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Smith Litho--Exceeding Expectations

August 1998
Founded in 1973 with a handful of employees and one of the area's first four-color sheetfed presses, Smith Litho has since grown into a $38 million company servicing national and multinational customers.

"We've far exceeded the expectations I had when we started," admits Charlie Smith, company founder and president.

Before opening the company with Bill Hodges, co-owner and vice president, Smith had success in the industry. "But I wanted more," he says. "The company I worked with was afraid of color and high-quality work, but I saw the potential."

He's been proven right. The Smith Litho staff has multiplied 40 times its original number, with sales per employee well above the national average. The company has also expanded from 19,000 square feet to the current 100,000 square feet.

"The past 25 years have been great," Hodges enthuses.

"That's true," Smith adds. "We've stuck to a few important principles, and that's kept us exactly where we need to be. And the first of those principles is an obvious one: Meeting deadlines is the single biggest key to our success."

Pressroom Manager Rick Bowie believes it's Smith Litho's range of equipment that makes meeting deadlines more than a goal. Smith Litho boasts a full complement of Heidelberg Harris web presses, including a perfecting six-unit full web, a perfecting six-unit double half-web, perfecting five- and six-unit half-webs, and a non-heatset Didde web. Its sheetfed Heidelbergs include two six-color 40˝ perfecting presses, one waterless, and a four-color 40˝ perfector.

Every piece of equipment in the pressroom, as well as in the prepress and finishing departments, enables Smith Litho to live up to its second business principle: flexibility based on customers' needs.

A host of Scitex workstations, high-resolution imagesetters, Power Macs, digital and flatbed scanners, and color proofing systems are the heart of Smith Litho's prepress center. Its communications capabilities, including ISDN connections, are as advanced as any in the industry. The bindery, too, is fully outfitted with a remoistenable glue unit and multiple saddlestitchers, folders and cutters.

Such capabilities are important since, contrary to conventional wisdom, the goal at Smith Litho is not to specialize in one area of printing but to provide a broad range of capabilities for its customers. "Flexibility is what makes us unique," Smith says. "For many customers, we're the only supplier that fits every category they buy. We can produce a job from short trial runs clear through the full roll-out."

The third business principle Smith Litho adheres to is an unwavering commitment to customer service. "When I started this company, I wanted Smith Litho to be known not only for quality work and consistent pricing, but also for being as customer-friendly as possible," Smith says.

Smith Litho's partnership with Fuji is one example of how the company works with vendors to assure quality of product. "Before we began using Fuji plates, we had three different suppliers and too many problems with chemistry balance," reveals Prepress Manager Mike McKenzie.

Rick Bowie well remembers the switch to Fuji plates three years ago. "I didn't tell anybody," he explains, "but everyone knew because the problems were gone. We made Fuji our sole provider."

The company's willingness to work with Smith Litho to improve efficiencies is another reason the company selected and remains with Fuji. McKenzie says that Smith Litho's Dolev 800s are set up for 33˝ film and eight-up impositions, but that standard plates are 30x40˝.

"That's a waste of three inches per unit of film," McKenzie points out. "Fuji retooled its assembly line to wind the best size films with the emulsion we needed."

Employment Histories
Vice President of Production Mike Mason, a 21-year employee, says this commitment to improve continually is why he remains with Smith Litho: "We're all proud of what we do and ready to give 100 percent. I'll be here until I'm 65 or 70 and retire."

Other employees give similar reasons for their long histories with the company. Bowie, who's worked with Smith Litho for 24 years, has stayed because of its "dynamic character."

Bowie started with Smith Litho as the night-shift apprentice sheetfed pressman. "I was the whole shift at first," he says. "And in every position from then to now, I've had input on ways to improve operations."

Bindery Foreman Earle Coleman also appreciates being asked to contribute to the way things are done, citing that as the main reason for his 18 years with Smith Litho. "Running this bindery is like running my own company," he says.

Coleman and others are treated that way because Charlie Smith believes empowered employees are vital to success. He uses teams made up of staff members from each department to update systems and address problems. He chooses team members and talks at the first meeting, then steps aside.

Hodges sees the effect such company-wide communication has on workflow. "Discussion is always about the job, getting it done," he says. "There's never blame between departments because everyone has the same focus."

With such a mind-set, Smith Litho looks toward the next 25 years. CTP production is realizable in the near future, catalog work is a possibility, and ink-jetting and mailing services will certainly expand.

"Change is constant," Hodges says. "A company must have internal financial strength in order to provide the tools needed to serve its customers well, now and in the future. And Smith Litho is committed to the constant reinvestment needed to provide those tools."

"The only given," Smith adds, "is that we'll continue to be a company that's very sensitive to the needs of the customer. We'll go where they take us."

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