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Year for Broken Records

December 1998
BY CHRISTOPHER CORNELL


If you spent any time at all in 1998 reading the quarterly reports issued by publicly traded printing companies, you are probably up to your Y2K-compatible eyeballs with the term "record-breaking." But as the year draws to an end, it's clear that the phrase will be remembered as the one that most describes it.

In previous years, consolidation was an interesting sidelight to other major events in the graphic arts industry. In 1998, it was all about consolidation. More than $3 billion was spent by larger fish swallowing up smaller ones, and while a few big names led the charge, they were no longer the only players in the game.

The leader was Greenwich, CT-based World Color Press, which itself spent half of that $3 billion to build its operation. It acquired Lexington, KY-based Magna Graphic, Metairie, LA-based Century Graphics and Atlanta-based specialty printer Dittler Brothers.

Robert G. Burton, chairman, president and CEO of World Color, and his team also purchased Wilmington, MA-based Acme Printing.

The companies purchased by Houston-based Consolidated Graphics (at a rate of about one every two weeks) were generally smaller. But by the end of the year, Consolidated was no longer just a notable startup. It was an industry powerhouse commanding more than $600 million in annual sales.

The other established player in the acquisition chase was Englewood, CO-based Mail-Well. Most notable among its moves was the creation of a new commercial printing division, which included companies such as Clarke Printing of San Antonio, TX; French Bray, Baltimore; and United Litho, Boston.

Also busy in the acquisitions game was New York-based Applied Graphics Technologies (AGT). It had a busy year, beginning with the acquisition of Pontiac, IL-based prepress house Flying Color Graphics, but made bigger news when it acquired the Devon Group.

New York-based Big Flower Holdings spent the year putting more distance between itself and the commercial printing industry, but did acquire Chicago's Enteron Group, a $60 million premedia company, and ColorStream Technologies, also in Chicago.

In addition to the established players, there were the newcomers to the game.

In Westport, CT, Terry Tevis, formerly an executive at R.R. Donnelley & Sons, was named to head Printing Arts America (PAA), a new industry consolidator being formed by merchant banking firm Kohlberg and Co.

To create the company, Kohlberg acquired four regional commercial printing companies: Classic Printing and American Corporate Literature, both in the Nashville area; S&S Graphics in the Washington/Baltimore area; and Printing Arts/LithoTech, near Chicago.
 

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