How Printers Are Transforming: The Heritage Printing & Graphics Story
In the beginning, there were printers. Then as technologies and economies transformed, we emerged into a digital world as … printers. The point is that no matter how you describe your business today—a marketing service provider, packaging solutions firm, display graphics enterprise, etc.—we are all still printers, but how we got here brings us to sharing this transformation story…
The 2015 Print Leadership Summit is the event for printers, by printers. In this blog series we will explore transformation stories of some of our most notable speakers, so you can discover fresh ways to reinvigorate your business.
If you’ve ever wondered what it would be like to leave the strain of daily operations and get a fresh perspective, you’ll want to ready this story.
Over the course of nearly four decades, Heritage Printing & Graphics, led by President and Co-Owner Joe Gass, has seen plenty of transition. Along the way Heritage has identified itself as a quick printer, then a commercial printer, and today with the addition of wide- and grand-format capabilities, a visual communication company. During this time Heritage has grown geographically from Leonardtown, Maryland, a suburb of Washington, DC, south to add a production facility in Charlotte, North Carolina.
Here Joe tells his story of transformation.
1. When did you decide you needed to make a change?
I took the reins of the family business in 1988 after serving for six years in the United States Navy following high school. Heritage was pretty successful through the 90s, transitioning from a multi-location quick printer into a single location commercial printing and mailing company. We invested heavily in the late 90s in direct-to-plate technology and larger, faster 28-inch offset presses to focus our business more on process color publications, marketing materials, and direct mail.
Then we, like many other printing businesses, were greatly impacted by the devastating economy that followed the tragic events of 9-11. Around 2003, as I was approaching the age of forty, I began to realize that being a leader with endless amounts of energy and determination was no longer good enough to sustain a profitable business. By that time our company had struggled with the poor economy and shrinking margins for a number of years, ultimately leading to a Chapter 11 reorganization and my own personal bankruptcy.
2. What impact did this have on you?
They were tough years—for our business and family--but ended up being the beginning of a great renewal that transformed me and totally changed the trajectory of my family and our business. The financial challenges we faced during that time made me totally reconsider what was most important in life. After seventeen years leading the business, I decided to take a sabbatical, got way outside of my comfort zone, and moved my family four hundred miles away to Charlotte, North Carolina in the summer of 2005. Here I was able to spend more time with my wife and four children while telecommuting with Heritage in Maryland and being involved in leading a non-profit organization in Charlotte.
3. How did your business fair during this time?
I saw the years of mentoring my staff in Maryland to be leaders really pay off. They stepped up as a team and helped to grow the business more than 40% during the first two years of my absence. I began to wonder if they really needed me anymore, and then the near collapse of the financial markets and banking system in 2008 happened and it prompted me to consider our next steps in the journey.
4. So what influenced your decision to get back into the business full time?
By 2008 I had been away from day-to-day operations for three years. During that time I was able to see our industry and other similar verticals in the market from a completely different vantage point. I began to see opportunities for our business expand through some of the new things I was learning in my newly adopted hometown of Charlotte, like wide-format printing, event signage and displays, retail point-of-purchase, and custom interior and exterior graphics. I knew we had huge potential for success in this new marketplace if we really went after it aggressively.
5. What was it like in the beginning for your newly transformed business?
We opened the doors to our first wide-format production facility in Charlotte, NC, in November of 2009. The early days of this new venture were both exciting and terrifying. It was like starting all over again. There was so much to learn. After so many years of being the guy with all of the answers, I was now the one with most of the questions.
6. And how did you get past these hurdles?
By learning to become comfortable with being uncomfortable. To be successful these days you have to learn something new every day, stretch yourself. You have to have an open mind as to what your company and its clientele may look like in the future.
7. So did your existing team easily adopt the changes that you implemented?
During the past six years I have seen our staff members in Maryland go from being highly skeptical about the investment I was making in wide-format technology in Charlotte to now embracing it as a valuable tool in meeting our customers’ marketing and communication needs. After just five years of implementation, wide and grand-format production represented more than 40% of our business revenue last year and may exceed 50% for the first time by the end of this year.
8. What are some of the most significant factors to your most recent success at Heritage Printing & Graphics?
During most of my 27 years leading Heritage our growth had traditionally come from outside sales staff and referrals from happy customers. Today, new business from referrals continue to grow for us but our outside sales staff has been totally replaced by Internet marketing and social media presence. We are finding that the way decision makers are researching and making their purchasing decisions have changed dramatically and we have been the benefactor of that shifting mindset. We have redirected our sales team dollars to staffing more trained project coordinators to interact with clients and prospects via phone calls, email, live chat sessions, social media conversations and video meetings generated primarily from the response we get from our strong presence on the Internet.
9. What have you learned from your journey so far?
As long as our company and its team members embrace the need to pursue never ending change and avoid getting comfortable, we will continue to see growth and profitability by being an asset to our current and future customers!