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Acquiring minds

Jan 1, 2008 12:00 AM

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In the 1970s, two quick print titans launched their empires in college towns. Paul “Kinko” Orfalea established his first copy shop near the Santa Barbara campus of the University of California in 1970. The following year, Virginia “Ginny” Rogers hung out her shingle in a small house near the University of Texas campus in Austin.

FedEx acquired Kinko's in February 2004. By contrast, Ginny's Printing has been the acquirer rather than the acquiree. While Ginny's additions might seem modest vs. the $2.4 billion FedEx Kinko's deal, these acquisitions have helped the Texas printer become a 225-employee, $29.6 million operation.

How did Ginny's transition from a quick printer to a diversified provider of print and related products? It wasn't easy. The company had to navigate the rocky shoals of exiting one market segment and entering others, as well as the economic doldrums of the late 1980s and beyond.

Three leaders

During its 36-year history, Ginny's has had three top executives. First, of course, there was Ginny Rogers, who founded the company in 1971 as Ginny's Printing and Copying. In 1983, Rogers sold her controlling interest to Elizabeth Bradshaw Pittman and a minority interest to 30 other employees.

Pittman joined the company in 1974 as copy machine operator. She became Rogers' assistant a few weeks later. After Rogers became ill, Pittman had to pinch hit.

“At the time, it was awful,” Pittman told the Austin Chronicle. “Virginia called me from the doctor's office and said, ‘You're it.’ [She] says she looks at it now as a significant turning point in her life. She had to delegate to us, and it gave me an opportunity to show what I could do.”

Rogers eventually recovered and returned to the company. When Rogers retired in 1982, Ginny's succession plan was in place: Pittman was ready to lead the company.

In 2002, Pittman sold her controlling interest in the company and retired as CEO. Pittman's former son-in-law, Michael Martin, eventually became president of the company as well as its majority owner.

When Martin joined the company in 1992, he had just graduated from the University of Texas' MBA program. He had almost no printing or practical work experience, but Pittman believed in his potential.

“I kept giving him more responsibility and tried to stay out of his way,” she told the Chronicle. “I hoped he never would hit the wall, and he never did.”

Martin says he was “a bit of a rebel” when he came onboard. Initially, neither Pittman nor Rogers, who was a board member at the time, agreed with Martin's new business model.

“Through the 1970s, the company built a chain of 18 retail quick printing and copy stores throughout Austin, Lubbock and San Marcos,” Martin explains. “In the 1980s, Texas, like much of the United States, experienced an economic downturn. When I joined the company in 1992, the company was doing OK, but it really didn't have any kind of growth.”

Martin determined Ginny's should get out of the retail business and concentrate on the commercial side; Bradshaw and Rogers wanted to grow both segments. “It was a bit of struggle [to convince them], but in the late 1990s, we started to have some good [commercial] success,” he says. “It was a little easier after we had three or four solid years behind us.”

All told, it took Ginny's Printing 10 years to exit the retail arena. “In 1992, we started the slow process of weaning ourselves out of retail,” says Martin. “Every year, we moved further into commercial printing.”

In 1996, Ginny's initiated the first of a series of six acquisitions when it bought a small copy shop; two similarly sized acquisitions followed in 1997 and 1998.

“Almost all of the acquisitions were opportunistic,” says Martin. “We didn't seek them out, but they just made sense. Each one has been different. We've been most successful when the [prior] ownership stayed and when the company was integrated into our existing operation, rather than as a standalone entity.”

In 2000, the company acquired a struggling Austin commercial printer. Previously, Ginny's equipment didn't extend beyond duplicators and DocuTechs. That soon changed.

“They were a half-size shop,” says Martin of the company's acquisition in 2000. “This was our first entry into large-format printing as well as fulfillment services.”

Although it's taken some time for Ginny's to find its way with fulfillment services, these offerings now are a key component of the company's success.

Ginny's was among the first printers in central Texas to add DocuTechs — the company is known for its digital printing expertise. Web-to-print services seemed like a natural fit, but a short-lived 2006 postcard venture didn't deliver the results they had hoped for. “We didn't choose [the best] software partner,” says Martin. “You have to invest on the front end and hope the volume will [materialize]. We weren't comfortable spending $50,000 a month hoping people would come.”

Timing was another issue. During the postcard trial, Ginny's experienced the fastest growth in its history. “We couldn't devote the resources to [Web-to-print],” says Martin.

In May 2007, Ginny's Printing announced a merger with The Lithoprint Co., a $6 million, 35,000-sq.-ft. printer with many agency customers.

The two companies currently own 13 offset printing presses ranging from two to eight colors, a large fleet of Xerox DocuTechs and two iGen3s.

Both companies will be under the same roof in a few months. “Integrating Lithoprint and Ginny's into our new facility this spring will be challenging,” says Martin. “We're also going to change over equipment — that's when our new six- and eight-color Heidelberg presses are coming as well as a new management information system. It's a big project.”

Ginny's yesterday, today and tommorrow

As Ginny's has grown, the company has considered changing its name, but so far has just dropped “Copying” to become Ginny's Printing. Martin prefers the status quo, noting that the name has equity in Austin and the money spent on a new moniker could be better invested in customer resources. “Provided we supply a good product on time at a fair price, I don't think our customers care what we call ourselves,” he says. “If we do that, it doesn't matter.”

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


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.

Equipment highlights

Two equipment vendors dominate Ginny's pressroom: Heidelberg and Xerox. Company president Michael Martin says the printer's loyalty stems from decades of experience with both companies as well as some practical considerations. “Austin is a Heidelberg town,” says Martin. “We just felt it was the right direction. In terms of functionality, the major press vendors are pretty similar. But we didn't want to go through the transition of operator training or to deal with a mixed environment.”

Ginny's soon will install two new 40-inch Heidelberg presses, one eight-color and one six-color. “With this acquisition, we will be able to increase capacity, improve productivity and, most important, improve quality,” says Martin.