Superior Bindery — A Cut Above
By Erik Cagle
The trade bindery business is doing just fine, thank you, despite whispers of its imminent demise. Superior Bindery is proof positive that there is a viable place for companies that specialize in comprehensive, full-service binding and finishing services.
For all the talk of commercial printers looking for ways to add value to their core competencies and becoming one-stop shops (right down through binding and finishing), the Northeast has become a fertile feeding ground for Hingham, MA-based Superior Bindery, owned by Donny Charlebois, the son of a successful Boston-based bindery operator. Just 20 minutes south of Boston, Superior Bindery realized more than $12.5 million in sales combined with sister company Baystate Bindery, formerly among its largest competitors and one of a half-dozen businesses absorbed by Charlebois since the company opened its doors in late 1990.
The company is not only surviving, but thriving, in an environment that has witnessed a lot of Charlebois' competition disappear, a number of which have dealt assets, customer lists and even employees to Superior Bindery. Charlebois tips his cap to Superior's 176 employees for playing a large role in its success.
A People Industry
"I realized early on that this industry is really all about the marriage of quality people and state-of-the-art equipment," Charlebois says. "Regardless of the quality of equipment, it is the people running it that make the difference. Their knowledge not only ensures that the job is done properly, it has allowed us to go into new areas or try a type of finishing that we hadn't done before.
"We have invested a significant amount of resources into our employees, and they have met their end of the bargain," he adds. "Because our people carry the burden of actually doing the work that the customer requires, we make sure that they have the tools to do the job properly. I have instilled a commitment to excellence since day one of our company."
Since many of Superior Bindery's customers are looking to complete challenging finishing tasks, and/or need a job turned around in short order, Charlebois and company have always stressed high quality and customer service. Charlebois extends to his clientele the willingness to tackle challenges 24/7. This is augmented by a commitment to the constant enhancement of Superior's equipment dossier. In the last two years alone, Charlebois has acquired a Muller Martini Prima stitcher, two Bobst diecutters, a Muller Martini Tigra perfect binder for short runs and three new Stahl folders.
A short time ago, Superior Bindery got a slight facelift in the paper handling area of its main facility. With the help of Steve Pasquariello, president of bindery equipment dealer Pasquariello Graphics, the building workflow was remapped to gain improved workflow efficiencies. In addition to procuring a 54˝ Saber 137 paper cutter, Superior also installed a Knorr stacklift and unloader, along with a Rachner pile turner—all purchased from Colter & Peterson—which has doubled its paper throughput.
"We have just added our first fully automated Colter & Peterson cutting system, which has nearly doubled our cutting capacity to our diecutting operation at the Superior plant," Charlebois notes. "We have a three- to six-month plan for the second system to go into Baystate Bindery."
Donny Charlebois cut his bindery teeth while working alongside his father, Don Sr., at Trade Bindery in Boston. By the age of 18, he had learned how to use all of the facility's machines, including how to cut paper. But demonstrating an entrepreneurial spirit, Charlebois struck out on his own and opened a laundromat. While the business was successful, he yearned for another go at the bindery business. In 1990, at the age of 22, he opened Superior Bindery with bare-bones equipment.
"Not too many people wanted to finance Donny because of his young age, so he had to start out with equipment he could afford," Margie Charlebois remarks of her son's older Lawson cutter, two Baum folders and Omega binder. (Margie Charlebois, Superior Bindery's former hand work super/receptionist and matriarch of the Charlebois clan—is respectfully referred to as "Mother Superior.")
"I wanted to start on my own and try to build a company with my vision rather than try to change an existing company's philosophy," Donny Charlebois explains. "I had a vision of a better finisher that focused on customer service, and worked in partnership with printers. I also felt there was significant work available, if printers would give me a chance. I was 22 and had nothing to lose."
|Brothers Robert and Donny Charlebois with their sister Christine Charlebois Brennan.|
Charlebois channeled a lot of time and resources into the company during its first eight years, and was aided by his brother, Robert (diecutting), and sister, Christine Charlebois Brennan (general manager). Those early years saw a good deal of 14-plus-hour days as the family aimed to grow the company.
Acquisitions would follow, bringing aboard the key employees and customer lists of former competitors such as J&M Finishing, Trade Bindery, North Shore Graphics, Pearl Bookbinding, Area Trade and Baystate Bindery. Area Trade/Baystate was acquired last November in perhaps the biggest bindery transaction of 2002.
According to Rob Charlebois, bringing the family unit to work has been an interesting and rewarding experience. "But it's a good thing that we have all these buildings, so we're separated from each other," Rob jokes. "When I first started, we'd all leave the house and meet each other at work. We all have our own building, our own thing now. But (working together) really means a lot to us."
Charlebois Brennan believes the family influence, backed by dedicated workers, has enabled Superior Bindery to develop special relationships with longtime clients.
"We still have the same customers that put Superior on the map 12 years ago," she says. "We've never forgotten where we came from and the fact that we started from the ground up. Donny has taught me and reminds everyone that without the little guys, there would be no Superior. We have made a tremendous amount of loyal friends and customers, and have very special relations with our clients and treat them as family."
|It's business as usual for Corona binder operator Mark Backiel, shown on the left, and Plant Manager Prepetit Joseph.|
|IPoev Ieng keeps busy by preparing a Bobst foil stamper for the next finishing job.|
|From the left, gluing expert Alan Siders inspects progress along with Tom Flannery, folding department supervisor. (Photography by Tommy Colbert)|
More and More Services
Superior Bindery's capabilities have grown to include stitching, perfect binding, mechanical binding, diecutting, diemaking, pocket folding, foil stamping and remoistenable gluing. Ancillary services include cutting and folding, packaging and distribution, along with shrink wrapping.
"Our services have evolved continuously since 1990 to meet customer needs and to respond to opportunities we perceive in the industry," Donny Charlebois says. "We're continuing to grow and expand services, especially in the diemaking area."
In this regard, Superior Bindery added a Bobst SP 104 SE diecutter to bolster its line of Heidelberg units. Two more Bobst machines and a Gerber diemaker were added in 2002, and a dedicated die maker (Steve Rich) and metal and sculptured die maker (Joey Yetman) were added to the employee ranks. Superior now boasts six Bobst machines between its two locations, including two dedicated Bobst foil stampers.
It was the addition of Baystate Bindery—once one of Superior Bindery's fiercest competitors—that expanded Superior's capabilities, particularly in the area of perfect binding, with three perfect binders cranking out books at speeds up to 12,000 books per hour. Seven saddle stitchers top speeds of 14,000 books per hour. The companies operate as independent businesses, Charlebois says, in order to keep their small-sized printer base happy while providing them with the economies of scale.
As Charlebois was studying the potential deal, he realized the complementary fit was too good to pass on. "What we did well, like stitching, they didn't do much. And they specialized in perfect binding, which we had just started to do," Charlebois says. "It was really a case of one plus one equalling four. The alliance allows us to provide our customers with significant time and money savings due to our ability to provider a broader spectrum of services, faster and better."
Rob Charlebois agrees. "So far, the acquisition has been excellent for us. It's really helped to grow our perfect binding business. They had just purchased two brand-new high-speed binders (before the acquisition); it kind of took us to a whole new level."
Superior Bindery has maintained its competitiveness by becoming a one-stop shop on the finishing end. "No printer can handle all of their finishing needs within the constraints of time, quality and cost," Donny Charlebois says. "Because of our equipment and expertise, we can beat them on all three counts. We meet their deadlines and can give printers the same quality they would expect out of their own shop, but even better.
Business Remains Strong
"Some bigger printing houses have increased the size of their binderies, but they will always need to outsource, especially if they want to grow. We can serve as a partner, suggesting ways to make the finishing go smoother."
Charlebois tipped his cap to the efforts of John McColgan, plant manager; Eddie Veiga, second shift supervisor; and Greg Maley, customer service, who have enabled him to focus a lot of his energies on Baystate, where he has been working with General Manager David Byers to ensure the same Superior Bindery quality is translated into the work at Baystate.
Having dedicated employees who really care about their jobs is a good way to capture the customer's eye, according to Charlebois Brennan. "Our clients are very comfortable and rely on our staff to take care of their projects, deliveries and needs, as well as the third party's needs and expectations," she says. "Every job is handled carefully from beginning to end. We have strict quality control procedures. We don't take any one job less serious than the next, and our clients know that. Every job is treated with the 'white glove treatment.' "
Exceeding customer expectations is the going-forward mantra for Superior Bindery. By soliciting the positives and negatives of their experiences, Donny Charlebois believes his company can best gauge the individual needs of clients.
"As automation gets better and more prevalent, we will ride the wave," Charlebois adds. "But not at the expense of our people. Quality people have to run the equipment, and keeping highly-qualified employees is a challenge, especially when the market turns around again.
"Sometimes it feels like raking leaves in the wind but, in the end, it is really why we do what we do. If the customer isn't happy, he isn't coming back. If we were to stop improving, then we might as well close the doors."