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2010 Hall of Fame: Joe Metzger - Wealth of Knowledge

September 2010 By Erik Cagle
Senior Editor
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In the Charles Dickens classic "A Christmas Carol," there is a scene where Scrooge and the Ghost of Christmas Past observe a young Ebeneezer and his co-worker gushing about their great employer, Mr. Fezziwig, during a holiday party decades earlier.

The Ghost feigns indifference, asking why a meager investment of three or four British pounds for an office party makes Mr. Fezziwig worthy of such high praise. Scrooge quickly rushes to Fezziwig's defense:

"He has the power to render us happy or unhappy; to make our service light or burdensome; a pleasure or a toil," Scrooge stammers. "Say that his power lies in words and looks; in things so slight and insignificant that it is impossible to add and count them...The happiness he gives, is quite as great as if it cost a fortune."

Zeal Is Contagious

Scrooge knew that Fezziwig's festive, animated spirit rubbed off on everyone around him, making work seem like anything but toil (added irony given the cold, steely persona Scrooge would adopt). In reality, positive, excitable chief executives with a zeal for what they do often can boast of an infectious enthusiasm that permeates the entire employee ranks. As the corner office goes, so goes the company.

Look up infectious enthusiasm in the dictionary, and you might find a picture of Joe Metzger. The president of Toledo, OH-based Metzgers Printing + Mailing has a legendary penchant for getting people excited about anything related to the printing industry, particularly new technologies that can benefit his customers and enable the company to add another dimension to its offerings. His employees have bought into Metzger's energy, passion and intelligence; he repays them, in part, with lunch-and-learn sessions in the dedicated Metzgers Education Center.

It seems Metzger is both a student of the industry, as well as a teacher, as evidenced by his speaking engagements on the trade show circuit. His zeal for all things printing has landed him in the 2010 Printing Impressions/RIT Printing Industry Hall of Fame class.

"Joe is one of those people who will always sit and listen when we approach him with ideas and concepts," notes Greg Wymore, graphic communications solutions manager for Xerox. "Doesn't mean he'll always implement it, but Joe does his homework, analyzes opportunities and wants to know if it's something worth doing. And, I don't know of many folks who would take a portion of their facility and dedicate it to the education of other people."

Equally as impressive is Metzger's desire to educate himself. He is an ardent reader of industry publications and newsletters, constantly scanning every source possible for news and information on subjects with the potential to impact Metzger's firm.

Some of his biggest influences include RIT Professor Emeritus and wandering print gypsy Frank Romano, and industry association economists Ronnie Davis and Andy Paparozzi. He has also attended industry trade shows on an annual basis since 1982.

Metzger goes "ShamWow" on every drop of information available to the print community, and it shows in the success the company has enjoyed and its high regard within the industry. For the past seven years, he's been a member of the Printing Industries of America Silver Pen peer group, sharing ideas, success stories and failures with like-minded owners.

"I never know exactly what I'm going to be doing each day, and I love having the flexibility of being able to dive in where needed," notes Metzger, who quarterbacks the company along with his brother, Tom. "I love being in front of customers, fixing their problems. I feel that the success of our company, many times, centers on how we respond to the problem. That helps us keep that account."

The youngest of five kids born to Norb and Patt Metzger, Joe had the benefit of coming from a graphic arts family. He vividly recalls the 1976 dinner conversation when his father announced he was leaving his job to start a typesetting company (dubbed Type House). Young Joe would handle various tasks at the shop, from sweeping up to taking out the trash. His responsibilities increased with age and, when school was cancelled because of snow, Joe Metzger headed for Type House where he worked alongside older brothers, Tom and Dick.

During his early years with the company, Metzger worked the family business during the day and attended the University of Toledo at night. He found selling in the daytime to be a more attractive prospect, and he even resisted the temptation to accept a position with one of Metzger's ad agency clients.

Joe Metzger quickly learned that while technology can be a friend, it can also unwittingly turn your business world upside down. Ten years after Type House opened its doors, the Apple Macintosh computer debuted. The fax machine had been unveiled in the meantime and, by the end of the 1980s, the typesetting world was virtually wiped out.

"That was the first time we had to morph," Metzger notes. "I've always said, 'we don't know what we're going to be selling in the next 10 years, because we don't know what's next on the horizon.' "

Morph the company did, transforming from typesetting to a service bureau, then a prepress house, printer, mailer, and digital printing operation. Meanwhile, many of the big names in printing from around the Toledo area in the 1970s and early 1980s went away, with some of their most talented individuals ultimately joining Metzgers. In fact, Metzgers now resides in the building that formerly housed Len Beech and Associates, which closed in 2003.

Over the years, Joe Metzger has sought out his own strengths and weaknesses. His brother and co-owner, Tom, is the stable, careful, analytical mind, while Joe is the quick and aggressive problem-solver. The pair seem to balance each other out. The quickness is an asset, but Joe fully admits he needs to reign himself in at times.

"In the earlier years of ownership, there were days when we wanted to kill each other," he laughs.

Scott Voris, president of Kelmscott Communications in Aurora, IL, notes that Metzger often has trouble accepting "no" for an answer, but in a can-do vein. "Joe possesses creativity, passion and an ability to develop solutions for his customers," Voris says. "He's very customer- and sales-focused, and has built a dynamic organization with a great culture."

Probably the biggest curve ball to come Metzger's way was in 2000, when the company's biggest client—which at the time represented a little more than 50 percent of the printer's sales—was sold and transferred to Minnesota, taking its big piece of printing pie elsewhere. The economy would soon sour, greatly exacerbated by the events of 9/11, and the whole time frame provided some anxious moments for the Metzgers.

"We went through 24 months of hell, but we knew we had to find new customers to recover," he recalls. "And the only way to do that was to sell ourselves out of the problem. We also learned that, if we could have found some way to interconnect with that big client, we could have followed them to Minnesota."

Tech to the Rescue

Fortunately, technology helped ease the difficulties and, in the 1998-2001 time frame, Web-to-print and customer storefront solutions—for many printers, still years away from becoming reality—provided that "interconnect"-ive path, enabling the company to ingratiate itself more with clients. Today, about 50 multi-location customers take advantage of Metzgers' Web-to-print digital solutions.

Joe and Tom Metzger each own 50 percent of Metzgers, with sister Connie directing the company's fulfillment operation—a.k.a. the MomSquad—comprising 25 to 30 Toledo-area women who collate, insert and hand-assemble kits. Joe is also quick to point out that the company would not be where it is today without the talents of his older brother, Tom, along with the energetic and enthusiastic employees at Metzgers.

Joe and Dana Metzger have been married for 21 years and have four children, ages 18, 16, 14 and 9. They enjoy boating and water skiing as a family, and like to frequent a lake on property that they own a couple of times a month.

"We've done the whole Disney vacation, which was nice, but hitting the beach or getting out to the water are what I enjoy most," Joe Metzger says. PI


 

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