quarterly report.

Ed Garvey hasn't squeaked through with Forrest Gump-ish fortune floating on the whims of a wind-blown feather. The president and CEO of Niles, IL-based The Garvey Group—fresh out of college in 1978—took the helm of his family-owned business following the sudden death of his father, and has transformed it from a $1.2 million business forms provider with about a dozen employees to a $40 million performer employing 175 people in four locations.

Garvey has developed a knack for making all of the right calls and folding his hand when necessary, making him printing's equivalent of poker pro Johnny Chan. It's also earned the suburban Chicago native a spot in the 2010 Printing Impressions/RIT Printing Industry Hall of Fame.

"It's important to realize the fact that things are going to change constantly," notes Garvey. "You have to get in early enough on new business opportunities so that the changes you make can meet the demand that exists in the market. If you end up being late, then you're playing catch up and have lost the opportunity to gain market share. And, once you've made up your mind on which direction to take, then maintain the focus and determination to say, 'I'm going to take this path, because it's the right path to follow.' "

Path to Prosperity

Garvey's path began in Westchester, IL, where he went to parochial school and enjoyed playing sports. Printing had always been woven into the fabric of Garvey's existence, since his grandfather had started the family business back in 1919. But, even through Garvey's childhood, the company remained very small, without many more than 20 employees. His dad was "chief cook and bottle washer," tending to sales and operations, not to mention everything in between.

Garvey earned a degree in business management from the University of Notre Dame in 1978 where, as a freshman, he watched the infamous "Rudy" game in person, then came to work with his father at what was then called Ed. Garvey & Co. Within a year, his father passed away, thrusting Garvey into the driver's seat, ready or not.

"From a business learning perspective, I possessed the skills to do his job," Garvey recalls. "What I lacked were the personal skills and the background in the industry. But I already knew a lot of the people and felt somewhat comfortable with the environment."

Garvey rose to the occasion and has etched his fingerprints on the business in a profound and meaningful way. Perhaps the most striking evolution of the former Ed. Garvey & Co. has been in the last 10 years, when the firm exited the business forms and direct mail markets, while acquiring a number of companies that provided new capabilities. Garvey felt that business forms represented a mature, receding market. Direct mail, which the company was adept at producing, just wasn't a good fit and was too small a nut, in Garvey's estimate. Using the proceeds of the sale of his direct mail operations in Niles, IL, he obtained a trio of large-format KBA sheetfed offset presses.

Garvey embarked on a five-year M&A binge beginning in 1999. He acquired Milwaukee-area commercial printer Tru Line Lithographing, C-Graphic and Global Fulfillment Services in 1999, which enhanced The Garvey Group's printing, warehousing, distribution and e-commerce tools. United General Graphics and SOS Forms Plus followed in 2001, and Axios in 2003, bringing along kitting, fulfillment, package printing and point-of-purchase (POP) capabilities.

Today, The Garvey Group is sliced into four units: Niles, IL (POP and package printing); Milwaukee (40˝ commercial work); Oak Creek, WI (kitting, fulfillment and distribution); and Sturtevant, WI (long-run commercial jobs).

"Each of the companies we acquired had customers who could really benefit from our added capabilities, and our existing clients also benefitted from the new services that the acquired companies provided," Garvey notes.

Glenn Barton, senior vice president of the west region for Unisource, describes Garvey as a man of honesty, integrity and high moral values, and someone who freely shares information. In terms of business acumen, Barton feels Garvey is at the top of his game.

"Ed's got great vision, and I really commend him for reinventing his business in Chicago to recognize an opportunity in large format," Barton notes. "He did the research and had the foresight to re-engineer his company and go after that opportunity."

Bittersweet Success

The Garvey Group began to soar in annual sales following the acquisitions, climbing to a peak of more than $53 million in 2008. But, that was perhaps the toughest year for Ed Garvey to endure since the death of his father. His wife, Denise, became ill and passed away.

Later in the year, it became apparent that the economy was free-falling headlong into an epic slump, which would forever alter print volumes and orders. Garvey would rely on the strength of his family and his employees to pull through the twin ordeals.

Denise Garvey wasn't just his wife and best friend, she was also a role model to him. "Her analytical skills were remarkable. She was a lawyer and extremely bright," he says. "You need analytical skills in business, and she taught me how to stay focused and on task. Yet, Denise did it all with a great sense of humor and kept a strong sense of self. She taught me a lot of life skills."

Steve Korn, director of national and key accounts for KBA North America, views Garvey as a "good and honest man," much of which he attributes to the way Garvey was raised. "He's the type of person that when somebody mentions Ed's name, a big smile comes from within," Korn relates. "Ed's employees also love him. If you walk through any of the plants with Ed, the workers are genuinely excited to see the guy."

Away from the office, Garvey enjoys spending time with his daughters—Meaghan, Sarah and Caitlin—playing golf in warm weather and racquetball during the winter months. "I like golf mainly because of the people that I'm playing it with," he says. "It's an excuse to spend time with friends." PI


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The graphic communications industry is facing some very serious challenges, but that doesn't mean there isn't still a lot of life and opportunity in our future. 

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Topics include: 
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• Key practices of SuperPrinters
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• A ten-step process to survive and thrive Competing for Print’s Thriving Future

The graphic communications industry is facing some very serious challenges, but that doesn't mean there isn't still a lot of life and opportunity in our future. “Competing for Print's Thriving Future” focuses on how printers can create their own positive future by understanding and taking advantage of the  changes that...




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