Printing Industry Hall of Fame Inductee Chris Carpenter, of Royle Printing, Builds Relationships Upon Respect
In the 30-plus years that Chris Carpenter has been in the industry, there are two themes that have guided his career: You must be flexible to change, but to do so, you must also stick to your beliefs. Carpenter, president and owner of Sun Prairie, Wisconsin-based Royle Printing, and his team have seen their share of change over the years, with the COVID-19 pandemic, increasing moves toward the digital world, and current paper shortages and hiring challenges being the most recent.
But you don’t accumulate 30 years on your resume by giving up. Carpenter’s illustrious career — which has earned him a spot as a 2022 inductee into the Printing Impressions/RIT Printing Industry Hall of Fame — is shaped around hard work, passion for the graphic arts industry, and constantly working to build relationships with employees and customers.
Where It All Began for Chris Carpenter
If you take a few steps back to where Carpenter got started, it came by way of retail and college. “I worked at a men’s clothing store all through college, which is where I met a few executives from Perry Printing, which later became RRD and is now part of LSC Communications,” Carpenter explains. “They evidently saw something in my eagerness and ability to help select the right tie for the suit — the rest is history!”
And now history is being rewritten. Change over the past several years, and more recently the past couple of years, have not left the printing industry immune to challenge. “Over 30-plus years, there [have been] many, many changes … most of which have been good for both customers and printers alike,” Carpenter says. There are many things to which we could apply this sentiment, including the transformation the printing industry has seen from analog to digital processes.
“The front-end changes put the customer in the driver’s seat, transforming an analog world to digital,” Carpenter adds. He believes this is nothing but positive. “There’s no question the world has seen a migration to digital, which is a good thing — including in printing,” he continues. “Most of our customers embrace a multichannel approach, utilizing many forms of digital media along with a strong print component. The key is to understand the data and how customers want their content.”
This mindset is perhaps why Royle Printing describes itself this way: “From our humble beginnings as a newspaper publisher to our current role of providing innovative and adaptable print and digital solutions to our clients, our brand is built on integrity and ingenuity.” The company and Carpenter understand the primarily catalog and publication printing needs of their clients, and work tirelessly to serve them, meaning they incorporate digital and analog techniques to make sure everyone is satisfied.
And that’s where sticking to certain tried-and-true practices has helped him embrace change. “We have continued to invest in our people, technology, and asset base for the past 10 to 15 years — necessary ingredients if we’re to remain relevant and sustainable for the future,” Carpenter says. His recognition of this has helped him adapt to other, more immediate changes the industry is currently experiencing.
Navigating the Storm
“The last two to three years are like none other, at least in my lifetime experience,” Carpenter says, and it doesn’t take much to know what he’s talking about. When the COVID-19 pandemic shut down everything in early 2020, it hit many industries. Hard. The printing industry was no exception. “The outbreak of COVID was a shocking adjustment for all of us. No one knew how or when to respond, but we knew we had to take care of our employees and customers.”
It was here where Carpenter again shone in his position as a guiding light for Royle. “We adjusted, demonstrated patience and support, eventually getting us through the darkest days,” he elaborates. Unfortunately, the hits didn’t stop there. “Next came the supply-chain issues, led by a critical paper shortage. It has been a moving target for the past nine months.”
Being that Royle is in the business of serving the needs of publishers, direct mailers, associations, universities, and corporate partners in the printing industry, paper shortages are no laughing matter. “The paper shortage has affected all of us and our customers … tremendously,” Carpenter says. “With that, we’ve tried to be creative and flexible to account for the needs of our clients.”
Under Carpenter’s leadership, Royle has yet again navigated the storm. “We’ve worked hard to establish excellent relationships with our merchant and mill partners, and I’d like to think this has helped us in this trying period,” he says. “They’re being as supportive as they can be based on the circumstances.”
A Lasting Impression
If it isn’t already clear, Carpenter has overcome a few obstacles in his career. However, his experience and knowledge of the industry has not only helped him and his company navigate the challenges, but has left many inspired and better for it.
“I’ve had the pleasure of working with Chris Carpenter for the past 20-plus years,” Dawn Webber, director of HR for Royle Printing, says. “Chris does an excellent job of going above and beyond to engage with every team member within the organization. He gets to know them personally, whether he’s walking around the office, greeting a new employee in the lobby, or celebrating a significant anniversary or milestone out in the plant.”
This spotlights his philosophy regarding employees: Treat them with empathy and respect.
“My family was a strong influence on me, led by my mother,” Carpenter explains. “She always emphasized the need to be sensitive to others — be empathetic and try to understand a different perspective … treat people like we want to be treated.”
This deep appreciation for building relationships extends beyond his professional goals. Carpenter also makes it personal. “On a personal front, I’m often reminded to be humble and maintain a sense of humor — it helps us get through life’s toughest moments,” he says.
Carpenter’s influence has extended well beyond his employees into the printing industry, having built relationships with both customers and colleagues. “For more than 20 years my company has partnered with catalogers who need their print pieces to look great,” Wayne Doleski, founder of Black Bee Marketing points out. “They also expect personal service and a partner who understands the channel that produces most of their revenue. Chris has built Royle into that company — small enough to make sure each client matters, yet large enough to create important efficiencies.”
Because of this business approach, many of his customers have also become friends. “Chris and I are very close friends, and I am a long-standing supplier,” Dave Moore, president of national printers at Midland Paper, notes. “Our relationship has grown stronger over the years, and I feel lucky to have him as a friend. … I consider us true partners in the business.”
“When Chris and I first met it was business and transactional in nature,” Eric Johnson, senior VP with Johnson Financial Group, recalls. “I quickly understood and appreciated his business acumen and thoughtful approach to business decision-making. Over the years, we’ve had numerous deep conversations about strategy, goals, growth, etc., and [I] consider Chris a friend.”
Carpenter has influenced his employees, colleagues, customers, and, arguably, the entire printing industry. But there’s one more area where his influence extends: family. Sally Carpenter, his oldest daughter, started working in the business about two years ago and is now the marketing manager.
“This recognition could not be more well-deserved,” she says. “Dad, or as I like to call him within the walls of Royle, ‘CC,’ is empathetic, kind, and driven. … Since I was young, I’ve appreciated the culture and family aspect of Royle, coming to events and getting to know employees and their kids. It’s so special to now experience the environment in a professional setting and realize what a strong culture we have.”
Many Years of Success
Over the years, Carpenter has built a thriving business based on flexibility coupled with tried-and-true practices. Under his guidance, Royle has won several awards, garnered countless customer relationships, and maintained strong internal morale. In fact, Carpenter is most proud of receiving a Best Workplace in the Americas designation for the past 16-plus years. And ultimately, while he is the one being inducted into the Printing Industry Hall of Fame, he feels it’s those around him that make life in the printing industry a personal and professional success.
“I’ve been blessed to have been a part of this industry for the past 30-plus years,” he concludes. “If success is measured by a person’s cache of great working and customer experiences, then I would consider my career in print to have been successful.”