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The family that prints together

Aug 1, 2010 12:00 AM


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When Ed Engle was 14 years old, he wanted to earn some spending money in his spare time. So he reported to work at Ambassador Press (Minneapolis), the company his uncles, Marvin and Barry Engle, founded in 1960 in an old livery stable. Young Ed would hop on a bus to Printers Row and then immerse himself in the glamorous world of the graphic arts. “I ran the folder and cleaned the bathrooms,” Engle recalls.

After high school, Ed continued his education at the University of Minneapolis where he earned a degree in social work. “I was married and there were no jobs [when I graduated],” says Engle. “My uncle said ‘I really need someone to help with estimating and production.’ He took out a scratch pad and taught me. That was 40 years ago.”

Ed bought out Uncle Marvin in the early 1980s. Uncle Barry, 81, remains with company. “He still works here in sales,” says Engle. “He still makes cold calls and has a loyal following.”

Incidentally, in case you were wondering, the Engles have no diplomatic ties. The Ambassador name was chose for its alphabetic qualities. “In 1960, that's the way it was,” says Engle. “You picked something that would stand out in the phone book.”

The next generation

The company is now in the process of transitioning ownership to the third generation of Engles, Ed's children, 32-year old executive vice president Harold Engle and vice president of operations Candice Engle-Fieldman, 35.

Ed, who just turned 60, is pleased his children opted to join the business, but acknowledges the succession has posed some challenges. “It hasn't been perfect,” he says. “Both [children] are very different from me and I needed to let them develop. What's right for me isn't necessarily for them. The majority of [their decisions] I've agreed with. But sometimes you need to step back, not only as a boss but as a father.”

Harold and Candice now handle about 70 percent of Ambassador's day-to-day operations. Eventually Ed will excuse himself from the daily grind, but he intends to stay in the game. “I'll go to shows,” he says. “I still have a good handle on the business.”

Engle doesn't take offense when his daughter refers to his “old-time thinking” or when his son questions why something is done a certain way. He's not afraid to make changes. “Until a few years ago, we were strictly a commercial printer,” he says. “We could see where that was going. We had to find something different. We considered UV printing, small web presses and then we came across large-format printing.”

In his four decades with the company, Engle has seen a dramatic shift in the speed of technology as well as buying patterns. “It used to be equipment [was in place] for 15 years or so. Now it's rotated in much faster and certain segments of the business have become a commodity.”

Ambassador believes in cutting-edge technology.

What's new

Equipment at the $16 million, 78,000 sq. ft. printer now includes a 64-inch KBA Rapida press, a Xerox iGen3 and an HP Scitex FB6100 flatbed machine. Ambassador has also recently announced its newest service, “AMB Solutions” — a web-based customer solution that automates recurring orders. By adding this new capability, the number of human touch points per job is reduced from 10-15 to 4-5, maintaining consistent quality.

Adding a full-time kitting department as well as packaging and point-of-purchase capabilities has paid off. Ambassador has attracted new customers and maintained its profitability — although Engle concedes that while staying in the black ink, the printer has veered close to tan.

“Our business has been strong through the years, so last year it was strange when our banker congratulated us on being ‘just’ 10% off our year to year revenue,” says Engle, who is also the current president of the Printing Industry of Minnesota (PIM). “We've always tried to focus on how best to meet our customers' needs, and that's meant embracing change rather than resisting it. Our customer service is the backbone of our business, but we've also made it a priority to stay on the cutting edge of technology. You have to have do both to stay competitive.”

See www.ambpress.com.

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