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Classic Graphics: Continuous Re-Invention

(January 2012) posted on Tue Jan 10, 2012

“In wide-format, the technology moves incredibly fast, so we’ve got to make pretty good bets, because a good decision 36 months ago is obsolete now.”

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By Paula L. Yoho

“Probably the biggest strength of Classic Graphics is that we’re still primarily a sheetfed offset printer, so the bulk of our revenue dollars still run through offset presses,” he says. “But, our ability to manage a direct-mail campaign that’s tied into promotional displays in a retail store somewhere, and to run that thing absolutely from end-to-end is a huge advantage for us when we get into a market.”

Today, Pitts says, the agency portion of the company’s business is relatively small, the focus instead being on the marketing staff housed inside corporations. He recounts a recent successful collaboration with the team at a large national restaurant chain, which brought a national, multi-part campaign to Classic Graphics after experiencing a run of color-matching errors.

“They were having a problem managing color between a variety of jobs, some that were printed on offset and other parts that were printed either inkjet or screenprint. The shrimp would be pink on one piece and red on another. By virtue of the fact that we were now controlling the manufacture of all of those items and using computerized color-management systems, we were able to make all of those things match, no matter how they were printed. That has been a huge advantage and selling point for us with those kinds of national clients.”

A keen eye on strategic growth
One of the biggest challenges for a company this size, according to Pitts, is keeping up with the emerging technologies while still making wise capital investments. It’s easier said than done.

“In wide-format, the technology moves incredibly fast, so we’ve got to make pretty good bets, because a good decision 36 months ago is obsolete now,” he says. “We know we’re going to have to make very shrewd capital investments in that department, because it’s very easy to get leap-frogged. Then, if things that are beyond our control – like the economy – would settle down and stop throwing us a curve ball every single day, I think we’re in a position to really go gangbusters.”

In addition to making judicious capital investments, Pitts and Gardner keep a keen eye on strategic growth. They took a major leap in this part of the business in early 2011.

“We did our first acquisition on January 1 of this year when we acquired Belk Printing, the company where Bill and I met,” he says. “Belk was a long-term family company, and it was time for them to make a decision about making huge capital investments or finding a strategic partner. It was a good fit, and we’ve got a very nice increase in sales as part of this.”

The acquisition came just as Classic Graphics was finalizing a lease on a new, larger facility in Charlotte.

“Up until late last year, the Charlotte operation was housed in two facilities that totaled about 107,000 square feet. We were beginning to have operational issues as we grew, and even though we hit $39 million in those two facilities, our leases were coming up so we started shopping around.”

Pitts found a landlord who worked with them to creatively fit their entire operation into a single, 180,000 square-foot facility.

“We thought, ‘Man, we are going to have so much room to spare’” Pitts says. “Some time between signing the lease and moving in, we decided to do the Belk Printing merger. With that deal, we combined operations into a single facility, and ended up doing a 70,000 square-foot expansion that was basically full by the time we finished moving in. It took less time than I ever imagined.”

Now that the Belk acquisition is finalized and the company is settled into its new, state-of-the-art facility, Pitts has turned his attention to future opportunities.

“We’ve seen a very nice increase in sales as part of the Belk deal. So as I look to the future I see Classic Graphics looking for other acquisitions and adding more capabilities and wide-format clients that way,” he predicts. “We certainly want to continue to expand print-related services and, even though I don’t want to be everything to everybody, I have learned to never say never, because we do a lot of things now that I never imagined we’d ever do.”

Paula L. Yoho is a freelance writer based in Columbus, Ohio, and a frequent contributor to The Big Picture. Her most-recent feature articles have included “Wide F♀rmat: Five Women Changing the Face of Large-Format Printing”( November 2011) and “A New Path to Client Success: The Graphic Systems Group Aggressively Pursues the De-Coupling Trend” (August 2011).