Pro Line Printing--Third Time's The Charm
BY CAROLINE MILLER
It seems entirely possible that if you looked up the definition of workaholic, you would find a picture of John G. Brown, owner of Pro Line Printing in Pineville, NC. "I spend as much time working as feasible. I love to work. But, I don't consider it to be work. I consider it to be very enjoyable," he reveals.
It's very evident that Brown enjoys what he does, because he has started three successful printing and printing-related companies since 1982. It's a pretty impressive statistic considering that when the native New Zealander came to the United States in 1967 to visit family in Omaha, NE, he had never seen a printing press. It gets even more impressive when you factor in that just five years after taking a part-time job at a commercial printing operation, he was running the company. Not only was he running the company, the company was very successful. When Brown became president of Rapid Printer & Mailers in 1975, the facility had three web presses and annual sales of $5 million. By the time the company was sold in 1981, it was operating five web presses and was generating $35 million in annual sales.
Not bad for someone who had never seen a printing press.
But being the company's president wasn't enough for Brown. So, when the majority owner of Rapid Press decided to retire and sell the business, Brown was ready to start his own company.
When Rapid Press was sold, Brown says that it never occurred to him that he might go to work for another printing company. "I find total satisfaction in starting and then building new companies. I knew it was a risk. There's always a risk involved in something new. But it's a risk with which I'm comfortable," he explains.
And taking risks seems to agree with Brown. In 1982, with a new partner, Brown opened Retail Graphics in Kansas City, MO. With two Goss C150 web presses, Brown set to work designing, printing and mailing grocery inserts, just as he had done at Rapid Printing. Within a year of opening Retail Graphics, Brown opened a second location and the company headquarters in Dallas.
"It was a good market for us strategically, and it was a nice place to live," he reports.
Retail Graphics continued to grow with the opening of a third location in Charlotte, NC, in 1992. By 1994, when Brown and his partner were approached by Big Flower Press to sell, Retail Graphics was posting annuals sales of $150 million. Despite his success, Brown decided to sell the business to Big Flower.
As part of the agreement, Brown signed a five-year, non-compete agreement. Now, while others in his place would have headed to the golf course to brush up on their game, Brown did what he does best. He started another company.
In 1995, Pro Line Paper—a paper brokerage—was born. Brown ran Pro Line during the five years of the non-compete agreement. However, as soon as the agreement expired in 1999, Brown was ready to get back into the printing business. He sold Pro Line Paper, but retained the name. Last November, he found a new partner in Leslie Dover and opened Pro Line Printing in Charlotte.
But why start another printing operation? Brown knew that he needed to be back in the graphic arts industry.
"I enjoy the challenges and the creativity of the printing business. I enjoy creating the business structure of the company, the physical layout of the building. I like the human interaction and watching people develop," he says.
Founding Pro Line Printing was also the chance to bring his youngest son, Chad, into the business. Chad had worked with him for five years at Pro Line Paper. "It's an opportunity to bring my son into the business, and allow him to take it as far as it can go," Brown says with pride.
Although Brown hopes Pro Line Printing will have a grand future, the present is not too shabby. In less than a year, Pro Line has already signed some big-name clients. The company currently prints free-standing inserts for retail giants such as Michael's Crafts, The Sports Authority and Office Depot. Home Depot and Walmart have also signed agreements recently to purchase printing from Pro Line. "We're very, very proud that companies like Walmart and Home Depot have enough trust and confidence in our ability that they chose us as one of their printers for this year and certainly for next," he says.
Such high-powered clients don't come easy when you compete for customers against giant printing companies the likes of R.R. Donnelley & Sons, Quebecor World and Big Flower (now called Vertis Inc.).
Brown attributes Pro Line's ability to attract the attention of retail giants to his company's emphasis on customer service.
"I truly believe that we interact with clients on a more personalized basis—a more direct customer approach. Because of this attitude, we can compete and compete very successfully," Brown explains.
Partner Leslie Dover agrees. "Service, quality and a positive team effort are part of every phase of production. Every employee knows that they are a very important part of the service and quality we provide our customers. It's a very big plus for us."
In addition to service and quality, Brown credits Pro Line's smaller size as a reason for its success. The company's lean approach means it is able to react to changes and make decisions much faster than a large printing conglomerate.
Pro Line also offers its customers something that they don't have a lot of—choice.
"Retailers' choices have been greatly reduced in the last few years due to mergers and acquisitions. Most retailers want more than one location, and they want more than one provider, as well," Brown says.
Pro Line's commitment to customer service also means being able to provide its customers with the latest technology. The company currently runs two Goss C-700 web presses, with two more C-700s on order. In conjunction with its web printing, Pro Line boasts five stackers and two trimming stations made by Gämmerler. According to Brown, this equipment has proven to be among the company's key investments to date.
Pro Line's relationship with Gämmerler is of particular importance to his company's success, Brown says. Gämmerler's ability to provide reliable equipment in a timely manner helps enable Pro Line to compete in the retail insert printing marketplace. "When a job from a new client requires us to purchase a certain piece of equipment, we can call Gämmerler. They can install it, and get it up and running in a very timely manner," he adds.
"I know there are competitive brands of equipment out there, but Gämmerler manufactures very rugged, very reliable machinery," Brown reports.
And having reliable machinery is incredibly important to Pro Line Printing's success.
Operating 24 hours a day, seven days a week, the company cannot afford to have any of its equipment go down. "We've found that the Gämmerler equipment breaks down less than any other piece of equipment. It's proven to be very, very good," Brown notes.
Although Pro Line is still a young company, there is plenty of room for growth. "I see us getting larger. We have the work to add another four presses. I'm convinced that the marketplace served out of the Charlotte area can certainly take that much more equipment capacity. We are looking forward to growing even more."