Technology, customer service keep business brisk for printers

by Lynn Lofton

Published: May 12,2008

As the economy slows, four of Mississippi’s largest commercial printers say they see some side effects but are minimizing the slow down by staying up to date with the latest technology trends and offering more services to customers. For Hederman Brothers, Mahaffey Quality Printing and Cain Lithographers, all of Jackson, and First American of Ocean Springs, business is still good. However, these printers see a trend of mergers and some small printers going out of business.

“The ones that are surviving are doing so by adapting and spending a lot of money,” says Duke Cain, owner of Cain Lithographers. “The industry is growing in terms of what is being produced, but it requires a lot of technology, and it’s a heavily capital-intensive business.”

He cites industry wide figures of 54,000 printers in the United States five years ago. Now there are 28,000 to 30,000 printers, he says. “The companies that are investing in new equipment, going into niches and expanding their market area are doing well,” he added. “That’s what we’re doing.”

Doug Hederman, president and chief operating officer for Hederman Brothers, founded in 1898, believes the economy is having some effect on printing businesses.

“We are working very hard to give our customers the best advice on how to print more efficiently and mail more affordably,” he said.

John McCollins, sales and marketing director for First American, says things are going very well with its printing and direct mail operation.

“Obviously, the economy is slowing things down a little,” he said. “The Printing Industries Association is predicting the slowest growth in at least five years industry-wide. For the last few years, the industry hasn’t been growing. I think digital printing and the Internet are having some effect, and some printers may have bought too much equipment.”

More accessible with digital?

In business since 1951, Robert Mahaffey of Quality Printing says business gets better as the economy gets worse because business owners advertise more. And today digital printing is making printing more accessible.

“With us, that’s a big part of our business,” he said. “We started out with linotypes, then lithography and now it’s mostly digital. That’s because it’s quicker and cheaper. We’re the leader in digital because we have the big digital presses.”

Mahaffey also attributes the rise in digital printing to the large number of young people becoming graphic artists and working on their own rather than for advertising agencies. He estimates between 300 and 400 individuals working that way in the Jackson metro area.

“They get a few clients and design printing items for them, and they can send it to us by computer. When a printer gets it, it’s ready to go,” he said. “In most cases, the printing can be picked up in one day where it used to be a two- to three-week wait.”

First American continues to do a significant amount of traditional printing — brochures, rack cards and things McCollins says printers have done forever — but the amount done digitally is growing, especially for smaller quantities.

“Generally, printers are looking for more services and capabilities they can offer as the core business slows or starts to shrink,” he said. “Printers get into other related areas such as direct mail, something we’ve been in for a long time.”

Hederman says his company is using technology to make it easier and more cost effective for their customers, not only in Mississippi but also in the surrounding states to interface with the company.

“I believe technology is having an impact on our industry in Mississippi,” he said. “In keeping up with all the latest industry trends, we have just completed the installation of another Heidelberg 40-inch, six-color press along with a high-speed multicolor envelope press to support our growing direct mail business.”

He added that Hederman’s new prepress system allows them to respond faster to customers’ needs. Their upgraded management information system schedules and tracks all jobs in progress from design to shipping.

“We have always been the leader in our marketplace, and we will continue to invest in equipment that keeps us on the cutting edge of technology,” Hederman said.

McCollins says First American stays current with technology, too. “We’ve just added a new inserter with a much greater capability that can do larger inserts and matched packages that are personalized,” he said. “In prepress, technology has been changing every day. Now, press is changing that rapidly, too. You can’t sit still.”

Mahaffey says printing technology will continue to change. He and his son will see the latest when they attend the Drupa printing trade show in Düsseldorf, Germany, this year, a huge show that’s held every five years. Approximately 600,000 people will attend.

“I’ve been going for 40 years,” he said. “It’s the cat’s meow in printing. Manufacturers hold their technology back and bring it out at the show.”

Adding value to service

Adding value to service for customers is becoming more important, too. “The more things you can do for customers, the better you’ll be,” McCollins said.

Hederman says customers are now more mindful of the environment and are looking for more recycled paper options.

“They also want high-quality, short-run digital color printing,” he said. “Customers are looking for a single source to meet all their printing, mailing and distribution needs from small postcards to large brochures and publications. Fortunately, we can fulfill all their needs under one roof.”

Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynn Lofton at llofton656@aol.com.

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