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K&D Graphics — A Nice Printing Racket

August 2009 By Erik Cagle
Senior Editor
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PRINTING INDUSTRY presidents and CEOs often reflect on the skill sets that they acquired while playing sports in high school or college—teamwork, leadership, discipline, tenacity—and how those traits apply to their success in the business world.

But few executives have hailed their sports to the degree that Don Chew, president of K&D Graphics in Orange, CA, has tipped his cap to the game of badminton. Actually, a deep bow might be more appropriate, given the extent to which Chew has shown his appreciation to the sport.

In 1996, a growing K&D Graphics found itself needing more space than its 12,300-square-foot plant could provide. The Bangkok-born Chew approached the city of Orange, CA, about constructing a new 72,300-square-foot facility, of which 40,000 square feet would be earmarked for the printing operations. The rest would house a dozen badminton courts and Bebe’s Cafe, a Thai restaurant named after Chew’s daughter. The Chews were virtually a shoe store away from requesting a shopping mall but, while the city initially balked, Don Chew held his ground and got the blessing to build his dream shop.

A Real Game Changer

“Badminton changed my life,” Chew says, quite frankly. “I started playing when I was seven, and got into it seriously at the age of 14. I made new friends and it made me a better person. Badminton taught me to be a fighter on the court. And, it made me successful in business: hard work, discipline, patience.” 

Thus, the Orange County (O.C.) Badminton Club and Bebe’s Cafe coexist with K&D Graphics, making it the only printing facility in the world to boast such a business trifecta. And the sport of badminton in the United States knows no greater friend than Don Chew, who sponsors players for the Olympics and World Championships.

He has hired five coaches and invests a good deal of money in training and sponsorship fees. In fact, the facility hosted players from 16 countries in July for the U.S. Open, marking the 14th consecutive year at O.C. Badminton Club.

“I’m happy to pay back to my adopted country,” Chew says.

Printing has been in Don Chew’s blood and heart for about as long as badminton, dating back to his days working on a Heidelberg Windmill at the age of 14. He came to America in 1972 and, after working in different industries, decided to open a print shop in his garage as a part-time venture in 1981. It was important to Chew that his business become his legacy, something he could pass on to sons Montri and Gus, and daughter Bebe. Three years later, Don Chew and his wife, Kim, both quit their day jobs to devote full attention to K&D Graphics.

K&D, which employs 60, started out as a commercial shop, but migrated into paperboard packaging in 2000. Its commercial and packaging clientele consist of pharmaceutical, health and beauty, automotive and telecoms. Printed products include marketing materials, labels, catalogs, publications and folding cartons.

For 2008, K&D Graphics posted sales of $10.28 million, with a lion’s share of its growth coming from the packaging side. What has really allowed that aspect of the business to explode is the company’s acquisition of a 12-color, 41˝ Heidelberg Speedmaster XL 105 UV press. At 120 feet, it is easily one of the longest sheetfed offset presses in the world. The machine, which perfects six colors on both sides of the sheet in a single pass, is equipped with double in-line aqueous/UV coaters and a CutStar roll feeder.

The late 2008 acquisition is the centerpiece of a $10 million capital expenditure initiative, a veritable Heidelberg shopping spree that included a Stahlfolder TH 82 folder, an ST 450 saddlestitcher, a Diana X 135 folder/gluer, a Bobst Expertfoil 104 FR foiler/diecutting press and new Prinect Printready workflow software (along with a 3,200-square-foot second-floor expansion). The company has always primarily been a Heidelberg shop; it also operates two six-color, 40˝ Speedmaster CD 102 sheetfed presses.

The new XL 105 was a long time coming for Don Chew, who himself designed a configuration back around 2003 and sought the manufacturer to construct a machine to his specifications. Its single-pass-printing capabilities have made a world of difference for K&D, which has picked up several new accounts as a result.

“The new press allows us to do more ad agency work,” points out Montri Chew, vice president and CFO. “It has helped get us qualified with bigger agencies. Back when we just had the two Speedmaster CDs, we were told that we were too small in terms of capabilities. But the XL 105 puts us right in the ballpark. It gives us the opportunity to bid on higher-end jobs.”

K&D Graphics also finds itself competing against web offset printers for smaller-quantity web runs, according to Don Chew, because of K&D’s ability to produce better quality. The CutStar roll sheeter on the XL 105 also enables the shop to match paper pricing, keeping costs down.

The addition of Artios-CAD structural design software for packaging design will further enhance K&D’s growth plans, which also include digital printing capabilities. However, the company’s founder prefers a slow and measured approach to growth.

“Sales numbers mean nothing,” Don Chew states. “The bottom line: If you can make your payments and live comfortably, that’s what you should want. Don’t be so eager to be rich and pretty. To be a rich man in printing...that’s history. 

“We don’t spend our money on big houses, cars, boats,” he adds. “Our whole family is committed, and we put everything back into the company.”

Operating in the commercial theater in Southern California gives Chew a front-row seat for the unpleasant sport of commodity pricing. He refuses to sell below cost, choosing to find new ways to become the low-cost provider without sacrificing quality or service. Now, with the new 12-color Speedmaster XL 105 and the two six-color CD 102s, the printer is able to accomplish more work in less time.

“Servicing customers with rush jobs is one of our specialties,” Montri Chew notes. “Our pressroom capacity enables us to leave time slots open, even when there’s a peak load. We have a reputation in the market for consistent quality, the best service and not being late on jobs. We’re among the cheapest price-wise because we run our operation very lean.” 

Speaking of lean operations, Bebe’s Cafe—the in-house Thai fusion eatery—keeps the Chews from indulging in fast food. Employees get a 25 percent discount off their meals, while print customers and the general public also patronize the restaurant. Pad Thai is the top dish, according to Don Chew, followed by chicken yellow curry and that famous Thai ice cream.

“We work hard, we play, we eat and then we go home,” Don Chew remarks. “We absolutely love it here.” PI


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