CJK Group Buys Wisconsin Book Manufacturer Worzalla, Closes Former Allen Press in Kansas
CJK Group founder and CEO Chris Kurtzman and his leadership team could author the ultimate "how-to" guide on U.S. book manufacturing industry consolidation and subsequent corporate culture integration.
After all, the largest book printing entity has acquired a virtual Who's Who of companies since 2017, including McNaughton & Gunn in Saline, Michigan; Allen Press in Lawrence, Kansas; Tweddle Group in Clinton Township, Michigan; Times Printing in Random Lake, Wisconsin; Cenveo Publisher Services and Cenveo Learning to help create content services provider KnowledgeWorks Global Ltd.; Quad's book manufacturing facility in Versailles, Kentucky; Thomson Shore in Dexter, Michigan; Dickinson Press and Kingsport Book in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and Church Hill, Tennessee, respectively; Webcrafters in Madison, Wisconsin; and The Sheridan Group in Hunt Valley, Maryland.
Now, CJK Group has acquired book printing company Worzalla, of Stevens Point, Wisconsin, which will be renamed Sheridan Worzalla. Marking the third Sheridan location in Wisconsin, the 365,000-sq.-ft. Worzalla facility employs approximately 340 workers.
“Worzalla has a tremendous market reputation and a well-defined niche in the children’s and trade book publishing markets,” remarked Kurtzman, in a prepared statement. “The addition of the Worzalla operation expands the spectrum of printing services for Sheridan’s clients, nicely augmenting our current strengths in the trade, education, academic, religious, and automotive publishing markets.”
Worzalla specializes in the production of hardcover and paperback children's books — including the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series — cookbooks, and movie tie-in books. It had also consistently ranked as one of the top places to work in central Wisconsin.
Jim Fetherston, president and CEO of Worzalla, noted in the same release, “With CJK Group’s ongoing support, Sheridan Worzalla will be well-positioned to continue to grow. In the rapidly consolidating domestic book manufacturing world, becoming a key part of a family-held market leader is a terrific fit for the future of our company and all employees. Importantly, the people of Worzalla are joining an organization that will continue our commitment to highest level quality and support that our customers have come to expect from us.” Fetherston will remain as a consultant, advisor, and member of the leadership team.
Worzalla's Rich History
Worzalla Publishing Co. (WPC) was founded in 1892 when brothers Joseph and Steven Worzalla bought a fledgling Polish newspaper and set up their office and production plant in downtown Stevens Point, Wisconsin.
In 1912, WPC relocated into the former Hoffman Piano Co., giving the needed space to expand their job printing operation and enter the bookbinding business, which operated under the name of National Bookbinding Co. During World War II, the company expanded its letterpress operation and added two warehouses. In 1955, offset printing capabilities were added and a new plant was constructed in 1957, where its operations remain today.
In the spring of 1985, Worzalla employees acquired one-third of the shares of the company and created an ESOP (Employee Stock Ownership Plan). By the end of the following year, the employees purchased the remaining two-third shares.
CJK Group Today, Minus Sheridan Kansas Facility
With CJK Group printing facilities now branded under the Sheridan name, the Sheridan family of printing companies provides solutions for books, magazines, journals, catalogs, and commercial printing. Sheridan printing facilities are located in Brainerd, Minnesota; Brimfield, Ohio; Chelsea, Grand Rapids, and Saline, Michigan; Hanover, New Hampshire; Hanover, Pennsylvania; Madison, Random Lake, and Stevens Point, Wisconsin; and Versailles, Kentucky.
One former Sheridan facility no longer appears on the above list, however, following CJK Group's decision to close its Sheridan Kansas printing and distribution facility by the end of October. The former Lawrence, Kansas-based Allen Press was acquired by CJK Group in early 2023. In a statement, the company indicated that, despite significant efforts to attract appropriate new work, current sales levels are insufficient to make the plant financially viable.
Print work produced in Kansas is being transferred to other Sheridan locations, and employees there have been encouraged to pursue open positions at other Sheridan locations, according to the company.
CJK Group says the content services activities at the Kansas facility that are managed by KnowledgeWorks Global (KGL) will continue without interruption. KnowledgeWorks offers content services such as editorial, peer review, management consulting, learning solutions, and online hosting to the journal, educational publishing, and eLearning markets. KnowledgeWorks facilities are located in Richmond, Virginia, and Lawrence, Kansas; Chennai, Mumbai, and New Delhi in India; and in London.
Another former CJK Group acquisition, Tweddle Group serves the OEM industry with custom support solutions and is headquartered in Clinton Township, Michigan, with European headquarters in Italy and Belgium, and facilities in Chennai and Mumbai, India.
Frankly, the sheer growth that Brainerd, Minnesota-based CJK Group has experienced in the U.S. and abroad under the Sheridan, Tweddle Group, and KnowledgeWorks brands represents a remarkable feat for Kurtzman — who served as president of Bang Printing for 24 years before launching the CJK Group. Kurtzman's aggressive M&A strategy has been accomplished in a low-key manner, perhaps reflecting his Midwestern modesty and preference to remain out of the trade press limelight.
The rise of CJK Group also reflects the ongoing capital investment strains in a rising interest rate environment and lean profit margins within the book manufacturing space, which is forcing the rollup of standalone — often family held — book manufacturers into a larger entity. The need for greater pressroom and postpress automation — partly driven by the ongoing skilled labor shortage — coupled with the ongoing technology shift from offset to production inkjet printing, have made the table stakes too high for many standalone book printers to remain independent.