Martin Edwards Enriching a Tradition
BY ERIK CAGLE
Even at an early age, Marty Edwards learned the value of taking advantage of opportunities that presented themselves.
Edwards, chairman of Edwards Brothers and a 2001 Printing Impressions/RIT Printing Industry Hall of Fame inductee, parlayed a small, but prosperous, third-generation family mail-order book printing shop in Ann Arbor, MI, into an $80 million, nationwide short- and medium-run empire.
One such advantage was benefitting from the knowledge of someone who had already taken the road Marty was about to embark upon. And who better than his father, John William (J.W.), to share his insight into the world of book and journal printing? After all, J.W. was handing the reins of the company his own father founded in 1893 (along with two brothers), to his son.
"Of all that my father taught me, three main things stick out in my mind," explains Edwards. "Number one: take care of your people. Don't just pay them and allow them to put a roof over their heads, but help them develop their careers so they can reach fulfillment themselves, just as we were enjoying our lives and fulfilling our expectations. Number two: get the very best equipment; don't skimp on it. You need quality equipment to help you do quality work. Number three: stay focused on your product niche.
"My dad used to say that there's a sign that hangs outside a small printer's shop that says, 'No job too large or too small.' That guy, he said, just doesn't have any focus."
Man of Action, Not Words
Marty Edwards sounds a bit apologetic when discussing his own success and that of his company—now in its fourth generation—and gives the impression that he'd rather work than talk. He allows that Edwards Brothers has done a "good" job of focusing on the medium- and short-run book and journal niche, and has set a pace that competitors are struggling to maintain.
"That sounds kind of boastful," he says, "and that's really not me."
To learn who Marty Edwards is, you need to start at the beginning of the Edwards Brothers story. Thomas and Daniel Edwards, a pair of University of Michigan law students, began the practice of mimeographing and selling their own lecture notes in 1893, which they quickly found to be a profitable venture. The pair alternated running the business until finishing law school, at which point they handed the reins to their older brother, John J., or J.J., who grew the mimeographing business until his death in 1922.
The torch was then passed to his son, John William (Marty's father), who expanded the business further—traveling across Michigan, Indiana and Ohio—visiting general science professors, some who used their private printings of lecture notes as the basis for educational texts they hoped to sell to publishers.
Translating for Dollars
The Depression caused the company to go public, and J.W. spun off J.W. Edwards Publishers during the pre-World War II years. That business prospered during the war by re-publishing technical books and journals that were originally published in Germany and were not available in the United States.
Marty Edwards' exposure to ink on paper came at a very early age. Along with older brother Joe, Marty would often accompany his father into work on Saturdays. An employee would become their "supervisor" and the pair were given odd jobs to occupy their time.
"I can remember working there and I wasn't even 13 years old—probably a violation of child labor laws," he laughs. "I was paid about 10 cents an hour. The first time the supervisor handed me my first check, he said, 'What are you going to do with all that money?' The check was probably for a dollar.
"There were a lot of Saturday mornings where my brother and I were always getting in the way. At a young age, printing was already getting inculcated in my mind."
Although he joined the company in 1954 upon receiving his master's degree from the University of Michigan, Marty wanted to add a little diversity to his portfolio. He signed on with the U.S. Army and spent two years with the armed forces branch. He traveled extensively in Germany and worked as an auditor for the Army.
"I learned quite a bit about life in Germany. There were many bombed-out buildings, evidence of World War II," Marty recalls. "Poverty could be seen everywhere, and people tried to sneak across the border from Hungary."
Upon returning, Marty and his brother, Joe, set out to put their signature on the company. Primarily a mail-order house with a small degree of face-to-face interaction, the roles gradually reversed. Sales offices sprung up in New York, Washington, DC, Chicago, Boston, San Francisco and Atlanta. "We did this step by step, but that decision to put us in front of our prospects and customers was pivotal," he notes.
Another key factor that sparked growth for Edwards Brothers was the addition of a new manufacturing facility for both hardbound and softbound books. Originally a small, 40-employee business in Raleigh, NC, the plant was moved to nearby Lillington. It was this venture that provided some of the most agonizing growing pains.
"It was a tough struggle for about four or five years," Edwards recalls. "We didn't know how to manage an out-of-town business. We tried to work with the management of the company that we had acquired, and they really didn't know our business. Once we put our own people in there, it improved our focus and got us playing the game smarter."
Praise from a Customer
The company and Marty Edwards' reputation continued to grow. He became acquainted with Bob Hagelstein, who would later become president of Westport, CT-based Greenwood Publishing Group. Hagelstein was first impressed with Edwards' professionalism.
"The business really reflects Marty. It has always stood for consistency and honesty," Hagelstein remarks. "The quality of their work has always been head and shoulders above the rest.
"Any printer-publisher relationship has to be based on trust, and that's what I got from Marty," he adds. "His company also showed a knack for adjusting and adapting. As our products evolved, Marty was there to offer us anything we required."
Jed Lyons, president of The Rowman & Littlefield Publishing Group in Lanham, MD, has known Edwards for more than 25 years and calls the printing veteran "one of the most exceptional human beings I've ever met—a true gentleman. I've always thought he was a midwestern Connecticut Yankee—hard nosed, tough minded, an unassuming, self-effacing man with a heart of gold. He's loyal to his friends and customers. He has all those old-fashioned values, along with a good sense of humor."
Beyond What's Expected
"When our company was going through some growth pains years ago, he helped us through the financial crises," notes Lyons. "He didn't have to do that. That tells you the kind of person he is; you'd want to have him next to you in a foxhole."
Edwards Brothers evolved over the years, adding journal printing and exiting the typesetting business altogether. By adding the offices and seeing existing clients and prospects in person, Edwards Brothers was able to learn the needs and wants of its customers, and that proved to be very enlightening.
"We didn't have any formula, as in, 'Hey, we're the new kid on the street and we're going to show you how it's done,' ' Edwards notes. "No, we were quite the opposite. We were there to learn."
The learning hasn't stopped for Marty Edwards, either. He is closely monitoring the stress that the book market, in general, is experiencing. Encyclopedia and reference books have taken a major hit, finding themselves replaced by CD-ROMs. While reference and trade titles aren't a specialty of Edwards Brothers, competition that loses out in these markets invariably start sniffing around for some of Edwards Brothers' business.
Edwards Brothers is showing that ability to adapt and adjust to evolving markets with the addition of its Digital Book Center. Ultra-short-run copies of jobs there now enable publishers to extend the life of a book or ramp up with a new title, without a large inventory.
"Speaking as a golfer, it provides us with another club in our bag," Marty remarks. "It gives us the ability to provide customers greater services for the life of the title."
Golf has been a constant for Edwards, a 60-plus year pastime his father introduced him to at a young age. Over the past five years, he has participated as an amateur in the Bob Hope Classic golf tournament, rubbing elbows with a number of PGA tour regulars while honing his 12 handicap. Marty is also an avid traveler. This fall, he will visit Rome with his wife of 42 years, Rosalie.
Edwards has been active in industry associations, including the Book Manufacturers Institute, the Printing Industries of America, Graphic Arts Technical Foundation and Society of Scholarly Publishers.
What brings Marty great satisfaction is the knowledge that his children—sons James and John, along with daughter Laura—are continuing the legacy. John is president and CEO, James is a regional sales manager and Laura is marketing specialist. Another son, Stephen, composes music for films.
Edwards Brothers continues to grow, as evidenced by this year's acquisition of Hutchinson, KS-based Wolverine Printing & Publishing.
"This has been a wonderful opportunity for me," Edwards says of his family printing heritage. "With it came some very important responsibilities: to our employees, customers, vendors and to the community. It all adds up to something called stewardship, which I've taken pretty seriously."