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Von Hoffmann Corp. -- By the Book

January 2001
As Von Hoffmann continues to augment its hold on the educational market, the company takes on new facets that allow it to be a one-stop shop.


BY ERIK CAGLE


Truth be known, the Von Hoffmann story doesn't begin in 1903, when the printer was founded. Nor does it start in the early 1960s, when the company found a niche in educational book printing. Not even 1990, when the family owned Von Hoffmann was sold, or when it was sold again a few years later.

Try 1997, when the St. Louis-based company began to acquire complementary businesses that have helped catapult it to a printing machine that generated in excess of $430 million in sales last year (triple that of 1997). Von Hoffmann continues to build upon its offerings while clutching onto the practices and core values that have allowed it win the hearts—and full-service needs—of its clientele.

"Our focus is on providing a quality product and service to our customers," points out Robert Uhlenhop, Von Hoffmann chairman and CEO. "We're not big guys; we're a relatively small organization. I know most of our customers personally, and most of them know me and our entire management team. We maintain ongoing dialogues with them and, if they have a problem, they know they can call someone who will pick up the phone. We try to be responsive to publishers' needs."

Von Hoffmann has earned its wings in the educational book manufacturing market. The company is recognized as the country's leading manufacturer of books for the elementary-high school (el-hi) and college markets, boasting clientele such as educational publishing giants Harcourt, McGraw-Hill, Houghton Mifflin, Pearson, John Wiley and Thomson Learning.

The old right time, right place adage rewarded Von Hoffmann's desire to address a market need in the early 1960s, according to Uhlenhop. "There was a gentleman named Dr. William Kottmeyer. He was the superintendent of schools for the St. Louis school district, who came up with a spelling series that became the leading series throughout the United States," Uhlenhop recalls.

Spelling Success
"Webster Publishing, located in the adjacent suburb of Webster Groves, was doing the publishing for him. We were in the suburb of Crestwood, MO. They probably looked in the yellow pages for someone to print books for them, and they came to Von Hoffmann Press," Uhlenhop says. "We soon began to process and print millions of Kottmeyer spellers.

"Webster Publishing was then acquired by McGraw-Hill, and that really gave us our entrance into the educational marketplace."

 

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