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Top 50 fastest growing printers

May 1, 1996 12:00 AM


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American Printer Applauds 1996's Outstanding Print Sales Performers

Since 1994, American Printer has been presenting 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 1996 Top 50, which is co-sponsored by Creo Products, Inc. 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.

To qualify, these outstanding companies had to have excelled in growth throughout the past three years. Entries for the program were received during 1996, with winners selected based on percent of sales growth from 1993 to 1995. To be eligible, companies have to be in business for at least four years and have sales of more than $1 million during 1995.

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 simplicity and objectivity. However, we do recognize that there are potential drawbacks.

There is no filter to exclude companies that are growing rapidly through questionable marketing practices. There also is no accurate way to determine which printers are growing sales without growing profits. Therefore, gaining recognition through this program is not intended to be a guaranteed seal of approval.

Deserving of special recognition are the 12 three-time winners and 15 two-time winners included in this year's Top 50.

Finding the right niche, quality people, attention to customer needs, and adopting new technology are some of the success factors cited by the executives of these star sales performers.

And so, AMERICAN PRINTER salutes 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.

1 CARVING A NICHE

"Work just seems to fall into our laps," explains Chris Ritson, partner and owner of Print-Art, a 30-employee printer situated just outside of Atlantic City. The fact that the shop burgeoned an amazing 650 percent from 1994 to 1995 would seem to prove his assertion. How does Print-Art do it?

Ritson credits the growth, in part, to finding a niche - working for casinos. "The casinos are screaming to give us work, such as invitations and direct mail that is foil stamped, diecut, embossed and mailed," he says. "This is a market no one had explored in our area. After all, within a 45-minute radius of our shop, no other printer can handle the four-color. foil and quick turnaround we provide."

Quick turnaround is another ingredient to Print-Art's success. "Casinos fight with each other to get their direct mailings out ahead of the next casino, so they rely on us to make time to get jobs done for them."

5 MAKE TECHNOLOGY WORK

"Even small printers must find a way to make technology happen for them," relates Alberto Ramallo, vice president of operations for Ramallo Bros. Printing (Hato Rey, Puerto Rico). "That's the only way you'll be able to offer your customers the best."

Congruent with its technological bent, Ramallo Bros. invested in a computer-to-plate system in December 1994 - and numbers itself the only shop in Puerto Rico and the Caribbean to own one.

"We outrun the competition due to our technology," continues Ramallo. Other benefits? Faster turnarounds, faster make readies on press, less waste, higher quality and material savings. "Take the example of a 300-page book. Using computer-to-plate technology, we can have completed plates only four hours after the customer approves artwork. Without CTP, it would take much longer."

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10 TEACH 'EM A LESSON

These days, it can be challenging to find qualified, responsible employees. One firm, Consolidated Graphics in Houston, has an answer.

"We needed more qualified people in order to achieve our growth plans than we could acquire in the marketplace," relates Joe Davis, chairman and CEO. Therefore, in 1991 Consolidated established its three-year Sales and Management Development Program. Company execs cull trainees from nearby college campuses; once enlisted, these workers spend six months receiving basic exposure to all layers of plant activity, followed by job-specific, rigorous training in sales, estimating, customer service and production planning, according to Davis. During the last year, management assists recruits in on-the-job training in a specific area of interest.

"Because of this program, we can service customers better, so we're making a conscious dollar investment to improve customer service and management over the long haul," relates the CEO. "Graduates of this program are better trained, eager, aggressive and, in some cases, outperform some of our seasoned veterans.

"Sure, this program requires time and money," he adds, "but training is something we rate up there with all the other company needs. It's as important as running a press or bringing in new customers."

11 THREE TIMES A CHARM

Baker Press of Dallas has made the fastest growing list for the third straight year. As anyone involved in the printing industry is well aware, this feat is nothing to yawn at. In fact, not only has this ascending printer earned this honor once again, it has landed at the lofty number 11 spot.

How does president and founder Fred Baker account for such consistent performance? "We have managed to find some extremely talented and dedicated employees who are willing to work very hard," he enthuses. Easier said than done, you likely are thinking. What's the secret to finding these outstanding workers?

"We simply do not hurry when we hire," the exec stresses. "We go through a lot of people before we find the ones that fit our system. That is the key. Additionally, once employees are on board, we empower them to make decisions. This helps morale, making them feel included and more productive."

14 COMFORT PRINTING

"Printing books with us seems like a home-cooked meal in a world of restaurants," offers Chris Hutchison, director of marketing for The P.A. Hutchison Co. (Scranton, PA). No, this burgeoning book printer doesn't have a lunch counter in the bindery.

Rather, the exec is referring to the feeling customers get dealing with a comparatively small book manufacturer and commercial printer. That is, personal service and the flexibility to meet varying customer needs.

"Unlike some larger companies, we are willing to change our systems to fit individual customer systems," relates Hutchison. "We also have a family attitude, partially because we have many long-time employees. Customers like dealing with people they know and have established a good rapport with through the years.

"We have grown, and our customers have grown with us," he concludes.

19 VALUABLE VENTURES

Maintaining close relationships with loyal clients remains a key concern for many printers. However, at St. Joseph Printing, the staff takes customer service a step further by providing unique value-added services.

The firm's reforestation program replants trees on clients' behalf. "We plant three trees for every ton of paper a client uses," reports Tony Gagliano, CEO, "and we use the Boy Scouts of Canada to help."

Besides a strong commitment to the environment and new technology, the company prides itself on its dedication to training. An internal university program provides instructors from area colleges to train employees on a voluntary basis. "Usually one class runs per day at 6 a.m. or 6 p.m., which are off-hours for instructors but perfect for shift changes at the plant," explains Gagliano. "Employees attend classes on their own time and we supply the necessary resource materials."

22 ACHIEVING IN ATLANTA

The Atlanta area boasts many outstanding events, attractions and businesses: the Olympics, CNN and one of America's fastest growing printers, Executive Printing, making its second appearance on the Top 50 list.

William Woods Jr., president and CEO, attributes the success of the Marietta GA-based printer to customers and geographical location. What kind of technology does Executive focus on? "Stochastic printing, aqueous coatings ... anything to provide value to the customer," he says. Innovation? "We'd like to think innovation isn't all technology, that it can mean offering a little bit more to the customer."

Executive is building a new addition that will house an education center, "where we will provide customers and prospective customers training free of charge. Not necessarily to make dealing with Executive easier, but rather make clients' printing jobs easier."

25 FULFILLING NEEDS

During the late 1980s, DS Graphics specialized in producing direct mail, brochures, documentation and other marketing materials. However, clients began demanding more services, and the firm built up its repertoire, becoming a "one-stop shop."

Last year, the shop produced more than $1 million in the area of disk replication and also offers a 25,000-sq.-ft. fulfillment assembly area. "Today's print buyers are doing more," comments Jeff Pallis, CEO. "It's easier for them to look at our whole package with one unit price, but they also can take bits and pieces of our services."

Later this year the firm plans to install a web press for book printing, using its software specialty to springboard into the publishing market. "One of the main reasons for our success is that we invest more than $1 million in equipment back into the company every year," says Pallis.

29 STRETCHING BEYOND THE BASICS

"We don't consider ourselves a simple printing company," states John Green, co-CEO of Automated Graphic Systems. "We are solution providers, dedicated to keeping informed about new technology and understanding the growing needs of our customers."

This may sound like a difficult goal to reach, but the company is able to uphold its philosophy. It features web and sheet-fed printing, as well as the latest in desktop publishing, creative design, disk replication, CD-ROM production and World Wide Web publishing.

"Our CD-ROM development really has taken off," stresses Green. "Customers not only want to print jobs, but now they request to put the same information on CDs and distribute it that way. The most important issue is advising customers on how to make a CD-ROM user friendly."

"Digital" and "short-run" may be today's printing hot spots, but can one press and a unique niche market generate a host of new clients? And boost sales to the $2 million mark?

Well, it did for Dot Generation of Connecticut, which specializes in digital proofing and photo manipulation. The firm saw a need for specialty work, such as phone cards, flyers, trade show badges and other meeting material in the short-run range. Enter the Indigo E-Print digital press.

"We needed the fast turnaround and high quality the E-Print offers," explains Frank Leone, president of the six-year-old, 12-employee shop. "We serve many businesses that only need 300 brochures or pamphlets. They don't want to produce runs of 5,000 when their clients constantly update information and make changes."

40 TRULY PARADISE

Naming a town or a company "paradise" begs comparison to the excellence of the mythical place. Paradise Post Printing feels comfortable with that. In recruiting employees from Los Angeles, it uses the benefits of a small town in the foothills of northern California to lure the best and the brightest.

Amazingly, no outside sales force hawks its abilities. Word of mouth generates all business. "All of the new work we've added recently," says Steve Jackson, general manager, "people have called us for the quote first."

No sales force, low overhead, a lean administrative staff, $1 million invested annually in equipment and a strong business plan are all elements Jackson cites as key to success.

43 FINDING ITS NICHE

Copies Overnight, Inc. of Carol Stream, IL specializes in the niche of technical documentation, which means working with highly technical material and using a much wider array of computers, including Mac, Windows or UNIX and more. "The niche is more complex," says president Steve Johnson, "and the predominance of computers in the workplace presents new challenges and opportunities."

Copies Overnight's most recent growth pattern has taken the firm in a different direction. "Our continuing plan includes expanding into CD-ROM production and Internet publishing because this is the natural direction outside of our current area of printing," says Johnson. "We formed a separate organization, Technical Publishers Resource, so as not to dilute Copies Overnight, although there are obvious synergies between the two companies."

To continue growth, Copies Overnight has stepped up its marketing efforts. It now publishes a technical publication to complement its seven-year-old newsletter, Copies Overnight Lite, which blends humor and technical information.

47 SELLING MORE THAN PRINTING

The name of Sells Printing Co. is a little misleading, because it sells much more than printing. "We don't sell printing by the pound," says Dave Wilson, vice president, manager of sales and partial owner. "We truly partner with the customer."

Instead of strictly printing, Sells Printing carefully selects customers based on their needs and only works with clients that fit well. "We only do things that we do well," claims Wilson. Sells is one of the few printers in the country that prints medium-run stochastic web work. The Wisconsin firm offers both printed and electronic media to form an "integrated source of communications."

49 BOOMING GROWTH

Graphic Printing Services is no stranger to tremendous growth. As a third time honoree of the "50 Fastest Growing Printers," the firm experienced a massive 300 percent growth spurt from 1991-93 and earned the number one spot two years ago.

Today, the organization continues a steady stream of success by specializing in several niche markets and keeping up with digital and prepress technology. "We offer a design-to-print focus," sums up Bryan T. Hall, president. "We provide film work and direct mail in-house, which often are overlooked by most commercial printers."

Also, the 49-employee shop began a total quality management program this year. "The two- to three-year program will reach beyond typical TQM into team building and help provide a foundation for further growth," Hall says.

THREE-TIME WINNERS

* All-American Printing Services

* Automated Graphic Systems

* Baker Press, Inc.

* Calsonic Miura Graphics

* E&G Printing Service

* ImageMasters Precision Printing

* Japs-Olson Co.

* New England/Bay State Press & Printing

* Print Mailers, Inc.

* Tom Hay Printing Co.

* Wicklander Printing Corp.

TWO-TIME WINNERS

* Arkansas Graphics, Inc.

* Carrolltown Graphics, Inc.

* Challenge Printing

* DS Graphics

* Executive Printing

* First Impression Litho, Inc.

* Impressions, Inc.

* Paradise Post Printing

* Professional Printers

* QC Printing

* Suttle Press

* The Printing Center

* Times Printing Co.

* Webtrend

* Worth Higgins & Associates