Each year, Print+Promo provides the definitive ranking of the Top 50 Suppliers in the industry. As part of this issue, we feature exclusive interviews with the CEOs, presidents and owners of our top five companies. The full Print+Promo 2016 Top 50 Suppliers list can be found here and in our October issue.
No. 1: Ennis Inc.
Answers provided by Keith Walters, chairman, CEO and president
What was your company’s biggest accomplishment over the last year?
Keith Walters: I don’t know if it can be considered the biggest accomplishment, but the sale of Alstyle Apparel to Gildan was one of the most important changes within Ennis this past year. For more than 107 years, Ennis has been a company with a culture that is respected in the industry and the investor community. Unfortunately, with each step within Mexico, it became clearer that what it takes to be successful in Mexico is incompatible with the Ennis culture.
The sale of Alstyle Apparel has allowed us to immediately look at reinvesting the sale proceeds in our print business that have been successful for our customers, employees and shareholders.
What is your company’s top priority for 2017?
KW: We are actively looking for the right acquisition opportunities that match the Ennis culture. In addition to new product lines, now that we’ve achieved many of our goals of growing our geographic footprint, we can focus on penetration of the regional markets.
Many of the acquisitions we have made in the last 18-plus years have been through the existing ownership contacting Ennis looking for a succession plan. When there is a fit, those initial conversations have led to 26 acquisitions, 32 brands and 56 locations being added since 1997.
Where do the great ideas come from in your organization?
KW: Motivated people. Finding and keeping motivated employees, from the customer-facing customer service representative to the press operator to the information technology programmer—those are the keys to driving great ideas. At Ennis, we engage our employees by giving them more responsibility as the employee demonstrates he or she can continue to succeed. An example is that each of our general managers operate their own business centers and many have entrepreneurial traits. These traits and the opportunity to operate like it is their own business drive these managers not only to their own successes, but also to motivate this type of thinking throughout their organizations.
What is the biggest challenge facing the industry today, and how can we work toward a solution?
KW: The consolidation of the distributor channel. This consolidation is resulting in fewer “feet on the street,” which in turn means end-users are not getting the consultative ideas from distributors. When we don’t have our sales force, the distributors, out pushing our products as solutions for their customers, alternative solutions and ultimately replacements for our products are being pushed to the end-user clients.
Although there is consolidation in the manufacturing side of the industry, there still is more capacity than necessary and this consolidation is making the distributor/manufacturer channel stronger, not weaker. The strong U.S. dollar is allowing cheaper foreign paper into our markets, which in the short-term is lowering the costs to the end-user, but in the long-term, it is negatively affecting the top line of our industry manufacturers.
Is there anything you would like to add that we haven’t already discussed?
KW: In the last three years Ennis has completed seven acquisitions, acquiring 13 different brands and locations. These acquisitions include: Folder Express, Wisco Envelope, National Imprint Corporation (NIC), Curtis Business Forms, Falcon Business Forms, Forms Manufacturers Inc. (FMI), Mutual Graphics, Tri-C Business Forms, Hoosier Data Forms, Kay Toledo Tag, Special Service Partners, Major Business Systems, and Atlas Tag of Canada.
Over the last 18-plus years, during my tenure as CEO, we’ve grown from approximately $153 million in sales and 12 locations. Although traditional business forms continues to be a core product, through our diversification in acquisitions, traditional business forms now only represents 35 percent of our total business. Ennis is now one of the largest U.S. producers of tags, presentation folders, money orders, non-negotiable MICR, business checks, pressure seal, envelopes and, of course, traditional business forms.
Finally, to address the Folder Express move at the end of 2015: Navigating a plant relocation with a limited timeline due to a landlord’s abrupt refusal to extend the lease was a tremendous challenge. Our focused efforts have yielded several process improvements and allowed for a shift in our momentum. We are excited about our future and our ability to provide value to our distributor base.
For more tips from Walters, check out the following video: