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Trading up

Jul 1, 2007 12:00 AM

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From a garage to greatness

In 1939, when Bill Hewlett and Dave Packard launched their company, they had many strikes against them. They had only $538, a used Sears-Roebuck drill press and executive offices in a garage.

Similarly, when Greg Moquin launched his printing company in the early 1980s, he had little money, a 1960-something Davidson press and a “pressroom” that doubled as a storage area for his car, lawnmower and some garbage cans. But Moquin Press had something Hewlett-Packard didn't: a crabby neighbor.

“I was printing late at night and he kept complaining to the county,” recalls Moquin. “The county sent me a letter ordering me to stop, but I never did because I couldn't.”

Ultimately a broken water main forced Moquin's hand. “I had to get a permit to fix it and I was told I had to move the business before I could get one.”

Moquin, mindful of his civic duty and extremely eager to restore running water to his house, complied. “I moved to a little 400-sq.-ft. warehouse,” he recalls. “It was a $1 per square foot.”

A fixer upper

Moquin didn't originally intend to start his own company. Hoping to make a little extra money, Moquin bought and restored the Davidson press, and was going to sell it. The old press was similar to a Multi duplicator, but with one important difference: reliable registration. “The Davidson printed the sheet and delivered it upside down,” Moquin says. “It was one of the only small-format presses back then that could hold register.”

Before Moquin could sell the press, a Realtor friend asked him to print some business cards. Soon after that, no doubt to his grouchy neighbor's chagrin, Moquin got an inquiry from a woman with a line of greeting cards called Meri Meri. Moquin, who had previously worked for Apex Die Corp., put his die-cutting skills to work.

In addition to the Davidson press, the post-garage setup included a single-color Heidelberg GTO 46, a circa-1920 12 x 18-inch Kluge and a paper cutter.

Things were going O.K. — until Moquin got fired. During the early days of his company, Moquin had a day job with a Bay-area company running a one-color Heidelberg. When Moquin's employer discovered Moquin had founded his own company, also serving trade customers, he was asked to leave. “When I was fired, I was told I would never work in the industry again,” Moquin recalls. “I was desperate. I knocked on the doors of other small printers with duplicators. I could print work they couldn't — solids, screens, and halftones on coated paper. I started getting work from those guys.”

Moquin established a reputation for quick turns, a distinction the company strives to maintain. “One of the things I did, by accident, was to deliver jobs right away. I got a job on Monday and delivered it on Tuesday,” Moquin says. “We still do that today and I think that's one reason my company stayed busy — we're very service oriented.”

Tough times

Once he was out of his garage and running a full-time business, Moquin had to hustle to survive. “I needed to make $100 a week,” he recalls. “I had a two-year-old child, I was just desperate.”

Janette Moquin, who had previously worked for a trade finisher, joined her husband at the print shop full time in 1990. In the early days, the Moquins lived on their credit cards and struggled to pay the bills.

A three-month partnership with their biggest customer in 1990 didn't help. On the day before they were to formalize their agreement, the partner, on the grounds that Moquin Press “wasn't really bringing anything to the table,” insisted they change their 50/50 arrangement to 80/20.

Moquin withdrew from the partnership, a move that cost the company thousands of dollars. Meanwhile, the would-be partner became a direct competitor. “That was the absolute bottom,” Moquin says. “It was horrible‥”

Although the ex-partner had deeper pockets, Moquin had something money couldn't buy: production expertise. Within seven months, Greg and Janette Moquin won back all of their clients. In the ensuing years, the company expanded steadily. After outgrowing 14 prior locations, the company bought its current facility in Belmont, CA, in 1998.

By the mid-1990s, Moquin had a two-color GTO 52 as well as a 14 × 20-inch Kluge for foil stamping. “When we had a one-color press, we were doing four-color work and needed a two-color press to do things in two passes,” Moquin says. “We got so busy with two-color, we ended up with a four-color GTO. From there, we ended up with a two-color 19 × 25-inch MO. After that we got a six-color Speedmaster 74 29-inch press.”

In 1999, the trade printer got its first CD 74 press and, in 2005, installed the first Speedmaster XL 105 in the United States. A second XL 105 followed in 2006. Typical jobs include books, cartons, CD sleeves, presentation folders and a variety of boxes.

The biggest challenge

Today, Moquin Press is a 90-employee, $12-million operation occupying a combined 40,000 sq. ft in two adjoinng buildings. Moquin says a common-sense approach guides his management strategy. “It hasn't been that difficult,” he says. “It hasn't been so much about learning to handle people, but learning how to handle myself with people.”

Although the trade printer has grown 15 to 20 percent annually for the past five or so years, Moquin maintains a pragmatic outlook. “While I don't live in fear, I think the printing industry is more uncertain today than it was 20 years ago when I was starting out. Printing companies come and go so quickly — I've seen a lot get bought and lot go out of business. We're just another printing company.”

The biggest operational challenge, says Moquin, is coaching employees on customer service skills. Although it's possible to give CSRs some basic guidelines, Moquin says intangible characteristics, such as applying intuition, experience and logic to a given situation, are great assets.

Until a few years ago, Moquin held management consultants in low esteem. “I always thought that was a bunch of garbage, until I met a retired Dale Carnegie guy on the golf course,” he explains. “He started telling me how he'd helped some people and I ended up hiring him. It's been absolutely fantastic. We've always had a positive working environment, but the way we handle employees and the company's morale has gotten even better.”

A reunion

Many competitors wanted to see the first XL 105 when it was installed and Moquin was happy to oblige. One of the visitors was an old acquaintance — his former employer. Two decades later, Moquin has no regrets: “In the end, he did me a favor!”

Katherine O'Brien is the editor of AMERICAN PRINTER. Contact her at

Moquin Press: a timeline

  • 1985 Greg Moquin buys vintage Davidson press.

  • 1986 Buys a Multi 1970 and uses it for about a year.

  • 1988 Acquires a one-color GTO 46 from the Santa Clara school district. Moves to a 400-sq.ft. building in Belmont, CA, in November.

  • 1989 In February, day-job boss sees Moquin moving from his 400-sq.-ft. building to the neighboring 600-sq.ft. building. Moquin is fired the next day.

  • 1990 Enters ill-fated three-month partnership and moves to partner's print facility. Late that year, returns to 600-sq.ft. building with two used Kluges. Janette Moquin joins the company full time.

  • 1991 Trades one-color GTO for a new two-color GTO 52.

  • 1992 Takes over the original 400-sq.ft. building for combined 1,000 sq. ft. Buys new 14 × 20 Kluge.

  • 1993 Moves to 1,600-sq.-ft. building and installs the four-color GTO, which is still used today. Adds second shift.

  • 1994 Late in the year moves to 3,500-sq.ft. building in San Carlos, CA. Installs a two-color, 19 × 25 MO press as well as a second new 14 × 20 Kluge.

  • 1996 Moves to 5,000-sq.ft.building and installs a six-color, 29-inch Heidelberg Speedmaster as well as a Bobst 102. Later in the year, trades the MO for a two-color, 29-inch press. Adds in-house die making and a folder gluer.

  • 1997 Trades the two-color 29-inch press for a four-color 29 inch press with coater. Company has about 30 employees.

  • 1998 Buys present location, a 26,000 sq. ft. building in Belmont, CA.

  • 1999 Trades six-color 29-inch press for a six-color Heidelberg Speedmaster 102 CD.

  • 2000 Trades the four-color 29-inch press for a five-color CD 102.

  • 2003 Buys 38,500-sq. ft. building next to Belmont facility. Company has about 85 employees.

  • 2004 In February, bindery moves into 18,500 sq. ft. in the second building; remaining space is leased to greeting card client. In March buys and eventually sells back a 29-inch, six-color non-Heidelberg press. In December, buys a six-color 29-inch Heidelberg to replace the competitor's machine that failed.

  • 2005 Installs a Heidelberg Speedmaster XL 105, the first in the United States.

  • 2006 Adds a second XL 105.

  • 2007 Bobst Alpina folder gluer with Gyro to be installed in November.

Equipment highlights

Moquin's extensive bindery includes four Kluges, a Bobst die-cutter and a Bobst gluer. The pressroom is all Heidelberg. Moquin says good technology, such as fast makeready or the ease of changing a blanket on a coating unit, is a top priority. “Heidelberg's XL 105 has a lot of great stuff on it. Time is money. You have quality and turnaround, you'd better have a great price, or you won't get more work.”

If a vendor came up with a more productive machine, Moquin says he'd take a look, “But I'd carefully review what kind of service infrastructure they had — where the service is going to come from. Right now, if I've got a problem, I've got a service guy right away. Heidelberg has a lot of staff in my area and that's important.”

All of Moquin's key equipment is covered under Heidelberg's systemservice 36plus extended service program. Under systemservice 36 plus, Moquin is required to do regular and specific preventive maintenance, which Heidelberg technicians review at 10-, 20- and 30-month intervals. “They go through the whole machine and tell you what parts might be worn or need replacement,” says Moquin. “The reporting that we get is fantastic.”