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Printers cope with changing industry, technology

MISSISSIPPI GULF COAST – The printing industry is in a state of flux with businesses, large and small, coping in different ways. The computer age with its fast-paced changes has added to the intense competition.

Sorg Printing in D’Iberville, owned by brothers John and Greg Sorg, is a relative newcomer to the industry, having opened in 1990. Still, in 14 years they have had to change with the times. They do all kinds of general commercial printing and got into direct mail about a month and a half ago.

“I think most print shops are going to direct mail,” John said. “Customers want it all in house. We love it. It`s easy to use and we wanted to be one of the first to do it.”

Although Sorg Printing is still perfecting their direct mail service, he said they can do all addressing, bar coding, pre-sorting and boxing. He feels having a product printed and mailed at one business saves customers money.

“We also recently purchased a new four-color Heidelberg press,” John said. “It`s the best thing made and expensive. We do a lot of four-color printed pieces for the casinos.”

John says he spends a lot of time sitting in front of a computer these days. They haven`t had a dark room in eight years, something he doesn`t miss.

“It was a lot of manual labor,” he said. “Now everything on the front end (pre-press) is computerized. We have all kinds of software, Macintoshes and PCs and there`s no mess anymore.”

Right about the time the brothers opened their business, printing was going to computer layout and John says the first piece of equipment they bought was a computer. He says things were difficult in the beginning and they didn`t make much money. Their business, however, has grown 15% to 20% each year and they currently have 14 employees, including John and Greg. Although they do not have a salesperson, John says the print shop stays busy.

“We are constantly growing and changing,” he said. “Right now we’re concentrating on the new direct mail service. I don`t think you can be small and survive.”

The Sorgs have always done a lot of perfect binding. One of few print shops in the area offering that service, he says they do a lot of it for other shops. Perfect binding is a type of bookbinding that has a square spine and uses no staples or stitching.

John says the most rewarding thing about owning a print shop is seeing the outcome of his work and seeing that customers are satisfied.

A print shop that is small and is surviving is Dixie Press in Gulfport. In fact, it`s been around since 1919 and has had only a few owners. Current owner Cheri Dillard has been running the business since her husband, Glen, died six years ago.

“We have just four employees and will stay a small shop,” she said. “I’m still learning and I can control it the way it is.”

Dixie Press has a web press from the days when Clayton Rand owned the print shop and published the Dixie Guide plus printed other newspapers. Today, they print The Hancock Reporter, catalogues, and several school newspapers and mini magazines. Using black with one spot color isn`t quite what it used to be, Dillard said, because customers want four colors for most jobs.

“Young people don`t know what a web press is,” she said. “They think I’m talking about some Web page on a computer when I say web press.”

The Dixie Press still has flatbed camera and plate burners for metal plates. They are almost fully computerized but do no digital printing. Dillard feels digital is not the way to go when running 5,000 to 10,000 of a product.

“It`s easier to use four colors on an offset sheet-fed press for that,” she said.

She says the biggest disadvantage of computer proliferation is that individuals can produce things but then ask a commercial printer to produce 500 by offset printing.

“They’re doing it themselves and eating up color cartridges, so they come to us and can`t understand why it`s not cost effective to print 500 or 1,000 of something,” she said. “I laugh at what people can think of to do with a piece of paper. It`s amazing!”

Dillard says that although Dixie Press has its ups and downs typical of any business, they will stick with what they know and do well.

Knight-Abbey Printing Company in Biloxi opened 22 years ago and has been very aggressive in acquiring new equipment and adding services, according to Benson Young, chief technical officer.

Speaking for owner Steve Singleterry, Young said, “It takes years to justify buying presses. Many printers are happy to break even, and less than 10% have recorded an increase in revenue in the last few years. We have had a steady increase year after year throughout this recession.”

Young says the industry was hurt by the uncertain business climate following the September 11 tragedy. Prior to that event, printers were expecting huge growth and had made multi-million dollar investments in equipment or were thinking of doing that.

“It doesn`t take much uncertainty in the marketplace to delay purchases and some were hurt by waiting,” he said. “There were acquisitions and some that weren`t efficient. A lot of printers went out of business and the industry has declined as a whole.”

He feels the Coast was not affected as much as other places and that gaming is a part of that. He describes Knight-Abbey as one of the largest manufacturers in Biloxi.

“We fall in that category because we purchase heavy equipment, produce thousands of copies of a product and use an assembly line,” he said.

The printing company made a $2.7 million equipment investment in the summer of 2000 and is about to make a $1.2-million investment.

“It`s unusual to make another big dollar investment just four years later,” Young said. “Instead of being happy to break even, we’re adding a new Heidleberg and getting a complete technical overhaul.”

Knight-Abbey also improved its die-cutting capabilities with a $30,000 press and spent $200,000 for a state-of-the-art pre press department. Young says he`s been traveling everywhere getting training for the new

equipment.

He says studying a business and becoming more efficient, becoming more flexible and having the capability to do a wider variety of jobs are ways of surviving in the printing industry. Printing customers are becoming better focused and some, like casinos, may target 1,000 people to receive printed invitations. Young says Knight-Abbey can respond to this type of shorter-run job without using their high-speed press.

The Biloxi company got into direct mail a few years ago and it has become a strong part of their business “Direct Mail is getting more and more sophisticated. We had to respond by getting better. A large part of it requires technical skill and experience,” he said.

Young said Knight-Abbey has between 60 and 70 employees, having recently added five new employees to work in sales and administrative positions.

“Our people can produce more work in a shorter time so we need more sales to keep us busy,” he said. “The company has a huge amount of potential and is starting to expand outside the area.”

Contact MBJ contributing Lynn Lofton at mbj@msbusiness.com.

About Lynn Lofton

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