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November 2006 BY ERIK CAGLE
Senior Editor
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GOVERNMENT CARS came to a screeching halt in front of Geographics’ facility and FBI agents quickly swarmed the building. Two officers were at the front, two covered the back. They pounded on the doors.

Was Geographics owner Norvin Hagan busted during his first week on the job? Though it seemed to be the case, Hagan was innocent.

It was steamy Atlanta, 1976. Apparently the previous owner of the company had been jimmying the postage meter for a number of years, only paying for every fifth or sixth mail piece. But the G Men had gotten wise to his antics. And screwing around with USPS gear guaranteed a lengthy stretch in the federal pen.

“I told my dad that we were out of business,” Hagan recalls. “He responded, ‘That’s got to be a record. I never heard of anyone going out of business in one day.’ ”

There was just a slight mis-understanding. It seems U.S. government intelligence was a little behind (go figure); the FBI was after the former owner of the company before it became Geographics. Hagan had recently purchased the foundering company’s assets from bankruptcy court for a cool $32,000, of which he had plunked down $8,000 in cash.

Justice Prevails

The true criminal was allegedly collared the following day with a suitcase full of cash, waiting for a plane that was bound for South America. He never made that flight, instead facing seven years in the big house.

But Hagan had his own problems. He was now minus his mailing equipment and list, which had been confiscated by federal authorities. Bankruptcy court had no jurisdiction in the matter, but the judge did recommend that Hagan sue the government to get his stuff back.

“Sue the government?” Hagan exclaims. “The $8,000 I put down on the company was all I had.”

The government still has Hagan’s gear. Not that it would’ve done him any good, anyway. Geographics had no credit, and the only thing worse than its customer list was its accounts receivables (Hagan described both as “crummy.”) But this was Atlanta, where the phoenix rose from the ashes after Sherman torched the city. Hagan may have been dealt off-suit under cards, but he was far from folding.

“We’ve got a 52-foot collage of the things that mean Atlanta, to us, on our front wall,” notes Ron Lanio, executive vice president for Geographics. “In the center of it is the phoenix rising from the ashes. We also have a five-foot-tall bronze statue of Mr. Bojangles; we chose him because he was downtrodden, just like our inauspicious start.”

Geographics is no longer down on its luck. Over the course of its now 30-year history, Hagan has built his company into a 200-employee, $50 million a year empire.

Left with an ancient Lum press and a rickety duplicator in 1976, Geographics now churns out half-web, full-web, sheetfed offset and digital printing. It furnishes catalogs, direct mail, corporate brochures and annual reports for Fortune 500 companies, franchisees and distributors. Ancillary offerings include mailing, fulfillment, database management and image bank storage.

Lanio points to Geographics’ wide range of press capabilities. A six-color Komori Lithrone sheetfed press is retrofitted for UV work, and a 10-color Heidelberg Speedmaster 102 perfects five-over-five. The company broke into digital printing earlier in 2006 with the addition of an HP Indigo 5000.

In the web department stars a six-color, 57˝ Goss Sunday 2000 with closed-loop color and register controls. Installed in 2005, the 24-page press gives Geographics more flexibility in handling larger catalogs and direct mail pieces.

Hagan wasn’t afraid to go against the grain when it came to equipping the Sunday 2000. He had noticed many printers had one folder and a 38˝ sheeter on their models.

“My thought was, if you have a 38˝ sheeter, then you’re back to a 16-page press,” he says. “I wanted us to run everything at 55˝ or 57˝. So we installed two fully automated folders on the Sunday press.

“Conventional wisdom says that if you have a second folder sitting there, you may only run it 30 percent of the time, so you’ve got a large investment that’s not being used. From our standpoint, it allows us to run more jobs on that press.”

Continuing Growth

Geographics’ willingness to invest in new technologies is one of the factors behind its 10 percent annual growth rate over the past three years. But it is customer relationships that truly fuel success. Lanio notes that the plant’s clean, attractive environment hooks customers when they walk through the door. And its flexibility, the nimble quality that comes with being privately held, improves response time on customer issues and needs.

“There’s a big difference between a public company that’s run by earnings per share, a quarterly deal, versus a company that is privately owned, well funded and can take more of a long-term view,” Hagan says. “That’s a tremendous advantage for us. Over the last few years, when the market was down, we continued to invest in new equipment. Many companies did not.”

Lanio estimates that 70 percent of the printer’s jobs are customer approved, which means a good deal of client visits for press checks. And since making customers feel at home is critical, Geographics decided to construct three on-site customer apartments. Lanio and Hagan were extremely pleased with the way the accommodations turned out, so they asked one of their customers—The Ritz- Carlton—to assess their efforts.

“We walked them through the facility and they said, ‘Wow, these are really nice, but we’ll tell you some things to add. You’re in the hospitality business now,’ ” Lanio recalls. The two pages of additions, including toothbrushes, robes, washer/dryer and satellite television, have given Geographics the unofficial distinction of having the finest printer customer apartments in North America.

“A couple of months ago, we had a new customer from the Northeast come out of her room in her moose slippers for a press check,” Hagan chuckles, pointing out that clients also call to inquire about apartment availability when they’re coming to town for a Braves baseball game or other event.

Aside from being a five-star hotel of sorts, Geographics has also garnered awards for its printing. It is virtually an annual winner of the Printing Industry Association of Georgia’s “Top Notch” award for garnering the most “Best of Category” awards in the statewide competition. The company has also fared well on the national level, earning 11 awards one year in the PIA/GATF Premier Print Awards.

The Georgia PIA affiliate also bestowed the Benjamin Franklin Award on Hagan for his leadership in the industry and community.

Geographics’ game plan is simple, but effective. Hagan plans to continue investing company profits into new equipment. A high-speed sheetfed press is currently on his wish list.

Hagan has high expectations for the company. He wants to grow the company’s remote sales force and expand its territory beyond the Southeast. A quality assurance team was added in 2006 to conduct quality pulls and check samples with “a fine tooth comb.” And the emphasis on customer relationships will continue to be a primary focus.

“Our goal is to reach $100 million in sales—we want to double Geographics in the next few years,” Hagan reveals. “It’s a pretty daunting task.”

Clearly, the ashes have long since been swept away. PI


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