Online Exclusive

National Print Owners Association Takes Root

On December 3, 2012 the National Print Owners Association (NPOA) was officially formed as a corporation in the state of Florida. John Stewart, owner of Paragon Printing in Melbourne, FL, and former Quick Printing columnist was listed as the corporation president.

In just about six weeks, the fledgling association has done some rapid growing up. Jace Prejean, owner of Bayou Printing & Graphics in Houma, LA, is now NPOA president and Stewart has been named executive director. The groups first board of directors also includes Barry Martin of Copyquik in Hagerstown, MD, as vice president; Dennis Trump of Trump Direct in Decatur, IL, as secretary; John Henry of Mitchell's Printing & Mailing in Oswego, NY, as treasurer; and Brian O'Day of ePrint in Portland, OR, as communications director.

What started out as an informal group of business colleagues who frequented the popular PrintOwners listserv, grew quickly once the formal association was established. In less than a month, there were 120 paid members. Current membership reportedly numbers approximately 140 company owners.

“NPOA offers a viable alternative to those printers who are currently members of other trade associations, but are dissatisfied with the return on their investment,” says Stewart. “This new association also seeks to attract many other printers who have chosen not to join any association because none have appeared, so far, to satisfy their needs.”

The association’s website tells us that NPOA “is dedicated to delivering products and services that enhance the growth and profitability of its members through advocacy, educational programs, publications, research, and the sharing of technical information.”

Its ability to deliver on that promise will be put to its first test April 18-21 when the group holds its inaugural conference in New Orleans. The keynote speaker will be FASTSIGNS International CEO Catherine Monson. Fresh from her popular appearance on CBS's "Undercover Boss", Monson will present the case for adding wide-format capablilties to a company's repertoire. In addition to explaining the benefits and challenges to be considered, Monson will, no doubt, also introduce association members to her company's new program that makes it possible for independent print owners to add a FASTSIGNS franchise to their existing business.

Other speakers and the educational slate for the conference will be announced as they are confirmed. For now, the website tells visitors: "Financial Benchmarking, effectively using social media tools, the latest in digital copying technology, as well as how to increase profits and sales by adding mailing services, sign making and large-format are just a few of the topics that are on the drawing board."

Industry Buzz

I asked a variety of industry leaders for their reactions to the formation of NPOA. The responses below include industry pundits, franchise heads, printers, and leaders of competing associations. I will let them speak for themselves. Some of these quotes can also be found on the NPOA website.

Kevin Keane, former NAQP board member and former franchise president

There seems to be some hand-wringing that we have too many associations in the graphic arts, and maybe we do. But in my legal pursuits I see quite the opposite in other industries—one of my business opportunities involves insurance—the number of associations serving independent insurance agents is mind numbing.

My legal passion is estate planning, wills, and trusts to help families face the inevitable. That passion is a niche market and there are niche groups—some are associations and many are not—that do a fabulous job for me and my specialized interest.

That may be key to the NPOA. I was in a booth at Graph Expo chatting with two women leaders of the PIA. I commented that most smaller printers couldn’t care less about the lobbying efforts for postal reform, as an example. Que sera sera, is their sensibility. My talented conversation partners demurred and said the printer in Minnesota may not care, but the closer you get to Washington, DC, the printers care a lot. Point taken, but it also shows the gulf of difference in needs and wants.

The printers I consult with tend to be the smaller shops; it’s where I earned my chops. They are equally frustrated by associations, franchisors, and trade vendors, and their frustration centers on one thing—speed. Their customers want immediate satisfaction and much of the industry support infrastructure is not keyed to speed. An economic report needs time to do right; finding a source for a trade show brochure printer in Vegas for your client who is getting on a plane needs instantaneous gratification. The infrastructure needs a remodel, and perhaps that is why the NPOA saw an opportunity to be more responsive to small print shop owners who, of necessity, must be nimble and fast.

If there was one piece of advice I would give the NPOA it is to embrace more than just national. There are ultra-clever small shop owners in Australia, Britain, Canada, and the Ukraine who can contribute as well. “Think Global, Implement Local” is my motto!

We need to stop the turf war concerns, I think the NPOA is truly a good thing and I will help them in any way I can.

Barry Martin, owner, Copyquick Printing & Graphics and NPOA treasurer

I am excited to be part of a new trade association that I believe will fill a void in our industry. I look forward to a dynamic group with fresh ideas for printers who are looking toward a future with positive growth and new revenue streams.

Joseph Truncale, president & CEO, NAPL

None of us have a monopoly on providing services to the industry. If there is a group of people who feel the need to come together in the form of an association, then that’s fine. This group has been talking together and discussing their businesses on the PrintOwners listserv for many years, so if they want to formalize that by creating an association, we certainly wish them the best and hope that they find what they are looking for. It’s all fair and it’s all good.

I think that people will also be interested to see the new service offerings that NAQP is preparing to offer. This is really exciting and there is a lot here that we believe our members will find extremely valuable.

Eugene Montenez, owner, Allegra Marketing - Print - Mail and NPOA member

As someone who started their business in the garage, with letterpress printing and a small Multi offset printing press, to a full service printer with 4 color press and digital color presses, we know the importance of a strong trade association. Our industry is developing at a dizzying pace, we need a national organization that can help triage the new technologies and be forward thinking. Whether you are an independent or franchise organization, there is nothing stronger than networking with owners experiencing the same issues and solutions they have found."

Mitch Evans, managing director, NAQP

I don’t believe that we need another trade association. In fact, as you know, there was a major consolidation effort last year. Also with the continued blurring of the industry, i.e.: quick printers, digital printers, and commercial printers all starting to look similar, there is even more credence to having fewer trade groups.

I am not sure what the impact will be on the industry. Their initial dues are so low that it is hard to visualize what they will be able to do anything significant that is new and different. Right now they are capitalizing on attracting members who know each other through Mike Stevens’ listserv. NAQP saw a modest increase in its membership last year, which I attributed to the industry coming out the recession plus a beefed up Member Advantage Program. Many of their new members are also supporting NAQP as they believe the groups are different.

We know that there are approximately 18,000 printers who do not belong to any trade association currently. This provides opportunity for all of the printing trade groups. Printers will join one or more groups as long as the trade association provides enough benefits to cover their dues.

Carl Gerhardt, chairman, Allegra Network

The industry does not need a new association. We already have too many associations and too many events competing for shrinking resources. However, some people in the small commercial segment and, more particularly the group that has formed NPOA, seem to feel that the only way they will get their needs addressed is by forming a new association. A much better way would be for this group and NAPL to work together to bring about the needed change to fulfill those needs. The reasons are complicated as to why that did not happen. Moreover, even though I have talked to both sides, I am not sure the climate or motivation exists to make that happen now. In a perfect world it could, but the world is not perfect.

My view is that it will primarily provide a resource for small commercial printers not wanting or willing to join a franchise. They obviously need help navigating the rough waters of this consolidating industry, and this segment of smaller shops seems to be at most risk. Naturally, I feel we are doing a good job of that in the franchise community and especially at Allegra Network. Shameless plug intended.

I don’t see NPOA having the resources to provide the typical services that trade associations should provide. The very modest dues NPOA is charging may make it easy and affordable for small shops to join. However, unless they get literally hundreds of members and are able to charge a lot for services rendered I don’t see how it will provide what the expectations will eventually become. Can volunteers effectively do the work that is typically done by association staffs? I am doubtful that can happen. I know and respect the capabilities of many of the founders of NPOA. I wish them well and hope they have either thought through these concerns or do so as time goes on. It looks to me like they need the strategic plan that NAPL admits they did not put in place after merging with NAQP. And, I hope they don’t give up on a potential reconciliation with NAPL.

Art Coley, president, AlphaGraphics, Inc.

The way we look at NPOA is the same as the way we would look at any association or membership group, and that is, what is the value proposition? The reason we are a member of NAQP and NAPL as well as other organizations is because of the value they provide—studies, reports, research. We recently joined the Direct Marketing Association and the reason we did so is because the value proposition made it worth it.

It’s not just a question of money or dues. The real value is what we put into it. Yes, we invest money, but also our most precious commodity, which is time. We need to know that we will receive value by attending the functions, participating in the studies, etc.

I agree with Carl Gerhardt that everyone in business needs to be part of some sort of network, whether that is an association or a franchise. But I also have to disagree with Carl—I believe that AlphaGraphics would be the best choice! Whatever you choose, you have to know what the value proposition is in order to make a wise choice. And we just don’t know yet what that will be for NPOA.

Michael Vogel, owner, Printplex USA and NPOA member

What NPOA's founding members all have in common—participation in the free sharing of knowledge and experience on the PrintOwners forum—speaks volumes about the spirit of the organization we envision. I have benefited from being among them, and look forward to a vital NPOA focused on helping guide us through our industry's challenging future.

Richard Lowe, President and Chief Operating Officer, Franchise Services, Inc.

I think this is a bit of a loaded issue; mainly because NPOA is moving ahead regardless of the thoughts of the leaders in this business community. So if I am not on board, it is a bit contrary to the group that is.

That being said, I do not believe we need a new association. I think it only serves to dilute the associations currently supporting the industry. The current associations have done the best they could in the face of change in our industry. They certainly could do more, but that could be said of almost any association.

I certainly do not blame this group for coming together to support the small commercial printing segment. I think it is well intentioned, but associations today need members, money, and clout to fight issues on behalf of the industry or segment that they support, and I think all of those will be hard to come by. I certainly wish NPOA no ill will, but I would rather see this group of people support the associations that are currently in place.

Scott Cappel, owner, Sorrento Mesa Printing and NPOA member

The smaller printer has always been a highly adaptable creature: first into desktop publishing, first into quickness, first into digital. The small business printer has known nothing but change over the last 20 years. Many were also connected to each other in a virtual community via the original social media, the email listserve far before we all knew the words “social media.”

The smaller printing company executive lives in a very different world than the large printing company executive. Dealing with risk and decision making are a daily affair and poor decisions can not only lead to loss of a job, but loss of one’s house or personal assets as well. There is a need for the smaller printer to not only focus on the strategic, but the tactical as well. There is much talk about working on your business, but what happens when you have to work on your business and in your business too? How do you balance this? How to you prioritize your time and resources?

These are some of the issues that smaller printers are looking for assistance with and I believe this need is what brought about the founding of NPOA. Printers helping printers. Owners helping owners in a way that has not been addressed by the current trade associations. More practical, hands-on, actionable information to its members is what NPOA intends to provide.