As part of Print+Promo Marketing's 2022 Top Suppliers list, we asked some of the top-ranked suppliers about how they managed to continue to grow and bounce back from the pandemic, their thoughts on where the industry stands, their future plans and more.
Read on for our conversation with Keith S. Walters, chairman, CEO and president of Ennis Inc., the No. 3 supplier on our list. Or, download the full Top Suppliers resource for the complete interviews, detailed stats and analysis for the Top 65, and results for our 2022 Supplier Excellence Awards.
Ennis Inc. – No. 3
2021 sales: $400.0 million
2,013 employees, 51 locations
Established in 1909
Ennis Inc. was once again the only print-centric supplier in our top three, finishing 2021 with $400.0 million in sales, up from $357.9 million in 2020. All signs point to continued pandemic bounce-back, as the company just released financial results for the second quarter ended Aug. 31, 2022, reporting an increase of $10.7 million (or 10%) compared to the same quarter last year.
For Keith S. Walters, chairman, CEO and president of Ennis Inc., working through the challenges of the last two years to come through for customers, employees and shareholders was a major accomplishment.
“Managing the business through COVID and then through the dramatic post-COVID increases that saw extremely high demand, numerous supply chain price increases and paper allocation that haven’t been seen in decades [made me proud],” he says.
Walters points out that during this period of increased demand and allocation, the company’s most faithful customers were taken care of first. Ennis Inc. extends that same loyalty to its own suppliers, which gives them an advantage in securing hard-to-get materials.
“Although we had opportunities to grow sales and add new business, some of it in very large quantities, we wanted to make sure that we first took care of those customers that have been with — and will continue to be with — us,” Walters says. “We saw the same benefits from our suppliers because of our loyalty and partnerships, and these benefits allowed us to continue servicing our customers while others may have been unable to.”
Walters says he’d be remiss to not mention the savviness of his local in-plant management teams, specifically when it comes to adjusting their staffing needs when workers are in high demand, overseeing paper allocation limitations and focusing first on the company’s existing customer base.
Also helping Walters to navigate the fluid situation are Wade Brewer, who was recently promoted to chief operating officer, and Terry Pennington, who has been appointed to chief revenue officer.
“As I’ve said for years, what separates us is that we know our true costs of business at Ennis,” Walters shares. “Knowing your true costs allows our managers to make educated decisions throughout their operations as often as they need to. This ability to act on what they see in real-time versus reacting allows them to deliver the results they do, which is a strong balance sheet.
What They Learned: “Larger customers that had historically been serviced by the major direct manufacturers, were looking for new suppliers,” Walters says. “This was due to those companies that traditionally serviced them leaving the segment or they couldn’t serve their needs due to material and labor. These shifts opened the doors to several of our larger distributor customers to capture business they traditionally weren’t able to win. Multi-year commitments and strong partnerships with these distributors lead us to believe that this momentum can continue and that more of these large opportunities will be serviced by the distributor channel.”
What They’re Watching: Walters says he is managing a business that is still seeing high demand in an economy that is facing a slowdown and possible recession. One of his top priorities is making sure the company doesn’t overcommit on resources when he’s confident the high demand will “return to or decrease past historic trends.”
In addition, he’s monitoring rising interest rates. “There is a limit to this rise that can be absorbed by companies and consumers, but at a certain point, it becomes more than a financial challenge and ultimately causes fear,” Walters says. “We hope the Fed doesn’t let it get to that point.”