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They came, they managed, they conquered, Part 1

Aug 1, 2005 12:00 AM

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Management Plus

At a special banquet on February 17, 2005, the National Assn. for Printing Leadership (NAPL) (Paramus, NJ) presented 21 graphic communications companies with 2004 Management Plus awards. The event was held during NAPL’s Top Management Conference in Phoenix. Awards include the William K. Marrinan Hall of Fame Award, as well as Gold, Silver and Merit Awards.

Management Plus allows graphic communications companies to analyze specific areas of their operations as a tool to judge individual management performance against industry standards. After completing a self-analysis, companies may choose to enter the awards competition based on their results. The Management Plus program is sponsored by AMERICAN PRINTER, Compass Capital Partners and MAN Roland.

AMERICAN PRINTER spoke with four Gold Award winners and the recipient of the William K. Marrinan Hall of Fame award.

The business of books
Clarence Day, author of "Life with Father," has a famous quote book lovers often cite:

"The world of books is the most remarkable creation of man. Nothing else that he builds ever lasts. Monuments fall, nations perish, civilizations grow old and die out, and after an era of darkness, new races build others. But in the world of books are volumes that have seen this happen again and again, and yet live on, still young, still fresh as the day they were written, and still telling men’s hearts of men centuries dead."
It is a statement Friesens Corp. (Altona, Canada) repeats on its Web site, and a particularly apt message for the 98-year-old book printer. As the company approaches its centennial, it, too, has created something enduring.

After 25 years and 12 awards, Friesens earned Management Plus’ highest honor, the William K. Marrinan Hall of Fame award. And although this is the pinnacle of the Management Plus competition, CEO David Friesen remains firmly committed to the competition’s criteria. "The criteria on which Management Plus judges firms are really the kinds of things that everyone needs to run a successful business, and we want to continue growing," he says.
The $85 million book printer operates out of four facilities with a total of 400,000 sq. ft. One plant prints black-and-white books, one specializes in color, another prints school yearbooks and yet another serves primarily as a warehouse. Not bad for the company started as a small confectionery store. In 1923, Friesen’s grandfather acquired a local bookstore—10 years later, the company printed its first book, a 100-page arithmetic text.

Employees take ownership
Friesens is almost entirely employee-owned. Each of the 500 employees is a part-owner, an advantage Friesen says contributes to the company’s success. "We think [employee-ownership makes our employees] more interested in ensuring that productivity is high and adopting new work procedures, classifications and positions," he says. "It might not be an ownership structure that’s meant for everyone, but for us it’s worked well."

In the know
Training is an essential aspect of the company, and as a major employer in Manitoba, Friesens Corp. is dedicated to educating potential staff members. "We’re not simply throwing someone into a job and telling them to learn from the person next to them," he says. "We’re trying to teach them about what we’re doing and how we do it. [That way] we can find where their skills lie and they can find what part of the business interests them."

Twenty years ago, the company teamed with the Graphic Arts Technical Foundation (GATF) and the local community college, Red River College, to develop the Graphic Arts Book Manufacturing Course. The course consists of over 500 hours of instruction and experience. The year’s course combines theory and practical experience in prepress, press and finishing functions, as well as estimating, customer service and planning.

Friesens Corp. also trains its customers. "We try to make our customers smarter and more knowledgeable of the book manufacturing process," says Friesen. Twice a year the company invites its North American customers to an in-house book manufacturing seminar. "They’ll work on making their own book and go home with a book that they manufactured from start to finish," he says. "It helps them get a better appreciation for how to buy books."

Out with the old, in with the new
When we spoke to him last year about the company’s Gold award (see "Management Plus," August 2004), Friesen told us a commitment to modern equipment has boosted the company’s competitiveness. The company strives to keep equipment as up-to-date as possible. "We’re always adding equipment," says Friesen. "We spend probably $7-8 million a year on new equipment so we can maintain a state of the art facility." Large-format presses include four 50-inch, four-color MAN Roland 900s. Friesens also operates a Timsons T-32 web press and five Heidelberg Speedmasters—two eight-color and three two-color—as well as a six-color Heidelberg CD with aqueous coater for producing book covers and jackets. Over the next few years, the company plans to add more short-run digital capabilities and increase its already high level of automation. "Instead of replacing presses every 10 years," Friesen says, "we’re replacing them every five. In the bindery we’re buying equipment that can be operated by fewer people."

The challenge for Friesen is in finding a way for the company to continue to grow, and that means planning ahead. "One of my own goals is building a new management team as I get older and come closer to retirement," says Friesen. "We need new, young, educated, aggressive and intelligence people. We have new, young people in many of our administrative or management positions that are going to take this company to next level."

Something special
"Our goal has always been to create raving fans out of customers," says Friesen. In light of the company’s Management Plus Hall of Fame win, customers aren’t the only ones giving the company rave reviews. Creating raving fans out of customers is a practice that has hinged on one of Friesen’s favorite books, "Raving Fans: A Revolutionary Approach to Customer Service," by Ken Blanchard and Sheldon Bowles. The book discusses the need to rise above being adequate or good—to the point that customers rave about your service.

For Friesen, good customer service is about personal customer service. "Everybody wants to feel like they’re the most important customer we have, and that’s what we try to do," he says.

Omaha Print keeps making history
Hearing Omaha Print’s (Omaha, NE) president and CEO Steve Hayes discuss the company’s early days is like an American history lesson: "This company started before the Pony Express, before the Civil War, before Abraham Lincoln became president."

Union Pacific, one of the company’s first customers chose Omaha as the starting point for its Western expansion. And, as Hayes notes, because Omaha is equidistant from both coasts, the company enjoys a shipping and mailing advantage for national clients.

Founded in 1858, almost 10 years before Nebraska became a state, Omaha Print has evolved from a small newspaper, The Nebraska Republican, to a retail outlet for stationery, school supplies, furniture, greeting cards through the late 1980s, and more recently, into direct mail and catalog production. In 1992, the company divested most of its forms, supplies and furniture interests to concentrate on commercial printing. "We saw the Office Depots and Staples and those companies coming and decided to concentrate all of our attention on commercial printing," explains Hayes.

Midwestern manners
As a manager, Hayes favors a no-nonsense approach. "The last thing in the world I want to do is make people think I’m smarter than them or that I’m really special," says Hayes. "I’m always worried about those kind of people." This grounded philosophy is part of Omaha Print’s clear and direct focus. "I felt that there were pretty simple lessons I learned from my grandmother and from my parents," says Hayes. "Stand up straight. Shake hands firmly and look people in the eye. If you make a mistake, learn from it. Don’t go in the woods without a compass. Always play fair. Your word is your bond."

These "Midwestern manners," as Hayes calls them, have served Omaha Print well in both business and the Management Plus competition. This is the company’s first Gold Award, though Omaha Print has participated for the past eight years, previously winning three Merit Awards and four Silver Awards. Again, Hayes stresses the importance of staying grounded, saying, "Winning the award has never been our goal. The award didn’t bring us any new business, and it didn’t guarantee us success in the future. It’s nice to hang it on the wall, but you still have to go out an be competitive in the marketplace."

Like most participants, 125-employee Omaha Print uses Management Plus as a benchmarking tool. "It’s the only format I found in our industry that touches on all aspects of your business," explains Hayes. Most competitions, he says, involve a panel of experts evaluating a printed piece’s finer technical points. But according to Hayes, the best print job is the one that the customer is happiest with, willing to pay for and sufficiently pleased with to return with more work. "It’s a matter of understanding your client base and making them happy," he says. "That’s best in show for me."

Fitting into Omaha’s focus
Omaha Print operates 40-inch Heidelberg presses, a four-color, a six-color with coater, a five-color half web and two non-heatset webs. In June 2004 the company acquired a six-color, full-web Baker Perkins G14 from the defunct Case Hoyt (Rochester, NY) plant. The company also added a 12-pocket saddlestitcher, a fully-automated cutting system, inkjet equipment and additional cutters and folders. To make room for all of it, Omaha Print expanded from 58,000 sq. ft. to 86,000 sq. ft.

As a commercial printer, Omaha Print does a wide variety of jobs. "We have what we call sweet spots for our equipment and we’re looking for customers that have projects that fit our sweet spot," Hayes says. "We are a production-oriented company and try to stick to the things we do well; we aren’t really interested in those wild, crazy design jobs that don’t fit our sweet spots." On the heels of equipment and facility expansions and a Gold Award win, Hayes doesn’t plan to change in the way Omaha Print does business. "I’m not looking for the next best thing or the silver bullet here," he says. "We’re just going to continue to do what we do well and try to do it a little better every day."

Gold award, golden anniversary
What better way to celebrate a golden anniversary than with a NAPL Management Plus Gold award—along with a big party in the parking lot? Pacific Printing (Fresno, CA) celebrated its 50th anniversary in May this year with a 1950s-themed party for 400 customers, vendors, employees and former employees. The company held an outdoor event, led plant tours, played 50s music and brought in six T-birds. Even Elvis (or a reasonably close facsimile) made an appearance.

When Brad Stiers became president and CEO in 1997, the company was struggling. "It was a long haul from ’97 into the 2000s," he says. "But I learned a lot and I had great advisors from NAPL." Management Plus was a means of judging the turnaround’s success. "When we [entered the first time] we just felt pretty horrible," he says. "We said, ‘Wow, companies do all of this?’" Stiers continued to work on revitalizing the company, using Management Plus as a means of self-evaluation and eventually submitting the form as the company’s performance improved. The road to this year’s Gold award was paved with one Merit and two Silver awards. "It’s pretty humbling," he says. "You realize there’s a lot of work to be done to run a company really, really well."

It’s all relative
Pacific Printing started as ABC Printers in 1955, founded by Pete and Ruby Neufeld. Their sons later joined and changed the company’s name. In 1970, the company moved to its present facility and the Neufelds hired Stiers, then their 15-year-old neighbor, to mow lawns and melt down hot type lead for recycling.

Today, Pacific Printing specializes in high-quality marketing materials. As the official printer of the Laguna Seca Raceway in Monterey, CA, the 50-employee company is used to printing unique projects on a tight turn. "With 300+ orders a month, you don’t really see two things that look alike," says Stiers.

In 2002, Pacific Printing acquired 101-year-old Crown Printing, which brought the company short-run digital capabilities. Pressroom highlights at the 16,000-sq.-ft. facility include a Mitsubishi 28-inch six-color plus coater, two 28-inch Heidelbergs—a two color and a one-color—a Heidelberg GTO 14 x 20 two-color perfector and a two-color Toko 4750. In October 2004, the company added new equipment to automate order entry, EFI’s Programmed Solutions management software, as well as CTP capabilities with Agfa’s Galileo platesetter and Sublima screening. "When we put in the CTP device, we put it in as a 40-inch device at eight-up even though we’re a four-up shop," says Stiers. "We’re getting ourselves ready to put in larger format printing."

Good things come in small packages
As a smaller company, Pacific Pringing can be more flexible than some larger operations. According to Stiers, Pacific Printing’s size allows it to offer customization and training programs. For the past five years, the company has printed custom gift wrap for its customers as a thank-you. It also hosts what Stiers calls "Paper ’n Eggs" or "Technology ’n Eggs." In addition to breakfast, customers can hear tips and tricks from outside speakers. Recently Agfa presented a seminar on high-definition printing for some of Pacific Printing’s top customers and prospects.

Even though the $5.5 million company is much smaller than many other Management Plus winners, Stiers is undaunted. "We’re small and we’re not in a major market but we’re still holding ourselves to the criteria you have to have to be in Management Plus," he says. "I’m hoping that will allow us to have growth so that we can be a $10 or $15 million printer in this market." Typically, customer requests have guided Pacific’s growth. Six months after taking the reins, Stiers had a client who requested fulfillment, which opened that avenue. Pacific Printing now has a 4,000-sq.-ft. building dedicated to fulfillment.

The next project for Pacific Printing also resulted from an individual customer’s request. The company will branch into helping self-publishers get their products—anything from greeting cards to books—into stores. "You have to be really open-minded," says Stiers, "but it can take you into a whole area that you can then do for other customers."

Houston, we can handle the problem
Though he favors marketing and business books, Stiers also likes some leadership titles. In "The Leadership Moment: Nine True Stories of Triumph and Disaster and Their Lessons for Us All," Michael Useem profiles nine leadership moments—including the story of the flight director for Apollo 13.

"For me, it’s hugely about leadership," says Stiers. "I have a small company, but people need to have a strong leader that has a vision for what we’re doing and is clear about their values—how we treat each other, how we treat our customers, and what we do in our community—and it has to be clear and consistent."

Part 1 | Part 2