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From Good to Brilliant

Nov 1, 2007 12:00 AM

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You have been running your family's printing business for decades. You've changed the direction of the business and grown it from $1 million to $60 million in annual revenue. But every so often, you daydream about what you would do differently if you were starting from scratch. You imagine what the new plant would look like, the kind of customers you'd like to serve and the corporate culture you'd like to instill.

For a long time, it's just an idle notion, a tangential discussion during staff lunches. But eventually that distant notion becomes a distinct reality. You've got your chance to pour all of your industry knowledge and management experience into a new venture. Are you ready?

In 2000, Bob Tursack Jr. was. “As any company grows, it takes on baggage,” he explains. “Not too many people have an opportunity to start with a clean slate at a greenfield operation. We approached it by getting into a sector that I personally loved: fine art books, prints and photography.”

Today, Brilliant Graphics, the company Tursack founded seven years ago, provides high-quality print and distribution solutions from a state-of-the art, 20,000-sq.-ft. facility in an Exton, PA, industrial park. The Tursack name is familiar to many commercial printers. Bob's father, Robert Tursack Sr., founded Tursack Printing (Morgantown, PA) in 1959, the same year Bob Jr. was born. “I grew up working there summers starting in junior high school and then full-time after school,” he recalls. “I worked in the bindery, prepress, pressroom and as a scheduler.”

Changing times

In 1981, the younger Tursack bought out his father. “We were primarily a job shop,” he says. “We had about $1 million in sales at that point. From 1981 to 1990, we decided to change our focus to be more important to fewer people.”

About a decade later, Tursack Printing had grown to $20 million in annual sales. In 1990, the company added a fulfillment center and bought a marketing company. By 1998, the company had grown its combined billings to almost $60 million and Tursack sold the company to Consolidated Graphics (Houston).

“It was time,” says Tursack. “Between the temporary and full-time employees across three divisions, my company had grown to 300 people. Getting all of those people moving in the same direction was difficult and took a lot of joy out of the business.”

Tursack remained with the company for about a year after the sale, which he says provided a great learning opportunity. “On a scale of one to 10, my experience with Consolidated Graphics was a 15,” he says. “I have a high level of respect and appreciation for Joe Davis [Consolidated's chairman and CEO]. I learned a lot from him.”

Just prior to selling to Consolidated, Tursack had enrolled in Harvard University's MBA distance learning program. He dropped out at Davis' urging. “He said, ‘Bobby, you'll get an MBA with me,’” recalls Tursack. “He was absolutely right. He spent a lot of time with me and taught me a tremendous amount about cost control. He gets criticized for that widely, but his critics probably never worked with him. I think he's a genius.”

After his non-compete agreement with Consolidated expired, Tursack took a brief hiatus. As a skilled photographer, Tursack always had loved working with fine artists and knew he wanted to serve these customers in his next venture. He started modestly in 2000 with one scanner and one printer in his basement. “I was just doing digital prints and brokering out the printing,” Tursack recalls. “Boy, that did not work. I am not built to do that. You take a tremendous financial risk when you are doing a book that will sell for $50,000 to $70,000 and relying on another printer to care as much about it as you do. It just doesn't happen.”

Eventually, Tursack teamed with Harold Hepler to create Brilliant Studios, a custom printmaking operation, as well as Brilliant Graphics, the commercial printing side of the business. Tursack serves as CEO while Hepler is executive director. Hepler and Tursack had worked together for about 25 years, but are among only a handful of old-guard employees among Brilliant Graphics' crew of 28 people. “We have a lot of young people, many with a solid education but no industry experience,” Tursack explains. “They have no bad habits and bring a fresh perspective to their jobs.”

A clean, well-lighted place

Many visitors to Brilliant Graphics' plant say they have never been in such a clean pressroom. The immaculate tile floors are professionally buffed once a week and the white walls gleam with glossy paint. The administrative area is an architectural showplace, with post-and-beam construction, custom-made workstations and distressed oak floors.

“Our old building was dark and the walls were gray,” recalls Tursack. “I said, ‘If we ever do this again, we want to be able to see the press sheet without turning on the lights.’ We want to make a statement to our clients — if we care this much about our floors, we'll care even more about your job. It's not arrogance or pride, but a heartfelt commitment.”

Asked what makes Brilliant Graphics different from other printers, Tursack instantly responds: “We are passionate about our work. We're maniacal about quality and detail, and neurotic about cost control.”

Although the sales staff technically consists of Hepler, Tursack and Tursack's son, Dustin, all of Brilliant Graphic's employees are expected to be salespeople. “We encourage every manager to manage an account,” Tursack explains. “The pressroom manager is working on a nice piece of business. Our vice president of finance works with national accounts outside of New York City, and our lead planner sells several Philadelphia accounts. If they don't have one, we work to find them one. It helps keep our employees sensitive to the customer side.”

Tursack helps coach the novice “salespeople.” If a prospect isn't a good fit for the company, he explains why and encourages the employee to keep looking. “Our guy in shipping is doing a fantastic job,” Tursack says. “I'm really proud of him.” When asked how a shipping employee cultivates print prospects, Tursack explained that a social event brought the employee in contact with someone at a marketing firm and the employee recognized a potential customer.

New and younger staff members are educated in all facets of the operation. They spend a total of 20 hours in every department, learning what happens there. “This morning, we were working with a new strike-through varnish in the pressroom,” Tursack says. “My administrative assistant was there, and now she understands why we use it.”

Tursack also encourages employee education by asking “trainees” from various departments to explain different terms and procedures in group presentations. A receptionist might be asked to define a form roller or hybrid screen, for example, while a customer service employee explains how to make a PDF.

The need for speed

When creating the new company, Tursack knew he wanted “the lowest overhead possible. Zero overhead growth is our goal.”

Nonetheless, he won't compromise when it comes to operational efficiency. “Speed always pays,” he says. “Always. When we think we can't afford any more [speed], we find a way to buy more. For computers, we buy the fastest processors, and for systems and automation, it means getting the all the automation we can and reducing materials handling. We all have to do more with less today.”

Tursack was determined to work with as few equipment vendors as possible. “Previously, we had various suppliers, one press vendor and several prepresss and MIS companies. I vowed I would never do that again. These companies' [products] didn't coordinate well with each other, and, at the time, nothing [communicated electronically] with the bindery.”

Brilliant Graphics got started with a small four-color press as well as a Ryobi DI press. “We did some amazing work with that thing,” Tursack says. “We actually ran a couple eight-color annual reports that had no business being on that press. We did beautiful work on this little DI press. From there, we kept building up.”

Today, with the exception of the DI press, the company is an all-Heidelberg shop from prepress which boasts a Suprasetter platesetter, to the pressroom, which is anchored by a six-color Speedmaster XL 105, to the bindery's Stitchmaster ST 450, Stahl folder and Polar cutter. Tursack uses Heidelberg's Prinance MIS to keep track of everything.

“Wherever we could, we've [linked everything together] from job planning and estimating to delivery. We have a complete JDF/JMF workflow.”

Tursack concedes that some of the new equipment might exceed the current needs of a company Brilliant's size. He adds, however, that he tries not to lose sight of the bigger picture. “We do a lot with just a couple of people,” he explains. “I was showing our ST 450 saddlestitcher to another potential buyer and he said, ‘That's too much money, I'm going to hire a couple of temps instead.’ But that's insane. The machine will do things the same way, day-to-day, week-to-week and month-to-month. Temps won't.”

Brilliant Graphics won't be adding a digital press anytime soon. “I won't say [we never will], but so far it seems like a great solution for an undefined problem,” Tursack says. “The machinery and [customer] needs aren't coordinated yet.”

Tursack says quality and machine uptime must improve before he would invest in a digital press. He will attend Drupa next May and will investigate both offset and digital press innovations. Immediate plans call for a new perfect binder.

As a manager, Tursack says his greatest challenges include ensuring the company's culture is properly grown and supported. As he and his team deal with cost control issues and develop and document systems and procedures, they're also monitoring the quality of ongoing work. The challenge, says Tursack, is not to focus on one area at the exclusion of another.

“You might focus on one area, such as quality, for too long and realize [too late] you are three points over on paper or overtime. There has to be a balance in all parts of the operation. You have to pay attention to little things and realize that this is an organization as well as an organism. It's a living, breathing thing.”

Katherine O'Brien is the editor of AMERICAN PRINTER. Contact her at

Change is the one constant in the printing industry. Our “Change Champions” series highlights management teams that have taken their companies to the next level.

Read all about it

Bob Tursack is a voracious reader. Here are some favorite titles from his office bookshelf.

  • “The E Myth Revisited: Why Most Small Businesses Don't Work and What to do About It.”

  • “From Good to Great.”

  • “The Effective Executive.”

What's on the floor

Brilliant Graphics is an all-Heidelberg shop and reportedly the first printer in the United States to adopt a completely computer-integrated manufacturing workflow. The entire operation, from estimating and planning through production is coordinated and controlled by Heidelberg JDF/JMF software and hardware solutions. Highlights included a six-color Speedmaster XL 105 press, Suprasetter platesetter, Stahl folder, Stitchmaster ST 450 and Polar cutter. The company intends to add a Printmaster 52 and a second XL 105 next year.

Bob Tursack, Jr.'s grandfather and father used Heidelberg presses, but the family's prior experiences were only a minor factor in his decision. “It goes way beyond a sentimental attachment to an organization,” he says. “People do business with people, not equipment.”

Tursack sought a single-source provider as well as company that was easy to work with. Prior to founding Brilliant Graphics, Tursack did some consulting work. “I helped one company buy a press and worked with a couple other vendors,” he recalls. “The frustration I had in dealing with the upper echelon of those companies really drove me to Heidelberg. It's a warm, first-class organization.”

By the time Tursack founded his new company, many of the press vendor's employees he knew from the days of running his family's business had retired. “Heidelberg brought my old sales guy out of retirement to have dinner with me to ease any anxiety I might have felt about dealing with the new people,” he says. “That was impressive.”

Tursack also praises Heidelberg's repair people. “When they come in — I don't know if this is part of their training — they come as a doctor might, with a solid bedside manner. You know you're going to get better.”

Brilliant Graphics' press purchase included systemservice 36plus, Heidelberg's comprehensive package of services for support, repair, parts replacement, software upgrades, remote diagnostics and more, for 36 months. The customer's end of the bargain is to maintain the press according to weekly and monthly checklists furnished by Heidelberg. “It provides a big comfort level,” says Tursack. “It's a safety net.”

The Gorelick connection

“Dick Gorelick influenced a lot of our marketing and sales efforts,” says Tursack. “We worked with him in the late 1980s until I sold the company in 1998. Everything we do today, from the way we answer our phones to the way we present finished jobs to customers, has been influenced by him.”

Gorelick helped the company get inside the heads of its clients. “By not seeing ourselves as printers but as a business that helps our customers make money, we had a really good foundation of thinking outside the printing company box,” Tursack explains. “We let customers tell us what direction the company should go.”

As part of its customer-centric approach, the Tursack Printing Co. had Gorelick conduct customer surveys every 24 months. “It provided unfettered feedback on where customers thought we were strong and where we could improve,” recalls Tursack. “That provided a [base] to help us grow.”

Gorelick, president of Gorelick Associates and The Graphic Arts Sales Foundation (West Chester, PA) also is a long-time AMERICAN PRINTER columnist. Gorelick didn't know we would be interviewing Tursack, but wasn't surprised Tursack's managerial skills were being recognized.

“I met Bob in 1983, when his father still owned Tursack Printing,” Gorelick recalls. “He is an exceptional person — a world-class photographer with an eye for quality. Something is perfect or it's no good. He is passionate about printing; he loves the business.”

Gorelick also lauds Tursack's client commitment. “As CEO, he is visible to all accounts. He'll be there; he'll get out and visit customers. That goes back 25 years.”