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Penn Lithographics--Partnering and Progressing

May 1998
Nearly a decade of economic recession has made life hard for a number of California printers. No surprise considering that many clients moved away from a tough economy and took their business with them, while others underwent reorganization. Most of the rest slashed budgets just to survive.

Despite this difficult period, Cerritos, CA-based Penn Lithographics has thrived, exhibiting measurable growth in quantity and quality, while positioning itself as an important regional competitor. The question, of course, is, "How?"

On the Offensive
"At a time when many printers reduced or eliminated promotions and ignored growth possibilities, we did exactly the opposite," explains Penn President Bob Howington. "We extended marketing and our definition of the marketplace, finding work in Reno, Seattle, Portland, all of California, anywhere possible. In a tough time, we went on the offensive and expanded our sights."

Just as importantly, the company did not attempt to become all things to all clients. "We widened our net, but remained true to the high-end, direct response market because that's what we do best," Howington declares.

For example, year-to-date, 60 percent of Penn's press impressions have required a finishing line, one of the company's recognized strengths. In fact, Ted Robison, vice president of sales and marketing, believes that not making optimal use of the company's twin six-color Heidelberg Harris M-90 and M-110 heatset half-web presses with full in-line finishing capabilities "is like having a four-wheel drive vehicle and never taking it out of two-wheel drive."

"Having matching presses similarly outfitted with in-line capabilities offers our clients huge advantages," he says. "Large and/or time-sensitive jobs can be run in half the time, and we eliminate downtime by alternately running jobs."

Another reason for Penn's growth is a shift in corporate culture, which now emphasizes long-range planning. Founded in 1934, Penn, a $40 million company, was purchased in 1988 by JSJ Corp. of Grand Haven, MI. According to Howington, the parent company believes in thinking globally (more support for that regional outlook), lean manufacturing and continuous improvement.

Plus, JSJ demands the discipline of five-year plans. "Printing is an industry that demands you focus on your niche while keeping up to date on the opportunities and challenges that new technologies bring," Howington states. "Planning with JSJ is a given, not an option. The benefits of that cannot be overlooked."

One of the biggest benefits realized has been the optimization of personnel. Robison explains that the company had more sales reps 10 years ago than it does now, yet volume has steadily increased. To accomplish such efficiency, Penn enhanced the level of internal support for the sales staff by upgrading customer service representatives into project coordinators.


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