Hatteras Reflects on 40 Years of Innovation
When Hatteras celebrated its 40th anniversary last year, President Bill Duerr had reason to look back with pride. From its beginnings in a facility far too small, the Tinton Falls, New Jersey-based commercial printer has expanded into a three-building, 180,000-sq.-ft. operation with some of the latest — and largest — offset, digital, and wide-format presses in the industry.
A family-owned company that treats its employees like family too, Hatteras has become a convergence success story, moving from commercial printing into wide-format, packaging, assembly, fulfillment, warehousing, mailing, and more. It serves clients in the pharmaceutical, retail, automotive, cosmetics, fashion, and financial services businesses, among others, providing everything from marketing collateral, signage, and packaging, to variable data direct mail and cross-media marketing campaigns.
With its expansion, sales have flourished, growing 132% since 2009, the year Duerr joined Hatteras as a salesman. Despite that growth, though, the company has never taken its eye off the importance of providing stellar service.
“We want to set the standard for service in our industry,” he declares.
Born the year his father, Charlie Duerr, started the company, Bill Duerr grew up hearing his dad’s mantra:
“If we don’t take care of our customers, someone else will.”
That customer focus and the loyalty it engendered have fueled Hatteras’ growth during the past four decades into a $65 million, 270-employee enterprise that ranks No. 75 on the Printing Impressions 300. That success, however, has brought the company to a crossroads. Duerr recognizes that continuing to target business expansion above all else may not be the best path forward.
“We have a responsibility to our customers and to our employees to make sure the growth strategy going forward is in everybody’s best interest,” he says. Could that mean dialing back the expansion and optimizing the current work? This is a question Duerr is wrestling with, aided by the team of aspiring leaders he has been cultivating.
Such dilemmas were far from the mind of company founder Charlie Duerr back in the early ’80s. The son and grandson of printers, the elder Duerr was not looking to follow in their footsteps. He had something more important on his mind: fishing. Duerr had spent his early days working as a mate on fishing charter boats off the coast of New Jersey. He also enjoyed frequent fishing excursions out of Hatteras, North Carolina.
“I’ve been going down there since 1971,” he says.
He almost stayed there, but returned to his beloved New Jersey shore, where he expanded his skill set into charter fishing sales. This led him into print sales. He sold for two printing companies before deciding to go into business for himself.
“I figured I could start my own business and be my own boss, or I could go back into sales if it didn’t work out,” he recalls.
The name Hatteras was an obvious choice, an ode to his love of that area. The Cape Hatteras Lighthouse also provided a handy logo and motto: “We are your guiding light through the print process.”
Bill Duerr has a lot of admiration for his father’s ambition and his drive to open a business while raising a family. “He put everything on the line to start a company at that time in his life,” he says.
The elder Duerr set up shop in a small building near a local airport and filled it with small, one-color presses. “We didn’t have enough room,” Duerr reflects. To get work done, in fact, he had to move the paper into the parking lot, where the threat of rain was always a concern.
The fledgling company eventually added two-color presses, running four-color jobs through them twice. When Hatteras was bursting at the seams, Duerr moved the company into a 30,000-sq.-ft. building in Manasquan, New Jersey, in 1989 and added larger presses.
“I didn’t think I’d ever need another building besides that one,” he says. He quickly learned he was wrong. After leasing other buildings to house its fulfillment operations, Hatteras moved into its current facility in 2004.
The elder Duerr acknowledges some struggles in the early years, hinting that the company almost went out of business. But he always remained bullish on the public’s need for printing.
“It’s not going anywhere,” he proclaims.
The Next Generation
Meanwhile, Bill Duerr had his own dreams — and they didn’t involve printing. “I actually swore I would never work here,” he admits, with a smile.
A lacrosse player growing up, he coached the sport in college while studying digital media, then went on to start a company, Mad Dog Lacrosse, with his brother Tommy to offer lacrosse training camps. But after deep discussions with his dad about their similar struggles motivating people, he began to realize there might be an opportunity at Hatteras.
In 2009, he turned over the company to his brother and started selling printing. During the next seven years, he gradually learned the business. His biggest impact at that time was using his understanding of the internet and social media to create more awareness of Hatteras. “You can cold call all you want, but at some point they’re going to vet you out based on your online presence, and then perception becomes reality,” he points out.
In 2016, Charlie Duerr made the decision to turn over the reins of Hatteras to his son. Now president, Bill Duerr amped up the company’s focus on digital printing, fueled by his faith in HP Indigo digital presses. “I just felt like Indigo had superior quality,” he says. “And I still feel that way.”
The company recently added an HP Indigo 100K B2-format press. “It’s been a game changer,” Duerr says. “We’ve picked up about 30% productivity on it.”
The company uses the 100K and two other HP Indigo presses to produce high-volume, print-on-demand programs and variable data printing. It also runs a new Canon imagePRESS V700 for short-run color work. He has looked into production inkjet, but feels the company’s range of offset work isn’t the right fit for an inkjet web press, and its trio of HP Indigos provide better digital quality in comparison to a cut-sheet inkjet press.
As profitable as digital printing has been for Hatteras, the growth of its wide-format digital business has been even more impressive. Since the first EFI VUTEk printers were installed in 2012, that business has flourished — though it was not without its growing pains, Duerr acknowledges.
“It was a little painful at first. It wasn’t as much of a direct correlation to what we did as I thought it was,” he says. “But we had a couple of good customer relationships that helped us get through those growing pains.”
In 2016, Hatteras landed the Calvin Klein account and now produces all signage and graphics for its stores. “It gave us a lot of credibility,” he says. This has opened some doors to other accounts. And because “most of our clients don’t just need wide-format,” he says, Hatteras gets a lot of other work from those customers, thus proving the importance of the convergence business model.
He notes that customers have fewer people on staff these days and are looking for vendors to provide more services for them. As a result, Hatteras can ensure brand consistency across product lines, save shipping costs by consolidating projects, and get to know each customer’s work better, according to Duerr.
To handle its growing wide-format business, the company expanded into the building next door in 2011. It now houses a Durst P5 350 hybrid flatbed (added in 2020), an EFI VUTEk HS125 Pro, an EFI VUTEk GS3250 LX Pro, and an HP Latex 570. These are complemented by a pair of 10x10-ft. Zund G3 3XL-3200 digital cutters along with other vinyl cutting and laminating equipment. That building also holds the company’s hand assembly and pick-and-pack operations.
Wide-format work, Duerr says, now makes up 20% of the company’s business, with digital printing comprising another 20%. The remaining 60% comes from offset, and it was to support and expand this business that Hatteras made its biggest investment in 2017 when it added a 29.5x41.5" Heidelberg Speedmaster XL 106. The 12-unit perfector has eight print units, two coaters and two drying stations, and can print on substrates of up to 32-pt. thickness. Configured with DryStar LED and mercury UV lamps, it can cure UV or dry aqueous coatings on both sides of the sheet in a single pass. It has enabled Hatteras to better handle jobs that require four-color printing and coating on both sides — about 50% of the workload.
Inside the facility, the Speedmaster XL 106 takes center stage, sitting on an elevated platform and stretching along one entire wall. In the adjoining room are the company’s two other large offset presses: a six-color, 29.5x41.34" Heidelberg Speedmaster XL 105 and a two-color 28x40" Heidelberg Speedmaster SM 102 2P, which predominantly prints pharmaceutical inserts.
“This press runs round the clock,” he says of the SM 102.
Keeping track of the work on these three sheetfed presses is a homegrown system called Navigator that integrates with the company’s Enterprise MIS. Large monitors around the plant show every job scheduled on each press for the week, including available hours.
The Promise of Packaging
Installing the XL 106 has allowed the company to move more purposefully into packaging. Hatteras now produces folding cartons, rigid boxes, sleeve packaging, and point-of-sale displays.
Further supplementing the packaging business is a brand new Bobst Visioncut 106 LER Autoplaten diecutter with stripping stations and in-line blanking. With output speeds of up to 8,000 sph, it has tripled capacity by obviating labor-intensive manual stripping methods, allowing for non-stop delivery of high-quality cartons and boxes.
Duerr sees a stronger focus on packaging in Hatteras’ future because of the predictability of this work: packaging is tied to the product inside, he says, which follows a strict manufacturing and delivery schedule. On the other hand, commercial printing work is usually tied into customers’ marketing efforts, which can be very reactive, resulting in unpredictable schedules for Hatteras. With packaging, Hatteras knows months in advance what it needs to do for the customer and which supplies to purchase. Duerr wants to build a more predictable revenue stream for Hatteras.
“With packaging, there’s a big opportunity for us to take what’s made us successful in the commercial market — like service and going above and beyond, and jumping through hoops — and disrupting what’s going on with packaging a little bit,” he says. This focus, he believes, will let Hatteras compete against players with decades of specialized experience.
The company has a prototyping department where designers create and digitally print packaging samples for customers. Racks of these prototypes inside the facility show off dozens of unique pieces. During COVID, Duerr reveals, Hatteras printed many small runs of promotional packaging for social media influencers, which got the company’s foot in the door for larger-run jobs later on.
Duerr sees great opportunities in cannabis packaging, and recently exhibited at the MJBizCon marijuana and cannabis conference in Las Vegas to showcase Hatteras-branded packaging designs. He says these samples were a big hit among attendees.
Printing Impressions accompanied Duerr on a tour of the two main facilities in December, when it was decked out festively for Christmas. He greeted employees at every turn, proudly pointing out each massive press and offering details on jobs being produced. On the walls, poster-sized newsletters highlighted company and employee accomplishments in English and Spanish. Also posted were details on career paths to show employees how they can work toward more responsible, higher-paying positions.
Even with this strategy for training and promoting workers, Hatteras still faces staffing shortages, which in turn impacts its ability to expand. Duerr notes the lack of other commercial printers near the company’s New Jersey shore location.
“We love it here, but there’s no competition,” he says — which means there’s a limited pool of skilled workers to draw from. He is looking at new ways to automate, even in the hand assembly and kitting areas.
With so many different and thriving services in Hatteras’ repertoire, Duerr acknowledges that things can get complicated.
“There are some days when I wish we didn’t do so many things. It would be a little easier to manage,” he admits. “But I think it’s been necessary for us to get to this point, and now it’s going to give us the ability to stop and look and say, ‘OK, we’re at $65 million. Do we keep going? Or do we optimize that mix of work?’”
To help him guide the company into the future, he is relying on the council of others, including the company’s new chief operating officer and chief financial officer.
“I want to build a leadership team that feels empowered to make decisions and run the company on a day-to-day basis so every decision doesn’t need to reach me,” he says. “I want people who will disagree with me, who will help me see what I’m not seeing.”
“We’ve gotten here a lot on gut instinct and not knowing any better,” he continues. “We want to trust our guts but make it more objective and rooted in facts and data.”
His strategy is inspiring to the leadership team at Hatteras.
“Bill’s leadership approach really helped us get through COVID, and it’s just helping us navigate what’s going on in the industry and keeping a really positive environment for the people that work here — and the people we’re looking to attract,” notes Michael Noerr, chief marketing officer.
Looking back on the company’s first four decades, Charlie Duerr is impressed with Hatteras’ growth. “I never thought it would get as big as it did,” he admits.
These days he spends much of his time deep sea fishing, though he can’t resist chatting up strangers to learn about their jobs. Ever the salesman, he has passed along several leads in retirement that turned into Hatteras customers.
Bill Duerr loves the ocean too, but in a different way than his dad. “I much prefer to go surfing,” he reveals, noting that he just returned from a 16-day surfing excursion in Indonesia. “It was incredible.”
Duerr has also picked up his father’s commitment to customers, and strives to keep them close, understand their needs, and adjust the company’s investment decisions accordingly.
Moving forward, he says, the company’s success will hinge on these relationships along with finding the right mix of services, technology, and people.
“How do we create more variables that we can control?” he muses. “For me, it’s packaging. For me it’s empowering our people with great technology; and it’s really making sure that we set the standard for what service looks like in the industry.”
Bob has served as editor of In-plant Impressions since October of 1994. Prior to that he served for three years as managing editor of Printing Impressions, a commercial printing publication. Mr. Neubauer is very active in the U.S. in-plant industry. He attends all the major in-plant conferences and has visited more than 170 in-plant operations around the world. He has given presentations to numerous in-plant groups in the U.S., Canada and Australia, including the Association of College and University Printers and the In-plant Printing and Mailing Association. He also coordinates the annual In-Print contest, co-sponsored by IPMA and In-plant Impressions.