Ironside Press — Old-Fashioned Elbow Grease
"WE KNOW our competition. And, it wasn't who we thought it was!" reveals Bo Forbes, owner of Ironside Press in Vero Beach, FL. "We realized that we're no longer in the business of simply providing printed ink on paper. At the end of the day, our tangible product is printing, but what exactly are we providing?
"Ironside Press isn't merely a printing company. It's a marketing services group," Forbes contends. "We provide a solution for customers who need to communicate something to a target audience: design ideas, production estimates, mailing lists, response management strategies and, ultimately, the tools clients will use to communicate and grow their businesses or organizations.
"We realized that our competition was less about XYZ Printing down the street and more about the Yellow Pages, radio, television, or any other medium out there competing for our customers' limited marketing budgets," he adds. "We started spending less time complaining about the competition and more time thinking about and providing solutions to our customers. I believe that this mindset is at the heart of our success."
Ironside Press has nine employees, operates out of a 7,000-square-foot facility and is on track to exceed last year's sales by 40 percent. The company specializes in direct marketing campaigns, sales collateral, event announcements/invitations and business communications. Clients primarily include local businesses and non-profit organizations situated in the Treasure Coast region of Florida.
Interestingly enough, its owner is a printer who almost wasn't.
Describing himself as "all thumbs" when he was young, Forbes was unenthused about learning the printing trade from his father--who was a print shop manager for the local school district and who also owned a small print shop to earn extra money. "But, despite both of my parents' efforts, I never demonstrated any natural ability in printing. So, they sent me to college instead."
Forbes graduated from college and carved a career for himself in business development and analysis, eventually landing with Verizon Corporate in Manhattan. When his father passed away in 2002 after a long battle with cancer, Forbes began to consult with his mother, Olske Forbes, about the health and future of the company.
"The shop was struggling to be profitable," he recalls. "At that point, sales were below $225,000 annually. The equipment was old, and the competition was stiff. Over the next several months, my mother sought my advice about the next steps to take with the business. I encouraged her to invest in a four-color press.
Ironside officially became a four-color shop in January 2003. By May, Forbes decided to leave his career in Manhattan and move back to Florida to help with rebuilding the business. Once Forbes took on the life of a full-time printer, he totally immersed himself in the shop's operation and started to expand the business.
No longer a disinterested kid, he fell in love with the craft. "I thought the entire industry was fascinating," he recalls.
However, the following year, Vero Beach was hit by two major hurricanes within three weeks of each other. Fortunately, Ironside Press received minimal damage. "We were lucky enough to be able to continue working, but recovery was slow. Everybody was spending money repairing their businesses; they weren't buying marketing collateral."
In 2006, Forbes and his mother again contemplated the future of their company. They decided to "roll the dice" and invest in a Rampage prepress workflow system and Fuji thermal computer-to-plate capabilities. Almost immediately, business picked up and profitability started to improve. In fact, Forbes says things were finally "going great."
Then, on December 14th, Ironside's production manager had a stroke, which came right on the heals of his pressman suffering a ruptured disc. The company went from a pressroom staff of three to one in 30 days. Forbes and the remaining employees had to quickly learn how to operate the entire shop.
In October 2007, Forbes made another aggressive investment. He purchased a fully automated, 20? Ryobi 520 GX sheetfed press and, for the very first time, Ironside had the ability to do high-volume, ultra-efficient, four-color printing. "Since then, we've successively quadrupled, if not quintupled, our profits every month."
Attributing much of that success to the Ryobi dealer for central Florida, Shreve Press Service and Sales in Orlando, Forbes says the supplier helped him learn how to maximize the return on the new press. Ironside Press has had a long-standing relationship with Ryobi. Forbes' parents purchased most of the presses they owned through Shreve and have always worked closely with the distributor, especially since the company's first major investment of a Ryobi 524 HX model in 2002.
"But our new Ryobi 520 GX, equipped with both the PDS-E density control and pre-inking options, ultimately redefined our production as we knew it. We are currently reviewing moving up to a Ryobi 756 with coater as a future investment.
"The Japanese have a word for continuous improvement in lean manufacturing--kaizen. From my experience, Ryobi, as a company, has embraced this concept fully and incorporates it into every piece of equipment they manufacture," he notes.
Investing in new technology (especially when the business wasn't making a lot of money) turned out to be a winning gamble. But, it wasn't just high-tech equipment that put Ironside Press on the road to success. In 2005, it began providing additional services such as mailing, graphic design and limited marketing strategy support.
Forbes also feels that being at the helm of a small business provides a never-ending opportunity to learn, to be hands-on and to truly problem-solve. "After losing an integral staff member, I had to learn printing inside and out--not just from a business perspective, but physically making deliveries and running and maintaining the presses."
Another secret to Ironside Press' success is seeing itself not as being in the printing business, but as being in the service business.
"We have a saying around here that we practice 'Performance Marketing,' which basically means that every job, every call, every aspect of what we do has the opportunity to either increase the quality of our brand or diminish it. It really makes us concentrate on all the little things which, in turn, leads to the big thing: 'Service Performance.' "
For example, a real person answers the phone at Ironside Press every time it rings. "Most printing companies today are looking to minimize the amount of human touch points they have with their clients. They've implemented online ordering, automated phone systems, outsourced delivery, etc. I see these activities as opportunities to provide our customers with superior service experiences.
"Technology should be used to enhance our ability to provide good service--but not as a replacement for good service," Forbes points out. "I can assure you that a Web page will never be able to replace a human being when it comes to building trust, respect and reliability." PI