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Commercial Printers Emerge Strong from Recession Years

Greg Desrosiers

Greg Desrosiers says adding digital services at Hadley has opened up significant opportunities with small-run projects.

While many industries are still feeling the aftereffects of the Great Recession, commercial printers are telling a different story.
“It’s been very strong,” said Greg Desrosiers, vice president of sales at Hadley Printing in Holyoke. “When the economy first started to tank, printers, as a whole, were among the first to feel it. We really felt it back in early 2009. We, along with many other printers, felt people were holding back on expenses they normally would not have held back on, because there was a lot of uncertainty.”
However, he told BusinessWest, “I can say all that is truly behind us. People are moving forward, and the past two years have been very, very strong from a production standpoint.”

TigerPress, which recently celebrated its 28th year in business and moved two years ago from Northampton to a larger facility in Easthampton, reports a similar surge in volume.
“We moved because we had expanded, and we had two different production facilities,” CEO Jennifer Shafii said. “We finally found a building where we could house both. It was very important to be under one roof.
“Our clients are kind of across the board,” she added. “Large clients, small clients — we take care of everyone. We do everything from offset-print magazines to business cards, to package printing on boxes and folded cartons. We have a very wide range of printing capabilities here. And it has been a good year. We’ve been growing steadily since our move to East Longmeadow.”
Stephen Lang, president of Curry Printing in West Springfield, has also enjoyed a strong year. He said his company has made a concerted effort to stay away from ‘commodity’ jobs — like business cards and postcards — that people can have produced just as easily on the Internet.

Jennifer Shafii

Jennifer Shafii says TigerPress has been a regional leader in environmentally friendly printing.

“We’re concentrating on specialized projects and tight-deadline projects, not commodity-type printing that’s more cheaply done if you’ve got the time to go online and do it. A lot of our work is time-sensitive and requires more human contact than just plugging things in online; that’s what’s keeping us busy.”
Curry has also thrived through diversity, as evidenced by its growing niche in large-format printing.
“The sign business is coming into its own. We’re doing more large-format digital stuff, more sign work, and more trade-show graphics,” said Lang. “A lot of times, someone going to a trade show not only needs cards but signage as well. We’ve become the one-stop shop, able to provide everything they need.”
Reflecting his store’s growth, Lang recently moved Curry from its longtime storefront on Elm Street to a larger facility on nearby Union Street, complete with 1,000 square feet of extra space and indoor bays to install vehicle graphics.
“We’ve always done vehicle graphics, but waiting for a nice day in New England is not always the best way to schedule an install,” he said with a laugh.
Steve Lang

Steve Lang says one key to success today is diversity of services, such as Curry’s niche in large-format printing.

The Internet has changed a print shop’s needs when it comes to visibility, he added. “When we first started, it was important to be on a main road and be easily found. But it has become less important with workflow the way it is now. A lot of people, instead of walking through the door, just upload their files.”

Lean and Green
Hadley Printing has changed with the times in some ways, too, said Desrosiers.
“We’re now closing in on our second year offering a digital print service — digital, short-run, high-end printing. If someone wants to do 1,000 postcards, instead of having to go on the printing press, we offer that digitally, and it’s a very economical avenue,” he explained. “It’s been a huge bonus for us and really opened a segment of business we struggled with for a long time — how do you fire up the printing press for 1,000 postcards?”
He noted that many clients would much rather order small runs of a product four times a year then order in bulk once a year, which clashed with Hadley’s focus on larger-run projects.
“It’s tough, because in printing, the commodities of scale are always there,” he said. “If you know you’re going to use 5,000 brochures in a year, it’s so much cheaper to just order 5,000 of them. But people fear something might change in the brochure — they might edit employee information, for example — so they feel more comfortable ordering in smaller batches. That’s where digital has its strengths. We’ve been marketing it just as we do offset printing, with all the same proofing and delivery to your door as with offset.”
While offset printing still represents 80% of Hadley’s business, Desrosiers said, he’s pleased that the company is now able to take on smaller jobs that don’t utilize offset technology. “One of the things printers struggle with is, how can you make it financially worth your while to produce 100 of this and 100 of that? But we’re doing it, and it’s opened up some really nice opportunities for us, some new avenues that were never there before.
“With the influx of digital printing,” he continued, “if someone only wants 25 of something, we can do it. Four years ago, I wouldn’t have been able to do that; we only did jobs of 500 and up. I don’t have to say that anymore, which is nice.”
TigerPress, meanwhile, has increasingly come to the forefront as a ‘green’ printer, Shafii told BusinessWest. Her husband, Reza, the company’s president, recently updated his book on the subject, Go Green on Your Next Print, and they both “take pride in being eco-friendly and being environmentally conscious,” Jennifer said.
The changes TigerPress has implemented over the years range from chemical-free plates to vegetable-based inks.
“We were one of the first printers to be eco-friendly,” she said. “We were the leader of the pack for green printing. I think it’s important, both for both me personally — I have kids, and we should all be responsible for the environment in every industry — and our customers appreciate it too.”
Shafii said offset printing has been more amenable to eco-friendly practices than, say, digital printing. “A lot of people feel that digital printing is green, but it’s not that green. With offset printing, we use vegetable ink as our house stock. We use chemistry-free plating systems, so we’re not putting chemicals into the environment. With digital, you’re very limited in paper stock, and you have to buy the toner, which is not green.”
Shafii said customer response to the company’s green image has been heartening, “but a lot of our success is due to the quality of our products and the quality of our service. We get a lot of repeat business because people are happy with the service they get at TigerPress.”

In Demand
To keep customers happy, Lang said, today’s printers are expected to adhere to much more rigid time demands. Part of the change has to do with companies that set deadlines for marketing campaigns or other types of projects, and when different stages of the project fall behind the timeline, the printer is expected to make up the difference. He understands that business reality, and has marketed Curry as a shop that will take on time-crunched — even same-day — jobs.
“What happens is that, in the planning stage, maybe printing is the last thing that has to be done,” he said, citing the example of, say, a playbill that has to be produced before a show opens. “We’re used to the tight deadlines, the drop-dead deadlines. We’re down at the end of a lot of planning, and we usually have to pick up the slack and make sure it gets done.”
And there’s no shortage of work out there to get done, Desrosiers told BusinessWest.
“There’s this whole buzz out there — is printing dead? is printing going away? — because of the whole digital world,” he noted. “If anything, it’s starting to show its value as a whole other channel. It has its strengths, its worth, and its place.
“As an example of that,” he said, “you can send out these e-mail blasts, but e-mail is becoming such a congested channel. If you look at it as a highway, it’s a congested highway. Yes, you can send it out, and there are economies to it, but people are not opening it and reading it because they’re getting so much in their box. With printing, you can send something to someone they can hold and touch and read when they want. It has value. And the more and more congested that digital arena becomes, the more valuable print will become.”
And not just the print products people can produce at home or in their offices, he added.
“When people are doing something in print, they really do want it done well, because it’s representing their corporation,” Desrosiers said. “When you print something off a personal desktop printer, if it doesn’t have that crispness and sharpness and classiness you get from a commercial printer, and that can really do your business more harm than good.”
He compared that scenario to a non-mechanic who tries to fix his own car, insisting that, just as skilled mechanics will always be in demand, so will high-quality commercial-printing services.
Shafii agrees. “Because of the recession, a lot of printers went out of business, sadly for them,” she said, noting that there was a proliferation of shops over the past two decades — probably too many for the regional market to sustain. “But we’re still going strong, and we have a lot of repeat customers, because they like what we do.”

Joseph Bednar can be reached at [email protected]

Commercial Printing Sections
Pittsfield-based QualPrint Builds on a 50-Year Run of Success

Nick DiSantis

Nick DiSantis says Qualprint has long maintained a commitment to staying on the cutting edge of new printing technology.

Nick DiSantis likes telling what’s become a long-running joke regarding his father, John, and the latter’s ‘retirement’ from the Pittsfield-based family business, Quality Printing Co. Inc., or QualPrint, as it’s branded.
John, still the CEO of the company (there’s the punchline, sort of), said he’d retire once he was able to get his hands on the highest award in the international graphic arts industry — the Benjamin Franklin Award, referred to those in the print business as ‘the Benny.’
As luck would have it, in 2011, Nick, who serves as vice president, received two Bennys for a project he oversaw, and that significant event presented him with the opportunity to hand the golden hardware to his father and gently nudge him out the door.
“But he said, ‘I wanted one, not two Bennys,’” DiSantis said, laughing. “So he’s still around.”
And like his father, also named Nick, the founder of the company, who never really retired until his passing in 1998, John believes he will always be on site.
“I guess the ink is in our blood,” added Nick, as he gave BusinessWest a tour of the 30,000-square-foot QualPrint plant, along the way offering family lessons and deep insight into this industry and its future.
He said it all started in 1963, when his grandfather ran what was — for a few years, at least — a one-man show with a single printer, an operation that billed just under $200,000 that first year. Now celebrating its 50th year in business, QualPrint billed roughly $8 million in 2012.
John took over running the company in 1981, and expanded operations into the current location in 1988. And after working in every position possible in the growing shop, Nick joined the company in 2007 after earning a degree in business administration from the University of Rhode Island and master’s in print media from the Rochester Institute of Technology.
The merging of what Nick calls his grandfather’s and father’s “old-school” knowledge of printing (and the world in general) with his “new-school” high-tech training and outlook is creating an interesting mix of calculated decisions that are serving the company well as this sector emerges from the Great Recession.
John and Nick have continued and built upon the founder’s attention to waste reduction and waste disposal — specifically, the effects of chemically treated products on the environment, a priority long before the words ‘green business’ or ‘recycled’ came into vogue. From solar panels covering the plant’s roof to a state-of-the-art vacuum system that captures pretty much every piece of scrap paper, QualPrint is making an eco-friendly stamp in an industry that has not been known for being green.
For this issue and its focus on the commercial printing industry, BusinessWest takes an in-depth look at this third-generation business that has seemingly always been ahead of its time and not afraid to take some risks to amplify its responsibility to the environment, while still providing a quality product at a competitive price.

Pressing Need
“In the digital age, people always say, ‘print is dying,’ and it’s not that way,” said Nick DiSantis. To provide evidence of this, he pointed to a section of QualPrint’s plant that is filled with glossy magazines, annual reports, postcards, posters, brochures, and direct-mail campaign pieces, in addition to the 15 million pieces of mail the company sends out per year.
With a wide array of clients, 98% of QualPrint’s work involves marketing materials, mostly for educational institutions — prep schools, colleges, and universities — as well as financial-services businesses and Fortune 500 companies.
He called the commercial-printing field a billion-dollar industry that, while growing at a snail’s pace, is growing nonetheless, and most of those that were able to ride out the Great Recession and embrace new technology are not only surviving, but thriving.
When he started full-time with the family business in 2007, the economic downturn was just getting started. He said the timing was actually a good thing, although the changing business climate was admittedly scary.
“It was a time where our company, like so many others, was seeing clients put on the brakes, and everyone had to act fast and act lean,” DiSantis said, adding that his father “sort of” joked back then that, when faced with a problem that big, you have to “forget about the arms and protect the core.”
To do so, the company mastered the art of doing more with less, which allowed QualPrint, and the younger DiSantis, to learn how to analyze the business in the toughest of times, and find its way through a housecleaning process to a new day of success. Thankfully, business started picking up in 2010.
Paying detailed attention to new technology in the marketing realm, DiSantis said QualPrint has carved out a niche as a firm that can “turn garbage into gold,” adding that the term ‘garbage’ doesn’t refer to the client quality at all, but is similar to that of an accountant receiving a shoebox full of receipts in early April. QualPrint will receive a dozen different lists of names and addresses in various file formats and make it all fit, essentially turning the company into not only an offset and digital commercial printer, but one that completes variable data, mailing, and fulfillment.
“People hand these projects off to us, and they don’t have to touch them; they just drop them off and forget about them because we’ve got the expertise in house to massage things and make then come out the way they hoped,” said DiSantis.
Offering digital services since 2001, the company spent a few risky years with a press that was too high-end for small-run client needs, but it now has an efficient and economical printer that offers saddle-stitching booklets.
DiSantis said QualPrint’s biggest challenge is keeping up with technology in an industry that is always trying to perfect processes, be more environmentally friendly, reduce expensive waste, and cut overall costs. All of that is capital-intensive.
The presses themselves cost millions of dollars — the company currently has three large off-set presses, one digital printer, and various inkjet proofing printers — and one of QualPrint’s competitive advantages, he said, is that it has always invested heavily to stay up-to-date with technology.
“Nothing in here is over five years old,” he said, adding that it’s a plus for the 48 employees who are working with, or on, the latest and greatest commercial-printing technology.
The company also recycles tons of paper on-site every month and collects scraps through a vacuum system that sucks up excess at each cutting station. Recycling continues with the aluminum printing plates, a practice that started in the ’60s with his grandfather, who refused to just throw out plates with chemicals on them or pitch used paper.
Always looking for the most environmentally friendly process with the least amount of energy consumption that is still economical and creates a superior product, QualPrint is testing a chemistry-free or ‘processless’ method of printing materials. But the current chemistry-free technology, available since 2007, is not yet up to QualPrint’s standards, said DiSantis, adding that clients like European carmaker Maserati, banks, and elite universities demand the highest in quality for their marketing materials.
One of the more expensive investments the company has made — the installation of 700 panels on the roof in 2009 — is now paying off, he noted.
“We’re unique among a lot of manufacturers and our competitors because a lot of companies will buy renewable energy — and they’re basically purchasing renewable energy ‘credits,’” he said, but not many of them actually produce renewable energy onsite. “We actually talk the talk with our solar panels, which produce about 30% of our electricity onsite.”

Stamp of Approval
With only 30% of QualPrint’s business from the Berkshire region — its market is literally the world — and certainly clients that appreciate a company that does business with a conscience.
“Today, the world is flat,” which has both benefits and drawbacks, DiSantis said. “It’s a good thing because you can compete anywhere in the world; it’s a bad thing because you’re now competing with the rest of the world.”
But this has never been a company afraid of competition, or of taking risks to position itself for continued growth and, not coincidentally, those two Bennys.
QualPrint’s been on a roll — in every sense of that word — for a half-century, and it has taken the necessary steps to make sure that continues well into the future.

Elizabeth Taras can be reached at [email protected]