Company Profile: First Impressions Count

First Impression Print & Marketing in Howell, MI, is staying adaptable and agile in a changing business landscape—and it is paying off handsomely. Owner Don Cortez was already an industry veteran when he and his wife Sandy purchased the company in 1989. “I had been in the print industry since I was right out of high school. I had come up through the ranks that way.”

First Impression is first and foremost a commercial print shop, says Cortez. “We do full color work, black-and-white, and digital copies, and more.” In 2007, he changed the company’s name from First Impression Printing & Graphics when it started—like so many other shops around the country—to lean more toward the marketing end of the business.


The Right Person for the Job

The company took another major step forward this year by hiring a director of business development, Bob Kuzawinski. His mission: to reach out to high-end, larger corporations, which Cortez describes as “Fortune 500-type companies.” The move is already paying dividends.

“We just signed a contract—and it just shows how much the industry has changed—with a major company,” Cortez says. First Impression will be doing everything it needs in order to appear at a trade show in Las Vegas next March.

“We absolutely would not have gotten them without him,” he says of Kuzawinski. “Our industry has changed so much that it is one piece of business, from a marketing standpoint, that lots of printers are looking at. The spin-off of handling that activity is that we have done probably $10,000 worth of print work already for them. We’re building a set, handling transportation, hotels—we’re doing everything for them.” The company has a staff of 10: two each in the customer service, design, and production departments, three in sales, and a bookkeeper.


Agile Media

Social media in the graphic arts, as with many other industries, is moving to the fore. Today, it accounts for about 10 percent of First Impression’s sales. “We do a lot of social media training now,” Cortez explains. “We’ve been asked to speak several times on that at chambers and associations.”

Indeed, social media will eventually become an even more significant part of the mix, he predicts. “And not necessarily social media itself. Whether it be training, implementation, or services offered to clients, I think we’ll be in different channels within that environment and space.”

First Impression is showing small businesses new ways to connect with customers through Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Pinterest (the pinboard-style photo sharing website). The company is offering a new social media training suite to provide the basics and best practices for using social media platforms in business. The first training module focuses on learning the business basics for each platform, helping with creating content and measuring success. Future training sessions will center exclusively on one social media platform such as Pinterest or LinkedIn.

The locally owned, independently-operated firm, whose customers are located throughout southeast Michigan, is offering hands-on sessions that provide “all the tips and tricks needed to make the best impression with your social media.” Over the last three years, First Impression has provided training and informational sessions for national organizations, businesses, corporations, chambers of commerce, and libraries.

“The print industry, along with many other industries, recognizes the need to be agile and flexible in what they offer and how they communicate with their customers,” says Cortez. “Over the years we’ve changed from a small printing firm to offering digital copies and a broad array of marketing services. By becoming social media-savvy we are meeting our customers where they are doing business.”


Measurable Results

A number of First Impression’s own customers have asked the company to provide guidance and training on the best practices for social media. “All companies are dealing with smaller staff and more work,” Cortez says. “We see these trainings as a way to support one another in today’s challenging business climate.”

The key to success going forward, Cortez is convinced, is agility. “I just had this big, long conversation with our staff about being agile, especially in today’s environment. Our print numbers, just like everybody’s, are changing. I mean, it goes from ink on paper to digital copies—and those percentages within the bigger number are changing.” And gracefully adapting to that change will make all the difference.

“If you were to ask me three years ago if we would be doing a trade show out in Vegas for a Fortune 100 company I would have laughed at you,” Cortez admits.

“That’s what I mean about being agile: making sure that you are solidified in what you are doing with your base and paying attention to that, but also looking for opportunities and being aggressive about it.”