Commercial Printing Sections

Roll Player

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]