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Fast-Track Firms--Growing Greatness

December 1998
OK, so not everyone can be a Consolidated Graphics—exploding in sales more than 60 percent during 1998 through acquisitions. Then again, could the commercial printing industry really thrive in a sea of Consolidated clones? In an industry that is changing and consolidating, here are some leading printers from the Printing Impressions 500 on the road to riches.


In an industry of giants, an industry that can boast top sales in the billions for the upper echelon and an industry that can compensate top CEOs in the millions of dollars, a commercial printing operation doubling sales from $10 million to $20 million in one year can often get lost.

To applaud the little guys—who, with sales in the multimillion-dollar range, aren't so little—Printing Impressions offers this thumbnail view of a few fast-track printers.

Who they are may surprise you. How they boosted their annual sales so significantly in the span of a year will, no doubt, make for some interesting conversation. Better still, their tips for doing what they did—in some cases taking a tiny printing concern and transforming it into a world-class contender—should prove quite motivational.

Cunningham Graphics International
Jersey City, NJ
Most Recent Fiscal Year Sales: $53.5 million
Previous Year: $24 million
Person Interviewed: Michael Cunningham, president

How did Cunningham grow?
"Over the past five years, we have been growing at a compounded growth rate of 39 percent per year. This growth was enabled, in part, by our decision to vertically integrate our operations, from database management right through intelligent inserting and to specialize in a particular market—all with an emphasis on customer service. We focused on printing and distributing time-sensitive materials and on providing on-demand printing services for the financial services industry.

"In addition, we expanded globally. Many of our clients had international printing requirements. To fill these needs, we formed the World Research Link (WRL). WRL is designed to facilitate the expeditious distribution of time-sensitive printed materials throughout select international markets, 24 hours a day."

Did you invest in new technologies?
"Absolutely. We are constantly reengineering ourselves. We have, and will continue to make, significant investments in a wide variety of technologies. For example, we are going direct-to-plate in all of our facilities. In addition, we just added two Xerox 6180 units and have on order an Océ DemandStream 8080DI twin for our digital output division.

In our pressroom, we just added another fully-automated, six-color Heidelberg Speedmaster. In our bindery, we recently installed a new MBO folder and a brand new Wohlenberg perfect binder with in-line trimming.

"We also just implemented WAM!NET digital file delivery services, which complements our existing FTP and Web-based communication capabilities."

What is your advice to aspiring commercial printing operations of similar size to Cunningham?

"Revisit your company's business plan at least two times per year. The pace at which change is occurring is increasing in our industry at a staggering rate. Try to quantify all aspects of your organization, objectively, with the aim of continual process improvement. Just a few hundred basis points on your gross profit margin can have tremendous impact on your net income."

Los Angeles
Most Recent Fiscal Year Sales: $85.4 million
Previous Year: $70.2 million
Person Interviewed: Christopher Madison, president

How did ColorGraphics grow?
"We attained our success this year thanks to the strong service we give to our customers—customers the likes of Microsoft. This year, we did Microsoft's annual report, which is the fourth largest annual report printed and, perhaps, the most anticipated annual report available.

"Next year, it looks like we'll be at $120 million, based on acquisitions that we made in late 1997 and 1998. Our latest acquisition has been Calsonic Miura, a commercial printing company formerly owned by the Miura Printing Co. of Toyko. Calsonic Miura is based in Irvine, CA.

"The December 1997 acquisition of Grossberg Tyler in Seattle, WA, kicked off our strong growth for 1998. Grossberg Tyler is a general commercial operation, considered one of the highest quality printers in the Pacific Northwest."

Did you invest in new technologies?
"We did not invest in any new technologies this year; in fact, in one of our facilities we actually removed a thermal CTP device. We're holding off on our decision to go total digital CTP. We are studying CTP and, when we feel our digital infrastructure is ready and when we feel CTP technology is ready for us, we'll do what we have to do to remain a strong competitor.

What is your advice to aspiring commercial printing operations of similar size to ColorGraphics?

"Fundamentally, what they are looking for is an opportunity to grow—if they see a strong opportunity, they should take it."

Sovereign Business Forms
Most Recent Fiscal Year Sales: $41 million
Previous Year: $23 million
Person Interviewed: Don Patteson, president

How did Sovereign grow?
"Benny Coffey, vice president of operations, and I formed this company in 1996 with the goal that Sovereign Business Forms would become the premier national wholesale provider of printed business products.

"Today, we can say we are accomplishing our goal by acquiring strong wholesale manufacturers in strategic locations around the country and integrating them to ensure that the same level of product quality and customer service is provided in each plant."

Did you invest in new technologies?
"When we acquire a new manufacturer—we've acquired three companies since 1997—Sovereign invests in additional equipment and personnel in order to broaden or strengthen a new subsidiary's services. Not so much on the technology side as the personnel side, though; in the past 18 months, we have added five sales reps."

What is your advice to aspiring commercial printing operations of similar size to Sovereign?

"A company in the business forms sect must look for profitable wholesale manufacturers with strong management teams interested in becoming a part of their organization. Growth by acquisition is a powerful tool—if managed properly."

The Northwestern Trio

Northwestern Printing, of St. Clair Shores, MI, had a good 1998—capitalizing on its successful 1997 merger with C3 Communications.

In 1998, $28 million in sales—up from $14.5 million—makes Northwestern Printing one of the fastest moving commercial printers in the United States and one of the leading sheetfed operations in Michigan.

"1998 was a dynamic year for investment in new technologies at C3/Northwestern, with software and hardware upgrades occurring frequently," reports Gary Driscoll, CEO.

Northwestern's Driscoll offers these words of wisdom to companies aspiring to grow greatness.

"Provide superior service and support to clients; stay diversified; focus on growth; and constantly evaluate your business in terms of reducing cost while providing exceptional quality," Driscoll states. "Moreover, this means ensuring that these initiatives are employed throughout the entire business—it is incredibly important to stay current with technology and not get left behind by the latest technology revolution."


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