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Centennial Celebrations — Changing with the Times

February 2008 By Erik Cagle
Senior Editor
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A LITTLE later this year, Printing Impressions will celebrate its 50th anniversary. Fifty years is a very long time in the publishing business. When you consider the challenges facing printed communications and hard copy magazines, we all deserve a round of applause for thriving in a changing business environment.

Think about the past 20 years alone. Among the greatest technological feats, we’ve seen desktop publishing, computer-to-plate, digital printing, digital color proofing and JDF, not to mention variable data and Web-to-print. The way we do business now is a far cry from just 10 years ago, when many of the aforementioned technologies either didn’t exist or were still in their nascent stage.

Sure, PI is proud of our big Five-O, but a sobering thought is the notion that there are many printing companies out there that have been around twice as long. One hundred years is inconceivable. Lasting that long in an industry with volatile technologies and vastly changing markets is improbable.

So we don’t wish to hog all the birthday cake to ourselves. We’re going to throw 50 more candles on it for a trio of printers that have or are about to cross the century mark. And while they’re enjoying coffee after the cake’s been polished off, we’re going to ask a few questions about how they managed to last this long.

And now, the introductions:

First up is Elliot Schindler, executive vice president of Pearl Pressman Liberty Communications Group (PPLCG) of Philadelphia. PPLCG was founded in 1907 by Manuel Pearl and Charles Pressman, who cobbled together $60 and bought a foot-powered press, assorted type and paper. Incidentally, how cool is it that a printing company was co-founded by a person named Pressman? It’d be like saying Chrysler was founded by Charles Muffler.

The company has a colorful past, with acquisitions of other printing shops. PPLCG itself has been sold, bought back and is now in the hands of senior management. It marked the 50-year anniversary with a devastating plant fire. And while printers have dropped off the Philadelphia landscape, PPLCG remains a staple.

Next up is Sumter Printing in Sumter, SC, which, until the last couple years, didn’t know the exact date of its birth. According to President Rob Galloway, a request for his company’s history sent him to the Sumter County Museum and the county Genealogical Society. The paper trail stopped at 1907, where a W.C. Ivy published a journal called The Prospector, as well as offered his services as a job printer.

Incredibly, the business had three owners in its first 10 years, but only three more in the following 90 years. His father, Robert Galloway Sr., and uncle, Julius Chandler, bought the company in 1963. Chandler was bought out a few years later, and the Galloways have provided a stable ownership for more than 40 years.

Last, but certainly not least, is Tony Narducci, president of Phoenix-based O’Neil Printing. This company is so old that when it was founded, Arizona hadn’t even entered the union (that would happen in 1912). The railroad didn’t even come through Phoenix. And you think your company has shipping issues!

Founder William “Bucky” O’Neil, originally from Maine, bounced about before finding his true calling. Unable to sell typewriters (not even the jackrabbits were biting, Narducci chuckles), O’Neil hired a few women and opened up a letter typing business, essentially becoming one of the original direct mail houses.

In its early years, O’Neil focused on serving the legal and government markets. The company was sold by O’Neil’s daughter and son-in-law to its employees through an employee stock ownership plan (ESOP) in 1996.

Now that the panel have finished their cake and are pouring java, it’s time to get their views on where their companies have been and what the future holds.

What are the factors that have enabled your company to thrive for such a long time?

NARDUCCI: The company has always taken seriously its relationship with clients, our employees and our vendors, and to not compromise any one of those relationships. There’s a high standard of ethics and doing the right thing here. It hasn’t always been easy; the company’s come through some pretty tough times with downturns in markets. Treating people fairly has been the underlying credo for O’Neil.

SCHINDLER: Our culture is such that we’ve always been able to adapt and change with the times, to not neccesarily be at the forefront of change, but to change nonetheless. We like to say that we’re not the first to take on new technologies, but we’re certainly toward the front end. It’s been that way all through our history, whether it was photo composition or when offset took over letterpress. It is that way today with digital printing, mailing and fulfillment services.

GALLOWAY: We’ve always tried to stay as close to cutting edge as we could. My father always tried to buy new equipment and stay on the cusp of what’s going on. I’ve done the same thing. I’ve been involved in different types of panels and conferences over the last several years to figure out what direction the business is going in and what we need to do to stay current and offer our customers different solutions.

What was the greatest obstacle(s) your company has faced, and how did you respond to the challenge?

GALLOWAY: We’re in a small city with less than 50,000 people, and in order to grow and be a company that can do a lot of the higher end commercial type work. . .that type of work really isn’t available in Sumter, SC. We’ve had to broaden out around the state. I personally go with my sales reps to meet customers to make it a very personal business approach, which keeps that small town feel to it.

SCHINDLER: We had the big fire in 1957. The owners were able to rebuild in record time because of the employees’ help. We lost more than $200,000. Insurance estimates pegged it at 20 weeks to rebuild. Six weeks later, the plant was refurbished with modern equipment, and a new layout improved production by 25 percent.

NARDUCCI: It was when the company got its first full-color press back around 1991. It was a very big investment for us at the time, and occurred during a significant downturn in the economy. The company had to tighten its belt and watch every penny. We’ve never been bashful about investing, but are also quick to pay it off as expediently as possible.

Was there a turning point in your company’s history that pushed it over the top and enabled it to flourish?

NARDUCCI: Over the last three years, we’ve adopted some new technologies that have put us in an eminent position to serve our clients, including the installation of an eight-color, 40˝ perfector. We’ve coupled that with complete onsite mailing and distribution. We’ve also incorporated digital printing with an HP Indigo 5000 for full color and a Xerox Nuvera for single-color work. And we’ve transitioned to stochastic printing.

GALLOWAY: Around 2000, we started feeling that our business had plateaued and we weren’t growing anymore. We became a Heidelberg shop. Almost all of our equipment from 2002 until now is brand new. For us, becoming a Heidelberg shop and stressing the efficiency and quality that we can produce is very important to us. Since then, we’ve been growing at about 20 percent per year. The past five years have definitely been the best years for the company during its 100 years of existence.

SCHINDLER: The turning point came in 1985, when Harold Pressman and Burt Pearl sold the business to five PPLCG managers, one of whom was Manny Pearl, the grandson of the founder. When that group took over the business, the company immediately started to grow rapidly. They got rid of [old] equipment. Each year they began acquiring a new six-color (press) to replace an old, beat up four-color.

What factors will help sustain your company for the next 100 years?

SCHINDLER: We need to continue diversifying our services so we’re not dependent on ink on paper. That will become important for anyone in our industry. The ability to create other means of revenue, such as DVD and CD duplication. For instance, we’re going to be contracted to do translation. We’ll need to translate a document into five languages before we print it. That’s not something a printer traditionally would be involved in.

NARDUCCI: We must remain relevant to our clients and provide products and services that help them be successful in their endeavors. Those products and services are not going to look a whole lot like they do now. But I don’t know what that is right now.

GALLOWAY: We definitely have to be willing to change with the business environment. My dad has gone from linotype to cold type, from using letterpress to offset, and now film to CTP. Obviously, we’ve made a lot of changes in the past 40 years since he’s been involved in it. Our switch to adding digital will be one of the most important things for us over the next decade. So much more of it is dealing with data, whether it’s dealing with customers’ databases for variable data printing, or for direct mail purposes. Customers are also requesting CDs or DVDs in place of, or as part of, their marketing packages. I think that file and data handling, and keeping up with the way it will continue to change, is going to be key for us. PI
 

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