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Winner take all

Aug 1, 2007 12:00 AM

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At a special banquet on March 10, 2007, the National Assn. for Printing Leadership (NAPL) (Paramus, NJ) presented 17 graphic communications companies with 2006 Management Plus awards. The event was held during NAPL's Top Management Conference in Santa Barbara, CA. 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 vs. 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, MAN Roland and Compass Capital Partners.

In part I of II, AMERICAN PRINTER spoke with the recipient of the William K. Marrinan Hall of Fame award. Next month, we will share stories from some Gold award winners.

Two generations, one great company

Most people have a lot to thank their fathers for, but Tom Mercier, president and CEO of Bloomington Offset Process Inc. (BOPI) in Bloomington, IL, has something on that list that most people don't: the William K. Marrinan Management Plus Hall of Fame Award. Mercier's father, Burt, was the fledgling company's first sales representative. When president and cofounder Carroll Cade retired in 1975, Burt Mercier purchased Cade's share in the company. He brought his son on board just out of college in 1974 to take over purchasing and estimating, and by 1981, the father and son duo had acquired complete ownership of the company. Six years later, they would begin a journey with NAPL and Management Plus that would culminate in this year's Hall of Fame Award.

Building up BOPI

BOPI began in 1947 producing letterheads, handbills, a weekly advertising newspaper and an array of advertising literature. Today, the company has evolved into what Mercier calls a “marketing logistics” business with $12 million in sales. The transition came about shortly after Mercier took the company reins in 1994. “That was a time when print was — really dramatically — changing how things were being produced,” he says. “The computer was becoming a major factor. We found ourselves in a situation where we had to completely upgrade our entire operation.”

Just prior, BOPI was a one- and two-color shop doing very little four-color work on a half-size press. “We invested in a lot of new equipment, new RIPs and output devices and things to help the entire operation become more productive,” Mercier says.

That equipment includes two six-color, 40-inch MAN Roland presses with aqueous coating towers, a Didde VIP four-unit UV web press and two HP Indigo 3000s for digital work. The company added computer-to-plate (CTP) in 2000, running Kodak plates and a Rampage RIP. In the bindery, BOPI is capable of die-cutting, stitching, collating, pocket folding, gluing, mailing, tabbing, Wire-O and more. In 2003, it added fulfillment capabilities and a 20,000-sq.-ft. fulfillment facility to its existing 47,000 sq. ft., as well as mailing capabilities in 2004. As Mercier puts it, “We've got a lot of irons in the fire!”

One of those irons is variable-data printing (VDP), which became part of the company's service offerings in 2001. “The toughest part about variable data is the data,” notes Mercier. “It's about having good data and how well it is used. Handling that goes hand-in-hand with the customer. You have to have discussions up front about what you want to try, what your objectives are and what kind of information you have.”

In 2003, BOPI developed an e-commerce system in place to take orders electronically 24/7. Adding to the company's variable-data capabilities, BOPI can generate personalized URLs (PURLs) using MindFireInc's LookWhosClicking engine.

Staying ahead of the game

Like most managers, Mercier attributes a large amount of his company's success to his personnel, but when it comes to finding those great people, he takes a rather unique view. “I think you never stop looking [for the right people],” he says. “A good manager always will have his eyes open for future employees. There might be times when you might not need anyone, but you find somebody who is a perfect match. You might bring them in knowing that you won't need them for a year or two, but to have that type of personality and expertise, you don't find that every day.”

Attracting those perfect people involves with letting them do what they do best. Mercier notes it is essential to have the right work environment. “When you give your managers freedom to operate their departments without a lot of oversight, they will perform to a higher standard and beat your budget and performance expectations,” he says. “They feel like they are a part of the team, and they are.”

Mercier approaches the growth of his business with the same philosophy he uses for new hires. “The great part of being in Bloomington, IL, is that we're a hop, skip and a jump away from Graph Expo,” he says. Mercier sends several of his 72 employees to the show each year. “We might not be looking for anything specific, but part of their job is to go and see what they don't know.” Those visits could yield unexpected assets for the company. A piece of equipment or new process might catch the eye, and it might make a great addition to the company's product mix. “I think it's good for people to go to that venue and get a taste of stuff they have never seen before and what tools of the trade are out there,” he says.

Making the grade

“Management Plus is like a report card,” Mercier says. “It's feedback that you can understand and then try to improve on next year.” He notes that earning the William K. Marrinan Hall of Fame Award, the highest Management Plus honor, has been a series of making those small improvements from one year to the next. “It's all about executing [the plan],” he says. Since entering the competition for the first time in 1987, BOPI has garnered three Merit awards, eight Silver awards and four Gold awards.

Besides winning top honors, BOPI stands out from the competition in other ways. Mercier is adamant that to differentiate yourself, you can't call yourself a “printer,” because calling yourself that doesn't make you any different from the other printer down the road. “We like to use the term ‘marketing logistics,’” Mercier adds. “It's all on how it's perceived and the expertise and services you offer.”

BOPI also is one of the few printing companies in North America to do random drug testing, a practice Mercier is very proud of. “My people know that part of the reason we have such a great work force is we're only going to get the good ones in a clean workplace. There were some growing pains right off the bat when we started doing that a few years ago, but it's the best thing we ever did. I encourage more employers to do it.”

Peer pressure

For Mercier, the greatest influence is that of others. He stresses the importance of peer groups and connecting with other CEOs, both in the same industry and outside of it. He is part of a local group of six people from different companies; they meet every other month for dinner and a program. “We discuss absolutely everything,” he says. Mercier also is part of a printing-specific peer group. “You get information just going through other shops and talking to the presidents and owners of those companies.”

Management Plus has provided another avenue of contact with peers. “I look at everybody in the Management Plus process as friends and allies,” he says. “When we meet and talk about stuff, we're not afraid to discuss whatever issues we have.”

With the contacts he's made and the changes the company has undergone, the Management Plus journey doesn't end just because BOPI has reached the apex of the awards. Mercier has been part of the process for a long time and acknowledges he intends to continue grading himself along the same standards in the future — which he hopes will see the progression of his now $12 million company into a $20 million one. “Not only does Management Plus tell you where you've been, it helps formulate where you want to go,” he says.

Carrie Cleaveland is assistant editor for AMERICAN PRINTER. Contact her at

All about Management Plus

Honoring executive excellence for more than 20 years, NAPL's (Paramus, NJ) Management Plus program helps participating graphic arts companies evaluate themselves vs. their peers. The two-part program requires entrants to first complete a comprehensive self-evaluation form, which requests details on the company's financial performance, internal control systems, marketing/sales plan, vendor relations, business planning, human resources, environmental concerns, quality control and community/industry affairs.

The second, optional part of the program involves submitting the results to the annual Management Plus competition. Entries are judged on how well they rate in the above areas compared to companies of similar size. Merit, Silver and Gold winners are selected based on their scores. The William K. Marrinan Hall of Fame award is bestowed on companies that have won several Management Plus awards over successive years.

In addition to the award, the Hall of Fame inductee and the top Gold award winners in each category (there are five categories based on sales volume and one for in-plant printers) will present scholarships to the graphic communications schools of their choice. The scholarships are funded by NAPL and the Management Plus sponsors.

Next year's awards will be presented at the Top Management Conference March 9-12, 2008, at the Ritz Carlton in Orlando, FL.

For more information, see

New award, more winners

This year's Management Plus awards featured a new award based on companies' performance in the Quality Competitive Index (QCI), a comprehensive indicator of how a company's customers perceive it compared to its competition. Sponsored by Komori (Rolling Meadows, IL), the eKG Customer Focus Awards were established this year to recognize printing and graphic communications companies with superior customer relationships. “A company's ability to be customer-oriented is perhaps the single most important factor in whether that company succeeds in today's business environment,” says Stephan Carter, president and COO of Komori America.

The Competitiveness eKG has been surveying printing company customers for 13 years. The findings have resulted in a comprehensive database NAPL can draw on to benchmark for eKG clients how their performance ranks compared to other companies and what they can do to improve their QCI. The concrete, actionable information provided through the program helps graphic communications companies put a program in place to strengthen customer relationships and identify opportunities to create value for clients.

Winners of 2006 NAPL eKG Customer Focus Awards are:

Platinum Awards

  • Hederman Brothers (Ridgeland, MI)
  • Neyenesch (San Diego)
  • TGI, Inc. (Flint, MI)
  • EU Services (Rockville, MD)
  • Branch-Smith Printing Ltd. (Fort Worth, TX)

Gold Awards

  • Think Patented (Dayton, OH)
  • Branch-Smith Publishing (Fort Worth, TX)
  • Suttle-Straus (Waunakee, WI)
  • Action Printing (Fond du Lac, WI)
  • Bolger Vision Beyond Print (Minneapolis)

Silver Awards

  • Art Litho (Baltimore)
  • Think Arbor (Royal Oak, MI)
  • SPG Graphics (Indianapolis)
  • Michigan Paperboard (Battle Creek, MI)
  • Sandy Alexander (Clifton, NJ)

Focus on the future

BOPI's commitment to sharing experience with peers was further demonstrated at FutureFocus 2007, held in honor of the company's 60th anniversary. Nearly 100 guests attended to hear presentations on everything from mailing regulations to new print technologies. Speakers included: Peter Winters, president of The Winters Group & Associates, who explained the major changes in marketing logistics and supply chain management; Emory Mullins, president of InnoDATA Solutions, who discussed how to leverage data to achieve greater results in finding new customers; Tim Grosser, premier account manager for HP, who explained the power of variable-data printing and how relevance can drive increased ROI; Jill Johnson, marketing manager for H.D. Smith Inc., who showed how e-commerce improved supply chain management for her company; and Joe Manos, executive vice president of MindFireInc, who showcased integrated marketing campaigns driven by personalized URLs (PURLs).