At a time when many commercial printers are proceeding cautiously through a slow recovery, Indianapolis-based Jackson Press Inc. is investing $3 million in its future.
Jackson Press on May 1 completed installation of a new German-imported press with digital work flow and a UV lamp system, which allows ink to dry quicker and with more clarity than on a traditional press.
"This press gives us much more flexibility, with the ability to print on plastics and other substrates," said Jackson Press owner and founder Ronald E. Jackson.
The printing industry was steaming along with high single- and low doubledigit annual sales increases through much of the 1990s, until the bottom fell out in 2001 and 2002. Many printers that were heavily leveraged with new equipment went belly up or sold out.
"Things are getting better now," said Ron Davis, chief economist for Printing Industries of America Inc., a Pennsylvania-based industry trade group. "We're still not quite back to pre-recession levels."
Industry growth was 3 percent to 4 percent in 2004 and 2005, Davis said, with similar growth projected for 2006.
Jackson Press thinks it can beat that. Like a lot of other printers, Jackson has taken on various non-core sectors to boost revenue. A call center and directmail operations have driven Jackson's annual revenue to $17 million.
Revenue from commercial printing has stagnated between $7.5 million and $8 million annually, but Jackson expects the new press to once again make printing his company's main revenue source. To bolster the effort, Jackson hired two sales veterans, including Lynn Kendall, who has vast experience working with and selling UV printing services.
"We project our printing revenue is going to hit $12 million this year, and that's saying something given we didn't even get the new press installed until May," Jackson said.
But PIA's Davis said the industry's past tells a cautionary tale.
"It's true you have to stay current in this industry to survive, but heavy investments hurt a lot of printers five or six years ago," Davis said. "The UV sector is one of the fastest growing right now, but for a company the size of [Jackson Press], this is a serious investment."
Jackson Press joins Hilltop Press, which was recently acquired by New York-based Multi Packaging Solutions Inc., SPG Graphics Inc. and Cenveo, formerly Graphic Arts Center, as the only central Indiana printers capable of UV printing, said Bob Poorman, SPG vice president.
Indianapolis-based Print Communications Inc. President Greg Flora said his firm also has UV printing capabilities.
"UV printing takes a completely different skill set," Poorman said. "It requires a different production process and not many firms have the expertise to do it."
Poorman thinks that expertise requirement will limit the number of local players that jump into the growing market.
"This is a good move because printing on such materials as plastics is big in the retail environment right now," said Richard Feinberg, director of the Center for Customer Driven Quality at Purdue University. "The types of signage we're talking about are big with point-of-purchase displays in grocery and department stores and in restaurants."
Jackson started his company in 1961 as a graphic arts agency. The 1959 Tech High School graduate expanded into printing in 1973. In 1995, he moved his company to its current home: a modern, 200,000-square-foot facility near Beech Grove.
Jackson, who declined an academic and football scholarship to Wabash College to enter the work force, marvels at how far his business has come.
"We started with nothing and I didn't make a penny for the first eight weeks," Jackson said. "But we've always listened to the market ... . That's what this latest expansion is all about."