Wisconsin Printers — Serious ’Bout Their Printing
THERE’S LITTLE doubt that a certain European country helped make Wisconsin the “Printing Capital of the USA.” Just ask John Berthelsen, president of Suttle-Straus in Waunakee.
“There were lots of German immigrants who came to this area and many of them were printers,” Berthelsen says. “The rest made beer, so it was a good combination.”
Welcome to Wisconsin, whose name translates to “grassy place” in the Chippewa language. And speaking of Native Americans, this state has a few cities and towns named after tribes: Milwaukee, Menomonie, Pewaukee, Waunakee and Waukesha, to name a few.
Among its nicknames is the Badger State; in the 19th century, Wisconsin lead miners lived in carved-out hillside caves. These temporary homes were called badger dens, its inhabitants ridiculed as badgers. Residents took ownership of the nickname and turned it into a positive.
As everyone knows, Wisconsin is hailed as America’s Dairyland, accounting for 40 percent of the nation’s cheese production. And, yes, what good would cheese be without something to wash it down? Miller Brewing is the cornerstone brewery in a state that was the birthplace to Pabst, Schlitz and Blatz.
But the printing industry just may be the straw that stirs Wisconsin’s drink. More than a few printers have said it is difficult to live in the state without having a relative or friend in the printing business. And it seems to be woven deep into the fabric of life for Wisconsinites.
State of Higher Learning
There’s no lack of printing education in the Badger State—Bradley Tech, Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design, Waukesha County Technical College (with its Harry V. Quadracci Printing Educational Technology Center), the University of Wisconsin-Stout and Fox Valley Technical College. Fuzzy Marek, CEO of The Marek Group in Waukesha, feels this feeder system is one aspect that keeps the state on top of its game.
“These schools have provided the state’s printing companies with a great talent pool of highly educated employees trained specifically for our industry,” he says. “I believe the schools within our education system...truly help bring quality minds to our companies. These students leave school understanding the technology that is driving our industry and are excited about being part of this new digital age.”
Chris Carpenter, president and CEO of Sun Prairie-based Royle Printing, echoes Marek’s sentiments, noting that printing has become a family heritage. “Choosing a career in printing was and continues to be generational, sometimes spanning across three or four generations,” he says. “Yes, our industry and the technology we employ have advanced greatly, but we still rely on the experience and passion of our employees to delight our customers.”
One advantage printers enjoy here is the recognition by the state government of the industry’s importance to Wisconsin’s economy. Joel Quadracci, president and CEO of Quad/Graphics, sees a strong public-private partnership between the printers and Gov. Jim Doyle. The printer has invested more than $300 million in equipment and a new plant in Wisconsin in the past three years. In turn, the state provided Quad with up to $3 million in tax credits for creating as many as 750 jobs related to investments made since 2004.
Another perk offered by the state is an initiative for promoting lean manufacturing, according to Quadracci. Roughly half of the $1.5 million that has been earmarked for the 2007-09 budget is for the Manufacturing Extension Program, which will provide support services to companies getting started in lean manufacturing, according to Quadracci.
“Having a state government that recognizes the importance of printing and the need for economic growth is very important to our long-term success,” he adds.
On the topic of state government, Gregg Davies—president of Action Printing in Fond du Lac—notes that Wisconsin’s business taxes are among the lowest in the nation due to property tax exemptions for manufacturing machinery, computers, inventories and pollution control equipment. The state also offers tax credits for reduced energy usage in manufacturing and R&D expenditures, Davies reports.
James Sandstrom, president of HM Graphics in Milwaukee, believes the Wisconsin worker also tends to take his/her job very seriously, a trickle down effect of the German ancestry.
“You can’t compare the Midwestern work ethic to anywhere in the country,” Sandstrom says. “These people have a sense of urgency. Across the board, I think people in the Midwest have a little more of a can-do attitude. It’s a little higher pace than you get in other regions.” PI
Differentiate. . .and Compete
Minnesota touts itself as the “Land of 10,000 Lakes,” but Wisconsin is home to more than 1,000 printers. With several neighboring states also boasting some of the country’s top printing firms, competition is über-competitive for a market share that is being compromised by electronic and alternative media. How do Wisconsin’s leading printers keep from getting caught under the Midwestern crunch? Read on:
Eric Delzer, Delzer Lithograph: “Success comes from a vibrant competitive landscape. Most printers in Wisconsin have to offer the latest in technology, services, quality, etc., just to keep up with the printer down the street. We work hard on expanding the depth of our service offerings: conventional offset, digital printing, and literature storage and fulfillment. Also a couple of new services planned for roll-out later this summer.”
Gregg Davies, Action Printing: “We have ‘stuck to our knitting’ and will continue to specialize as much as possible in our niche. To remain viable in today’s competitive arena, printers cannot print everything for everybody. We have stuck to our core products, while expanding our capabilities and value-added services. Today, most printers make more money the further they get from their presses. Every printer is pretty darn good at putting ink on paper, and the pricing is ultra-competitive.
“Our sales approach is very investigative and consultative. Our goal is to be the easiest printer to do business with in the country...and we will expand our services according to our customers’ and prospects’ needs. As their businesses and markets change, our business will change.”
Joel Quadracci, Quad/Graphics: “The reality of today’s marketplace is that consumers have more communications choices than ever. So we must find ways to fortify print’s strength in a multi-channel world. At Quad/Graphics, we’re making print more immediate, more targeted and more relevant to individual recipients on a mass scale by employing industry-leading personalization technology and data expertise. We’re making print more measurable, too, which enables us to show our clients the medium’s overall value.
“Over the past five years, we’ve invested more than $1 billion in capital expenditures to innovate the ink-on-paper medium. Through these investments, we are able to drive down our operating costs by maintaining and enhancing the industry’s most modern manufacturing platform; drive down our clients’ cost structures, saving them money on print, distribution and administration; and offer value-added technology and services that increase clients’ revenues.”
John Berthelsen, Suttle-Straus: “As with many others, we are focusing less on being a ‘printer’ and more on a ‘communications’ company. We are providing our clients with a bundled solution of products and services ranging from e-commerce Websites through distribution services and everything in between. If we were only hanging our hat on printing, it would be laying on the floor.”
James Sandstrom, HM Graphics: “We continue to invest in equipment, taking advantage of the automation and efficiencies that come with it. We also have a very aggressive co-op training program. For a majority of our employees, their first experience to the industry is in our building. Everybody’s been through the same apprentice and training program. It’s worked out quite nicely for us.”
Fuzzy Marek, The Marek Group: “As high quality and quick turns are now industry standards, truly having a full scope of services under one roof sets us apart from many of our competition. From a full range of data management services, direct mail, and a large fulfillment operation to specialty finishing and packaging, it is our ability to be far more than ‘just another printer’ to our customer base that has helped us grow.
“We are a growth-oriented company with a strong commitment to invest in high-quality people, modern technology and to bring real value-added solutions to new and existing customers. Thankfully, we embraced the change to digital print and more value-added services many years ago, and it has really paid off for us.”
Deba Horn-Prochno, Ripon Printers: “We each have carved our own little ‘place in the ink.’ For us, we strive for exceptional customer service and one-stop shopping, serving the medium run-length market, from a real person answering the phone to the automated bills of lading, PDF invoices. We are not country bumpkins, traversing to work on unpaved roads, but highly skilled technicians doing groundbreaking things in the printing industry.”
Chris Carpenter, Royle Printing: “Like so many businesses and industries, print is a very, very competitive space. Successful printers focus on the markets and customers they serve—understanding their needs and developing communication and distribution solutions to help them achieve their goals. We don’t push print so much as we present tools and solutions. We’ve also tried to remain very nimble and flexible, while also staying current with equipment and technology. Printing can be a very capital-intensive business; it’s critical that companies make the right choices on equipment and technology. A mistake can be quite painful.
“With all that said, it still comes down to having a great team. If we didn’t have the right culture in place—promoting hard work, family values, safety and a quality experience for our customers—we wouldn’t have the team or company we have today.”
Kip Frautschi, Webcrafters: “Before Banta was assimilated into RR Donnelley, they were in the same niches we are. The competitive environment is national in scope for us; perhaps we’re successful for having survived in Wisconsin first. We’ve been able to add a lot of capacity, but we’ve stayed focused and served our niche. We have a culture where people work very hard and really go the extra mile during our busy periods.”