IT'S BEEN said that the small, mom-and-pop commercial printer is going the route of the VCR and the music store—away and out of business. Yes, it's true that consolidation has eroded the small printer base, but we've been hearing about that for 20 years. And there is an abundance of $1 million a year shops still in business; far more of them than there are $50 million performers.
Trends show a business pattern, until the next fad comes down the block. Then we're saddled with a "what's hot, what's not" list. What's out at the moment? Well, 40? sheetfed offset printers have been taking it on the chin as some big names disappear from the radar.
General commercial printers need to add ancillary services. You can't make money on black-and-white copiers; you can make money with variable data digital printing (quit snickering). Digital color is the true path to the future...well, that, plus large-format output and package printing. And, for crying out loud, no one makes a nickel by being the low-cost provider.
All sounds very familiar, right? Well, for your consideration is Trend Graphics, a $1.4 million general commercial printer based in Huntley, IL. Mom and pop are Joan and Bob Gajewski, respectively. Other staffers include Mike Gajewski—Bob's brother—Bob's son and daughter (Bob Jr. and Jeannine), and his son-in-law, Jeff. Three other non-family workers compose the team of Trend Graphics.
The 'W' Word
It seems the Gajewskis have stumbled on a trend, pardon the pun, that has yet to be contradicted or discredited: Work your tail off, and chances are that you will succeed in the printing industry. It seems hard work has been able to carry companies through good times and bad, and enables them to withstand flavor du jour hot markets and products. Their approach to markets and products may not be, ahem, trendy, but the results work for them.
"We are truly a family business, and with the way Bob runs it, we're willing to stay here day and night to do whatever it takes to bring work in," notes Joan Gajewski, who is in charge of administrative, accounts payable and receivables, and human resources from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. When 4:30 rolls around, Joan finds herself drilling, stitching and collating—not her favorite tasks, but they need to be done.
"We work a little bit understaffed but, in nine years in business, we've never laid anybody off," she adds. "It's tough out there right now, but we've been very lucky to stay busy. I attribute that to the fact that nobody here is afraid to work hard."
Trend Graphics has enjoyed a 35 percent increase in sales the past two years, producing items such as booklets, newsletters, circulars, business cards, letterhead, envelopes and some forms (mainly NCR). Its client roster includes villages and park districts, retailers, grocers, pharmacies and medical management companies. While most of Trend's business comes from around the Chicago area, the printer does reach into states such as Minnesota, Florida, Wisconsin and Arizona.
The Gajewskis started out producing a lot of work on digital copiers, but soon became frustrated with their lack of durability, hit-and-miss service and those dreaded click charges. And, if that weren't enough, Bob Gajewski was seeing competition from an unlikely place—his own vendors and clients.
"One day I walked into one of my largest customers and saw the same, exact copier that we have," he recalls. "They were paying the same per-click charge that I was paying. It made me aggravated that my supplier was also out there selling to end users."
With short-run work dwindling and increased demand for run lengths up to 10,000 copies, the Gajewskis decided to enter the offset market with a half-size, four-color Sakurai 458 sheetfed press. The company initially outsourced its platemaking, which became expensive and which also put the fate of quick turnarounds in someone else's hands. So Bob Gajewski decided to bring it in-house and obtain a DPX 4 platesetter from Mitsubishi Imaging, which outputs Silver DigiPlate plates. The polyester computer-to-plate route has suited him just fine so far.
"People warned me that the (polyester plate) wasn't going to have the run length of a metal plate, that there would be slippage on-press and that register could be a bit of a problem," Gajewski notes. "It doesn't slip a bit. I've run more than 75,000 impressions with one set of plates. We run a pretty fine line screen and it holds."
Killing Time, Saving Cash
The move from digital to offset, in light of Trend Graphics' needs, has proven to be a fortuitous choice. Gajewski notes that, previously, it would have taken the digital printer six hours to produce a 1,000-sheet, two-sided 11x17? job, and be saddled with click charges. The Sakurai outputs the same job in under an hour, sans clicks, and just $12 in plates.
The new gear and the addition of a 30-station Duplo bookletmaker have opened a lot of doors for Trend Graphics, paving the way for the aforementioned 35 percent growth. Looking ahead, Bob Gajewski would love to add a five-color, 28? press with coater to his stable. The current workload has justified the addition of a new employee and, at press time, the young company was auditioning a new hire.
"The reason our son and son-in-law are not more involved is we can't afford them yet," Joan Gajewski admits. "Once we meet their salary requirements, I'm sure they'll be happy to come aboard full-time."
In a competitive market such as Chicago, Bob Gajewski needs every edge at his disposal. He's found an angle with paper purchasing, where buying millions of sheets at a time has provided significant savings that is passed on to customers.
While growth is certainly in the plans, Bob Gajewski thinks he sees a comfort level of around $3 million in annual revenues—in spite of his son's promise to some day lead the company to the $50 million range.
"I'm really a hands-on type of person," he says. "I would be content with a $3 million company. Beyond that, I don't think I could handle it." PI