2018 Top 50 Suppliers: Ennis Inc. Remains On Top
Each year, Print+Promo compiles the Top 50 suppliers into one comprehensive list. High sales numbers aren’t achieved by luck. Rather, these firms excel at hearing and responding to the voices of their customers—especially when those voices express differing needs. We asked a few of our top suppliers to talk about their recent accomplishments, leadership style and what they’re doing to stay relevant. Here, is what Ennis Inc., No. 1 on the 2018 Top 50 Suppliers list, had to say.
What was your company’s biggest accomplishment over the last year?
Keith S. Walters: Our recent acquisition of Wright Business Graphics was the biggest accomplishment completed this year. I’ve known and respected [CEO] Jim Wright for many years. Wright is one of the preeminent manufacturers on the West Coast. Their addition to the Ennis family of companies brings many new capabilities to customers of both organizations.
How is your company positioning itself to continue to stand out in 2019?
KSW: The additions of Allen Bailey Tag & Label, Independent Printing and Wright Business Graphics within the last year-and-a-half [have] continued our strategy of adding businesses that are in stable or growth product lines. Although traditional forms are still a very important part of our business, we continue to replace the declines in that business segment with product lines that are not seeing those same declines.
What must one have, aside from impressive sales numbers, to become a top supplier?
KSW: I believe a company has to have “staying” power. You cannot be a good supplier if you are not able to be reliable. In today’s market, even getting paper can be an issue for many suppliers. Our long-term relationships with our suppliers have benefited Ennis and, more importantly, our loyal customers during this time of tight supply.
What is the biggest challenge that people in this industry are facing, and how does your company tackle that matter?
KSW: When the industry was seeing significant growth, price increases were seen as a benefit to manufacturers and distributors—a way to increase profits. Today, we are seeing inflation across most items we use within the manufacturing process, not just paper, and price increases are much more difficult to pass along. During this time of tight supply, they’ve been coming more often. Cost increases in raw materials, freight and a tight labor market are making end-users look at alternatives to our products, as those investments are easier to justify. A distributor is only as strong as their manufacturer partners and vice versa, so we need to work together to manage these increases without a negative impact on the health of either organization.
What is the most enjoyable part about holding your position within the company?
KSW: I enjoy helping employees become better business people by improving their skills. We have a lot of talent at Ennis, and I really enjoy seeing the growth as they learn new skills or ways to implement the knowledge they already have.
As a business leader, what do you consider your most admirable trait, and how do your interactions with your employees help you to improve that quality?
KSW: We really make an attempt to deal with reality at Ennis. We make a big deal of always getting facts out, good or bad. If someone tries to bury or obscure the [truth], that is a serious mistake in our culture. In my position, I play by the same rules. If I suggest a direction without having the research and facts, I am open to the same criticisms as the rest of the organization.
Whom do you admire as a business leader, and why?
KSW: I could not point to a person. Many of the people I admire are not in high-profile positions that the names are well-known. Jim Kelly, my first general manager in automotive; Bill Horn, automotive cost accountant; [and] Ross Barker, the founder of e-Quantum, are names that come to mind. What these gentlemen all have in common is the desire to help people grow personally without regard for personal credit or gain.
What else might you like to add to give our readers a better sense of your business approach and the industry at large?
KSW: The difficulties facing our industry are well-known. In managing mature markets, it is important to follow a disciplined approach. We have seen company after company chase the declining market on price to their eventual demise. That has certainly helped our acquisition program, but I believe it is bad for the longevity of the industry as a whole.
View the full 2018 Top 50 Suppliers list here, or click here for stats, trends and analysis from the list. For more in this top suppliers profiles series, click here to download a free PDF resource containing all four interviews.