Gateway Press--Taking Care of Business. . . and People
Louisville, KY's Gateway Press invests in equipment and workers.
BY ERIK CAGLE
THE SEVEN Dwarfs may not be working in the bindery department, but it's a safe bet that there are Gateway Press employees who whistle on their way to work.
Save the Hi-Ho jokes; this Louisville, KY-based commercial printer is a real workers' paradise. Even as the company grows bigger—an $8 million expansion added, among other things, 20 new jobs and brought the total number to nearly 300 employees—the personal touch can still be felt.
How much do the employees love their work? The average tenure is 14 years. Although the company was founded in 1950, four employees have 40-plus years of experience and countless others have 20- and 30-plus years of service under their belts.
Why do the workers love their jobs? Employees have never been laid off due to a lack of work, for one. Gateway Press employees who have been employed at least five years can take advantage of full in-state college tuition for their dependents. Additionally, Gateway pays union scale for its non-union shop and kicks in with an annual bonus equal to 25 percent of pre-tax profits.
For the average employee, that bonus equals seven weeks' salary.
Toss in employee empowerment—a flat management structure—and Gateway Press is as an attractive of working environment as...Disney World.
In return, Gateway Press reaps the benefits of quality work. Dennis Brown, a vice president of the company, is elated with the results.
"It helps morale—employees truly believe they have control over the quality that they put out," Brown remarks. "If any of our workers see something that is unacceptable, they can stop the machines with no recriminations."
Gateway Press has instituted a teamwork philosophy, based on the ideals of CEO C.W. "Kit" Georgehead Jr., which places equal importance on each worker's position. The functionality of the plant, he reasons, hinges on everyone accomplishing their tasks.
Gateway Press backs up its words with actions, or rather, dollars. The bonus concept started in the 1970s, and during one year the pool surpassed the $1 million mark, or approximately $4,000 per employee, before taxes.
"It was decided years ago that rather than give it all to Uncle Sam, we could give some to the employees," Brown remarks.
The college tuition perk was the brainchild of Georgehead. When the company's founder—C.W. Georgehead Sr.—passed away, the younger Georgehead wanted to do something with his portion of the estate to dedicate in his father's memory. The result is an open offer for free in-state tuition for employees with five or more years of experience.
"Quite a few people have taken advantage of it; I did for one year with my daughter," Brown says. "We have 14 kids using it right now. Our employees see the value in it."
Along with retaining its work force, Gateway Press has also established long-term relationships with outside product and service providers. The printer has used only two accounting firms, one bank and one insurance company during the past 25 years. Its suppliers of ink, paper, film and other printing components have also been longtime partners.
Gateway Press is a versatile commercial printer, accepting jobs in various fields, including magazines, catalogs, folders, brochures, posters, maps, cards, tax forms, soft-cover books and other categories. One of the largest printers in the state of Kentucky, it also ranks among the largest 175 printers in the country.
While at least $500,000 is earmarked for capital expenditures each year, the 48-year-old company grew by leaps and bounds in 1998, due in no short measure to an $8 million expansion that was completed in July. In addition to adding 20 new employees, Gateway beefed up its electronic prepress, pressroom and bindery departments.
The new equipment is expected to increase Gateway's production by 50 percent, transforming its annual sales from $33 million to $50 million.
Among the acquisitions: two Muller Martini high-speed saddle stitchers for the bindery department. At a combined cost of $600,000, the stitchers run 40 percent faster than the existing equipment that was replaced.
Gateway also spent $450,000 on a direct-to-plate imaging system and on hardware upgrades in its electronic prepress department. Where Gateway previously output film in order to create the plates used on-press, the CTP system allows the printer to output digital plates directly from an electronic file. With the film step and associated labor erased, Gateway is reaping even more savings.
Eliminating the film step has other benefits, including reduced errors, quicker press makeready, less paper waste, enhanced quality and quicker job turnaround.
The pride and joy of Gateway Press' expansion is easily the acquisition of an eight-unit Heidelberg Harris M-600 web press equipped with Autoplate, a JF-50 folder and 4/8 page pinless folder module.
Whereas a web offset press is generally used for long runs, the Autoplate system turns its M-600 into a more versatile, makeready-friendly machine, which can be used for shorter runs.
"It changes all 16 plates in under five minutes," Brown says. "We've had several makereadies where we stop the press, change 16 plates, start it back up and begin counting signatures again in 18 minutes.
"If the trend we've seen keeps going towards shorter and shorter runs, we can now run more jobs on the web that may have been sheetfed work before because we can cut into the makeready time."
The estimated time saved, according to Brown, is approximately 20 minutes to 30 minutes on each makeready.
Installation and start-up of the new press from Heidelberg Web Press proved to be a smooth process, Brown notes, and he is happy with the fact that it enabled Gateway to add full-time employees.
Gateway Press is banking on the trend toward shorter runs. Brown believes the company has found its niche as a medium-run-length web operation, one that won't compete with the bigger publication printers on lengthy runs.
"With the Autoplate system, I believe the focus that Heidelberg has put on the M-600 is to make it a high-quality, quick-makeready machine and still have quite a bit of speed," says Brown. "It gives you quite an advantage. We also have an eight- and 16-page pinless module, so we can deliver four eight-pagers or two 16-pagers out of a double web of paper."
He notes that Gateway is running the module at 5,000-10,000 iph greater than its rated speed when in 16-page mode.
"Now our production manager has the confidence to schedule the work out there, knowing it's going to get out of here on time," Brown points out.
The current updates in equipment, workflow and personnel transform the present into the future for Gateway Press. The printer is presently holding training classes for some of its customers, showing them what is required to send digital files to a printer and have them ready to output to digital plates or to film.
While the company has no definitive five-year-type plans—the ever-changing industry and technology that is constantly getting upgraded inhibit that, according to Brown—Gateway Press does have goals.
"We're striving to be a full-service shop," Brown says. "We want our customers to know that we can do just about anything for them. Our mission is to provide our customers an outstanding service at a competitive price, and to treat our employees and suppliers with utmost respect and fairness."