Traxium Grows Ohio Presence With Great Lakes Integrated, Watt Printers Acquisitions
Traxium LLC, the holding company founded by owner and CEO George Schmutz in 2014 when he first acquired Stow, Ohio-based Printing Concepts, may not yet be a household name nationally in the commercial printing industry. But, with its latest two acquisitions, Schmutz hopes to eventually expand the hub-and-spoke business approach he's building in northeast Ohio to other regions of the country where he and his team can identify opportunities.
This latest deal announced yesterday rapidly builds its presence in the Cleveland market. Traxium has acquired the assets of two companies with more than 200 years of combined experience: Great Lakes Integrated and Watt Printers. Both will remain open and operational, with existing leadership of both organizations staying on with Traxium in various capacities.
The acquisitions mark an important stage in Traxium’s long-term vision and strategy of creating a full-service, seamless and integrated communications platform by bringing together leading printing, digital technology, data, insight, fulfillment, mailing, Web-to-print and marketing companies. The new structure unites nearly 200 employees under the Traxium umbrella.
“Traditional printing companies in Northeast Ohio and across the country are being forced to compete in an ever-changing landscape where print is only a small piece of the puzzle,” Schmutz says. “The Traxium vision is to embrace these dynamics and acquire companies that fit into our forward-thinking, growth- oriented and customer-centric business model -- a model that truly serves customers’ complete communications, marketing and printing needs while growing their businesses and strengthening their brands.”
What Great Lakes, Watt Bring to the Table
According to Schmutz, Great Lakes Integrated provides the Traxium family of companies with 40˝ offset and extensive digital printing, digital asset management, sophisticated software programming and fulfillment capabilities.
Jim Schultz, former chairman and CEO of Great Lakes Integrated and a past Printing Impressions/RIT Printing Industry Hall of Fame inductee, notes that the deal marks a new era. “For those who know Great Lakes Integrated, they understand the commitment our family has had to Cleveland and the surrounding community during our 80-plus-year history in this town. With expanded customer service, technology and product offerings, the synergies between Great Lakes and Traxium make this a win-win for our associates and customers."
Mike Nakonek, former VP and owner of Watt Printers is similarly enthusiastic. “We’ve spent more than 100 years providing printing services for the greater Cleveland area. Much of our focus has been on our employees, the graphic arts industry, and improving the community where our people live and work,” he says. “I feel confident Traxium will continue that tradition to a far greater level of success for our customers, employees, vendors and our marketplace.”
Watt Printers is also a 40˝ shop with large mailing capabilities. Schmutz reveals that he intends to eventually reconfigure the Watt Printers plant and then combine the best equipment from Great Lakes Integrated and Watt Printers into that facility. The separate GL Direct fulfillment operation will remain.
Building Traxium, One Acquisition at a Time
Schmutz points out that these two acquisitions in Cleveland also build on Printing Concepts' strength in half-size offset and digital printing, and its large binding and finishing operation. In 2016, Traxium purchased Dover, Ohio-based Newhouse Printing, which attracted Schmutz "largely for its top-notch staff and as an entry point to reach deeper south in Ohio," and McKinnon Printing in Akron, which was a tuck-in.
In 2017, Traxium expanded its portfolio with the acquisition of a Grand Rapids, Mich.-based marketing company, Galapagos LLC, which specializes in the banking industry. Schmutz says he has strong ties to Michigan, having spent a good portion of his industry career working at Spartan Graphics, a part of Celia Corp., in Sparta, Mich. The now 53-year-old also once ran a small print shop in Traverse City, Mich.
But where did the Traxium name come from? "That is actually a funny story. I was in Michigan when I purchased Printing Concepts," Schmutz explains. "I needed to set up a company to do business in Ohio, so was brainstorming ideas with some friends. Traxium was a word that we made up while traveling and essentially means 'Travel Axiom.' For example: just because you can add a 99-cent steak at a buffet doesn’t mean that you should," he quips. "It was originally meant to be just the holding company, but we decided to rebrand under that umbrella."
Schmutz admits that the key to continued success for Traxium isn't just completing the acquisitions, but more so the integration aspect of merging separate companies together. "The key to everything is the integration," he confirms. "We have a full integration team and a very strong cultural initiative. That alone is a very big part of our success."
A University of Wisconsin-Stout graduate with a degree in print management, Schmutz is also quick to point out that Traxium isn't looking to do acquisitions just for the sake of growth. Noting that the ability to print itself has become a commodity, he says the differentiator is ultimately how a print shop treats customers and its own staff members. "We treat everyone we interact with well. It does make a difference and gets everybody on the right page."
Perhaps his motivation to treat others with respect go back to his childhood days, where he resided at the Mooseheart orphanage outside of Chicago from the time he was seven to 17 years old. "My printing background started in my orphanage days when I was 13, and you had to take some kind of vocational training."
Schmutz picked printing to fulfill that requirement -- and certainly has come a long way since.