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American Printer's top 50: applauding 1995's outstanding print sales performers

Aug 1, 1995 12:00 AM

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During 1994, American Printer began its annual Top 50 Fastest Growing Printers Awards. This listing seeks to recognize those graphic arts firms whose imagination, innovative management practices, perseverance and hard work have paid off with substantially better-than-average growth.

This month, we are pleased to present the 1995 Top 50, which is co-sponsored by A.B. Dick Co. These outstanding companies have excelled in growth throughout the past three years. The 50 companies listed on the following pages run the gamut from small to large and are located in all parts of the country, serving a wide range of market niches.

Entries for the program were received during 1995, with winners selected based on percent of sales growth from 1992 to 1994. To be eligible, companies have to be in business for at least four years and have sales of more than $1 million during 1994.

When dealing with private companies it often is difficult to meaningfully measure profitability. As a result, the TOP 50 listing is based only on revenue growth. The advantages to this are simplicty and objectivty. However, we do recognize that there are drawbacks.

Gaining recognition through this program is not necessarily a guaranteed seal of approval. There is no filter to exclude companies that are growing rapidly through questionable marketing practices. Then, too, there is no accurate way to determine which printers are growing sales without growing profits.

This year, we are especially pleased to recognize 16 companies that are two-time winners. Many of these outstanding companies have moved up in the rankings. When asked to what they attribute their continuing growth, most CEOs in this group note the key to success is in providing outstanding customer satisfaction.

And so, we salute the quality excellence, management skills and teamwork that combine to make these 50 companies so successful in an everchanging business environment. In front of them lies the future--and perhaps more recognition in next year's Top 50 Fastest Growing Printers.


Fulton Press (Little Rock, AR) boasts a whopping 313 percent total growth from 1992 to 1994. The question is, how?

It may have something to do with how President Claude Fulton treats his staff. "When we started this business, we wanted to create an atmosphere in which employees didn't worry about getting fired for making mistakes," he relates. "We ensure workers are treated fairly and compensated in a timely manner, promote from within and have acquired bigger and better equipment, enabling employees to expand their skills."

Employees respond by taking pride in their work--and ensuring other workers do their share. "If you don't carry your load, our bunch around here will cut you out of the herd pretty quick," Fulton says. "In other words, our employees set a good work standard and make sure new hires are aware of that standard."


"The changes we've made in our company always have been in response to customers' needs," relates Michael Gonte, vice president of E & G Printing Service (Madison Heights, MI). "That's how we tried to separate ourselves from the competition even when we had very little to offer from an equipment-based standpoint.

"For example, several years ago a print buyer habitually brought us orders late in the day--orders that were due the next morning. In response, we added a second shift initially for just that one customer."

Gonte emphasizes that responding to clients' wish lists needn't be expensive or time consuming. "It could be as simple as turning around a quote quickly, getting an unusual job done and just trying not to say no."


These days, printers may be hesitant about equipment investments. After all, technology changes so rapidly new machinery soon could be obsolete.

But John M. Gleason didn't hesitate. And it paid off. A Howtek scanner, Komori press and desktop publishing-related equipment are among the recent purchases of New England/Bay State Press & Printing Ltd. (Framingham, MA). "For us it was the only way to go," states vice president Gleason. "Our equipment is what enabled our sales to grow as much as they have."

Gleason uses good old-fashioned smarts to buy profitably. "We didn't gamble. We know a market for the equipment exists before we buy. For instance, we were purchasing $100,000 worth of scanning each year from outside sources before we bought our scanner. That's the way we do things: if we have enough business, we get the equipment; not before."


Combine a dream to produce four-color printing with a market moving to shorter and shorter run lengths and what do you have? If you're Ken Huff, you have a reason to invest in a Heidelberg GTO-DI direct imaging press. "It was a logical step for us," relates the owner of The Print Shop in Orlando, FL.

The equipment is the company's first four-color press, and it handles runs of 5,000 pieces or less.

What's the biggest benefit? "Most customers come to us for the fast turnaround times. The first job we ran on the machine was 10,000 four-over-four 8 1/2 x 11-inch brochures, which took a little more three hours of press time. If we'd run that job on our two-color press, it would have taken nine hours!"


In these days of "rightsizing" and "downsizing," it may seem that stressed-out, overworked employees no longer are loyal to their companies.

Not at Webtrend, a 145-employee Vista, CA printer. "I work here, just like the other employees," remarks Donald Secrest, president and CEO. "And together, we all work for our customers. Anyone from shipping to bindery to pressroom personnel can walk into my office any time. We also allow people to make their own decisions, and they may make mistakes, but they learn from them."

He adds that several years ago Webtrend built a new facility designed for employees. With numerous skylights in the manufacturing area, as well as twice the amount of lighting required in that area, plus inside and outside lunch spaces, Webtrend is a place employees want to come to work.


Wicklander Printing Corp. (Chicago) has had a Total Quality Management program for several years, but recently formalized the program to include additional employee training and process improvements with clients.

The result? Increased service quality and perceived value for customers, and a happy, involved workforce.

"That's a great combination, and we are more competitive than ever." remarks Jim Wicklander, president and chief operating officer. "Employees have lived up to and exceeded all of our expectations, and are have increased their productivity significantly. TQM has created a true team spirit. Everyone feels involved and, thus, truly cares about their work. Many organizations don't have this attitude, and it been a big part in helping us attract new business."


Cunningham Graphics, Inc. is experiencing success all the way around. Not only did the Jersey City firm score big in the fastest-growing printer survey, its president, Michael R. Cunningham, also was named the 1995 Small Business Person of The Year by the New Jersey U.S. Small Business Administration. Here are two tips that helped him get there:

"Adhere to commitments, even if it means you lose money on certain jobs or have to jump through hoops to follow through. That's what it takes to succeed.

Focus on truly partnering with customers. `Partnering' is a loosely used term these days, but it carries a great deal of responsibility. Learn the client's mission statement and goals, then act as part of the buyer's team. We're fortunate because our customers let us into their mindset about their key objectives and goals. We're a useful part of the team, not just order-takers."


The in-plant printing operations of Harte-Hanks Direct Marketing in Cincinnati knows not to take its internal customer for granted. That's because each department division in this nationwide organization practices "entrepreneurial leadership"--each is its own profit and loss center.

Thus, print shop manager Tom Schmeig knows his operation has to stay on its toes more than the typical in-plant. "We actually are on the fringe of being a commercial printer," he offers. "If we don't make a date or give a department what they need, they can go outside and find someone who can.

"We have to keep up with customers, finding out what they buy and are planning to buy," Schmeig says. "For example, we recently purchased a couple of ink-jet units, and were able to internalize 70 million envelopes. It was an immediate growth boon."


Sure, most printing firms have had several presidents tour their plants occasionally. However, when was the last time the President stopped by for a visit. That's exactly what happened recently at Automated Graphic Systems of White Plains, MD.

President Bill Clinton was there in recognition of the first anniversary of the signing of the School to Work legislation. The act promotes vocational training for students readying to enter the workforce, and Automated Graphic Systems has sponsored nine young people at its plant.

"We are committed to education of our employees and customers, but its also important to commit to young people," offers Automated co-CEO Mark Edgar. "Our growth can only continue if we help others grow their abilities."


How does a printing firm located in remote Jackson Hole, WY attract and service a national stable of accounts? Why would a client in New York City bother with the enormous distance when a horde of capable printers are right in its back yard?

Well, with a quality printer such as Pioneer of Jackson Hole located near one of the premier vacation and arts spots in the country, the distance doesn't mean quite so much. In fact, the printer actively promotes its proximity to Grand Teton National Park, Yellow-stone, excellent ski resorts and acclaimed arts festivals.

"We tell clients, if you are going to print out of town anyway and are used to a certain quality, why not do it here and take a great vacation in the process," enthuses Jeff Allport, president of Pioneer. "We are on a par with the best printers in urban areas and, despite the good time people have, nobody accepts substandard printing."


Suttle Press (Waunakee, WI has realized sustained sales growth for 16 years. However, the company knew that if this impressive expansion was to continue, it had to embark on a new direction.

That's why the company dove head first into the world of color printing at the end of 1992, moving into a new 42,000-sq.-ft. building and bringing in its first four-color press. In fact, the company was one of the first in Wisconsin to adapt waterless technology.

"Rather than simply being another `me too' process-color printer, we decided to get into it with the latest technology to differentiate ourselves," relates president John Berthelsen. "Continuing that philosophy, we recently installed a six-color press with a coater. We knew that if we stayed printing only flat color we would never be any more than a $4 million printer."


Prior to 1993, Firenze and Co. (Wilmington, DE) was strictly a prepress house; however, it knew things had to change. According to owner Joseph R. Neuberger, the firm saw its printing industry customer base shrink from approximately 25 , percent of sales to six percent.

Thus, the firm took action. "We saw that our biggest competitors were about to become printers, so we knew we had to also. It was a survival move," says Neuberger.

Additionally, the company recognized that, in order to remain on the cutting edge of prepress technology, it had to retire expensive equipment after only three to five years. "The investment in presses was more of a long-term venture. It was less of a capital investment than the business we already were in, simply due to the longevity of the equipment. Now, we are able to be the one-stop shopping source for our customers."


"The whole world is going digital," relates David Margiotta, president of Modern International Graphics, Inc. "Printers that haven't embraced digital prepress are suffering. Those that have embraced it, as well as educated their customers on how to be more profitable in their own right, are the companies that thrive," he adds.

The firm recently invested in direct-to-press equipment with the order of a Heidelberg Quickmaster DI. "It goes hand in hand with our market. We pride ourselves on quick turnarounds, and direct-to-press enlivens our philosophy of getting jobs out as quickly as possible while maintaining good quality."


Printers increasingly to the amazing benefits a well-thought-out promotional program can have on the bottom line. Creekside Printing of Rolling Meadows, IL is one company that has seen concrete evidence of this fact, with sales growing 44 percent since 1992.

Its promotional effort, according to president Steven Kittay, is based on extensive research into targeting clients whose needs most fit the printer's capabilities.

"Promotion likely is the most important factor contributing to our growth," Kittay relates. "We believe we are going to lose three percent to five percent of our business every year simply due to attrition. Printers also lose an additional percentage every year to electronics or other things customers have learned to do themselves. If you don't replace those customers, you'll never grow, so you must get out there and sell yourself."