Getting To Know Your Neighbors

When East Coast Media of Hillsborough, N.J., merged with The Printing Co. of North Brunswick, N.J., in January, it only served to reinforce what may be the greatest benefit it already offered its clients.

"We are not just commercial printers here," said Andy Fresco, East Coast's co-owner along with Mark Arnold. "We do commercial printing, we do quick printing, a lot of large-format imaging for pharmaceutical companies and meetings; we do duplicating, we do graphic and Web design. We're really an all-encompassing operation."

The firm, which will operate as East Coast Media LLC, celebrated its 10-year anniversary in February and has evolved as the "go to" printing and marketing company in central New Jersey. It offers more in-house services than its competitors, including large-format printing, direct-mail services, digital duplication, complete bindery, a fully staffed graphic and Web design team, and apparel/promotional products.

"The thing about our organization, now especially, is that the whole idea of a one-company solution," Fresco said. "Companies come to us now and they may just need a brochure. But they can walk away with trade show graphics, they can walk away with a Web presence, they can walk away with creative services. That is really what the secret of our success has been for over a decade: you can maximize your dollar by going with a single-solution shop."

Privately held East Coast becomes a $3-million-plus per year operation in the deal's wake. Printing Co. owner Al and Mike DeLuca join East Coast as executive vice presidents, forming a new layer of management.

The Printing Co. was an East Coast clients for a couple of years, Fresco said. "They were predominantly print brokers, and did a lot of promotional products. They approached us because they liked the mix of services that we offer. They've got some really exciting clients." As for the rationale behind the deal, he said, speaking for the DeLucas, "They just figured, 'Hey, now's a good time to expose our clients to more services in one place.'"

The merger won't double East Coast's revenue, "but the opportunity is there to double it," said Fresco. "Like I said, they have a lot of big-name clients like the New York Yankees, JFK Medical Center, Rutgers University, (grocery chain) Shop Rite, so it should really open up a lot of doors for us since we'll be able to access even more work from those clients." The merger also increased East Coast's employee roster from 15 to 21.

Fresco and Arnold founded East Coast Media in 1999, he related, "and as we evolved we realized we needed another layer of management. There is just more to do, and adding an executive layer of vice presidents builds out more leadership. These guys have been around for 30 years, so they've got the experience. That was the thought process."

Roughly 70 percent of East Coast's work is for end users, the rest for the trade. "At our level of customer service you see opportunities that you'd love to capitalize on, but you can't," Fresco lamented. Now, after the merger, his company should be able to "work together to help deliver a more comprehensive program. When people come and say, 'We just want printing,' we will say, 'Well, we do the printing and we put it up on the Web, and we introduce it at the trade show, and we do the promotional products. It's a tighter fit."

Thanks in part to its central New Jersey location, East Coast works with pharmaceutical companies like Johnson & Johnson and Bristol Meyers. Together with several local manufacturers, Fresco stated, they form "a great client base because they don't have the sophisticated marketing teams. You can really help with the end result." Other clients include malls and shopping center developers and managers.

The firm also has several international clients. One in England, for example, sources through East Coast "so that we can do the printing and mail distribution, and they avoid the expense of mailing from there."

Because of its equipment package, which includes 28-inch, 14/20, and two small letterpresses, East Coast can compete to a degree with the bigger commercial shops. Still, Fresco maintains that he "really competes more with some of the quick printers. As people move more and more to color—I think that everything is color these days—we're competing more with some of the color shops that the smaller companies are going to and saying, 'Give me a thousand color flyers.' We do it here in 20 minutes."

In the weeks leading up to the merger, personnel met and crafted materials to guide the company's three salespeople in their selling efforts. Fresco said the Web team put together a three-page document on how to sell the Web sites, including how they can be incorporated into other departments. "For example, our graphics team creates a newsletter, we print it, and now we post it to a Web site."

'Crummy Economy'

"If you had asked me about the crummy economy in mid-December, I would have said it was not affecting us," commented Fresco. "We had a fantastic fourth quarter. September, October, and November were three of the best months we have had as an organization."

January, however, is starting off slow. The economy has begun to render management "a little more conservative than we might like to be," he noted. "I try not to pay attention to it, I'll be honest with you. We're doing a lot of estimates. I still get calls, still do marketing. We just focus on the end game. We try not to pay attention to what's going on week to week because I don't like to buy into it. The paper guys will come and say, 'Oh, the economy, everybody is slow.' Well, I don't even want to hear it because if you buy into the slow economy then you start to believe it."

Adjustments due to the economy have been few but significant. For one thing, management has suspended new hires "for the moment," according to Fresco. "We had some interviews for production people, but for now I have suspended that, especially with the pending move."

East Coast has also stepped up its marketing efforts, moving from a print and digital mailing every two months to twice each month. So far, it's worked: Web site volume has been up.

Looking Ahead

Staffs from both companies are all remaining in place, and of the likelihood that they will look to hire additional production staff in the first quarter of 2009. "Both of our companies were strong before, and this merger will help increase our marketshare. We will continue to invest in new staff, equipment, and technology."

This month, East Coast is set to move out of its 7,500-sq-ft facility and into a 20,000-sq-ft one, also in Hillsborough. Fresco and Arnold decided to stay because they enjoy "a good relationship with the town, and we thought it important to stay local."

Among the challenges for the year ahead that come along with running a bigger-than-ever company is that, in Fresco's words, "we are watching the cash flow. When you have bigger jobs and more people, there are always concerns with cash flow. Although I say I haven't changed much, I am more conservative about things." But not too conservative to grow.

Howard Riell is a Las Vegas-based journalist who has covered the printing and graphics communications industry since 1990.