As part of Print+Promo Marketing’s ongoing feature, Executive Perspectives, we get to know leading professionals in the print and promotional industry. This month, we interviewed Brad Thompson, president of EM Print Group, Elyria, Ohio. Here, he reflects on his professional path, addresses the skilled labor shortage and shares how he’s investing in the future.
How did you get started in this industry, and what path did you take to land in your current role?
Brad Thompson: My father, Bob Thompson, started the business way back in 1975. He was a broker selling print at the time working with his father-in-law, who was also a broker. One of my father’s suppliers that he was using mentioned to him that “even you can do this!” My father then decided to go out to other brokers and asked them, “If I were to offer you exceptional printed product and service to the trade, would you buy from my company?” The rest is history, and that is how EM Print Group came to be. At about 16 years of age, my father introduced me to the business. I started off doing inventory and delivering products locally throughout our area. My older brother Brian was already working in production and my youngest brother Andy was involved in sales and customer service. As the years progressed and we started to grow, I took on additional responsibilities learning more and more about the everyday running of the business. I realized my strengths were more on the operational side of the business. As my father was approaching retirement, that gave me, with all that I had learned, the opportunity to lead EM Print Group into the future.
How do you set goals for yourself? For your business?
BT: One of my personal goals that I strive for every day [is] self-development — always trying to learn and improve from the previous day’s experiences. I make it a goal to try and learn more and more every day, get up early to get a head start and be a very good listener. From the business aspect, I have always followed SMART GOALS:
- Specific: Target a specific area for improvement.
- Measurable: Quantify or suggest an indicator of progress for measurable goals.
- Achievable: Specify who will do it and how.
- Realistic: State what results can realistically be achieved, given available resources.
- Time-related: Specify the target date or general time frame when the result(s) can be achieved.
How does the economy continue to affect the industry?
BT: 2020 and 2021 have been challenging, but at the same time, very exciting. For example, we have seen some issues with paper availability. Working with our suppliers, rather that bringing in product as needed, we have been procuring truckloads of paper, which has enabled us to be able to deliver product on time and at a very competitive price.
What do you expect to be some of the biggest changes or challenges the industry will face?
BT: What we have seen over the last couple of years due to the COVID situation is that many of the smaller printers have unfortunately not been able to survive from the effects. There have also been others that have been barely able to hang on. That has been a very huge challenge for our industry. What I can see happening is similar to what happened a few years ago with the promotional products industry — more and more promotional products suppliers ended up merging with each other. As we see some of the smaller print providers struggle, I can see the same thing happening within our industry — mergers and acquisition opportunities.
What keeps you up at night?
BT: The main thing would be being able to add additional employees as we continue to see an uptick in business. It has been challenging to find the right fit. You just can’t go out and hire someone with no experience to run a press, as it could take up to six months to train someone without any experience. Also, continuing to think of ways to increase revenue, such as acquiring other printing companies that would offer products that we currently do not provide.
What do you think is the most exciting, cutting-edge thing your company is doing right now?
BT: That is a great question and perfect timing for us. We just invested over a half-million dollars in a new press that will be arriving and installed next month. This will let us increase to two shifts per day, creating the ability to produce approximately eight to 12 million flat sheet impressions per year while also benefiting our customers with faster service and increased savings.
What would people be surprised to learn about you?
BT: Growing up I stuttered terribly. That led to my parents getting me involved in physical activities, which turned into learning how to juggle. That in turn got me involved in clowning. From there, I included making balloon creations. My passion for the last 15-plus years has been going to parties and events with my balloon creations and teaching kids of all ages, including parents, how to make their own balloon creations.