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Slow economy challenges metro-area printing companies

JACKSON — Keeping pace with the latest technological equipment during a slow economy has challenged metro area printers, who have taken various measures to meet demands and compete in price wars.

“The old joke was to pick any two — quality, speed, price — but to succeed you have to provide all three,” said Jay Hill, vice president of sales for Service Printers Inc. of Flowood.

Reinvesting in equipment is the only way to stay competitive, said Tim Mahaffey, vice president of Mahaffeys’ Quality Printing Inc. in Jackson.

“In prepress, we replace equipment pretty quickly, every two to four years, to keep up to date, but presses are so expensive, they’re only replaced every 10 to 12 years,” Mahaffey said.

Doug Hederman, director of sales for Hederman Bros. Printers in Ridgeland, said the company made a lot of technological and operational improvements after the Hederman family bought back the family printing business from Master Graphics last year.

But investing in technology isn’t enough, said Bob Diehl, executive vice president and COO of Hederman Bros.

“Technology has to improve the product and be an economic benefit to the client,” he said. “The client doesn’t care about technology. He just wants you to get what he needs when he wants it for a fair price.”

To offset equipment expenses and lagging sales, keeping labor costs down has become crucial for metro area printers.

“We’re running multiple shifts in printing and decided to eliminate one of the printing shifts temporarily,” said John Welch, president and CEO of K&W Inc. in Flowood. “We’re feeling very good about the next few months. People are starting to see some good things in the press and when they feel good, they start to spend a little more money.”

Opening an interactive media department, where CDs and Web pages are created, has been a good move for K&W, Welch said.

“We’re so big in printing, prepress and packaging work that the interactive media department stills needs more growth but we have more work than we can do,” he said.

Updating its logo has helped Service Printers communicate its message, Hill said.

“Our old logo symbolized four color printing,” he said. “Our new one symbolizes four-color printing, high-end color and speed. The old logo didn’t have the appearance of speed.”

Veteran salesperson Dyann Gunter of Service Printers said business has picked up.

“January is typically a slow month, but I set a record this January,” she said. “Printing jobs for banks, governments and larger organizations have picked up but mom-and-pops have cut back some.”

Jim Buckley, plant manager of IMC Web Graphics of Kosciusko, printer of tabloids, magazines and newspapers, including the Mississippi Business Journal, said page counts have been down in Alabama, Louisiana and Mississippi.

“The newsprint market softened up a bit after having regular increases every three months,” he said. “In the last 30 to 45 days, it’s held steady so maybe that’s a sign that things have bottomed out and we’re headed in the right direction again.”

Diehl, who also serves on the board of directors for the National Association of Printers and Lithographers, said, “With the money supply increasing, advertising will increase, and we live off marketing dollars. The second part of the year will be better than the first, and next year should show a big improvement.”

Even though the print industry has been under attack from the Internet and competition from other media, “We’re still the cheapest marketing medium,” Diehl said.

“The three cheapest ways of creating a dollar’s worth of revenue are still all print-related,” he said. “They’re all below 10 cents a page. The cost of developing an Internet page is higher than the cost of developing a printed page.”

In the last decade, salespeople’s’ roles in the print industry have changed, Gunter said.

“In this market, a good salesperson is required to be on call 24 hours a day and should be knowledgeable enough about technological changes and improvements in printing to lead and direct the customer in saving money,” Gunter said. “There are no routine jobs. Because you are custom manufacturing for the customer, details are essential and you better know the right questions to ask the customer because he doesn’t always know.”

Some metro area printers have shifted their focus from large accounts to small and medium accounts.

“If you are relying on a few really big accounts and somebody comes along and buys them out or you lose a couple of them for whatever reason, you’re toast, and it does happen,” said Mahaffey.

Hill added, “Jackson is a market where people are a tad more conservative about making changes from one vendor to another just for the sake of changing, but if you don’t perform they’ll drop you in a heartbeat.”

Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynne Wilbanks Jeter at lwjeter@yahoo.com</a.

About Lynne W. Jeter

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