Gilson Graphics : Living on the Cutting Edge

Gilson Graphics executives (from the left)—Jeff Palmitier, Dave Gilson and Dave Oswald—stand in the finished goods portion of their company’s expansive fulfillment center.

Garret Vanderhooning operates Gilson Graphic’s Fujifilm J Press 720 sheetfed inkjet press, the first install in the United States.

Bird’s eye view of the Grand Rapids, MI-based commercial printer’s expansive fulfillment center.

Today, Gilson Graphics offers a wide range of products, from retail signage and collateral pieces to direct mail, incorporating both static and variable data printing. With a trio of 40˝ manroland sheetfed offset presses and a Heidelberg Speedmaster SM 52, Gilson Graphics serves the retail, higher education, gaming, manufacturing, medical, book publishing and agency verticals, to name a few.

Besides offset, digital (HP Indigo, Xerox Nuvera) and wide-format printing (HP, Océ, Mimaki), the company offers binding and finishing, fulfillment, kit packaging, specialty printing, marketing services, Website development, diecutting, folding and gluing. What has enabled Gilson Graphics to augment its service offerings and pump annual sales from $6 million to $23 million is the acquisition of seven firms during the last nine years.

Historically, Gilson Graphics wasn’t an avid player in the M&A arena, but the Y2K decade saw a stagnation in sales and an accompanying decline in profits. Dave Gilson parlayed some of the profit his business had realized in the 1990s into working capital to acquire similar firms—many of them smaller commercial printers within close geographic proximity to Grand Rapids.

The additions—National Correct Color, Axis Digital Print and Imaging, Photolith Inc., Hastings Press, Commercial Printing Co. (CPC) and Integra Printing (as well as personnel from an educational testing composition plant in Atlantic, IA)—all shared one other trait in that they added a different wrinkle to Gilson Graphics’ offerings. They also raised Gilson Graphics’ employee total to 160, with two Grand Rapids production facilities to go with the Atlantic, IA, shop.

Game Changers

Two of the bigger deals, CPC (2006) and purchasing assets of Integra Printing (2009), enabled Gilson to grow substantially. Jeff Palmitier, then-owner of Integra and now executive vice president for Gilson Graphics, notes how the previous generation owners had gone head-to-head for decades, operating a half-mile apart.

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