Printer in Transition: Service Apex Grows Printing Business from Scratch

Six years ago, Ken Griggs Sr. and Ken Griggs Jr. started Service Apex in Bridgewater, N.J.

A background in technology for Griggs Sr. and Griggs Jr.’s MBA and law education gave the father-and-son duo the knowledge base that allowed them to start their own business, and their successful printing business has been growing since 2003.

“I always wanted to get out of the corporate environment, and saw an opportunity to accomplish that after starting our own direct mail publication in 1997. We started out with black-and-white printing and progressed to full-color gloss. The direct mail publication soon went from 1,500 to 80,000 homes,” said Griggs Sr.

Moving Along

“We realized over time we can increase our revenue stream by printing for our existing customers. This would provide the foundation for me to leave the corporate world, and since Ken Jr. was just finishing his education, he would now have a future career. So we looked at space for the location to establish the print shop, which neither one of us had any knowledge or experience in the printing industry, just the drive and motivation to be in our own business,” he further described.

From there, the Griggs researched their options and leased a location in Bridgewater. They then looked for equipment and “found quite a harrowing experience, as no one would lease us any equipment since we had no established business credit and no experience in the industry. We were finally able to convince Minolta with a little arm twisting and $10,000 refundable deposit to lease us a Minolta 3102 color copier that yielded 30 pages per minute, and a Minolta Black and White 650 (65 pages per minute),” Griggs Sr. explained. As a result, in March 2003 Service Apex was born.

Over the next several years, the Griggs went through several upgrades of quicker Canon and Konica machines, but were still not satisfied with where they stood in relationship to the business.

“After three years into the business, we wanted to be a complete vertical solution for businesses. We then opened our second location in Green Brook, N.J. which was going to be a model for franchising, but instead it serves as more of a retail shop that allows us to be a one-stop shop for customers. We print signs, banners, create vehicle wraps and we even have a full-color Mimaki digital shirt machine. We focus on screen printing there also,” Griggs Sr. noted.

Last year in January, the Griggs bought a 6500 color digital imager, which prints 12-point stock and creates in-line books up to 200 pages. In March 2008 Griggs Sr. purchased a UV machine but knew he had to gain more business to pay for the new machinery.

“I could see at the time that there was drop in revenue happening and knew I had to do something. That’s when we started our wholesale Lightning Fast division for the trade only. We began a direct mail marketing campaign in May 2007 offering ‘$24 business cards in your shop in 24 hours’ to jump start the wholesale division. Since then, we have continued that campaign and now have extensive customers. Lightning Fast has become almost 30 percent of our revenue in less than one year. This helped keep revenues at a steady incline,” Griggs Sr. said.

This year, the Griggs have already added a Konica 6501 that prints on 14-point stock full color to keep up with the demand of the additional business. The company has design services in house, and recently increased its design staff. Service Apex prints signs, banners, and vehicle wraps on a Roland wide-format printer.

“We just wrapped a van for the Somerset Patriots, a local baseball team, to show off at opening day. We also provide low volume UV coated pocket folders, full-color UV coated door hangers, UV coated booklets, and UV coated business cards at great prices to the trade and retail. We can print and ship 1,000 UV coated door-hangers in one day,” said Griggs Sr.

One of Service Apex’s specialties is in-house mailing services. The company also sets up kiosks for other printers to allow them to offer other products, such as shirts, signs, and mailing services. No knowledge of these products is necessary as training is done by Service Apex. The entry cost into the kiosk program can returned in just a few sales. Service Apex teaches other printers about mailing and sets up their kiosks with back end support. Service Apex very rarely outsources its work, because quick turnaround is what customers want and it’s difficult to get it easily with outsourcing.

“Despite the bad economy, we’re up over 20 percent this year, due to the fact we offer a nice array of products. We’re going after the business but we do very little Internet marketing,” Griggs Sr. commented.

“We’re looking into VDP work because it puts the digital printer ahead of a larger printer, and it is becoming more and more popular. For those starting out in the industry, do a lot of research and be aware of the Internet. People are looking for the best turnaround, price, service and quality. Better service attracts repeat customers,” said Griggs Sr.

Griggs Sr. has what he calls three golden rules of business: You must be a “portable business,” meaning the ability to access your business client anywhere from coast to coast if needed; keep an eye on your employees and watch for things like employee theft or poor performance; and be aware of new technology and how it is changing and upgrade when needed. “If you can follow at least two of these three rules, you will be successful. Being educated and having the ability to pass it along to others helps a lot,” he advised.