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Top 50: Doing more with less

Jun 1, 2003 12:00 AM

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Kreger Printing (Cincinnati, OH) first placed on american printer's Top 50 Fastest Growing Printers list in 1999. Today, it's a little smaller, but that doesn't bother vice president Jack Noe Jr. much. “It's been a rough road to hoe and we've had some problems from the economy,” he says, “but we've adjusted from a workforce and operations standpoint.”

In the past few years, the general commercial printer saw two big clients go out of business, which affected its own sales. In early 2001, it laid off a handful of employees, and the printer's seven-person salesforce went down to two.

But one can argue that Kreger Printing is now a leaner, meaner organization. “We had added people at a pretty phenomenal rate [in the late 1990s] because of the growth of our business,” Noe explains. “When business started to slow down, we adjusted our workforce — and we realized at that point that only a couple of the salespeople had [actually] been doing the work. Everybody is an adult here; you don't have to be told to take the garbage out.”

Beyond that, Kreger operates much as it used to. Jobs — ranging from marketing collateral to letterheads and business cards — are printed on a 28-inch four-color press, 36-inch two-color press or a 26-inch two-color perfector. And, the company is still very much a family operation.

How has your job changed in recent years?

The only thing that we're doing differently is we're doing more with less. Part of the reason for our success a few years ago was that we involved clients in the job-planning process. We still do that.

With a drop in revenues [from two clients going out of business], at the time there was also a drop in the profit picture. But that's kind of come full circle — we seem to be making up what we've lost.

Have your clients been asking for more value-added services from you?

We're not website designers, but we do fulfillment and mailing. Like anybody else, we provide the services we can without really expending any capital.

Price competition is a totally different matter, though. Some printers will meet [a competitor's lower bid], but we try not to get into those games too much. I don't understand price-cutting, because even if you meet somebody's price, three months later when you have to reprint that job, it might be something you don't even want to do anymore. And the client certainly isn't going to stand for you increasing your price 20 percent, or even 10 percent.

How do you deal with family and work life intermingling?

Everybody here, especially in the family, knows their roles. Both my mom and dad are still active in the business. My sister Michelle works in prep and as a customer service rep, and my brother Bob is a salesperson.

I've been in the business for considerably longer than either of my siblings — they both took different career choices and then came into the family business, and we're happy as hell to have them. But I try to be fair to everybody. If anything, I probably am tougher on my siblings than on other employees, because I don't want it to look like I'm favoring family.

Is there a particular business philosophy or practice that has kept your company going?

We've been asked before what our niche is, and people are looking for a concrete answer, such as two-color sheetfed printing. But our niche, quite frankly, is our service. We don't like to be out-hustled by anybody. We go after the type of customers and jobs that fit us and then do our best to retain them. It's always better to keep a customer than to get new ones.

Where do you see yourself five years from now?

I'm not entirely convinced things are on the upswing. The economy has been in such a start/stop mode that I'm afraid to predict now. I used to sit down at the beginning of every year and put together a budget. Back in 1998, I hadn't accounted for all of our growth, and I tore the budget up halfway through the year. Then, in 2000, I tore up the budget because business was going the other way!

We've been very fortunate — we've been really busy and worked a lot of overtime, although that also has to do with the fact that we're doing more with less. If I had to predict where we had to be five years from now, I'd say we're quite comfortable with where we're at right now. We're still alive and we're not just kicking, we're strong as heck. We're just smaller than we [once] were.

First appearance: 1999

Then: Company, Kreger Printing, Cincinnati, OH; Year founded: 1935; Annual sales (1998): $1.6 million; No. of employees: 20; Key market niches: Corporate, agencies, financial

Now: No. of employees: 14; Sq. ft.: 15,000; Specialization: General commercial printing; Key market niches: Manufacturers, ad agencies, financial