Kirkwood Printing in Massachusetts Has Flourished Through Savvy M&A Decisions
Stop us if you’ve heard this one...so three Quebecor World sales guys are driving around during their lunch hour one day, circa 2003, and stumble upon a commercial printing business they knew well: a company with an outstanding reputation, a firm that represented a golden opportunity for the trio to strike out on their own and start anew. The company: Kirkwood Printing.
Sorry, it’s no joke. But when the sales reps—Bob Coppinger, Ed Kelley and Will Winship—first met with Kirkwood founder Kirk Krikorian and his team, there was a bit of confusion. “Kirk thought we were there representing Quebecor World M&A,” Kelley recalls. “When we explained to them that we were three salesmen from Quebecor World, the air kind of went out of the room.”
The story is worth a few chuckles in hindsight because the ultimate punchline is anything but deflating. It took just three months after that initial meeting for Coppinger’s group to complete the deal for the business and the building. Ten short years later, the commercial printing firm, which posted $9 million in annual sales at the time of the transaction, has grown into a $72 million firm.
Savvy M&A decisions have helped along the way. Kirkwood was buoyed by the 2012 addition of a digital printing establishment based in Woburn, MA. Another printing operation in Ridgefield Park, New Jersey (Kirkwood New York) was acquired to beef up its New York area presence, and a direct mail component—Kirkwood Direct—has exploded into a $20+ million annual performer.
The Wilmington, Massachusetts-based firm has backed the growth with $14 million in capex investments during that time frame, most recently adding an HP Indigo 7500 digital press, an EFI VUTEk wide-format printer, a Brausse diecutter and a Zünd digital cutter. Kirkwood Printing recently signed off on a deal to offer advertising specialties, forming Kirkwood Superior Promotions.
In order to accommodate the growth from a physical standpoint and allow Kirkwood Digital to be brought in-house, Kirkwood Printing expanded its headquarters location by 30,000 square feet.
That the 250-employee company has been stunningly successful should not be all that surprising. After all, the three owners (which also now includes Chuck Colvin, executive vice president) formerly served together on the sales staff of Acme Printing, a highly-regarded firm that was led by the late Francis Canzano Jr., a past Printing Impressions/RIT Printing Industry Hall of Fame inductee.
“We were immediately able to grow Kirkwood’s offset business because of the accounts that we already had good relationships with,” notes Coppinger. “That kind of raised the visibility of Kirkwood. We have some national clients—companies that are considered high end in their respective markets, and it’s helped us to maintain an uninterrupted growth path each year.”
Kirkwood Printing offers an array of products, providing sheetfed offset and digital printing, grand-format digital printing, the aforementioned direct mail and data services, interactive marketing, media planning and placement, Web-to-print, fundraising (Perrone Group and Magnet Direct in Braintree, MA), kitting and distribution. Commercial work, mail services and digital printing represent its leading components.
Finding the New York Groove
Kirkwood Printing services clientele in verticals such as advertising, education, finance, health care, retail, nonprofit and travel. Kirkwood bolstered its already impressive client list by launching Kirkwood New York, which is just a stone’s throw from New York City. The plan here is to increase its visibility among Madison Avenue and Park Avenue clientele, while also selling deeper within its current customer roster.
Having a reputation for quality has certainly been a differentiator. About five years ago, Kirkwood Printing produced a 125th anniversary coffee table book—a $5 million project—for a national energy concern. A number of high-profile printers were under consideration for the job.
What has sparked the growth at Kirkwood? The company has been diligent in ensuring that key personnel at acquired businesses, as opposed to only the equipment and accounts, are included in their acquisitions.
“We made very good strategic decisions when we were expanding into new products and services, like Kirkwood Direct, where we brought on board an entire management team, and reaped the benefits of having their existing customers and market expertise,” Coppinger notes. “The No. 1 thing we look for is the potential of the key staff members that come along with the acquisition—a key sales representative or a visionary technical person. We then give them the tools to reach the next level. We’ve bought companies that were profitable, and some that were not so profitable, but the common denominator is keeping people who we know will flourish.”
Another critical variable is finding prospective additions that can bring something different to the table for Kirkwood Printing, and add a wrinkle that will entice customers more so. “That’s been one of the keys to our growth. Each one of the acquisitions put us in different markets, with different services,” he adds. “While the offset world was shrinking rapidly and many companies were folding their tents, we were able to continue to grow by making some good choices.”
The Kirkwood New York acquisition gave the executive team the foothold it was seeking in the Big Apple. According to Kelley, the satellite has already generated significant growth with existing and new clients. It took a good deal of work to get the facility where it needed to be from a manufacturing point of view.
“When we went down there, we could see that manufacturing was broken,” Kelley says. “They fell into the old trap where shops don’t service their equipment properly. So one of things we had to do was invest in getting the manufacturing operations more efficient. We immediately bought a new Heidelberg prepress system—which is a match for what we have in Wilmington, MA—enabling us to share files back and forth seamlessly.”
In order to better bridge the 200+ mile gap between the facilities, production meetings are held every morning at 9:30 am, with the use of Skype and big screen TVs. Further investments were made to upgrade a folder and stitcher. The refresh had a salutary impact on employee morale and the bottom line.
“These improvements have instilled more confidence in the seasoned salespeople—that we stand behind them to go out and sell more, and to have the full confidence that we will service their business,” Kelley says.
What direction Kirkwood Printing will embark upon next is a question best left to fate. Coppinger points out that some of the M&A opportunities present themselves rather randomly and abruptly but can occasionally be completed in short order. As for the company’s wish list of new equipment, the digital end could see further investments. Kelley adds that there are intriguing developments with perfecting technology and continuous-feed digital presses that are begging to be explored further.
“But we’re not a build-it-and-they-will-come culture,” Coppinger affirms. “We make strategic decisions based on what we’re seeing in the marketplace. We’re nimble enough, yet powerful enough financially, to analyze the market and fire a rifle shot at a piece of equipment or a company acquisition that can transform our business.”
Many New Offerings in the Pipeline
Looking ahead, Coppinger is excited about developing technologies in the pipeline, including some offshoots of wide-format digital printing, which he expects will continue to burgeon in the foreseeable future. A showroom for the advertising specialties offerings is on the horizon, and Coppinger is always willing to consider any M&A opportunities that can help Kirkwood Printing build on the immense success it has experienced since the former Acme Printing sales crew took over.
And, while there are other important measures of a company other than the bottom line, Coppinger underscores the belief that by taking care of the numbers, Kirkwood can better support its employees and customers.
“Profitability, strength of balance sheet and P&L are all paramount,” he concludes. “Customer-oriented things are no good if you don’t maintain a strong financial organization. We are very diligent in managing our business from a financial standpoint.
“If you take your eye off that ball, it doesn’t matter how many great ideas you have.” PI