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Krehbiel Adds Variety, Spice To Business, Life

October 2002
BY ERIK CAGLE


"The printed word is important to me," stresses Rob Krehbiel III, CEO for The C.J. Krehbiel Co. of Cincinnati, and a 2002 Printing Impressions/RIT Printing Industry Hall of Fame inductee. It is also clear that people are very important to him, as well.

The two facets met outside of the world of commercial printing when Krehbiel was introduced to John Carney, a father of 10 who had not graduated high school and was illiterate. For Krehbiel, who had volunteered to help teach adults how to read, the thought that someone not being equipped to read was unthinkable. But, with Krehbiel's help, Carney was able to conquer the shortcoming, and proceeded to earn his GED.

To celebrate, Carney and his wife invited Rob and his wife, Jan, over for dinner. "He tried to educate me on the value of buying the institution-type-sized can of baked beans," Krehbiel says with a laugh. It began a rewarding friendship that lasted 15 years, when Carney died of emphysema. Krehbiel had wanted to share his love for ink on paper with Carney, and was rewarded in kind.

The commercial printing industry has been full of rewards for Krehbiel, caretaker of the family's fourth-generation business. But it wasn't always clear that printing would be the vocation of choice for Krehbiel.

Born and raised in the Queen City, his mother and father still live in the same house he grew up in as the oldest of five children. He still has fond memories of going into the office with his father and siblings, and taking joy rides on the freight elevators and paging each other on the intercom system.

He attended Indian Hill High School, where one of his classmates, Jim Koch, also went on to notoriety for starting the Boston Beer Co. (maker of Samuel Adams). "We always get a great deal on our beer at the reunions," says Krehbiel, who loved his high school days (he married his high school sweetheart) and sets up frequent reunions.


Amateur magician Krehbiel pulled out his cape and top hat to accept the 1998 PIANKO Printer of the Year award. Note the "typo."
Entertainment was and still is a big part of Krehbiel's life, from when he was an amateur magician in his teen years. At Indian Hill he started his own pop/rock group, The Loved Ones, playing the organ and rhythm guitar. The group belted out hits from the Rolling Stones, Beatles, The Association and "kind of 1967 beach music." The group played at sock hops and old church halls, and even performed at the opening of a motorcycle shop. The turnout was so low, Krehbiel recalls, that his father won a motorcycle in the giveaway.

Krehbiel began developing other interests upon attending Davidson College in North Carolina. He became involved with the college's radio station, WDAV. "They had all of about 25 watts," and for a while he entertained the idea of becoming a disc jockey. But the psychology major soon mulled over entering the field of clinical psychology; his future wife Jan was attending college in Atlanta, so the thought of setting up shop down south was appealing.

His first experience working in a mental institution, however, was not. "I almost fainted when I saw someone get electro-shock therapy," he admits. Thus, when it came time to pursue a master's degree (from the University of Cincinnati), his primary choice became clear: if he was going to go into business, why not the family business?

Krehbiel—who had worked summers between semesters in the prep room, press and bindery—obtained an MBA from the University of Cincinnati and joined the family company in October of 1972, the year he married Jan.

Upon joining the family business, Rob's father, Bob, stressed to him the importance of learning the many facets of the printing business. Thus, he tackled positions such as estimating, billing, human resources, sales and customer service. It soon became apparent to Krehbiel, however, that a majority of the customer service was given to Southwestern Publishing, a publisher of school textbooks. Southwestern accounted for 80 percent of the printer's business, and Krehbiel faced his greatest challenge when Southwestern was sold to educational publishing giant Scott Foresman in the early 1980s.

"We went from being their favored printer to being a high-priced supplier," Krehbiel recalls. "R.R. Donnelley and Von Hoffmann soon got penetration. We scrambled to get our costs under control so we could offer more competitive prices. We also launched a sales and marketing campaign to expand our customer base; today, we've gotten away from the one-customer mentality."


The C.J. Krehbiel Co. executives, seated from the left: Tuck Krehbiel, COO; and Rob Krehbiel, CEO. Standing, from the left: Rick Hastings, VP/sales and marketing; John Krehbiel, CFO; and Pat Boling, VP/production.
C.J. Krehbiel had no sales staff, so Chuck Krehbiel brought aboard Bob Everett as sales manager. It proved a pivotal move, as the company embarked on products such as religious books, manuals and calendar production. When Rick Hastings joined the fold as vice president of sales and marketing, he helped diversify C.J. Krehbiel even further, with monthly magazines, catalogs, juvenile and computer publications. Krehbiel now has roughly 200 repeat customers.

The changing of the guard is now complete at C.J. Krehbiel: Rob was named CEO in 1997; his brother, John, is CFO; and cousin Tuck is COO. Rob was named "Printer of the Year" by Cincinnati's Printing Week Council, the same award his father won 25 years earlier. Under his guidance, C.J. Krehbiel has grown to $41.5 million in sales, bolstered by the acquisition of a new Mitsubishi Diamond BTS web press, a Muller Martini Corona perfect binder, computer-to-plate capabilities and other electronic prepress equipment.

Patty Brown, purchasing manager for Blue Mountain Press/SPS Studios, which publishes the Blue Mountain Arts projects, describes Krehbiel as a person with a high level of integrity. "He's extremely easy to work with and is just a nice, nice man," Brown says. "You only wish all suppliers had the same characteristics that he possesses.

Charles Armstrong, district area manager for Johnston/RIS Paper, feels Krehbiel is the type of person who puts people at ease almost immediately.

"He's known for his friendliness and openness; he can talk about any subject," Armstrong says. "He understands the book business really well. C.J. Krehbiel is an icon in this area. They've done business with so many book publishers, large and small.

"Rob Krehbiel is so deeply engrained in the company."

Krehbiel finds ample challenge in his work on a daily basis, competing with book printing heavyweights such as R.R. Donnelley, Von Hoffmann and Quebecor World. And being a middle-market printer also means responding to routine overtures as to the availability of the 130-year-old family affair. But don't look for the sale of C.J Krehbiel any time soon. "We've been approached by several companies about acquiring us, but it's our intent to pass it on to the fifth generation," he proclaims.

The reason, in part, is because Krehbiel loves the challenges of his profession. "There's no consistency to my job—it's different every day," he says. "Rarely a day goes by without a half-dozen things coming up before I can get to the thing I'd planned to do.

"We have a challenge, as a mid-sized printer," he admits, noting that they are the ones being merged and acquired. "Big companies can spread their overhead and bring in R&D. So we have to stay on the leading edge of technology and, as such, we're not afraid to buy new equipment."

In the short term, it is Krehbiel's hope to bolster sales by 20 to 25 percent. That will be a substantial task, given the sluggish economy that is approaching the two-year mark, as well as offshore scavenging—calendars, greeting cards and children's books finding their way into foreign print shops with dirt-cheap labor and overhead.

"For long-term viability, we have to keep up with the marketplace," he adds. "Keeping pace with technology will help us serve our customers better. We've seen some markets change, and it's my job to keep an eye on what that market is. We let our customers, and not equipment, drive our business."


The Krehbiel family includes (from left): daughter Amy; Rob Krehbiel; wife Jan; daughter Sara; and son Matt.
Aside from his interest in promoting literacy, Rob enjoys biking with Jan along rail/trail bike paths. That love also took them to various trails in England. He's also performed in a rock opera called "Dear Christians," written by his Davidson College friend, Bill Youkey.

He's served on the Printing Week Council for three years and spent four years on the MPS Executive Committee. He also served for eight years on the board of directors for the Printing Industries Association of Southern Ohio.

Personally, he has been a Cub Scoutmaster and a member of the Great Oaks Center Advisory Committee. Rob served a six-year stint on the Children's Discover Center Council and currently serves on the board of directors of ST Media Group, a visual communications organization.
 

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