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Shapco Printing Gets a New Lease on Life with Capex Infusion, New Location

June 2014 By Erik Cagle, Senior Editor
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When the biggest deal in his professional career—the sale of his company to a competitor—fell apart on the day of the transaction's closing last fall, Joel Shapiro could not have been happier.

Shapiro's company, Minneapolis-based Shapco Printing, was to be sold to another Minnesota printing powerhouse, which had made a generous offer for the producer of high-end art gallery books, direct mail, fulfillment and wide-format goods. After 30-plus years in the industry, perhaps it was time Shapiro tried his hand at something different.

Shapiro had been steadfast during the entire transaction process, warning the buyer that if he changed the offer "even by a dollar," the deal would be off. Still, on the day of closing, the buyer wanted to renegotiate the final price. Shapiro didn't blink. Instead, he walked away.

His emotional reaction to the soured deal was most telling. "I felt elation, a euphoria that came over my body," recalls Shapiro. "Obviously, I did not have it in my heart to sell the business. When it fell apart, I felt terrific. I was excited and re-energized."

Instead of golfing or touring the world, Shapiro redoubled his efforts. In a six-month span, he sold the company's home of 35 years and relocated to Golden Valley, MN, and poured $3 million into new equipment, highlighted by a pair of HP Indigo color digital presses: an Indigo 7600 and an Indigo 10000. The renewed enthusiasm is palpable throughout the firm, which posted $33 million in sales last year and is on the fast track to becoming a $40 million annual performer.

Truth be known, it seems that Shapiro has developed something of a transformative touch, from the type of printing that his Shapco Printing offers to the once-drab Minneapolis neighborhood it, until recently, called home.

Breaking Out from the Pack

Let's turn back the clock for a moment. The year is 1988, and Shapco is grinding it out, producing one- and two-color sheetfed work, some process color, and posting about $3 million in sales. The company was doing OK financially, but something didn't seem right. The equipment wasn't anywhere near top of the line, and that began to eat away at Shapiro, because the results didn't rise to his level of expectations.

"We had leveled out (sales-wise) and become a second-tier printer," Shapiro notes. "In 1988, I decided to change the direction of the company and become a first-rate, top-shelf, primo-quality operation."

It wasn't long before Shapco Printing knocked it out of the park in regards to quality—more on that in a moment—and there's an interesting correlation with the old Minneapolis neighborhood that runs parallel with Shapco's transformation from down-and-dirty job printer to high-end, quality-critical artisan shop. Major League Baseball's Minnesota Twins moved into their new park, Target Field, which is located diagonally across the street from Shapco's old building. As a result, all light and heavy transit rail emanated from Shapiro's front door. The neighborhood, once the "armpit of Minneapolis," is now prime, expensive and highly desirable.

The 53,000-square-foot property was sold to developer United Properties for an undisclosed sum and the building will be demolished next month. In its place will be a $59 million headquarters constructed for national bone marrow donation nonprofit entity "Be the Match."

As for Shapco Printing, its new space is a much-roomier, 123,000-square-foot home in Golden Valley with plenty of parking spaces (employees formerly parked blocks away). The layout is much improved and access to the facility is much easier for clients, compared to the congested city. Plus, with Shapco experiencing 20 percent growth during the past four years, the need for more production space was clear.

Even with the move, Shapco retains a 15,000-square-foot paper storage warehouse and a 32,000-square-foot property that houses Point B, the pick-and-pack fulfillment operation owned and operated by Joe Avery, who is also vice president of Shapco Printing.

"The new space gives us more efficiencies in the workflow of our production process, as well as shipping and receiving," notes Don Johnson, vice president of business development for Shapco. "We formerly had one dock and now have six at the new building. We're also SOC compliant for data security purposes. It has allowed us to put further security enhancements in the building, whether it's cameras on the doors or key FOB entries to secure areas."

Aside from producing art books for its gallery, institute and museum clientele across the country, Shapco Printing serves the educational, financial, retail, restaurant and health care sectors with a range of products. Direct mail is a big part of Shapco's business; the airline industry is a key customer when it comes to variable data digital jobs.

The craft of printing, including color management and retouching, is very much embraced at Shapco, which has won numerous industry awards for its work, including a PIA "Benny" award in 2013 from Printing Industry Midwest for promotional printing. While few eyes can discern the differences between an excellent print and a flawless one, those very eyes belong to the aforementioned gallery, institute and museum clients.

"The reason we're so successful is that we look at printing as a craft rather than just manufacturing," Avery remarks. "We still look at every single piece of paper, every nuance of color, whether a hookup is perfect, whether a diecut is perfect—all the things that craftspeople do. I think that's why clients come to us from coast to coast.

"There are probably only a handful of printers across the country that are still doing craftsman-type work. That's what (customers) recognize, the true designers, whether it's the art book community or high-end agencies across the country...they still look for printers of that nature."

Shapiro says his company was late getting into the digital printing game simply because he didn't feel the quality was commensurate with the quality standard needs of his clients. Nearly nine years ago, he added an HP Indigo 5000, which made a believer of him.

During the recent capex drive, he upgraded to the 7600, which has the bigger sheet (13x19˝) and offers white ink, in-line embossing, raised ink and, last but not least, speeds twice as fast as the 5000. The 29˝-format 10000 is an experiment of sorts, according to Shapiro, as it is replacing a half-size press. Among the other newer acquisitions is a 40˝ Brausse diecutter with internal and external stripping.

Expanding into Wide-Format Output

Wide-format digital printing was added two years ago with the acquisition of two six-color, 60˝ HP DesignJet I26500 roll-to-roll latex printers. Restaurant signage and banners are among the items churned out by the latex printers. Shapiro then picked up a six-color, 96˝ HP UV flatbed industrial printer, which can handle substrates up to 2˝ thick.

Komori dominates the conventional and UV offset printing needs of Shapco with six sheetfed presses. With the multitude of new equipment and plans on adding new gear in the short term, the idea is to have all the necessities in the tool belt.

"We're always pushing the envelope with how we can be better, how we can better service our customers," Johnson remarks. "We're giving our staff the right tools to do their jobs."

The future is bright at Shapco Printing, and both the leadership team and employee base are rejuvenated. A new home, tons of new gear, a debt-free ledger and a new outlook on the printing world has Shapco aggressively moving forward, backed by an attention to quality that can only be appreciated by other perfection obsessors.

"We need to show why we're different, and I instill that into everyone here," Shapiro says. "Don't just fold the paper, fold it so it's perfect. No marking, no scuffing, no scratching. It's not just happenstance that jobs turn out right. Our customers expect a lot from us and we deliver. We maintain a high level of expectations that come from the top down." PI


 

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