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Fast-Track Firms--Leaps and Bounds

December 1999
Acquisitions, technology investments and the development of new market niches. Take a look at how Cunningham Graphics Int'l and Nationwide Graphics are employing these and other aggressive measures to grow their companies rapidly.


BY MARIE RANOIA ALONSO


Printing is an industry of giants. Multi-million-dollar organizations, operating billions of dollars worth of collective technologies, employing hundreds of thousands, serving the varied needs of millions of consumers. This is your world. A world of entrepreneurs who realize the importance of customer service, employee recognition and technology investments, as well as the ability to satisfy Wall Street financial analysts.

This is also the world of Michael Cunningham, president and CEO of Cunningham Graphics International, and Carl Norton, chairman and CEO of Nationwide Graphics—two commercial printing organizations that—by virtue of acquisition, investment and marketing—are skyrocketing to new sales levels on the Printing Impressions 500.

Cunningham Graphics and Nationwide Graphics are fast-track firms—consolidators on the road to the top of the commercial printing market.

In the case of Cunningham Graphics, the answer is more than $112 million in annual sales, up from $53.5 million the previous fiscal year. Cunningham Graphics reported $24 million in annual revenues in 1997. For Nationwide Graphics, fast-track contention is generated in about $95 million ways, up from its previous fiscal year sales of $32 million.

Recently, Printing Impressions spoke to Michael Cunningham and Carl Norton, from Cunningham Graphics and Nationwide Graphics, respectively—and candidly.

Nationwide Graphics, Houston
Most Recent Fiscal Year Sales: $95 million
Previous Year: $32 million
Number of Employees: 650
Number of Plants: 9
Year Founded: 1998
Major Markets: General commercial printing. Concentration: As of December 1999, Nationwide Graphics operates a combined 51 sheetfed offset printing presses.

Carl Norton, chairman and CEO, wishes he could report that building a business such as Nationwide Graphics is an easy task, but negotiating deep-pocket financing to cultivate a consolidation machine is far from simple. Norton is not a printer by trade; he is a lawyer. His Nationwide Graphics partner, Vice Chairman and Senior Vice President Jerry Hyde, is a CPA. Still, the two investigated the printing industry thoroughly and, in January 1998, arranged financing to build a consolidation powerhouse of their own.

In March of 1998, Nationwide Graphics bought its first company, a Las Vegas printer. The second acquisition, a Miami-based operation, came in July of that same year. The third buy hit the following September, an Atlanta-based printing operation.

The three companies churned out a combined $32 million in sales for Nationwide Graphics that year. Plus, an added bonus, as Nationwide Graphics acquired its first three organizations, it absorbed the executive-level brainpower of several printing industry veterans—giving Norton and Hyde perhaps the only element yet missing from their consolidation equation: The insider edge.

February 1999 saw the acquisition of two more companies, one in Georgia and one in Miami. One more followed shortly thereafter, in June of 1999, in Austin, TX. In August, two more printers—in Florida and Texas—joined Nationwide Graphics.

How did Norton and Hyde do it?

"It takes a good business plan; we are very particular about the kinds of companies we acquire," Norton states. "Each must be a high-margin business that has been consistently profitable. We are not out on any wild goose chases. The companies must meet specific financial and growth criteria, then they must pass our final test—a meeting with our advisory board of directors."

That is where Nationwide Graphics' insider edge proves invaluable. The advisory board is made up entirely of graphic arts professionals from Nationwide's acquired companies. "They are very in tune, obviously, with what makes a printing company great," Norton says. "Our advisory board can be the toughest critics of any prospect company's best practices protocol. They analyze every detail of a printing company, from its estimating practices to its business model to the business manner of its chief executives."

What's in store for this fast-track firm in the year 2000?

"We have a concept, not unique to the consolidation we're now seeing in the printing industry, to try to get clusters of companies around high-usage areas. As a result, you won't find Nationwide Graphics in Fargo [ND]," Norton states.

You will, however, find Nationwide Graphics in more high-quality printing hubs, offering, as Norton reports, everything from full-scale digital prepress to state-of-the-art fulfillment.

"Integrating our current companies is our prime directive for 2000, with cross-selling being maximized between neighboring companies in the same clusters," says Norton. "For 2000, we will also be exploring the marketing of e-commerce strategies at some of our facilities, as well as adding more presses, more prepress, more telemarketing and more sales personnel in multiple locations. The sky is our limit."

Cunningham Graphics International, Jersey City, NJ
Most Recent Fiscal Year Sales: $112.8 million
Previous Year: $53.5 million
Number of Employees: 1,050
Number of Plants: 15
Year Founded: 1983
Major Markets: Financial printing, general commercial printing, publications and directories. Concentration: Cunningham Graphics operates a total of 64 sheetfed offset presses, 19 web offset presses and 15 digital presses.

Michael Cunningham is an interesting man. Obviously, he sits at the helm of a consolidation powerhouse: Cunningham Graphics, reporting a whopping $112.8 million in fiscal year sales, with 1,050 employees (and growing) and overseeing nearly 100 printing press units. Still, Cunningham takes time out of his day to return a phone call to Printing Impressions to talk about his company, his assessment of Cunningham Graphics as a major consolidator and his plan for its continued maturation.

One wonders how Cunningham has time to return a phone call at all, overseeing operations at his namesake company—which was recently named to Forbes' annual list of "America's 200 Best Small Companies," ranking 44th overall based on ROE, sales, profits and market value. This is the first time Cunningham Graphics made the list.

"We've done a lot this year; we've acquired nine companies, but our commitment to our existing and potential clients has remained our focus," Cunningham states. "Our prime objective is to offer more solutions than any other printing organization to the graphic arts needs of our current and potential customer base."

Meeting graphic arts needs isn't tough for Cunningham Graphics International, which operates with a big commitment to technologies such as direct-to-plate and distribute-and-print, in 15 production facilities worldwide. This year marked a year of investment and upgrade for the consolidator, with new presses from Heidelberg adding to the organization's printing portfolio. "We are constantly re-engineering ourselves, making significant investments in a variety of technologies," Cunningham says of his expanding facilities.

Cunningham Graphics is also investing in its human resources. This year alone, 11 new sales representatives were added to cover the New York metropolitan market. Cunningham Graphics has its sights set on hiring more sales reps throughout the year 2000. The new hires will facilitate the company's overall continued growth in its major markets—particularly in the financial printing segment.

What's in store for 2000?

"We have been implementing our distribute-and-print and overall digital philosophy in each of our subsidiaries, at a very rapid rate," Cunningham reports. "This will continue in 2000. Likewise, you'll see Cunningham Graphics growing in areas of digital asset management and asset storage for our expanding client base. We will also be leveraging more third-shift capacities."

Cunningham also plans to bolster sales staffs throughout its locations, in addition to making more strategic acquisitions. Throughout 2000, Cunningham plans to enter more financial-center cities globally, as well as develop fully vertically integrated companies in each major city. These new sites will offer services ranging from design and digital asset management, to black-and-white and on-demand variable data printing, to high-end, multicolor commercial printing, binding and fulfillment.

Still, where 1999 was a year of M&A activity for Cunningham Graphics, the year 2000, its leader reports, will be a year of integration.

"We anticipate the consolidation of our industry to proceed, but at a much slower pace," Cunningham states. "The time of integration is hitting, so maximizing efficiencies and economies of scale will be our main focal points in the year 2000.
 

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