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Specer Press--Independent Thinking

August 1998
In this age of mergers and acquisitions,
Spencer Press stands alone.


As companies like Consolidated Graphics and World Color continue to absorb plants across the country, printing purists may wonder what the future holds for the family-run businesses that form the backbone of our industry. Such purists should consider taking a trip to Spencer Press in picturesque Wells, ME.

Name: Spencer Press
Location: Wells, ME
Employees: 650
Annual Sales: $85 million
Key Markets: Catalogs, books, brochures, inserts and magazines.
A family business since opening in 1940, Spencer Press is, and intends to remain, privately owned. So proclaims the company's second-generation leaders: brothers John E. Spenlinhauer III and Stephen P. Spenlinhauer.

Chairman and CEO John oversees manufacturing. President Stephen handles sales and marketing. Both want to keep the company—an $85 million operation that specializes in web offset printing—free from an acquisition.

The independent attitude of the Spenlinhauer siblings is as refreshing as the crisp Maine air—and the brothers wouldn't have it any other way. As consolidation drives down the number of independent shops, Spencer savors its privately held status.

Independent Advantages
In the eyes of the Spenlinhauers, independent ownership brings certain competitive advantages. Stephen points out that, unlike larger printing companies with multiple facilities, Spencer does all of its work under one roof, so customers don't have to worry about their jobs being bounced between plants. And when clients have questions, they can rely on the same customer service reps.

"They feel some security in knowing that they are dealing with one company with one location," Stephen says. "There's no reason why we can't be as competitive as the larger guys, but yet have a more friendly atmosphere."

Customers not only appreciate Spencer's friendliness, but also its flexibility. There are no large boards, no big committees calling the shots at Spencer. Decisions get made fast. This makes Spencer very attractive to print buyers who don't want to deal with a massive printing conglomerate grown from consolidation. In fact, Spencer is so in demand, the company has had trouble keeping up with all the work.

"We turned down a substantial amount of business since January of this year," Stephen says. "Some of it was contract work from existing clients, and some of it was new work. So to service both of these needs, we decided to add new equipment."

Before adding any equipment, however, Spencer decided to learn from past mistakes. The last time the company needed to expand web capacity, it installed a Heidelberg Harris M-3000 "Sunday" press—without giving much consideration to the bindery. It was a course of action that the printing company later regretted.

"When we installed our first M-3000 we tried to schedule the bindery to coincide, but the bindery slipped, and we blew our brains out in here for four solid months because we could not get the product out the back door," John remembers. "So this time we said, 'Let's do it the other way around.' "

Finishing First
Instead of shopping for additional M-3000s, the Spenlinhauers decided to invest in new finishing equipment. They made their purchases at the massive PRINT 97 show in Chicago, signing a deal for five Pacesetter 1000 stitchers from Heidelberg Finishing Systems.

Thus far, Spencer has installed two of the five machines. The company is adding the third Pacesetter this month, with the fourth coming next month and the fifth arriving in January of 1999.

The first two Pacesetter 1000s went on-line in June—with much fanfare courtesy of Heidelberg. As things turned out, the first of the Pacesetters that Spencer installed was the 50th Pacesetter installed worldwide.

To mark the milestone, representatives from Heidelberg Finishing visited Spencer the day the Pacesetter ran its first job: the Grill Lovers Catalog. The Heidelberg executives presented Spencer with gifts, and Ed Young, vice president of bindery sales, offered words of encouragement to Spencer's employees.

"To John and his staff and everybody who works in the finishing area, you need to know that Heidelberg really appreciates the partnership and we wish you all the luck in the world in the start-up of this new machine," he said, standing in front of the Pacesetter.

"To recognize this event, we have a plaque that will be placed on the machine, and I'll read it: 'In recognition of your purchase of the 50th Heidelberg Pacesetter 1000, June 3, 1998, Heidelberg Finishing and Spencer Press, Partners in Progress.' "

A second plaque bearing the same message accompanied a majestic grandfather clock that Heidelberg gave to Spencer as a token of appreciation. Heidelberg also brought gifts for the bindery staff: blue T-shirts that read "Heidelberg, 50th Pacesetter" on the front, "Partners in Progress" on the back.

Representatives from Heidelberg Finishing Systems weren't the only "Partners in Progress" in attendance. Executives from Heidelberg Web Press were also on hand to congratulate Spencer for its purchase of two eight-unit M-3000 presses.

Super "Sundays"
Spencer placed orders for the "Sunday" presses in May. The first M-3000 will ship at the end of calendar year 1998 for installation in spring of 1999; the second will ship a year later. The two web presses will join an existing M-3000, an M-1000B, an M-1000A, an M-850 and two M-110Bs.

In addition to the new stitchers and presses, Spencer Press is investing in a whole new state-of-the-art Scitex front end. The company is also building 150,000 square feet of space for material handling, which will expand the facility to 400,000 square feet.

Spencer expects to spend $35 million on the new equipment and renovations. Still, the additional space and increased capacity won't change Spencer's outlook. The company may be getting bigger, but its business practices will remain the same.

"I consider Spencer Press to be large enough to handle anybody's print-run needs, and small enough to react to their problems," John says.

"If a customer has a problem with what we do or what we produce, they can reach me or my brother. They don't have to go through a large bureaucracy to get to the top."

John has found the same to be true of Heidelberg Finishing, noting that the company resolves issues quickly—without bogging customers down in corporate bureaucracy.

"When you're having problems and they haven't been resolved through the normal chain, you can make a phone call to Ed Young and things happen," John says. "And I haven't had to make many of those calls."

Stephen also speaks very highly of Heidelberg Web Press.

"I personally happen to feel that the Heidelberg press is the best printing press out there today for the applications we use it for," he says.

Applications, Generations
Those applications include catalogs, brochures and other web work printed on lightweight paper. Spencer Press serves retail customers and other accounts across the entire country, running its equipment 24 hours day, seven days a week.

Operating that equipment are 650 motivated employees. Of that 650, two staff members are recent additions who could eventually provide the next generation of leadership at Spencer Press.

"John has a son who is 24, and I have a son who is 23, and they've both just come into the business this year," Stephen says. "Hopefully, they will be the third generation in the business."

And for a family-run business like Spencer, a new generation will help the company maintain its proud tradition of independence.

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