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Top 50: CRM is alive and does good

Jun 1, 2003 12:00 AM


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A lot has changed since Suttle-Straus, Inc. (Waunakee, WI) opened in 1908. As Suttle Press, the company was a five-year fixture on american printer's Top 50 Fastest Growing Printers list, but made a sixth appearance as Suttle-Straus, after acquiring the Straus Printing Co. (Madison, WI) in July 2001.

Suttle-Straus president John Berthelsen says the acquisition was challenging, to say the least. “The first nine months after acquiring Straus Printing we were operating in two different facilities of the same size. Phase one was to complete the merger and phase two was to put everybody under one roof. In a lot of ways, [combining two companies of the same size] is an ongoing process.” In fact, it wasn't until just this past March that a $2 million expansion was completed, in the Waunakee building, to house not just the additional employees, but also the additional equipment from the Madison building.

Suttle-Straus is founded on three core principles:

  • Meet/exceed customer expectations
  • Implement new technology for better quality and efficiency
  • Attract and maintain a skilled and dedicated workforce.

Berthelsen says that perhaps none has been more critical to the company's growth than the first principle, particularly during the recent recession: “It's important to listen to what customers have to say, so we can better provide them with the services they want.” One example of this is Suttle-Straus' online fulfillment system, which enables customers to access their inventory through a Web browser to track product levels, view products as PDFs, and place and track orders.

Aside from customer-relationship management (CRM), Suttle-Straus maintains its commitment to principles two and three: It operates more than $12 million worth of state-of-the-art equipment, and Berthelsen recently bequethed $25,000 to create a graphic-arts scholarship through the Print and Graphics Scholarship Foundation (PGSF) (Sewickley, PA). “Assisting students with their education through PGSF is a practical application of [our] principle [to attract an outstanding workforce],” he says.

How large are your Waunakee facilities?

136,000 sq. ft.

How has your company changed from 1995 to now?

We had $5 million in sales in 1994 and our annual sales estimate today is $26 million. We also acquired Straus Printing, moved to a new building and went from 49 employees to 170.

Describe some of your account-development and sales efforts.

We don't consider ourselves to be just a printer. We have a lot of value-added products and services, such as mailing fulfillment and variable-data printing, and we offer wide-format printing as well.

What services are most popular?

Well, it really depends upon the customer. Because we have partnerships with our customers, we try to provide everything from Web access to mail fulfillment. Integrating with the customer has been the best way of getting their needs met.

Do you have new equipment plans?

That's hard to say because we just invested $6 million in equipment last year. [In addition to the FlowMaster 12000 XL inserter and the three HP 5000 printers recently installed,] we bought a 40-inch, six-color sheetfed press with inline coating and a Diamond 8 six-unit web press, both Mitsubishis. However, we plan to make some minor changes such as software upgrades and some changes to enhance productivity. For instance, we just put in a load turner, to eliminate some of the manual labor.

Where do you see yourself in five years?

That's a loaded question. A while back, I said that we would never invest in a four-color press, but a few years later we bought one. Then, I said we would never purchase a web press, and again, we got one. It's hard to predict that, but I know that I'll never say “never” again.

What's the next key trend?

Computer-integrated manufacturing. A lot of the leading printers will be looking into this because it is getting harder and harder to find good employees. If the work can be done electronically, production quality and quantity increase.

First appearance: 1995

Then: Company, Suttle Press, Waunakee, WI; Year founded: 1908; Annual sales (1994): $5 million; No. of employees: 49; Key market niches: Commercial printing, direct mail, advertising

Now: Company: Suttle-Straus, Waunakee, WI; Annual sales: $26 million; No. of employees: 170; Key market niches: Corporate, Fortune 1,000