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EVP, Marketing at Specialty Print Communications

Against the Grain

By Dustin LeFebvre

About Dustin

A third-generation printer, Dustin LeFebvre delivers his vision for Specialty Print Communications as EVP, Marketing through strategy, planning and new product development. With a rich background ranging from sales and marketing to operations, quality control and procurement, Dustin takes a wide-angle approach to SPC


Auction Marks End of Major Printer, Offers Bargains

When I was growing up, it was a “city upon a hill.”

I can recall countless stories told at the dinner table in the early ’90s. My father would tell how he’d received a phone call at 5 p.m. on Friday. It was them, again. As usual, they were overbooked and needed to outsource five web presses worth of work for all of the next week.

It didn’t happen once; it happened many times. And when the call would come, you knew that a fleet of semis was already on its way with paper rolls, dyluxes and chromes.

Berlin Industries was a great company. It was founded in 1919 as a subsidiary of the AO Smith Corp. By the turn of the century, it had $140 million in sales, a list of Fortune 500 customers, 500,000 square feet of manufacturing space, and was one of the early printers to meaningfully enter the lettershop business. In a sense, Berlin was the king of Chicago.

That was then.

By this time last year, the company was an unrecognizable specter of its former self, and most of its assets were acquired by another printer for pennies on the dollar. I could dive into creative destruction and the circle of life, but I’m not going to right now.

Last week, the remaining assets were auctioned off to the highest bidder. It was an end of an era, but much more than that. For Berlin, the chapter closed…or the book, I should say. For the buyers, however, it as a new opportunity to grow, using the assets of a once-great enterprise.

If you had found yourself at the auction, you could have purchased a Heidelberg Sunday M3000 five-unit web press for a mere $47,000. [Pause.] Think about that—$47,000 for the latest generation of web offset technology, sold for a nickel on the dollar of the original price.

If that wasn’t your cup of tea, how about a six-unit Didde press with inline imaging stations and finishing plows? That could have been yours for only $1,750.

Harry Quadracci started his company in his garage, but I don’t think you could squeeze a Sunday press into one unless your name is Jay Leno or Jerry Seinfeld.

My real point is that the cost of equipment used to be a real and substantial barrier to entry in the printing business. Today, you can start a new company out of a garage and not need to restrict yourself to a duplicator; why not make it a Sunday web press? Heck, lots of folks in our business could afford that nut by taking out a second mortgage.

As the industry continues to see a decline in demand, we need to keep searching for the real value we can deliver. In short, the only true value we’re left with are the knowledge, ideas and solutions that grow our customers’ businesses. You can’t line-item “lift,” “new control” or “ROMI” on the RFQ. Nor can you properly communicate new ways to leverage RFM  (recency, frequency and monetary) data from variable imaging into a Web interface.

There will always be companies in our industry that shine like Berlin Industries once did. But they’ll look very different in the future. And the lesson for all of us is that to avoid Berlin’s fate, we need to ensure that we are delivering the kind of clear and unassailable value that makes our customers value us and rely on us. If we don’t, our own assets will end up in somebody else’s garage.

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