Hart Graphics Goes Silent

AUSTIN, TX—The loss of a major account and the emergence of print media alternatives proved to be too great a burden for Hart Graphics. In late February, the 89-year-old printing company announced it was closing its doors forever by the end of April.

The end of the line for Hart Graphics, which failed in its attempts to locate a buyer, spells the loss of 225 jobs. The company said it was in the process of finding as many jobs as possible for its employees.

“The decision had been a long time coming,” Rich Barbee, president of Hart Graphics, told the Austin American-Statesman. “It has to do with the softness in the printing industry and the inability of this company to recapitalize itself in new technology.”

Founder Bill Hart purchased the company, then known as Steck Warlick, in 1974 and renamed it Hart Graphics. He retired as company chairman in 1997, with sales burgeoning to more than $100 million. The business produced three spinoff companies—Hart InterCivic, Hart Label and Shearer Publishing—which are now both completely independent of Hart Graphics, which has been a standalone company since January 2000.

One of the more crushing blows for Hart Graphics was the loss of its contract with TV Guide, which it had held for 20 years.

“TV Guide circulation had dropped so much that they were reducing their vendor base,” Barbee told the newspaper.

Hart Graphics had gained an edge in the printing of technical manuals for customers such as Dell Computer, IBM and AT&T. But manual sizes shrunk and clients began loading user information onto software rather than printed material.

The company also enjoyed success printing government documents, including birth certificates, election ballots, fishing licenses and standardized testing materials for schools.

The company estimates that it would have cost upwards of $10 million to modernize its equipment. Meanwhile, the Austin land that Hart Graphics is perched atop had increased in value to the point where it was no longer feasible to operate a printing plant.

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