2010 Top 100: Under a Dark Cloud

2009 delivered some of the darkest days our industry has ever experienced. And being a Top 100 company didn't provide any shelter from the economic turbulence. Quick and small commercial printers have weathered storms before, but this recession was a real beast in anyone's book.

This year's Top 100 sales decreased 15.56% on the year for a total of $512,447,521. That reflects the departure of Ginny's Printing at the request of its management. Trukmann's Reprographics also exited the list for failure to report for three consecutive years. Both companies were Top 100 members of long standing and their combined sales in 2008 totaled $27.11 million—a significant loss to the group.

(To view the 2010 Top 100 Chart as a PDF, please click here.)

Of course, a certain percentage of the list shifts from year to year. While most companies return, there are always a few that drop out and are replaced by newcomers. So in addition to comparing the companies reporting this year against last year's group, we also measure them against their own performance in the previous year. This year's group reported 2009 sales down by 13.33% compared to its own 2008 sales.

In order to avoid wild swings from one year to the next, when a company that has previously reported sales of $5 million or more fails to update its numbers, we keep it in the list, but report it as having estimated sales figures. Normally, unless we have verifiable information that tells us differently, we leave their sales at the last amount they reported. This year, however, was in no way "normal." Since the 11 companies that failed to report had to operate in the same economic conditions as everyone else in the list, it would be unfair to assume that their sales levels held steady. To achieve some semblance of fairness, we found the average sales difference for the entire group (8.88%) and reduced the sales of those 11 businesses by that amount. And yes, they were informed in advance that this would be done.

There are two companies in this year's list that have failed to update their numbers for the second year in a row. If they do not report updated sales figures next year, they will be removed from the list. They are #14 Brandon's Communications Group and #30 MarketPlaceDirect, with aggregate sales of $11.84 million.

There are 12 new companies in this year's list. The highest ranking debut company is ASAP Printing Corp. in Salt Lake City, which took the #4 spot with sales of $13.6 million. Another high ranking newcomer is #22 Elm Press of Terryville, CT, with sales of $6 million. The cutoff for making the list slipped below $2.5 million for the first time in several years. This year's bottom line was $2.25 million.

As the face of our industry segment changes, a couple of new applicants challenged our concept of what constitutes a quick/small commercial printer. You might be surprised to see a BCT among the entries. But after reviewing the services the company offers and its apparent relationship to the business community in Houston, TX, where it is based, we concluded that there was no reason to exclude it. The same goes for Pad & Publication Assembly Corporation. The company is extremely focused on a specific niche, but the equipment being used, products offered, and the way its president Joan Buehler promotes the business seem to fit the model. Both companies made the cut.

Top 10 Thunder

There was a fairly serious shakeup in the Top 10, due primarily to the exit of former #3 Ginny's Printing and a precipitous fall by last year's #5 Direct Connect Solutions. AlphaGraphics (Alphaprint), last year's #9 shop also slid out of the Top 10 to land at #12 this year.
The first two spots are still held by the quick printing divisions of commercial printers CCI/ Coakley Tech and Balmar, respectively. ColorNet/Rockville Printing & Graphics moved from #4 to #3 and the #4 spot was taken by debut company ASAP Printing. Econoprint (Madison) moved up one slot to #5, Western Graphics jumped from #8 to #6, and AccuCopy stepped from #10 to the #7 rung. Landmark Print and Hatteras Printing broke into the Top 10 at #8 and #9, respectively. Copy Central (Fairbanks Enterprises) rounded out the top dogs at #10, but that marks a slide from its previous spot at #7.

These heavy hitters at the top of the chart amassed total 2009 sales of $140,836,116; a 13.69% dip from the same group's sales in the previous year. They operate 50 locations and employ 1,065 people—far fewer than the 2,524.5 employees they reported the previous year. The Top 10's average sales per shop of $2,816,722 was a bit higher than that of the group as a whole. However, their average sales per employee was $132,240—about $6,000 less than the larger group's average SPE.

Clouds Gathering

Looking for good news wherever it can be found, I am happy to be able to report that even in this dismal economic climate, 21 companies posted positive sales growth. They ranged from the exceptional 35% growth of Insty-Prints of St. Paul and 30.6% of Ellis Galimidi's Allegra Print & Imaging to the much more modest 0.7% gain reported by Gerald Printing.
Only six companies posted double digit sales growth. Another 13 saw sales grow between 1% and 10%, and two grew less than a percent. Two companies, Automation Printing Company and Darwin and Lisa Buehler's Allegra Print & Imaging, reported sales that were level with the previous year.

For the first time ever, more than half of the Top 100—77%—posted decreased sales. Those figures ranged from the almost negligible -0.48% reported by Bill and Clare Meehan's Pittsburgh, PA-based AlphaGraphics to the gut-wrenching 74.45% loss suffered by Direct Connect Solutions, owned by Ann Mitchell. Happily, in a recent conversation with Ann, she reported that things are beginning to turn around for her company and April was the best month she has had in almost two years.

Thirty-two companies posted losses of 10% or less. That includes the 11 firms with estimated sales that were adjusted downward by 8.88% each, as explained earlier. Another 25 suffered sales decreases of up to 20%, and 16 saw sales decline up to 30%. Two companies lost more than 30% of sales, and one lost sales in the 40% range.

Shelter from the Storm

The 2010 Top 100 companies operate a total of 188 locations. That is only two less (-1.05%) than last year, perhaps indicating that this is an area in which the group is finally achieving some equilibrium. It was a bit of a surprise to note that 11 companies claim to have plans to open a new location in 2010. Even more surprising was that five of those businesses were among those that dealt with tumbling sales figures in 2009.

As it has for several years now, Copy Central boasts the largest number of locations, with 19 stores. CCI/Coakley Tech, with eight locations, is the second most wide-spread company. There are six firms with five locations each, three that operate four stores, 12 that have three shops, and 13 that run two places of business. The remaining 64 are single shop operations.

Average sales per shop were down 14.66% to $2,725,785. The highest SPS was posted by #6 Western Graphics, with $10,679,264, based on estimated sales. Highest SPS by a company that actually reported sales was $7,465,000 from #15 Mele Printing. Eight companies had SPS of $6 million or more. Eleven were in the $5 million range, 10 had SPS of at least $4 million, and 26 posted at least $3 million. Another 23 were in the $2 million range and 15 posted at least $1 million. Only seven companies reported SPS of less than $1 million, with Copy Central's $497,789 at the bottom of the heap.

Counting Umbrellas

In 2009, the Top 100 provided employment for 3,702 people. That is down by 10.73% from last year's population of 4,147. This number continues to steadily decline as the print workflow becomes more automated and companies learn to operate more efficiently. However, this year, the recession and the resulting drop in sales we certainly contributing factors.

Balmar and CCI/Coakely Tech employed 230 and 200 people, respectively. ColorNet/Rockville and ASAP each employed 100 people. Sixteen companies maintain a staff of more than 50 people, seven have at least 40 workers, 14 have at least 30 members on their teams, and 43 have at least 20 people on staff. There are 16 companies that employ fewer than 20 people. Minuteman Press (Genua & Mulligan) has the smallest staff with 13.

The reason most of the Top 100 companies are in a position to make the list, and to stay in it year after year, is because they employ sound business practices. As the numbers were being entered into the spreadsheet, it was intriguing to observe the many instances in which the number of employees fell, but the sales per employee (SPE) rose. The average SPE for the entire group slipped by 5.41% to $138,425, but more than a few of the individual firms turned lemons into lemonade and significantly increased their own SPE.

As always, the best SPE numbers were typically reported by companies with smaller staffs. Of the 10 companies that had SPE in excess of $200,000, only one has a staff of more than 30 people. The highest SPE in this year's list was $245,539 posted by #59 American Graphics Printing Company, with a staff of 14. Thirty firms had SPE of more than $150,000, 32 exceeded the industry average of $120,000, 18 posted SPE of at least $100,000, and 10 had SPE of less than $100,000. Avalon Document Services, with 78 employees, posted SPE of only $63,167.

Searching for Rainbows

The surprising thing about 2009 is not that sales were down, but that they didn't fall any more precipitously than they did. Sales that exceed $512 million, produced by 100 relatively small companies represent a market to be reckoned with in any economy.
Here is how percent of sales by job type broke out for the list members, including the monetary value represented by each category:

Category 2009 Value

Prepress 7.03% $36,025,061
1C Offset 6.31% $32,335,439
Multi-Color Offset 10.40% $53,294,542
4C Offset 16.01% $82,042,848
Monochrome Digital 15.63% $80,095,548
Color Digital 17.09% $87,577,281
Wide-Format 2.56% $13,118,657
Postpress 9.20% $47,145,172
Mailing Services 4.91% $25,161,173
Brokered/Other 10.86% $55,651,801

Clouds Roll By

Since the first of the year when I began collecting the data for this year's Top 100, I have spoken with the leaders of quite a few of the companies. Almost invariably, they have remarked that they are at least beginning to see improvement in the marketplace. Naturally, some areas are recovering more quickly than others. In the truest entrepreneurial spirit, they have put 2009 in their rearview mirrors and are focused firmly on the future.

Shane Parker, VP and managing partner of the PIP franchise in Peoria, IL, and a long standing Top 100 veteran, phrased the general sentiment quite succinctly. He wrote on his Top 100 entry form, "2009 can kiss my a**...oops!"

Darn right! As of now, the recovery has begun. May we all survive it intact.