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2006 PRINTING INDUSTRY HALL OF FAME — SUCCESS, THE HARD WAY

October 2006 BY ERIK CAGLE
Senior Editor
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THERE’S LITTLE doubt that Jim Hopkins personifies the concept of a self-made man. That the road to success wasn’t paved, and actually began in his garage, makes his story all the more compelling.

Hopkins serves as president and CEO of Hopkins Printing, a general commercial printer based in Columbus, OH, that does $16 million a year in business. His voyage into the world of printing seems to be an accident of time and space or, to be more specific, a pleasant set of circumstances. And Hopkins can thank his wife for helping the stars to align just right.

Still, make no mistake about it. Hard work, a willingness to learn the business world without the aid of a college degree and the desire to seek out industry experts has enabled Hopkins to build his own printing empire and gain entrance into the 2006 PRINTING IMPRESSIONS/RIT Printing Industry Hall of Fame.

Unlike many Hall of Famers, there were no bloodlines connecting Hopkins to the industry. Born in Virginia, Hopkins’ parents separated when he was young. His mother remarried, and the family moved to Pittsburgh, which proved to be a trying period for Hopkins.

“I basically came from a blue- collar family,” says Hopkins, who as a boy used to enjoy peering inside a wide-open print shop, which had no air conditioning and kept its doors open. “I had a wonderful mother who instilled a great work ethic in me. I’ve always tried to do the best I could with who I was and what I had.”

Upon graduating high school in 1959, Hopkins entered the U.S. Air Force. Following his training, he moved on to a manufacturing job with a roller bearing company, then went to drafting school for two years. Hopkins never followed a path into architecture but, wanting to do more than manufacturing-type work, he entered the world of sales.

Entering the Industry

In the end, Hopkins discovered his professional destiny rather accidentally in the early 1970s. His wife, Arnie, was performing typing work for a number of customers, including a local printer named Esley McCloud. Hopkins would personally deliver the finished work to McCloud and—as he studied the printer’s shop, its equipment and the work being performed—he developed more and more interest in joining the profession.

“When I visited McCloud’s plant, I began to realize that several of my talents and abilities were encapsulated in printing,” he says. “I could do some layout work, though I was by no means an artist, but I knew how to lay things out straight and work with art boards. I had a hobby as a photographer, which was really the core of offset printing back then because of the use of film. My mechanical aptitude helped because one needs to be a reasonably good mechanic to work on printing equipment. And I also had sales experience.

Despite no formal education in business elements, and lacking a business plan, Hopkins set the wheels in motion to start his own shop from the ground floor—in this case, the cement garage floor. He took a $2,000 loan from the bank, and secured another $1,000 from his mother. He had a plan to pay back the debts, if he didn’t succeed in printing, in the long run. In the end, he was able to do both.

“I’ve never been one to quit at things; I’ve usually been able to make it all work by trying harder,” he says. “In some ways, I’ve kind of lived the American Dream. I started a company in my garage and it’s grown into a multimillion-dollar business.”

While still working for Timken Roller Bearing, Hopkins printed at night and, on the way home from his day job, would make sales calls on prospective clients. His wife, Arnie, worked the counter, taking walk-in orders for their newly christened Hop-to Printing, a quick printing operation that also dabbled in commercial work. Within a year or so, Hopkins left Timken to concentrate on his printing business full-time.

Hopkins quickly developed a reputation in his community, but customers started asking him to perform jobs that he didn’t have the equipment for, so he either farmed out the work or went the multiple-pass route. When he acquired a Heidelberg GTO sheetfed press, the company made its foray into short-run, four-color printing at a time when there weren’t a lot of printers cranking out short-run, four-color jobs.

Another change addressed the company name; Hopkins didn’t want to be pigeon-holed as a quick printer, especially with his investments toward the commercial realm. With a new name, J.F. Hopkins & Associates Commercial Printers continued to serve the greater Columbus area. The company continued to add to its iron arsenal, picking up a two-color, 40˝ press for printing two-color text pages and four-color covers. A half-size six-color and another 40˝ press followed as the company evolved.

As tenuous as Hopkins’ early career seemed, in hindsight the company has experienced few bumps in the road. Its biggest problem turned out to be a good one—the need to move into a bigger facility. But with no bona fide options nearby, Hopkins worried about moving to another part of the city.

“There wasn’t anything available in the immediate area, so we were going through the whole process of what end of town would be best,” he says. “That was at a time when good employees were very scarce. You’re always afraid that if you move, you’ll lose good employees.”

Fortunately for Hopkins, the move went off without a hitch in 2000, and the company, re-dubbed Hopkins Printing, did not miss a delivery date.

Calm Seas Ahead

Why has the sailing been so smooth? Hopkins is a self-taught man, a business education junkie who absorbs everything he latches onto, be it books or seminars. McCloud proved to be an early influence, but Hopkins has also gleaned much knowledge from Stuart Margolis and the PIA Ratio Studies, as well as Don Percy—the former Gulf States Printing Association president who penned “Simplified Estimating and Pricing for Great Profits.”

“I realized that to succeed in printing, you had to have the financials to match those of the people who were successful,” Hopkins says of the Ratio Studies. “I changed my chart of accounts and accepted the PIA chart they use on the Ratio Studies. I used to get the studies and just pore over them. I’m not a CPA, but I’ve learned the chart of accounts and how monies float through a printing company very well. It’s made a great deal of difference in my business career.”

Hopkins’ efforts have not gone unnoticed. He was named a 2000 Ernst & Young Master Entrepreneur of the Year for the Columbus/Central Ohio area and, in 2001, he won the GATF Education Award of Excellence. He has served on the board of his local PIA affiliate, PIANKO (Northern Kentucky and Ohio). Hopkins is chairman of the Printing Industry Educational Foundation. He’s also involved with the Ohio Association of SkillsUSA, which sees industries partner with teachers and students to ensure the strength of future workforces. Hopkins also works with local high schools and colleges to promote their graphic arts programs.

“He cares so much about the industry,” notes Jim Cunningham, president of PIANKO. “He’s helped identify schools and programs that might be good for us to work with. He’s very involved with the Craftsmen’s Club and donates a lot of work to the association and foundation. People see Jim as someone who has really been on the leading edge.”

Jack Murphy, president of The Murphy Co., which furnishes plates, chemistry, inks and other supplies to the printing industry, marvels at the initiative Hopkins has shown in building the company to its current level. “Jim is a very determined, strong-willed person,” Murphy notes. “He’s very honest and reliable, hard working and self- educated. It takes a special type of person to start their own business.

“Jim has always had a love of reading, and he’s very curious. He’ll listen as much as he talks, and asks good, probing questions.”

Among his activities outside of printing, Hopkins is vice-chair of the Homeless Families Foundation, which endeavors to get families back on their feet and in permanent housing.

Aside from his penchant for reading every business book on the market, Hopkins and his wife enjoy traveling, and have visited countries ranging from Thailand, Hong Kong and South Africa to Venezuela, Germany, Italy and France. They have two daughters, Michelle and Ramona. PI
 

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COMMENTS

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Most Recent Comments:
Sheila Gardner - Posted on January 30, 2009
Jim, what a great article. Congratulations! I feel honored to know you. My dad should treat you better! :-)
Joe Horchak - Posted on November 10, 2006
Jim & Arnie, we am so pleased for both of you! Keep up the great work and dedication to all whom you work with both professionally and personally. Wish we could have been there! Jackie and I are honored to be your friends.
Kelley Leonard - Posted on October 20, 2006
Very impressive, Jim & Arnie! Congratulations on this achievement!
Janice Doddridge - Posted on October 18, 2006
Dear Mr. Hopkins, I am proud to say I know you and that my daughter works for a company with such good ethics. Keep up the good work. It pays. Good luck in the future.
Click here to view archived comments...
Archived Comments:
Sheila Gardner - Posted on January 30, 2009
Jim, what a great article. Congratulations! I feel honored to know you. My dad should treat you better! :-)
Joe Horchak - Posted on November 10, 2006
Jim & Arnie, we am so pleased for both of you! Keep up the great work and dedication to all whom you work with both professionally and personally. Wish we could have been there! Jackie and I are honored to be your friends.
Kelley Leonard - Posted on October 20, 2006
Very impressive, Jim & Arnie! Congratulations on this achievement!
Janice Doddridge - Posted on October 18, 2006
Dear Mr. Hopkins, I am proud to say I know you and that my daughter works for a company with such good ethics. Keep up the good work. It pays. Good luck in the future.