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Winchester Printers: Old School, New Profit Tricks

March 2013 By Erik Cagle, senior editor
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There's no mistaking that, despite being just 38 years of age, Chris Hottle is an old soul when it comes to printing. He loves the clamor of heavy iron rattling the shop at Winchester Printers, a commercial business located in the town of Winchester, tucked virtually into the northernmost point of Virginia.

The "ink in his veins" adage applies to Hottle; it's certainly in the lineage. His grandfather, Irving, joined the company in the late 1940s and, to this day, the 87-year-old drops in on occasion to run the Heidelberg Windmill letterpress. "He comes into the office to make sure we're doing enough business to pay his rent," Winchester Vice President Chris Hottle laughs.

Hottle's father, Ron, is president of the company, which has existed since 1892, when it debuted as a newspaper and bindery operation. The staff of 25 full-time and six part-time employees love their work. They could operate the all-Heidelberg shop in their sleep, with many workers boasting 20-plus years on the job. It's a by-the-bootstrap, working man's shop, but not drudgery.

"We try to keep print enjoyable," Chris Hottle explains, "so that it's not a miserable 10 hours every day.

Norman Rockwell would've enjoyed painting Winchester Printers, a slice of Americana that is representative of the traditional, family-owned segment of the commercial printing industry. A $4.4 million-a-year, regional printer, Winchester reaches into Washington, DC, Maryland and Pennsylvania, but is more known in the Shenandoah Valley and Northern Virginia.

Before we throw them on the cover of The Saturday Evening Post, it is interesting to note that the firm has been growing at a brisk pace in recent years, due largely in part to a series of investments in digital technology—a far cry from the furniture and office supplies Winchester Printers offered during the 1950s. In the past three years alone, the company has acquired (or is in the process of adding) a Heidelberg (Ricoh) Linoprint C901 digital color production press; a 65˝ EFI Rastek H652 UV hybrid wide-format inkjet printer from Heidelberg; Pressero Web-to-print capabilities; and the Heidelberg Prinect Color Toolbox for precise color management of both its traditional offset and digital output.

Also, touching down in about a month is a refurbished (2000-era) four-color, 40˝ Heidelberg Speedmaster SM 102 sheetfed press. It is a first of sorts for Winchester Printers: a full-size, four-color press. The shop had boasted a two-color, 40˝ and a number of half-sized Speedmasters.

 

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