Top 100 Leaders Still Slam-Dunk Sales

Editors' note: It has been brought to our attention that, due to an apparent technological glitch, several online survey submissions were not received in a timely manner. Therefore, the updated listings and figures below differ from those published in the June print edition of QP.

In sports, one point is the difference between winning and losing. In the quick and small commercial printing arena, sales at shops reporting only showed a slight, 0.31 percent decline over last year—but it was still enough to put them on top. Combined sales of 2014’s Top 100 small commercial printers ended with $527 million compared to 2013’s $530 million.

There are several “Most Valuable Printers,” of course. Most companies in the Top 10 had single- and double-digit percentage increases in year-over-year sales. Topping the QP list of top printers again this year was CPS Gumpert, rebranded as Ironmark, with 2013 sales of nearly $20 million. A new name came in at #2: Detroit-based Wolverine Solutions Group (WSG), a versatile print provider founded in 1978 with sales last year approaching $19 million – a 16 percent leap over its 2012 revenues, reports owner Robert Tokar.

Additional highlight “footage” comes from:

Alphaprint (#4), Chuck Stempler’s Alphagraphics franchise in Seattle grew sales by almost 16 percent, to nearly $15 million. Team Concept Printing (#7), a single-shop location in suburban Chicago, dropped down three spots but still had sales of nearly $11 million. Jumping up to the eighth slot (from #23) is Raintree Graphics of Jacksonville, FL, which has experienced dramatic growth: sales of $10.5 million last year: an increase of more than 60 percent (see percentage growth chart).

The other 90 entrants all posted sales below the $10 million mark. John Tatham’s PIP franchise in Anchorage, Alaska (#27), featured sales of more than $5.7 million in 2013, but that number actually was down about 2.5 percent. Allen Printing in Nashville (#11) surpassed $9 million in sales last year, marking a 23 percent increase over 2012’s $7.37 million, which represented more than a 29 percent jump over 2011, when the firm came in at #30.

Sale Per Employee

While total sales are telling, sales per employee is more of a clue to profitability. The vast majority of our Top 100 firms fall into the $100,000 to $200,000 per employee range. Plum Grove Printers (#41), Hoffman Estates, IL, exceeded this average, posting 2013 sales of $226,000 for each of its 20 employees. Insight Communication (#43), Bountiful, UT, enjoyed per-employee sales of $278,000 (16 employees). Some superstar performers include:

#42 Press Sure Printing, Minneapolis, has 13 employees, each of whom averaged $347,000 in sales in 2013. #55 Allesk Enterprises, Traverse City, MI, had total sales approaching $4 million but only three employees. But its sales approach $4 million, translating to a whopping $1.3 million per!

Job Breakdown: Ups and Downs

The business and consumer trend toward more color documents continues. Color digital printing and copying collectively account for more than 24 percent of the Top 100’s sales (see the pie chart at left), up from 20 percent in 2012. The black-and-white digital numbers were basically flat, down by less than one percentage point, as were mailing services—nearly even year over year, hovering slightly below five percent—and prepress, which stayed around six percent. In postpress, however, there was more than a four percent rise in bindery/finishing services, which grew to 13.7 percent.

Is it any surprise, really, that the offset printing percentages are down? Multicolor offset dropped a full eight percentage points, to 1.15 percent from 9.15, while four-color process jobs fell off even more substantially: representing more than 14 percent of sales in 2012 but only 0.6 percent in 2013. Even monochrome offset sales decreased by nearly one-half (3.8 percent vs. 6.14 percent).

What is a bit surprising is that wide-format print services took a hit, representing 4.87 percent of sales in 2012 but only two percent in 2013. Down also are interactive/web-based services: from 1.23 percent to only 0.03 percent.

That miscellaneous category called “Brokered/Other Services” featured the biggest leap of all, nearly tripling to more than 33 percent (from 12.76 percent).

Profiling the Top Two

#1 CPS Gumpert is in the process of rebranding: changing its name to Ironmark, an image company. The firm promotes itself as more than a printing company. "We [also] are a marketing company, a communications company, a creative company, a logistics company, and a technology company," its website describes.

To increase production capabilities and workflow efficiency, Ironmark will open a new facility this summer in the Columbia area of Howard County, MD., situated between Baltimore and Washington, DC. On the pressroom floor, it touts an eight-color, 40-inch Komori Lithrone perfecting sheetfed press. "Larger sheet sizes mean more efficient runs and more flexibility..." the firm believes.

#2 Wolverine Solutions Group bills itself as “a full-service document management company specializing in direct mail production.” WSG provides a complete array of document-management services for a diverse customer base. Its offerings include IT services, digital printing, direct mail communications, electronic document management, and solutions designed around document execution—hard copy and electronic.

The firm was founded in 1978 by chairman Robert Tokar, Sr., who had an extensive work history in the direct mail, transportation, and fulfillment business. Tokar started in a 4,000-square-foot facility with one Cheshire labeling machine and a contract with a local printer to address and mail the regional edition of TV Guide on a weekly basis, he recalled. (At the time, TV Guide was one of the largest circulation publications in the country, printed en mass by RR Donnelley and others.)

Over the years, WSG has sustained a growth rate of at least 15 percent per year, growing to more than 300,000-square-feet of production space. With a large investment in equipment and technology, the firm can handle an array of communication projects, from marketing programs to custom-critical communications such as health care information, statements. and negotiable documents. It serves a variety of local and national clients in the automotive, retail, advertising, health care, and financial industries.

What Is a ‘Quick Printer?’

“What is the definition of a quick printer?” one owner asked. Once we weeded out the trade printers, in-plants, and wide-format print specialists that applied, we had our list. “We are really not a walk-up printer,” wrote Barney Smith, CEO of Smithprint in San Antonio, TX. “We are business-to-business. I started the company as a broker, [then] bought a small two-color shop. We have evolved it into four-color offset, digital, wide-format, and marketing.” With 2013 revenues of $4 million, he reported, Smithprint would have made a nice addition to QP’s list. But alas, its owner couldn’t spare the time to devote to the survey, he said.

While a fairly reliable barometer, this annual ranking is by no means comprehensive, of course. For example, we used 2012 figures for 11 firms, including Apollo Printing & Graphics/S&S Printers on this year’s list. The Anaheim, CA firm ranked 22nd last year with sales of $6.6 million, proudly displaying the QP seal at the bottom of its email correspondence among other places. Owner Dann Ratanjee started the business as a franchise in 1979 with only about 1,000 square feet. His brother Ken joined the business in 1984. They grew to be a top ten franchisee worldwide, becoming an independent nine years ago. The shop has grown to approximately 10,000 square feet with 22 employees.

Meanwhile, in Mission, KS, Jose Ramirez, owner of Moss Printing, wanted to complete a Top 100 survey, “but I’m only doing $250,000,” he said of the firm he purchased four years ago. Keep on plugging, Jose. Maybe we’ll see Moss on the list in 2016 or 2017.

Classic Plus may make the list as well. The Frederick, MD print firm is on track for 75 percent growth in 2014, reported Jamie Tremper, VP of fixed operations. Tremper said he had good intentions of filling out this year’s survey, but he ran out of time as he and his colleagues were too busy making money. But Jamie, it’ll take less than 15 minutes of your time in 2015. This year’s respondents spent an average of only 13 minutes each completing theirs.