I am pleased to report that North America's printing industry is doing well. First hand, I have visited several interesting and very different printing companies. In the article, I will not go into detail about every printer (as we have upcoming films for that) but summarize why these are great reference points for an industry that is sometimes more busy talking ourselves down rather than reporting from what's the reality.
You can look at as many reports and Excel sheets as you want. You can look into as many statistics as you like and conclude whatever you like, but when the day is over; I find visiting printing companies more compelling, exciting, and maybe even a better temperature for the industry. Not because the printing companies are average for the industry but because they are the opposite. We often talk ourselves down rather than up because the worst-performing and least innovative printers take the average down - but why shouldn't we focus on those who can and will set a new baseline?
Visiting printers gives some excellent pointers to where the printing industry is going, so here is what I have learned in the past week. Your very dedicated INKISH team started our tour visiting Brodnax in Dallas. The day before filming from Brodnax, I had the pleasure of having lunch with John Abbott, who owns and operates several label plants across America. I met John Abbott in Chicago at the last Label Expo America and have been in touch since. Besides managing his companies, he is on the board of TLMI, helping American label printers, sharing information, etc. Abbott and I had an excellent conversation about the industry, his success, his history, and how he continues to develop his business.
So no negative stories from Abbott. Only a belief in the future and growth!
The day after, I met with Jim Singer from Brodnax. Brodnax is a family-owned company with an unbelievable belief in the future. As we visited the company, a foundation was being prepared for the company's new Landa machine. But this was just part of an investment as Brodnax has also acquired a Scodix 106, a new DURST Wide format printer, installed an Eagle Systems Cold Foiler on one of his three Heidelberg machines not long ago, and with many more investment plans around the corner. The company keeps growing in the commercial print space, and rather than focusing on low prices, the company focuses on customer service and high quality.
There is no crisis here, and though some people believe commercial print is dying, the next two visits prove this wrong - again!
After talking to Jim Singer and John Abbott, who are both from Dallas but work in very different industry segments, it becomes clear that they are both willing to invest and have no reason not to believe in growth.
It's Tuesday morning, and as early as 8:00 (am) we get to LahLouh, just ten minutes from San Francisco International Airport. The company is a commercial printing company with a wealth of technology. A significant part of their business is serving health and IT clients. With a couple of Heidelberg offset machines, a digital setup consisting of technology from Xerox, and an Inca Onset X3 (now Agfa), they can do pretty much anything customers ask. Years ago, the Lahlouh family came from Syria to America and established a successful printing company, now operated by eight 4th generation family members. The company expanded its offerings from print into promotional articles (as Brodnax did). With a fresh approach to promoting its new offerings and producing kits of products/services, the company sees nothing but growth.
Absolutely no crisis here - and though LahLouh has similarities to Brodnax, the two companies are as different as they can be - and their strategies and product offerings are other!
Next stop is a company called PrintPapa, about an hour south of San Francisco. This company is owned by two brothers, Shawn and Paul. Both have a very un-typical background as programmers working for Intel. Shawn told me how they initially looked and worked with a franchise but soon realized that there was money in print and started investing. The company runs an e-commerce website and gets most of its business from online and reputation. The company suffers from having too much equipment for too little space. Still, the output is excellent, and the 25 people can do everything from labels to wide-format, offset and digital, and everything in between.
Here is no crisis, and faith in the future is fantastic. This company is like none of the others visited and is an excellent example of how a company with ideas, no fear of investments, and a strong market-oriented view can continue to grow year after year!
From PrintPapa, we went to a packaging printer, Ultimate Paperbox. Here the owner Janak Patel is a living example of a company that can grow. Investing in workflow/automation, new printing presses, and even considering investing in digital for folding-carton is living proof that this industry is not in a crisis. It's a striving industry with entrepreneurs willing to invest in technology, customers, employees, and the future of their business.
Here is no crisis.
And, oh, I almost forgot. The day before we went to Ultimate Paperbox, we went to Santa Barbara to meet with Boone Graphics. The company is a commercial printing company focusing on digital production - yet it has a small offset machine and letterpress capabilities, and it has literally outperformed almost every other printer in the area - why? Well, the most obvious reason is the combination of people and technology. The owners have been willing to invest in new technology in marketing and, with patience, earned customers that are becoming more and more integrated into the business.
Here is no crisis, and I believe a company like Boone Graphics should consider changing its name to BOOM Graphics, as these people have the will to survive and grow!
The last printing company we visited on the tour was Prisma Graphic in Phoenix. A 350+ person company, and by far, the biggest of the companies we visited. That aside, the company has grown year over year. They focus on innovation, SLAs, competition, GREAT-looking products, and a technology span that enables them to produce almost anything. I spoke to VP of Operations Kerry Labatt, who has had five different positions in the company since he joined 18 years ago. The journey was on from day one, and it continues.
Here is no crisis, and Prisma Graphic will continue to grow, at least for one reason. They listen to their customers, invest in the needed technology to serve customers, and maybe this is what the industry needs?
If we don't listen to our customers and identify their needs - in a changing market - we won't be able to provide them with the right products at the right price, so the crisis some talk about in the industry is maybe our fault? Have we forgotten to listen? Have we forgotten that print is great and serves many purposes that digital communication can't do?
I am confident that all segments in our industry have GREAT opportunities ahead if you DO something. If you don't DO anything, don't expect miracles to happen.
But this industry has NO crisis for those who invest in technology, employees, and the market. I don't know for all others, and should I care about those who don't do their work? Not so sure!
Oh, the AI. People often ask me about my opinion about AI - that is a longer story, but printers are already embracing AI. One of the above companies uses ChatGPT to write the XML documents they need in their Ultimate TechnoGraphics workflow - innovative? You bet!