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Top 50: From international to local

Jun 1, 2003 12:00 AM

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Created in the early 1990s as a Japanese-owned, U.S.-based printing company, Calsonic Miura Graphics, Inc. had successfully merged two cultures into a $12 million enterprise by 1994. The company placed in the top 10 on our inaugural Top 50 Fastest Growing Printers list that year. It placed again in 1995.

By 1998, however, the Japanese economy had plummeted, and the parent company reportedly struggled to financially support Calsonic Miura. The Irvine, CA, printing company was sold in April 1998 to ColorGraphics, a Los Angeles-based printer with additional facilities in San Francisco and Seattle.

Merging two cultures into one was “a bit of a struggle for two or three years,” acknowledges Craig Evans, director of sales and marketing for what is now ColorGraphics' Orange County plant. But he points out that ColorGraphics nevertheless managed to keep Calsonic Miura's largest customer, Nissan Motor Co.

Today, ColorGraphics-Orange County continues to produce high-end car-related materials, and annual reports and product catalogs for an assortment of industries. Prepress is a particular specialty: “The retouching that needs to be done for the car business is a big specialty item,” explains Evans. “You have to have top-end color retouchers.” Thanks to this and a healthy local economy, ColorGraphics-Orange County grew 20 percent last year. It contributes about $20 million to ColorGraphics' overall annual sales of $120 million.

How did ColorGraphics acquire Calsonic Miura Graphics?

At the time, Calsonic Miura's parent company had a relationship with our owner, and our Los Angeles office was looking to buy a new web press. Calsonic Miura happened to have exactly what we needed. So it was an acquisition to put us into the Orange County market and to acquire a piece of equipment. The web press was moved to our Los Angeles plant after the acquisition; our Orange County plant is 100 percent sheetfed.

How did you merge the companies' cultures?

The company cultures and expectations were a little bit different. ColorGraphics is a very customer-driven company, so that philosophy had to be taught to our employees.

On the other hand, ColorGraphics' philosophy is to have manufacturing facilities in local proximity to its customers, rather than operate one huge printing plant. By owning and running a plant in Orange County, that philosophy worked well. We did, however, need to size our operations correctly for the marketplace, which meant going from about 80 employees in 1998 to our current 50.

Our 1994 profile of Calsonic Miura mentions the emphasis on group decision-making by the Japanese vs. the emphasis on the individual in the U.S. Did you come across that difference at acquisition?

ColorGraphics has minimum layers of management. We like to say that you're one person away from making a key decision. Which, needless to say, is not the group-decision philosophy.

Each one of our plants is managed by a team of two people: the director of sales and the director of manufacturing. These two people are entrusted to make any decision on any day-to-day business.

Does each ColorGraphics plant operate like a separate business, then?

The company has a support group that handles the credit, billing and human resources for all four plants. But each one of our locations is basically a sell-and-print facility. Each plant has its own forecast and goals, particularly because each marketplace is different from the others.

There's a sharp contrast between our San Francisco and Orange County plants, for example: San Francisco has a shrinking economy, whereas Orange County's is growing. So, we have to match our goals to our market.

Where does ColorGraphics-Orange County see itself five years from now?

We think it's going to be more of the same, which is quicker turnaround times, higher expectations of quality and satisfying special customer needs. We're here to service the Orange County advertising market — we will adapt to whatever customer expectations are at the time, and we will grow or add equipment to meet those needs. In our business, you adapt or you die, and it used to be you had to adapt every three to five years. Now, you have to adapt every six months to a year because the market changes so rapidly.


THEN: Company: Calsonic Miura Graphics, Inc., Irvine, CA; Year founded: 1990; Annual sales (1993): $12 million; No. of employees: 100; Specialization: High-quality printing and film work

NOW: Company: ColorGraphics-Orange County, Tustin, CA; Annual sales: $20 million; No. of employees: 50; Sq. ft.: 20,000; Specialization: High-quality car-related business; annual reports, product catalogs; Key market niches: Automotive, corporate