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Kay Printing — The Miracle Makers

June 2008
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KAY PRINTING, of Clifton, NJ, advertises itself as the printer you go to “When you need a printing miracle” and, for more than 30 years, it has consistently delivered results for clients that may seem almost, well, miraculous.

It isn’t due to miracles, of course; it’s the result of focus and hard work. “We’ll surprise a customer once in a while—surprise in a good way,” says Rich Kirschenbaum, founder and president. “But we aren’t really magicians. We’re a company that’s dead serious about giving clients what they need, when they need it and how they need it.”

Kay Printing’s ability to do that is based on several factors, but the primary one is ferocious attention to detail. “You don’t miss, it’s as simple as that,” Kirschenbaum adds. “It’s just not allowable. The competition is too stiff. The turnarounds are too tight, and the market is too unforgiving. You manage not to miss—ever—by doing what you do very well, all of the time, and paying attention. That’s how you make miracles.”

Kirschenbaum founded Kay Printing in 1974, specializing in one- and two-color work. During the first year, the company did less than $1 million in business and, like most startups, struggled to show a profit. Since then, however, through good economies and bad, and through all the ups and downs the graphic arts industry has gone through, the firm has grown and prospered. It now has 60 employees and annual revenues of about $14.5 million. Kay’s most recent fiscal year, which ended October 31, was its strongest year yet.

Evolving Through It All

Over the course of its development, the company has evolved as a provider of services. The small one- and two-color presses of yesterday have given way to a stable of four-, five- and six-color, 40˝ Heidelberg Speedmasters, supplemented by a full bindery, fulfillment department, digital prepress operation, as well as a satellite sales office in the Princeton, NJ, area.

“We’ve moved with the market,” Kirschenbaum notes. “When we see a capability our customers need and are willing to pay for, we implement it.”

In 2005, Kay Printing made a serious investment in its own future by moving from Englewood, NJ, to a 50,000-square-foot plant with small and large press capability in Clifton, conveniently located nine miles from New York City.

The centerpiece of the prepress department is an automated Fuji direct-to-plate system. Prepress is located downstairs, positioned to feed plates to the pressroom, which in turn feeds finished sheets directly into the bindery. Beyond the bindery is packing and shipping, so that work comes in a straight line through the presses, through cutting, through the bindery and out the door.

The offices and conference rooms are located on the second floor. The main conference room has a big picture window overlooking the pressroom, so customers can look out and see their jobs coming together.

“I started this company to serve the printing needs of the business community,” Kirschenbaum adds, “and my goal was to stay in business and become financially sound. Obviously that’s important to me—I’ve been here more than 30 years, and I haven’t shown a loss since 1975—but it’s also important to my customers. They know we’ll do what they need and that we’ll be there when they need us.”

This matters, because as the printing industry continues to consolidate, weaker companies have a tendency to get in trouble, which means problems for their customers. “That’s not an issue with us,” Kirschenbaum contends. “On a daily basis, we track receivables, payables, cash on hand, checks written, value of investments and total liquidity of the company. We’re always liquid and, at any given moment, our receivables are five times the size of our payables. We’ve grown steadily, but we’ve always made sure the growth was based on real, recurring business.”

Kay Printing has recently been certified a G7 Master Printer by IDEAlliance, an indication of its color fidelity and reproduction capabilities. As part of its commitment to environmental protection, the company is also Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certified.

After 33 years in the business, Kirschenbaum is looking toward the day when he can relinquish the running of the company to someone else. Kay Printing has a new generation to take over. Jeff Kirschenbaum, Rich’s son, graduated from the University of Michigan 10 years ago, attained his MBA at Pace and then came to work for the company.

“We, of course, had a position for him,” Rich jokes. “Jeff started out in sales, which is really the best way to learn the printing business.” After his sales training, Jeff began to assume management responsibilities. He began with the prepress department, which he still runs. In July 2007, the younger Kirschenbaum assumed control of the entire manufacturing operation.

There are also non-family members who play important roles. Prominent among them are: Vice President Mike Costello, who has been with the company for 25 years, is still a leading salesman and who is involved with every aspect of running the company; Sales Manager Myron Kowal; Controller Bob Generale; and Plant Manager Manny Rosa.

“Every job that comes in these days is some sort of rush job,” Jeff Kirschenbaum comments. “Fast turnaround is the new normal.”

A typical job might be the production of 10,000 copies of a 120-page, 8.5x11˝ brochure in three days—which hardly even counts as a rush. One recent Wednesday at 2 p.m., the printer received the files for a 20,000-copy, 108-page, full-color, 8.5x11˝ book that was printed, folded, cut and delivered by 5 p.m. the next afternoon.

Fast-turnaround isn’t the only thing customers seek. Kay Multi-media is a Manhattan-based subsidiary that provides electronic presentations, Website development, corporate identity campaigns, and print collateral material to ad agencies and a variety of corporate clients. A typical customer might need a multimedia presentation for its sales force to educate department store associates about a new product. Meanwhile, that same company is going to need to develop and produce printed ad and collateral material.

Plans for the short term include a 10 percent growth in sales for the next fiscal year and a new department within the company offering a combination of digital and wide-format printing equipment.

“People don’t just want printing,” Jeff Kirschenbaum says. “They want multiple marketing solutions, which we’ll be providing more and more of in the future.”

“Our mission,” adds Rich Kirschenbaum, “is to stay strong and stable, and to keep giving customers what they want and need, on time and on budget. That’s all the magic we have—and that’s how we’ll keep on making miracles.” PI

Growth by Acquisition

About one-third of Kay Printing’s growth over the years has come through acquisition, either of entire printing companies or of their customer lists and sales personnel. If done properly, Rich Kirschenbaum says, this can be a highly effective strategy.

“One way you can grow,” he explains, “is by amping up your sales force. This sounds pretty straightforward, but often it’s not. After I had the experience of hiring a couple of disappointing salespeople, I decided there had to be a better way.”

Acquiring another printer is a fairly complex transaction, but the key to it, Kirschenbaum says, is to take your time and make sure there’s a fit in values and outlook, not just financially, between your company and the one you’re acquiring.

“We’re looking now for a ‘tuck-in’ acquisition—business we can bring into the plant and produce there. Ideally, this will allow us to expand the services we offer current customers and facilitate getting new ones.

“We’ve got the space to handle $3 million to $4 million above where we are now, so this is part of building our future,” Kirschenbaum emphasizes. “If you find good people who run their own business responsibly, there’s almost certainly a way to structure the deal so that everybody wins.”

The management team of Kay Printing consists of, from the left, Bob Generale, controller, Myron Kowal, sales manager, Jeff Kirschenbaum, vice president, Rich Kirschenbaum, president, and Mike Costello, vice president.

Operators scan press sheets at the press console using an X-Rite densitometer.

From the left, Manny Rosa, plant manager, and Myron Kowal, sales manager, check a press sheet printed on one of the company’s Heidelberg presses.


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