A Sad Story

This past week was a real eye-opener for many printers in Texas as one of the state’s best-known firms, and one of a handful which had been owned by the same family for over 100 years, shuttered their doors. Padgett Printing was a top echelon company for the vast majority of it corporate life. It was a company which utilized the latest technologies and was known for being a good corporate citizen. The family run business had a solid management team. So, what happened?

As is probably true of many firms in this recent industry depression (let’s not mince words), it was a victim of its own success. For the past 20 years, like many other firms in Dallas/Fort Worth, it grew at rates far exceeding standard industry growth. Investments were made in equipment. Personnel. Infrastructure. It was a good time to be in the print industry – and a profitable one. But, who could foresee the train wreck that was 2008 and has continued through 2011? Thus, like many firms in our industry, what seemed to have been built on solid ground, collapsed with the tremors created by a major economic recession and major shifts in print purchasing.

We can argue all day about what should have been done or what could have been done – but we really don’t have access to that insider information. And that’s moot. But there are lessons to be learned.

The days of mass consumption of print growing in excess of GDP are gone. In the past decades, in order to grow and be a “successful” printer, one had to add more and larger presses. You went from a duplicator to a 20″ press to a 28″ press to a 40″ press to ½ webs or more recently, long perfectors. Along with that growth came more debt – and more iron to feed. In the past, one could ride out the economic cycle — but not this one.

The sands of print are shifting and if one is not looking carefully at the road being traveled and not willing to think strategically, the road could rapidly disappear. The “build it and they will come” philosophy which worked for many years is a dead end. Today’s firm needs to understand the market dynamics of visual communications (not just print) and realize that success is still possible, but don’t plan on taking the same road as your predecessors.

On a final note since we’re speaking about different roads.  Check this out.

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