FAST TRACK FIRMS -- Sailing Against the Wind
By Erik Cagle
The whispers that point toward an improving economy are becoming louder and louder. And 2004—some observers are confident—will show a marked improvement in the fortunes of commercial printers across the country, ending a downward cycle that traces to the fall of 2000.
Of course, anything above the 2001 and 2002 performances would constitute an improvement. Still, among the ranks of our annual Top 400, tucked in between the masses of companies that experienced flat or negative growth from the previous campaign, are some establishments that have actually soared.
We've provided a capsulated look at 13 companies randomly selected from a cross section of sales levels to discover what initiatives were undertaken to produce black ink in the vast sea of red. These firms posted figures that represent their most recently concluded fiscal year. They are listed in no particular order.
2003 Ranking: 153
Most Recent Fiscal Year Sales: $38M
Previous Fiscal Year Sales: $32.5M
EU Services traces its roots to 1968 as a provider of custom printed envelopes. The company now produces a full range of customized direct mail packages and high-end commercial products, including annual reports, package inserts and sales collateral for associations, non-profits and religious organizations, publishers, direct marketing agencies and corporate B2B.
EU Services' growth was buoyed by an increased emphasis on sales, acquisition marketing and internal production efficiencies, according to Art Simpson, executive vice president. The company's marketing budget was bolstered by 25 percent and three new sales positions were added.
"Company performance and profitability information was communicated to employees on a monthly basis, and an emphasis on the organization's mission, vision and core business attributes was promoted on an ongoing basis," he says. "EU also focused on maintaining a healthy mix of business across all divisions—commercial printing, envelope printing, data processing, mail processing—via selling 'total packages' that maximized all service areas."
EU Services was also busy in equipment acquisitions during 2003, adding a six-color Heidelberg CD press with aqueous coater to replace older two- and five-color machines. Three inserters and a Nipson 7000 printer rounded out the major purchases.
For 2004, Simpson sees EU adding more sales reps, as well as expanding into two or three targeted, vertical market segments. An internal brand awareness and corporate culture campaign kicked off this past October to mark the company's 35th anniversary.
Quantum Color Graphics
Morton Grove, IL
2003 Ranking: 193
Most Recent Fiscal Year Sales: $28.5M
Previous Fiscal Year Sales: $24.6M
Founded in 1992, Quantum Color Graphics has carved a niche for itself by printing on difficult substrates such as plastics, vinyls and foils for ad agencies and graphic design firms, among others. Quantum also boasts a full-service bindery and finishing department, along with warehousing and fulfillment capabilities.
In offering the ability to print on such diverse substrates, Quantum was able to justify doubling the size of its sales staff and increase its customer base by 50 percent.
The first quarter of 2004 will be a busy one on the equipment side for the printer. An eight-color press with UV capability is slated to be installed, along with a digital press. The company will benefit from a 25,000-square-foot expansion for the bindery and fulfillment divisions, bringing its total to 100,000 square feet of manufacturing space.
"If we continue to provide high- quality services that satisfy all the needs of our customers, we will continue to enjoy the benefits of our customer partnerships with their ever increasing loyalty," states Bill White, Quantum CEO.
"Even in the poor market conditions all of us have faced, we learned that customers appreciate our never-ending quest to exceed their expectations. As a result, we have been rewarded with greater shares of their work."
2003 Ranking: 38
Most Recent Fiscal Year Sales: $185M
Previous Fiscal Year Sales: $155M
Predominantly A package printer, Fort Dearborn produces shrink sleeves, pressure-sensitive labels, rollfed, stack labels and paper/synthetic cut labels. According to Gwen Chapdelaine, director of marketing communications, Fort Dearborn's current and short-term investments are focused on increasing flexographic, roto-gravure and digital printing capabilities to support increased customer demand for shrink sleeve labels and high-end, pressure-sensitive labels.
Among its initiatives for 2004 and beyond are its digital printing solutions, notes Chapdelaine.
"We envision utilizing digital printing to replicate lithographic, flexographic and gravure reproduction processes, enabling total print production flexibility within consumer products manufacturers' brand families. This will open opportunities to eliminate packaging inventory, change 'speed to market' to hours rather than weeks and provide innovative concepts such as co-branding of the package billboard with Internet-like speed."
Burton & Mayer
2003 Ranking: 287
Most Recent Fiscal Year Sales: $18.3M
Previous Fiscal Year Sales: $16.8M
The most recent campaign represented a rebound year for Burton & Mayer, which suffered (like many others) through a dismal 2001. The sheetfed printer—which produces advertising, retail signage, direct mail, newsletters and financial printing, among others—used a concerted sales effort to win back or replace business lost in 2001, reports President Tim Burton.
Expanding the product line also bolstered that effort. A half-size, six-color Komori equipped with coater and full automation joined the pressroom, and e-commerce capabilities have been added in the past 18 months.
"We have completely revamped prepress, replacing our manual CTP platesetters with fully automated Screen devices, added Kodak Approval proofing and updated our Rampage workflow," Burton notes. "We are looking to expand or move our plant since space is now our biggest issue.
"We are growing our fulfillment business and using the e-commerce solution to provide overall supply chain management for our clients."
2003 Ranking: 123
Most Recent Fiscal Year Sales: $50M
Previous Fiscal Year Sales: $32M
Not many three-year-old, startup shops exist in this industry—certainly not with a spotless plant filled with shiny new equipment.
There's only one Graphic Press.
John Zamora used his own resources to fund the dream of becoming a print shop owner in the printing hotbed of Los Angeles. It has grown to the $50 million range, concentrating on products like marketing collateral, direct mail, catalogs, annual reports, promotional materials and inserts for vertical markets such as automotive, retail, communications, financial, fashion, travel and healthcare.
Its growth platform is based on the aggressive hiring of premier sales representatives, a customer- focused culture, premium quality product and the latest in printing technology, according to Pete Stein, executive vice president.
In the coming year, Graphic Press plans to expand its bindery, a project that began in 2003 with the addition of a saddle stitcher. On the press end, a double web and a sheetfed press are also on its wish list.
In 2004, the company anticipates the addition of more top-flight sales reps, geographical expansion via select regional acquisitions, and continued investment in value-added technologies and services.
2003 Ranking: 189
Most Recent Fiscal Year Sales: $29.41M
Previous Fiscal Year Sales: $19.41
The merger of the two companies in 2001 allowed the new concern to not only maintain the existing sales base of each company, but enhance its efforts, as well, reveals President John Berthelsen.
"We have continued to grow because we continue to listen to our customers and provide them with the products and services that they need to be successful in their own businesses," he says.
Suttle-Straus embarked on a major equipment acquisition initiative in 2002, adding both sheetfed and web equipment to increase its print capacity and capabilities. Berthelsen also reports that the company's non-print, ancillary services are growing at an accelerated clip.
Alcom Printing Group
2003 Ranking: 257
Most Recent Fiscal Year Sales: $21.27M
Previous Fiscal Year Sales: $18.74M
Alcom addresses the Boston to Baltimore geographical market with commercial sheetfed (up to six colors) and non-heatset web (up to five colors) printing.
CEO William Coale feels the company's superior customer service (backed by its Team Attitude program) and attention to operational efficiencies helped to make for a profitable campaign.
In 2003, the company added a sheeter for one of its web presses to complement some computer and server upgrades. For the coming year, Coale anticipates adding a unit to one of the web presses and upgrading a cutter.
"We'll stick to our core capabilities while building relationships with customers and re-balancing our sales team," he adds.
Eden Prairie, MN
2003 Ranking: 109
Most Recent Fiscal Year Sales: $58.17M
Previous Fiscal Year Sales: $51.83M
A commercial, point of purchase and package printing specialist, Challenge Printing serves the retail, manufacturing, food and ad agency markets, among others.
The company's diversified product line and e-commerce capabilities have allowed it to take advantage of vendor consolidation efforts in the industry, according to Chris Bixler, national sales manager.
"Our customers have been able to drive significant costs out of the printing process by working with Challenge," he says.
Challenge Printing has invested $16 million in new equipment purchases over the past three years, with another $11 million earmarked for new gear in the next 18 months. Among the new equipment to be installed is a large-format, 81˝, six-color press, billed as the first of its kind in North America. Up to a pair of 40˝, six-color presses are also slated.
Challenge will also be making a move to new digs, leaving two manufacturing centers and a storage facility totaling 250,000 square feet for one building that boasts more than 400,000 square feet.
"Moving into one facility, with room to grow, will bring numerous benefits to our organization and customers, including greater control, workflow and cost reductions," owner Bob Lothenbach says. "A major part of sustaining this growth will be the development of our national sales force. In addition to our local sales presence, Challenge currently has sales offices in six cities and plans to double that number in the next two years."
Scott, QC, Canada
2003 Ranking: 96
Most Recent Fiscal Year Sales: $65M
Previous Fiscal Year Sales: $54M
Founded in 1991, Solisco's main thrust is web printing, but the company also dabbles in the sheetfed arena. It produces magazines, books and flyers for a variety of markets.
Solisco has been very active on both the equipment and business acquisition fronts. In the past 18 months alone, the printer has installed a new Heidelberg Sunday web press and a Muller Martini Prima saddle stitcher. But its crowning jewel is the 2003 acquisition of The Delta Group, a newspaper and coldset printer based in Toronto.
"This gives us a foot in the door with target marketing," notes Luc Grimard, plant manager. "It opens up more business opportunities and gives us more of a presence in Toronto."
Saint-Laurent, QC, Canada
Most Recent Fiscal Year Sales: $26M
Previous Fiscal Year Sales: $20M
Another north of the border printer, Integria, produces annual reports, POP/advertising materials, corporate communications pieces and bank passbooks for the financial, marketing, pharmaceutical and corporate markets. Among its services are a full range of offset print production, digital variable data printing, multimedia and Internet-based services, and e-learning.
The biggest boon for Integria has been the August 2003 acquisition of Scabrini Media's customer base, according to Jamie Barbieri, president and CEO. "We are very pleased with the transaction and are equally excited about the impact of Scabrini's clientele on our operation. The increased volume will enable us to cope with some difficult capacity utilization issues currently facing all printers in the industry."
Integria has also been busy adding pressroom capacity with the installation of a 40˝ Heidelberg Speedmaster CD 102 offset press, a Heidelberg NexPress 2100 color digital press and a Heidelberg Digimaster 9110 digital printer.
The company plans to diversify into complementary, value-added services, strategic acquisitions and partnerships, and will continue to modernize and automate its manufacturing equipment and workflow.
SOURCECORP Printing & Direct Mail Solutions
2003 Ranking: 285
Most Recent Fiscal Year Sales: $18.48M
Previous Fiscal Year Sales: $14.33M
A national printer with plants in Oklahoma and California, SOURCECORP serves non-profits, financial and direct mail clientele. "The ability to produce custom designed, custom manufactured product is our strength," states Jeff Pelcher, president.
Digital proofing is a new wrinkle for SOURCECORP, and future equipment additions and enhancements include direct-to-plate, laser printing and personalization. The company also plans to restructure its customer service department by adding account managers, along with expanding products and services. In addition, a GATF internal audit was completed recently to identify areas where efficiencies and enhancement of the quality control process can be improved.
Most Recent Fiscal Year Sales: $286.9M
Previous Fiscal Year Sales: $186.9M
Sure, A lion's share of the Allegra Network's growth can be attributed to its acquisition of the Insty-Prints franchise (210 locations) in 2002, boosting the Allegra family to more than 500 facilities.
According to Darryl Brown, vice president of development, the network installed nine Heidelberg presses in the past year alone, along with 25 imagesetters and 150 digital copiers.
Allegra is an active player on the acquisition front, targeting independent printers in geographical areas to increase its presence in the marketplace. It also acquires assets including customer accounts of independent printers and consolidates them into existing locations.
Great Lakes Companies
Most Recent Fiscal Year Sales: $23.5M
Previous Fiscal Year Sales: $21M
A sheetfed and web printer, Great Lakes produces high-end catalogs, brochures and annual reports. Its GLDirect is a mailing and fulfillment business. AKSESS is a software development and an Application Service Provider (ASP) of digital asset management. New for 2003 is its print-on-demand (POD) center—a nice growth area to offset what President James Schultz terms a flat commercial printing market.
Great Lakes recently installed a Heidelberg NexPress 2100, a Quickmaster DI Pro and a six-color, 40˝ Heidelberg perfector. All totaled, the company has invested $5 million in new equipment over the last 18 months.
Future investments, says Schultz, will center around a stronger management information system. "The key to our growth is integration. We're on the right path to creating our future."