Tucker-Castleberry -- Relationships Do Matter
By Erik Cagle
The world of commercial printing is much more than ink on paper, and the related services required to make the final product a reality. It is about people, the relationships they form, and the trust they build as business partners and even as friends.
As technology improves processes and levels the competitive playing field for printers, making quality a reality across the board, offering the lowest price still isn't always going to win the contract. Honesty, integrity, satisfaction and reliability still count to some print buyers. And it keeps them coming back with more jobs.
Take Tucker-Castleberry Printing in Atlanta, a $14 million a year general commercial sheetfed printer. With 75 employees and around-the-clock production five days a week in a 50,000-square-foot facility, the printer reaps a lion's share of its revenues from the local corporate market. A smaller cut of the pie comes via advertising agencies and local professional sports franchises. It is a client base that demands quality, obviously, and one that presumably can have its pick of the Southeastern printer litter. So why Tucker-Castleberry?
A Personal Touch
|It's a family affair at Atlanta-based Tucker-Castleberry, led by company president Tuck Tucker, shown on the left. He is pictured with son Kent, who marks the third generation there.|
Part of the answer lies in the people skills of Tuck Tucker. The president and son of the company's co-founder, Wiley Tucker—who teamed with A.C. Castleberry to form the firm in 1949—has his roots in the sales aspect of the business. In 1979, he cold called Major League Baseball's Atlanta Braves, an account then handled by another printer, to see if he could "wiggle away" the business. The Braves print buyer and Tucker held several meetings, but printing wasn't the topic of conversation, for the most part. The pair talked about baseball.
"I think what finally got me the account was when I told them that, in 1966, I was the most excited person in Atlanta after finding out that the Braves were moving here from Milwaukee," Tucker recalls. "I told the buyer that, growing up, the baseball 'Game of the Week' that Atlanta aired on TV was the Milwaukee Braves, who played at County Stadium in Milwaukee. My dad and I watched the Braves every Saturday afternoon. I then proceeded to name all the old players, their positions and stats. And, before I left, the buyer asked me if I would like to give him a price on printing their program, media guide, pocket schedule, etc."
Quicker than you can say Hank Aaron or Warren Spahn, Tucker had the account.
When the National Basketball Association's Hawks moved to town, they employed another printer that left them unsatisfied. The Hawks print buyer called his counterpart with the Braves, who provided 'rave reviews' about Tucker-Castleberry's work. Two meetings later, Tucker boasted another sports franchise account.
Ditto for the National Hockey League's Atlanta Thrashers, which called upon Tucker before getting settled in, fully aware of the printer's reputation for quality sports printing.
And the Atlanta Falcons of the National Football League? The team was then owned by the Smith family. Its president, Rankin Smith, went to high school with Tuck Tucker and was in Tucker's wedding in 1971. Smith's younger brother, Taylor—then the vice president of the Falcons—was best friends with Pete Livezey, Tucker's brother-in-law and vice president of Tucker-Castleberry. So perhaps a little luck was involved in getting that account.
According to Livezey, the company tries to forge close relationships with both customers and employees. He makes it a point to know as much as he can about the people and their families, not just the perfunctory pleasantries that are most prevalent in working relationships.
"I don't want to be someone that buyers call just to get printing," he says. "I've got customers who often call me just to find out how my weekend went. They know my daughter is getting married and want to know what's going on with her. We try to become friends and true partners with our clientele.
An Element from the Past
"That requires mutual trust and loyalty, something that is kind of lost in today's market," adds Livezey, a 30-year employee. "The attitude is: 'What have you done for me today?' But we want to maintain customers who feel a sense of loyalty to us, and we feel loyal to them."
But make no mistake about it. Talking sports and reminiscing about old times can only carry a commercial printer/buyer relationship so far. Quality and customer satisfaction keep the account active.
"The sports printing came the easiest," Tucker admits. "As far as the local corporate accounts and advertising agencies, we had to work hard to sell them. Actually, the longer it takes to sell an account, the better—and more loyal—the account becomes. It took years of calling on some accounts until we got the business."
With the onset of the Internet age and the ability for print buyers to reach a large number of print producers with relative ease, the relationship factor becomes even more important, according to Jan Lego, vice president and a 25-year veteran at Tucker-Castleberry. Sometimes it even involves cultivating relationships with buyers who are never seen in person.
"We have one customer in North Carolina that we've never met in person, but we've built a relationship through e-mail, talking on the phone and giving them good advice," she says.
"In time, clients become your friends. You're doing things with them, going to Braves or Hawks games, whatever. Even when they move on to another printer, they're still your friends. It's extremely important. With the company in North Carolina, for example, it has definitely become more of a relationship than a price game."
|Brian Fields finds himself on the receiving end with one of the company's three six-color MAN Roland 700 presses.|
|Mark Fix preps the Polar cutter at Tucker-Castleberry for a job that requires 14 cuts per lift.|
Aside from the sports printing, Tucker-Castleberry produces general commercial items such as flyers, brochures, pocket folders, catalogs, booklets, pamphlets, small magazines, Christmas cards and 12-month calendars. The printer relies on a trio of MAN Roland sheetfed presses to fulfill its needs, and much of the equipment in-house is no more than 10 years old, thanks to a government-sanctioned relocation process of sorts. Ironically, the world of sports played a considerable role in Tucker-Castleberry's move from downtown to a new building a few miles north of the city.
In 1995, the state of Georgia harvested Tucker-Castleberry's property to construct Centennial Olympic Park for the 1996 Summer Olympics. Tucker saw the relocation as an opportunity rather than a challenge and purchased virtually all new equipment to usher in the new digs. In came the first of three 40˝ MAN Roland 700s: a six-color with a tower coating unit. Three MBO folders, a six-pocket Sheridan saddlestitcher and Polar cutting equipment also joined the fray.
"We bought new equipment because we knew that we needed to be on the leading edge of technology in order to succeed," Tucker says. "Although a 15-year-old press with no payments running at 9,000 impressions per hour is nice, a new press running at 15,000 iph can make you more money and run rings around your competition. I knew our sales force could sell the work to fill the new capacity, and they did."
More Presses Added
Tucker didn't stop there. In 1998, he bolstered the pressroom with another six-color Roland 700 that boasted the same capabilities as the earlier model and, in 2004, a six-color 700 four-over-two perfector with coater went live. The printer has contracted for another press slated to be installed in June of 2006. All of the presses are tied together with the MAN Roland PECOM system, which reduces six-color makeready times to as little as 10 minutes.
MAN Roland won the Tucker-Castleberry account through a rigorous testing phase that culminated with an in-person demonstration on a real job. "We told MAN Roland we wanted to load a skid of 60-lb. enamel text into the feeder and, if they could run the form we sent them without streaks, ghosts, hickies, etc.—at 15,000 iph—and with the feeder not tripping out, then we would buy their 40˝, six-color," Tucker recalls. "Needless to say, they did it with flying colors and we bought the press. Three MAN Rolands later, it's history."
Aside from transforming Georgia into the nation's second 'Show Me' state, Tucker-Castleberry enjoys a thin managerial layer that stresses accountability and employee autonomy. With the greater sense of ownership also comes a system of checks and balances that works well for the printer.
Additionally, Tucker abhors meetings just for the sake of meetings, the dreaded 'second Tuesday of every month' sales meeting and the like. If there's a need for a meeting, that's fine with Tucker.
In other words, it's all about the people and the product.
"We don't have a book of rules and regulations," Tucker informs. "Everything happens instantly around here. A lot of companies our size have a large number of management positions. But good salespeople are self-driven. They don't need to hand in sales reports."
It helps that virtually every sales person does $1 million-plus annually at Tucker-Castleberry. "No one is hanging over you to get your work done," Livezey says. "We expect our staff to do their jobs, do it right and still get a lot of latitude. It's one reason we've been so successful and have had employees stay with us for so long. We're not a company that micro-manages."
The lack of managerial positions also means a lack of people gunning for said posts, Lego notes. Thus, there are no ongoing games of political football at Tucker-Castleberry. "We're all our own bosses with the way the company is run," Lego adds. "Tuck allows us to do that. Everyone takes responsibility for doing their job. It's a different kind of place. That's the beauty of working at Tucker-Castleberry. No backstabbing, no politics. Just get the job out and do it right."
Continuous improvement is a quest at Tucker-Castleberry, the bolstering of state-of-the-art equipment, as well as the people behind the gear. Falling back on past accomplishments is not the forward-looking statement Tucker wants to make.
Tucker has a clear view for the future, including a plan of succession. Kent Tucker, Tuck's son, became the third generation member to work at the family business in 2000 after graduating from the University of Georgia with a business degree. After stints as an estimator and running production, he joined sales upon gaining full-time status. Tuck Tucker hopes to see his son take the Tucker-Castleberry reins one day.
In the short term, Tucker-Castleberry's goal is to continue moderate growth and add more local business to its current mix. And Tucker is confident the capabilities of his employee base will make that happen.
"We have dedicated employees who don't mind going the extra mile to please a customer," Tucker remarks. "We promote from within as much as possible, giving everyone a chance for advancement. And each person is expected to do their job, take responsibility, maintain integrity and be fully committed."