Finding Success Beyond Print in Adjacent Markets
When it comes to embodying the convergence spirit, perhaps no commercial printer does so more than McClung Companies, based in Waynesboro, Va.
The business got its start in 1946, founded by Charles McClung as he returned home from World War II and transitioned into civilian life. It remained a family business until 1984, when it was purchased by Tom Trevillian, and today it is run by Adam Monk, who serves as company president.
The path to diversification in its offerings started in 1989, according to Monk, when a local design house was acquired, giving McClung a strong additional service. It continued in 1997, with the addition of fulfillment and warehouse offerings, followed by mailing services in 2004, and Web-to-print capabilities in 2005.
In 2009, the shop acquired a competitor, expanding its capabilities further, but it wasn’t content to stop there, adding a Web development division in 2010. And, in 2016, McClung Companies acquired an IT services provider, with another large mail house acquired in 2018 and tucked into the Waynesboro facility in 2020. Today, the operation has 50,000 sq. ft. of production and service capacity in three facilities located in Virginia.
McClung’s journey represents an impressive résumé of constant evolution and change, and a willingness to always be looking ahead to new products and services, rather than relying on what has come before.
“We could see that diversification was needed to survive the ups and downs of the industry,” Monk notes. “At first, we wanted to be ahead of the curve in many areas. And, after the Great Recession of 2008, it became apparent that diversification was needed to stay competitive, and to smooth the peaks and valleys that print sometimes provides.”
That said, Monk points out that, even with all the diversification, roughly 60% of the business still comes from the commercial printing operations producing product info sheets, manuals, marketing material, and fundraising material; with another 20% coming from direct mail and wide-format offerings; and the rest falling into Web development, digital marketing, promotional product sales, apparel printing, and IT services.
Monk also notes that success isn’t just about diversification — it is also about the people. The company currently has 61 employees across all of its facilities, and they, he stresses, are the true secret to McClung’s growth. “Our employees are our most important asset, and probably the greatest competitive advantage we have,” he notes. “We crossed into many niches, and we are only able to do that due to the wonderful experience and skill we have on our staff. From sales, admin, prepress, production, delivery, warehouse, and fulfillment — it's the total experience of all of us that truly sets us apart.”
Beyond Print, Even Into Tech Services
For a commercial print shop, most of the services McClung Companies offers is fairly expected — until you reach the IT department. It might seem like an odd fit, but Monk explains that there was a purpose to the move into the digital realm.
“The technology aspect was started with the purchase of a local Web development company,” he says. “We wanted to provide cross-channel marketing and add the ability to provide a tactile product and a digitally balanced marketing campaign — all in one location. We later added a pure tech services division, which I actually started in my time away from McClung. I had operated several tech services businesses, and was able to incorporate the last into the McClung family of companies upon my return.”
In fact, Monk notes that while many see printed products and technology as polar opposites, always at war with one another when it comes to producing content and marketing campaigns, he instead sees them as complementary. Both, Monk notes, are necessary when it comes to producing powerful campaigns that can perform the way customers expect.
“The tactile and digital presence can work hand-in-hand,” Monk stresses, “but they can — and often do — work entirely separate from one another as well, as we may only have access to one side of the grand marketing scheme. It greatly depends on the desire of the customer and which entry point we approach from. The tactile side has opened many digital doors; we tend to get more work coming from that direction in our experience, as the trust is gained and built most often on the print side first.”
The Gorilla in the Room
While McClung has seen tremendous success and growth during the years, there is no denying that it — like the majority of printers in the U.S. right now — has been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, and the shutdowns that resulted from it.
“Our biggest challenge in the next 12 to 18 months will be rebalancing customers’ work that got set aside or put off entirely until the next year, and getting all the cycles realigned again,” he says.
That said, the diverse offerings that go beyond print have paid off, with Monk noting that while the print divisions have absolutely seen slow-downs, and some vertical markets the company serves have seen work dry up completely, other parts of the company have actually grown. He sees that as positioning McClung well for the rebound once things start to open back up again.
“Fortunately for us, our contract clients stayed steady the past few, very hard months,” he adds. “Where many stopped entirely, we actually grew some segments of our business. We’ve even started new lines of business, in personal protective equipment (PPE) production, and adapted our promo division through the sale of PPE products. That adaptation and entry into PPE has actually expanded our capacity for new print.”
He notes that beyond expanding into a new product line that can become an opportunity well beyond the current crisis, COVID-19 has also created new ways to connect with the local community and other business leaders. He recognizes that many are struggling right now, and is happy he can use McClung’s ability to quickly shift directions to help other local businesses that haven’t been as fortunate.
“This situation has actually enhanced our brand and standing in the business community, purely as a side effect of our desire to assist and contribute in ways others were not able to,” Monk says. “We are blessed, and very fortunate.”
Monk doesn’t see COVID-19 stopping his company’s drive to grow through convergence, diversification, and further acquisition. He notes that over the next 12 to 18 months, he plans to keep a close eye on potential opportunities.
And in fact, he urges other commercial printers to do the same. “Move out of the traditional niches,” Monk advises. “Try to diversify not only your services, but your client base as well. Seek both contract clients and seasonal customers; that’s easier said than done, but it has helped us greatly.”
And that is a model that every shop, big or small, can learn from, and emerge from the hard times stronger, leaner, and more profitable than ever before
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