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Specialties Bindery--A Cut Above

September 2000
Once part of a merger-induced consolidated firm, Specialties Bindery has broken out of that industry stronghold and is out on its own. Business is now booming and the future looks bright.


Specialties Bindery has a history of bucking business fads. The suburban Washington, DC-based company was acquisition prey in 1988, long before merger mania swept through the printing industry. Then, after nine years of being a cog in the Quebecor empire, three former owners bought the company back in mid-1997. Now the company is looking to the future.

In 1971, Ron Ridgeway and Bill Schroder founded Specialties Bindery to provide postpress services to underserved niches in the Mid-Atlantic graphic arts community. The company quickly earned a reputation for high-volume mechanical binding solutions. To fuel increased management needs brought on by rapid growth, current President Mark Lee and Joe McAllister were invited to join as partners in 1978.

A decade later, the then-$7 million Specialties Bindery attracted the attention of Canadian-based consolidator Quebecor Printing, which wanted to increase its foothold in the U.S. book printing market. In 1988, Quebecor began its U.S. expansion in earnest by buying its second American company, Specialties Bindery. Shortly thereafter, it purchased four book printers.

As part of Quebecor, Specialties Bindery began a sales decline and reached a low of $5 million in 1996. In mid-1997, white knights Ron Ridgeway, Mark Lee and Bill Schroder repurchased the company with the intent of restoring its historical reputation in the marketplace.

The road back was fast. By the end of 1998, the newly independent bindery was again a $7 million operation. In mid-1999, Lee—a 25-year company veteran—ascended to the presidency of the 90-employee company, bringing with him an unabashedly pro-growth management style. Within his first 12 months of leadership, Lee quickly invested $500,000 in equipment and process improvements, and restructured his management team. For the last half of 2000, Specialties Bindery expects to invest another $500,000 in manufacturing iron and is forecasting a revenue run rate of nearly $9 million.

The company believes that continued growth depends both on empowering people and better management systems. As Lee puts it, "To blast through the $10 million glass ceiling, we must push decisions farther down the decision chain. We're too big to operate without professional management." Within the past year, Lee appointed Brenda Slacum as COO and Susie Miller as executive vice president.

Lee is also cognizant that the skills required for starting a new venture are different than those needed for growing an already-large company. "We have intelligent people capable of making intelligent decisions. My job is to increase the wealth of our stakeholders, which includes our customers and employees," he reveals, "not micro-managing daily operations."

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