Fraga Graphic Solutions: Fraga Graphic Solutions of Columbus, Ohio, Is Built to Lead, Truth Be Told
When Galo Fraga grew up and worked in Ecuador, he says, the printing shops there didn’t always have every piece of equipment needed for every single project. “They don’t even have the same availability of paper that we do in the United States,” he explains. “So, from working at my father’s shop, I learned to be resourceful.”
Such a trait has helped Fraga’s own nascent business, Fraga Graphic Solutions, swim with the big fish in an industry that some say is floundering. With this type of critical thinking, he can, for instance, create something that looks like it was processed on a large-loop stitcher with three heads, but was actually produced on a different machine.
But how did a man who came to the States knowing very little English eventually set up a 5,200-square-foot shop in Columbus, Ohio?
Printing runs in the Fraga family. “My great-grandfather was in printing. And then my grandfather opened a shop with my dad, which is still in business today,” he says. So one might guess that Fraga grew up with ink stains on his fingers. And he did, albeit much closer to the Equator than some.
“My career basically started when I was six years old,” he says. He and his six siblings toddled around Editora Americana—one of the larger printing companies in Ecuador—until they were old enough to start helping out. At age six, Fraga was collating paper. At nine, he was working on a letterpress. When he was 12, he processed jobs on a single-color Heidelberg. And by the time he was 18, he was operating large drum scanners and helping on the prepress side.
From Ecuador to RIT
While Fraga had a wealth of experiential knowledge about printing, he says he wanted to learn the science behind it. “I knew how to color scan,” he says, for example, “but I didn’t know how color theory worked.” So, he decided to study print management at the Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) in Rochester, NY. He spent his first year at the college’s English Center and then moved on to his degree program.
Throughout his college career at RIT, Fraga’s intent was to go home and continue the family business. So he moved back to Ecuador after graduation and helped manage his father’s shop. In about five years, the business grew from 15 employees to 45, adding a few presses, some cutters, a folder and a bigger prepress department. “Things were pretty good,” he recalls.
“But I have plenty of brothers and sisters,” he says with a laugh. His two older brothers were involved with the company, and his younger sisters were considering joining, as well. Fraga told his dad he wanted to move on and branch out on his own. “So that brought me back to the states,” he says.
His decision to settle in Ohio was not by accident. “I looked around and noticed that a lot of shipments came through the Midwest,” he explains, “so I considered Columbus, Cincinnati, even Pittsburgh.” He landed a job in the production department at the Baesman Group, one of the largest sheetfed printers in the Columbus, OH, area and quickly started moving up.
Baesman’s management team noticed his tenacity and enrolled him in a program called “Built to Lead.” The program creates leaders through personal development because, as its mission states, “We believe that excellence must be built individually before it can spread organizationally.” This was where the entrepreneurial seed for Fraga Graphic Solutions was planted. Fraga took five years to write and rewrite his business plan and then, in June 2013, he presented it to the bank to get an initial loan.
Fraga started his business with a few used Heidelbergs because they were affordable, and they were what he was familiar with at his father’s shop. He made an exception for digital equipment and acquired a new Xerox color printer and two- and four-color DI presses. “I didn’t want to start my company totally from the ground up,” he explains. “But, at the same time, I didn’t want to buy anyone out and get whatever company culture they already had in place.”
Because he had worked seven and a half years for Baesman, he had good relationships with many vendors who extended him credit from the start. It was a huge help in getting things off the ground, he says.
What’s in a Name?
But he also had to build his corporate identity.
“Growing up, the biggest challenge I saw printing companies face was letting themselves get boxed in,” he recalls. “So, if you call yourself a printer, you’re just a printer. Or, if you say you’re a marketer, you’re just a marketer. If you categorize yourself into one area, it ends up being difficult to grow and evolve into new offerings.”
For this reason, it’s no coincidence that Fraga markets his business as a solutions company, instead of a printing company. “We solve graphic problems, wherever they come from,” he explains.
Fraga Graphic Solutions offers a wide array of services, considering its small staff of six. The resourcefulness of the company’s leader allows the team to do more with less, while standing out among competitors. Fraga Graphic Solutions’ services include offset and digital commercial printing, wide-format digital printing, marketing strategy, direct mail services and inventory management services, such as pick-and-pack and logistics.
The company has grown exponentially in its first year. It went from nothing to $300,000 in sales, and Fraga projects to double that number for 2015 and double it again for 2016. “By the end of 2016, I’d like to acquire another company,” he says.
Galo Fraga’s ambition is palpable, but his leadership style is unusual. “One thing I learned from the Built to Lead process is to always lead by telling the truth,” he says. “So, I have honest conversations with my team and allow them to challenge and question me.”
And the staff he has hired does just that. He also makes an effort not to hire anyone with a printing background, so they bring fresh ideas and new ways of doing things. His first employee was an illustration major, and from the beginning he taught her how to operate the presses. “She would ask me, ‘Well, why can’t you do that?’ and as I tried to explain it to her, together we would come up with different solutions.” His second employee was a communications major who is now learning the Xerox equipment, folders and cutters.
At Fraga Graphic Solutions, he says, his employees are calling meetings and asking to be taught the printing trade, which is different from other scenarios where management may push the staff to learn new skills. “My company is a little backwards,” he laughs.
At the end of the day, Fraga says, he measures his company’s success not only based on the number of clients, but also on the engagement of his staff.
“I want my employees happy and caring about our ability to move forward as a company,” he explains. After all, a person cannot lead with no one to follow. PI