Executive Q&A: Gary Stiffler, President and CEO of The MATLET Group

Q: Tell us about your company, the segments of the market it serves, and who you consider to be your core users.

A: We are headquartered in Pawtucket, Rhode Island, and have three companies that handle printing, packaging, and fulfillment. Central Florida Press in Orlando, Packaging Graphics in Pawtucket, and NOVA Marketing Services in St. Louis serve a wide range of markets including consumer point-of-purchase packaged goods, travel and entertainment, casual dining, leisure, and business services.

Our company is unique because of the different capabilities each facility brings to the table.  Most printers handle their capabilities under one roof, but it can be a challenge when a client asks ‘Who are you?’  With our companies, the independence of each one remains intact because they are experts in the markets they serve.

Q: What is your background and how did you get involved with your company?

A: I’ve been involved in the printing industry for 30 years. I started at RR Donnelley and worked at other leading organizations prior to my time at Quebecor World.  I then had an opportunity to lead a management buyout of certain facilities that led to the formation of The MATLET Group.”

Q: What do you consider to be your greatest achievement in this market?

A: As a company, I’d say it’s been a combination of three things: capital investments, innovation and survival. After going through the economic crisis that began in 2008, most companies have a better appreciation of what it takes to survive. We were fortunate to have the support of our lenders on two key initiatives that we implemented right in the middle of the crisis. These significant investments gave us the opportunity to bring key innovations to the marketplace before our competition was able to respond.

Q:  If you could change anything, either about your career, your company, or the market as a whole, what would it be and why?

A: It would be to focus on the market as a whole. Your career is what you make of it with the various ups and downs. I like where my career stands today. In the 5-1/2 years of leading The MATLET Group, I’m proud of all that we have accomplished collectively and personally.

The market itself -- from the commercial side of printing -- has some companies  that probably should either be looking to sell or do a joint venture. The market is a bit like the freeway where sometimes you find people driving in the left lane at well below the speed limit. There are quite a few printers experiencing a rough period that are not innovative enough, have not invested enough, or are not sure how to proceed other than simply lowering their prices. Overall this hurts the market.

Q: What do you consider to be the greatest challenge for the industry right now?

A: I’d say asset valuation and how it impacts the ability to grow your business. Before the recession, lenders were already concerned about the industry and valuation. While they were lending capital, they had concerns for the industry. If you cannot invest in new assets for technology or innovative improvements, the industry will continue to be viewed negatively from an investor’s viewpoint.

Q: What do you consider to be the greatest asset for the industry right now?

A: The printing industry has been around for a long time and the knowledge and technology is in place. When clients partner with good suppliers, they tap into that knowledge for innovation and cost savings. If you can truly partner with a client where both have a vested interest in each company’s success, then you have created an asset. Top-performing businesses know how to tap this asset and create a winning synergy.

Q: What are the biggest changes to the way we communicate with one another?

A: Technology has made this a less personable business than what it was 10 years ago. Today everyone communicates via email, online bidding, and RFQs. This works for some companies, but do you really believe technology is going to replace relationships? In my opinion, face-to-face interactions are still the purest ways of communication to conduct business.

Many of us are involved in niche markets where our industry knowledge is trusted and valued.  We are at a crossroads where the communication network reduces the creativity process with clients. I much prefer an opportunity that lets us sit down and talk to a client.  The best partners enjoy having us communicate with them and getting involved in the process.

Q:  Looking ahead, what major innovations or technologies do you believe will shape the future of the industry and why?

A: We are experiencing the Digital Age, and it’s going to expand for years to come. The explosion of capabilities introduced in the last three years far outweighs everything else accomplished the previous 10 years, and not only on the print side. Companies are looking at additional aspects of the print business and that includes the finishing area. Going forward, there will be a renewed drive on sustainability and how innovations on the materials we use will impact the process and the product in the future. 

Q:  What one piece of advice would you give to printers and others involved in this industry?

A: It's what I said earlier about looking at the market as a whole. With industry consolidation and the reduction in vendor bases by corporations, there is a need for printers who don’t have new technological capabilities or can’t make the major capital investments needed to acquire them, to combine efforts with other organizations. Otherwise, with the economic situation being what it is, we won’t have anything left to compete with other than price as we face new challenges in the coming years.