Printing Impressions/RIT Printing Industry Hall of Fame Welcomes Curt Kreisler
Curt Kreisler points to two major formative experiences in a career path that has culminated in his being chosen as a Printing Impressions/RIT Printing Industry Hall of Fame inductee for 2017.
One was a personal epiphany that every aspiring printer would benefit from having. The other was the kind of production catastrophe that no printer ever wants to think about, let alone be forced to confront.
Both experiences had equally important lessons to teach Kreisler, the owner and president of Gold Star Printers in North Miami Beach, Fla., and the current chairman of Printing Industries of America (PIA). But, let’s begin with the epiphanic episode and save the catastrophic one for a bit later.
The year was 1987, and Kreisler, at 25, was about a year away from acquiring full ownership of the family printing business where he’d been working since his teens. He was attending his first meeting of Printing Industries of South Florida, a local trade association, and it was at this gathering of peers that the light of his professional life came on.
“I said, ‘This is it,’” he recalls. “That’s when I knew that I wanted to buy the business and be in the industry for the rest of my life.” Nearly 30 years later, he’s as thrilled as he was then and is still exactly where he intends to remain.
Today Gold Star Printers operates out of three locations in Miami-Dade County and Fort Lauderdale, employing 34 people and generating about $7 million in annual sales. It’s a highly successful business even though Kreisler tends to be a bit self-deprecating about what he’s achieved.
“I define myself as an overgrown quick printer,” he says. What this means is that Kreisler has resisted the temptation to print in formats larger than 29˝: the kinds of full-size sheetfed and web work he considers too commoditized to yield the profit margins he has grown used to enjoying.
Avoiding the Commodity Trap
Nor does he believe in taking on jobs just because other printers are going after them. Case in point: cruise line printing — a staple of the printing business in South Florida, but incompatible with Gold Star Printers’ high-margin business model.
Kreisler has been steadfast about this from the beginning. After he bought the company, established in 1972, from family members in 1988, he went on to sell about $150,000 worth of printing in its first year of operation. This wasn’t a staggering amount of revenue, but the bottom line from it exceeded 25% - far higher than the industry average then or now.
According to Kreisler, sticking to “more boutique-y printing” and enveloping clients in unlimited customer service have enabled Gold Star Printers to maintain this strong level of profitability. “We’re without question a profit leader” as measured by the well-known yardstick of the PIA Dynamic Ratios, he says.
As profit-centric as his approach tends to be, Kreisler’s affinity for printing goes beyond business objectives. It’s something he grew up with and eventually realized he could make the center of the kind of life he dreamed of — a life that balances hard work and personal goals pursued with equal passion.
Born in Manhasset, N.Y., in 1961, Kreisler grew up there and later in Florida after the launch of the family printing business in the Sunshine State. He became its part-time employee as a high school student, gradually learning to carry out all of the simple and complicated tasks that make a print shop run and grow. This is still essentially what he does as the owner and person in charge, although his days of sweeping the shop floor are long behind him.
“I’ve been working in the industry almost every day since 1979,” says Kreisler, who continued tending the shop while a student at Florida Atlantic University.
It’s All About Relationships
Printers didn’t have websites at that time, but forming in his mind even then was the bedrock principle of management that’s enunciated at Gold Star Printers’ online company information page today: “We learned a long time ago that we’re really in the business of building relationships.”
What this means in practice, Kreisler explains, is that “we never look for jobs - we always look for clients.” These tend to be medium to “small-large” businesses that need turnkey customer service: companies that may have marketing departments to specify what they want, but no purchasing departments to oversee the sourcing.
A commitment to maximizing the support offered to customers like these “has shaped every part of my business,” Kreisler adds. And, if this marks the company as “kind of like a boring printer” that doesn’t put anything ahead of building long-term, collegial customer relationships, so be it.
Making this kind of commitment also means understanding that the client is never more right than at the moment when the client is most demonstrably wrong - which brings us to formative experience number two.
A Catastrophe Diverted
It occurred in 1993 while Kreisler and his wife, Kim, were enjoying their first vacation away from the business in New York City. The office called to say that the big job they’d just delivered contained a terminal flaw that had only now been spotted by the client. The project - the biggest in the history of the company up to that time — was a production run of calendars that the client had proofed and OK’d multiple times. But, however it had happened, the dates in the month of May were printed out of order.
It didn’t matter that the fault wasn’t the printer’s or that having to rerun the job would wipe out Kreisler’s profits for the entire year. Swallowing hard, he told the customer that he’d absorb the loss and reprint the calendars at no charge for the sake of the relationship.
Other printers in similar circumstances might have acted differently. But, the enduring wisdom of Kreisler’s decision is seen in the fact that the customer remains one of Gold Star Printers’ biggest accounts and now buys its printing from no other provider.
“That calendar screw-up,” as he remembers it, became the defining moment in the evolution of the business strategy that Kreisler follows to this day.
The incident also seems to have been the roughest patch that Gold Star Printers has ever had to get through. Kreisler notes that he hasn’t been faced with any “grave problems” as a business owner and that, thanks to his focus on profit and customer care, “we’ve had challenges but never a down year.”
Immune to the Industry Ups and Downs
That’s an extraordinary claim to be able to make in light of what has happened to the printing industry as a whole during the last 30 years. When, for example, the recession of 1990-91 descended upon the young owner and his recently acquired business, “I never knew it,” Kreisler says. “I just went to work.”
The same single-mindedness saw Gold Star Printers through the meltdown of 2008-2009, which triggered the worst recession that the industry has ever seen. “We went backwards a little bit” during that one, Kreisler recalls, “but we didn’t fire anybody.”
Another continuous keynote of Kreisler’s career has been his close involvement with trade associations, usually in leadership roles.
He is in his second term as chairman of the Printing Association of Florida (PAF), a regional affiliate of PIA, and also served as chairman of the former National Association of Quick Printers (NAQP). Last November, PIA rewarded Kreisler for a decade of work on its committees by appointing him to a one-year term as chairman of the national association.
“In more than 25 years of association work, I’ve seen very few chairmen who have worked as hard as Curt has,” says Michael Makin, president of PIA. “He has been a champion of print for all of his career.” Makin cites in particular Kreisler’s service on the Association Relations Committee, which is responsible for aligning the interests of PIA’s two dozen regional affiliates.
As PIA’s First Vice Chairman, Bryan T. Hall (Graphic Visual Solutions) has seen the value of Kreisler’s contributions up close.
“Curt’s induction into the Printing Industry Hall of Fame is certainly well deserved,” Hall says. “Curt’s ability to embrace and find success in our ever-changing industry, as well as his ability to put together winning teams across many stakeholders, has enabled Printing Industries of America to remain the largest and most successful trade association in the industry.”
In his role as a PIA chairman, Kreisler is expected to spend at least 50 days of his one-year term on the road visiting the regionals and attending association events. On these travels, Makin has come to know him as “an all-around super guy: wicked sense of humor, athlete, bon vivant. He’s really got it going on!”
Serve and Get Even More Back in Return
Kreisler always tells new members of the trade groups he belongs to that the more they get involved, the more benefits of belonging they’ll reap. In his own case, active participation has been a source both of personal fulfillment and of valuable business intelligence.
He notes that trade association members who meet initially as competitors have a way of turning into friends, confidants, teachers and students. Kreisler points out that based on what he’s learned from these interactions, “I’ve saved countless thousands of dollars by not making mistakes that other people have made.”
The father of sons Zachary, 23, and Max, 20, Kreisler readily answers “Heck, no,” when asked whether he’s thinking about retiring. His chairmanship role with PIA is giving him good ideas about where to take the business next, perhaps with the help of acquisitions as he has done four times in the past.
And, he’s far from willing to give up the privilege of working with his staff, whom he credits with giving him the freedom of movement he needs as a roving ambassador to PIA’s national membership base. “If it weren’t for them,” he says, “I wouldn’t be able to do it.”
If and when Kreisler does decide to stop being the full-time owner/manager of a printing company, he won’t be short of resources to occupy the time he gets back.
For one thing, he’s a busy residential landlord - a status he’s held since he acquired his first rental property at age 24 (he’d purchased his first house four years prior to that). Buying aggressively in Broward County when Florida’s housing market crashed between 2010 and 2012, he built up a portfolio of about two dozen condominiums and townhouses that he rehabbed and rents out.
Kreisler says the Broward market is “crazy expensive” these days, but he thinks that another “bubble burst” wouldn’t be a bad thing — it would be an opportunity to add to the portfolio.
A Hit on the Diamond
Then there’s softball, a sport he has been devoted to playing since the days he started dabbling in real estate. Having been part of eight national championship teams over the years, he now has his sights set on helping his current squad, the Florida Legends, win a World Senior-division tournament that will be held this month in Las Vegas.
Last month, the Florida Legends clinched the Eastern Senior National championship in North Carolina. Kreisler, a pitcher with a hot bat, averaged .667 at the plate in that contest.
It all represents what Kreisler had in mind when, as a young man, he envisioned a career that would let him achieve business success, but still give him time for family life and outside pursuits.
It may be true, as he observes, that “the only people who love what they do are professional baseball players.” But, there’s nothing not to like - or not to celebrate - in a career story as rich in business and personal accomplishments as Curt Kreisler’s.
Besides, nobody ever saw a pro ballplayer inducted into the Printing Impressions/RIT Printing Industry Hall of Fame.