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Creel Printing : Betting on Growth

October 2009 By Erik Cagle
Senior Editor
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ONE OF the most visible signs of the economic turmoil this country is experiencing can be seen in Las Vegas. America's capital of excess and debauchery, the casino strip, has experienced sobering realities. When money is short, so is the tolerance for fun and games.

According to an Associated Press report, north of one million fewer people visited Vegas casinos in 2008 than in 2007, a drop of 3.8 percent in foot traffic. One of the nation's favorite whipping boys, the downtrodden housing market, and its disastrous consequences, has been keenly felt in Sin City. A CNN report lists Las Vegas as having the second-highest rate of foreclosures (8.9 percent) in the nation among metropolitan cities last year. While home sales may be increasing, about two-thirds of the properties sold are bank owned.

This begs the question: Has doing business in Las Vegas surpassed impulse weddings and blowing your life savings at the craps table in the colossal remorse department? Don't count Creel Printing among those crying in their coin buckets.

A Steady Ascent

The growth of multi-faceted Creel, a reputable Las Vegas-based sheetfed and heatset and coldset web printer since 1953, flies in the face of the difficulty being experienced by the casinos. The publication, catalog, direct mail and commercial printer has cruised along the fast track during the past 10 years, growing its staff from 160 employees to 600 and two plants. It ranked 53rd on the Printing Impressions 400 ranking in 2008 with annual sales of $117 million.

While Creel Printing has not been immune to the negative splash created by the down economy, it isn't about to stray from its course of embracing the highest efficiencies and the latest technologies throughout its organization.

"Our company has been doing well," states Allan Creel Jr., company president. "Obviously, the economy has had its effect on everyone. We're maintaining current customers, as well as gaining new accounts. And we're still planning an expansion in 2010, along with some consolidation of existing equipment as a result of new capital equipment purchases.

"Overall, we haven't seen growth that we have in the past. In 2008, we were probably about even from 2007, and 2009 will end up close to that," he adds.

Aiding that cause is the acquisition of a new Goss Sunday 2000 web press, which is tentatively slated to be installed in 2010. The 57˝-wide press, which features eight units and a two-web system, will come equipped with a Goss pinless combination folder for producing magazine signatures of up to 48 pages or tabloid signatures up to 32 pages.

This is the third Sunday press purchased by Creel Printing in the last seven years. In 2003, the company installed a 38˝, eight-color, two-web Sunday 2000, then bought an identical model again in 2005.

"For us, it's all about investing in technology—to produce more pages in the same press run, to increase capacity, and to reduce makereadies and labor," Creel says. "In this market, pricing is more and more competitive, so we have to maintain efficiencies and grow at the same time. The new Sunday press is in that spirit."

Creel Printing also tapped Goss to update its newspaper printing capabilities two years ago, obtaining an eight-tower Magnum 4 press. A long-time provider of newsprint materials, the company had previously been using an older Goss Mercury web press. Community newspapers are supplemented by commercial work, such as convention, government and educational publications, along with catalog work and telephone directories.

To help accommodate the bevy of new (and large) iron, Creel Printing acquired a 15-acre site and constructed a new facility from the ground up that can be expanded up to 450,000 square feet. The new plant allowed the printer to consolidate its operations—which had burgeoned into seven buildings—and gain efficiencies while leveraging lean manufacturing principles. The old headquarters is now home to Creel Printing's newspaper printing operations, and press lines at Creel's Costa Mesa, CA, facility were brought over to the new building. Sales, prepress and digital operations will be maintained at the old Creel Printing of California.

"We gained some tremendous efficiencies, higher quality levels and now have less employees producing more work," Creel says. "We created a recycling department and a chemical control room. It's as 'green' as printing can be, and a better place for people to work."

The substantial additions in its web pressroom made it easy to see where the next need would arise, particularly the bindery. In recent years, Creel has installed a Goss Pacesetter 1100 saddlestitcher with selective binding capabilities to enhance its mailing capabilities. Also joining the team was a high-speed Kolbus Publica perfect binder.

In the next year or two, Creel envisions obtaining more binding and finishing gear to support the Sunday presses. Considerable capital investment is also ticketed for enhancements that speak to automation—feeding or delivery equipment, product moving apparatuses, are the most likely targets.

The greatest growth during the last few years has come from vertical markets such as government, travel, retail catalogs and enthusiast-based products. Direct mail holds significant value to Creel Printing's future; 70 percent of its products enter the mail stream. "We're producing as much work as possible in-line, on saddlestitchers, binders and folders," Creel notes.

About the Bottom Line

Much of the company's value proposition can be derived from its relationship with clients—remaining close to them and monitoring trends in a tenuous economic environment. Enabling success from their standpoint entails making the aforementioned acquisitions, which demonstrates a commitment to both technology and accommodating the needs of clients.

"Everybody's success nowadays is predicated on the bottom line; being able to keep relationships going with current customers, while also being able to facilitate and accommodate new business," explains Allan Creel Sr., CEO. "It's all about maintaining your position in the marketplace, which is still predicated on the dollar value of your company, along with your sales ability and marketing techniques.

"We've built a good reputation, being in the business close to 60 years. If you haven't proven yourself in that length of time, you never will," he notes. "Maintain your reputation and always strive to better accommodate your customers."

Sound advice, particularly in an economy that isn't accommodating printers. PI


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