A Reflective of My Print Journey
I was 22 years old and pregnant with my first child, when I first set foot in a commercial printing plant. The temporary position as a Kelly Girl in the Customer Service Department gave me my first taste of a career that would extend for 36 years! I had not yet completed my Bachelor of Arts degree in Journalism, but I needed to work. I remember immediately loving the environment and atmosphere. The secretary was out on medical leave, and I had the opportunity to fill in for her. It felt like I belonged.
Once I had the tour of the plant, this solidified in my heart, that this is where I wanted and needed to be. It was as if the Lord put me in the right place at the right time. I secretly hoped in my heart that the secretary would not return, so I could stay on. Albeit she did come back. The tour afforded me the opportunity to sniff the ink, up close and personal, that had already started to make its way into my blood. The huge printing presses intrigued me, as rolls of paper quickly found their way around rollers, and four colors of ink were laid quickly and carefully in register. This turned into beautiful pieces of art . . . the printed page. The folders, cutters, and binders, all demanded my attention. Because I was a lover of horror movies, I could also see a great thriller storyline unfolding in the printing plant. However, the love of reading, books, magazines, letter writing, and all that I held close to my heart is what made me seek a permanent spot in the world of print.
My journey, after the secretary returned and my temporary assignment ended, is a beautiful story. I had an opportunity to truly grow up in the print world. Somewhere in here, my eldest child was born. I was able to take a position working in manufacturing, temporary at first, but it turned into a permanent position . . . in the bindery sitting at a machine to strap stacks of catalogs together. This was mundane and did not require a lot of effort or skill. I only had to keep up and be consistent. After a stint working on the end of a machine, off-loading catalogs unto pallets, more opportunities came. Later, after I had proven myself, I guess, I was able to move to a binder, feeding press signatures into the pockets of a machine. Even in manufacturing, I loved my job. I did several things there in the plant on the second shift, working 12 hours/seven days a week, while going back to school in the mornings to finish my degree. I had my eyes set on getting to the customer service department.
Even when I finished my degree, I continued to work in manufacturing. Many people wondered why I wanted to continue to do this with a degree . . . I LOVED the printing environment. I knew where I wanted to be, and I worked hard toward these goals. I notified a person, who had become a friend and one of my biggest advocates, of my desire to become a Customer Service Representative (CSR). After a few years of moving here and there, even out of the plant due to a sale, my advocate contacted me about a job, not in customer service, but again in manufacturing. I knew I would have to work my way into what I wanted, and I was willing to do so. The customer service job finally became available.
People in the manufacturing environment questioned why I wanted to “move up front,” why I wanted to be “the only black person in customer service,” did I think that I “was more”. I was accustomed to being a pioneer, so to speak, and I was up for the challenge, despite all the negative I received from my co-workers. When one knows what he or she wants, it is easier to make decisions to walk the road alone. I felt the tension, but I was not going to let anyone stop me. Once, I took the job in customer service, I felt that people in manufacturing thought I was going to get “up front” and pretend to be more than I was. Back then, the customer service position was a business professional one. I had to buy a whole new wardrobe . . . I would put my suits on, strut through the plant, and speak to everyone. They were not expecting me to do this. Eventually, things got better. The manufacturing team knew that I was still the same, as I was before, and the job did not change me. Many would say, “you are not different” . . . I had earned their respect.
Working with publishers and creative directors from all over the USA has been such a great privilege. I learned so much from them. Since I was an avid reader anyway, reading almost anything I could get my hands on, it was not hard for me to settle into proofing a magazine. So many skills I picked up in customer service. I even taught myself how to use a computer. I sat, literally, in customer service for about six months before I was entrusted with my own (one) account. First, there was one, then I had many. Eventually, it seemed that I was getting only problematic accounts, which spoke to how I had excelled in doing my job. I received a lot of positive feedback, from managers and customers, alike.
After a while, I was able to move into a sales support position with another major player in the printing world, thanks to another person who advocated for me. Here I was able to support one of the top sales reps in the company for seventeen years. This was such a wonderful job. I worked with some great people, and we had some excellent customers. When this rep left, I eventually moved into the sales representative role. After a drastic pay cut, in time, I was able to acquire a greater income and do things I never had the opportunity to do, especially as a single parent and while my children were younger.
It was not always easy, but despite the challenges, I still loved my job. Sometimes I felt the sting of not being wanted at the table, but I understood my assignment, and it had nothing to do with man. When I would say to God that it was He who placed me, it brought me peace. During my tenure, He did things that absolutely blew my mind!
Despite what many people think, print is not magic. It requires a wealth of knowledge and many skill sets. It has been an ever-changing industry, so one must stay on top of the latest happenings and changes within the industry. During my tenure in the print industry, I also had three children. All, who like me, can tell a quality print job from a bad one. They can identify bad registration, hickeys, a misaligned page, and much more. They have excellent customer service and business skills. This speaks to how much print becomes a part of your total life.
The industry has changed a lot over the last few years, but thankfully I do not believe the world is quite ready for a digital society. I still love to read books and magazines, feel paper, sniff ink, write letters, give cards; and if I am in the store, yes, I want my receipt. LOL . . . I want to do my part in keeping print alive.
I have worked for great companies, which have been major competitors in the printing industry. I have come across great people from the custodian to the CEO and other executives. As some like to say, I have rubbed elbows with some of the best. This has been a God-experience for me, as being in this industry is what I was called to do. I experience immense joy from being a part of this industry . . . it has been a part of my calling. Because of being here, I have also learned and have been able to do things on a much smaller level for others, such as create church bulletins, funeral programs, and more. I still know what it takes to put a magazine together, write a book, and know the resources to get it published and produced. Some things I will never unlearn.
I have been a part of a great internal and external team who have treated me with patience and grace. I have definitely made mistakes . . . I remember my first big mistake with some (I mean a whole lot of) paper wasted. God also gave me an “it is what it is” mentality. I am not being prideful when I take this stance, but clearly, once a mistake is made, there is nothing short of a sincere apology that I can offer or nothing else I can do, once a corrective measure has taken place. I do not dwell on the past, but I learn from my mistakes, then I am ready to move on, rarely repeating a mistake made before.
Being in the industry afforded me many opportunities to travel and see our country. My first flight was a business trip to New York. I have been to many places, stayed at some of the best hotels, and eaten at some of the finest restaurants. I learned proper etiquette when fine dining…when to use which fork, why to choose a black napkin rather than a white one, and how and why to swirl the first pour of wine. When money was flowing in the industry or as some would joke, “are you printing money?”, being in this career offered a taste of the good life.
36 years later, not really retiring, but hanging the large commercial print hat up on the wall. I have no regrets. I have a lot of fond memories. This has been a satisfying journey, and I have enjoyed almost every minute of it. One of the most important lessons I have learned has nothing to do with print directly, but rather life . . . treat everyone the same and with respect, honesty, integrity, and love no matter who they are and what position they hold. By doing this, the road will be smoother, and like my granddaddy would say, “the row will not be a hard row to hoe.” Good-bye Print World . . . 36 Years in the Book . . .Signing Off ’22!!
Special and Heartfelt Thanks to my family, the late Rodney Scott, Robert Johnson, Jim Hamblin, current and past co-workers, and the many clients who entrusted me to get the job done!!
Estella Dean is a country girl at heart with a bit of “ink in her blood”. Enamored with ink on paper, and her desire to stay busy, she is looking forward to what her future holds.