Executive Perspectives: Richard Ghelerter, president of Apex Color
As part of Print+Promo’s ongoing feature, Executive Perspectives, we get to know leading professionals in the print and promotional industry. This month, we interviewed Richard Ghelerter, president of Apex Color, Jacksonville, Fla. Here, he addresses the industry’s shortage of skilled workers, discusses the domino effect of raw material inflation and reveals the star of his commercial print division.
How did you first get started in this industry, and what path did you take to land in your current role?
Richard Ghelerter: I started Apex Color (then Apex Business Forms) in 1974 out of college, influenced by my father and uncle, who then owned Mendelson Printing and Office Supply Co. in Jacksonville. My grandfather was a young printer from Romania who worked for Mr. Mendelson, literally 100 years ago, after arriving in New York and moving with his father to Jacksonville. He purchased Mendelson Printing in the mid-1930s, passed away in 1945, and my father, who at the time was in the Pacific running the print shop on the USS Palawan, came home and took over the business. So, I’m a third-generation printer—grew up in the business and loved it, not knowing any better . . . and here I am, still.
How do you set goals for yourself? For your business?
RG: I set goals based on optimistic and, hopefully, realistic expectations for where I want to be in three years, five years and so on. I keep the plans in mind for both—myself and my business—and try to focus daily/weekly on what’s needed short-term to accomplish them. Many days, challenges pop up, so not all days are entirely successful, and flexible thinking is required.
How does the economy continue to affect the industry?
RG: A healthy economy is good for all business, including the printing industry. From experience, [I’d say] if the economy turns down, commercial printing is hit hard. With budgets tight, companies tend to view commercial print (i.e., marketing collateral) as discretionary costs, and they may choose to postpone or eliminate projects. Our business forms products are mostly consumables for companies, used for transactions or record keeping of some type, so when their sales slow down, business forms sales slow down as well.
What do you expect to be some of the biggest changes and challenges the industry will face?
RG: The most obvious change in the industry is the shift in advertising and informational print dollars to the internet and social media. This change will continue to erode the amount of ink on paper. Our biggest challenge in print manufacturing is continuing to produce products that are decreasing in demand while the cost of raw materials remains on the rise and as raw materials are becoming less available. With paper mill closings and consolidations these past couple of years, the paper market has been a mess. It’s tough to know what each new quarter will bring. We’ve experienced spikes in prices and shortages. In the big picture, digital printing is playing a bigger role, and run lengths in offset printing seem to be decreasing. To combat this, we’ve become more specialized in products—booklets, for example—that we can produce very cost effectively and offer to resellers at attractive prices.
What keeps you up at night?
RG: Talking to other manufacturers in commercial and business forms printing, [I feel] one of the biggest challenges we face today is finding experienced operators and people interested in learning the industry. Speaking personally, I have three kids, all in their 20s, who have worked at Apex through a summer or while in school, but none have any serious interest in learning the business. That’s partially my fault for encouraging them to seek other professions. There’s still a future in this industry, but its potential is not as clear as other careers.
What do you think is the most exciting, cutting-edge thing your company is doing right now? Why?
RG: Apex Color recently installed the southeast’s first RYOBI [MHI] 925, five-color, 25x36" format-size press with UV ink and LED curing. This press enables us to provide high-color and short [to] long runs very economically and turn jobs quickly. [Through our] using UV inks with LED technology, press sheets are cured instantly; no dry time is required. It’s the workhorse of our commercial print division. We run three shifts, accompanied with a 24-hour bindery service. The objective was to provide quicker turns at lower costs, and with higher quality. This press and our magnificent crew (I’m including everyone front [to] back door of the business) have achieved that objective.
What would people be surprised to learn about you?
RG: I run daily, and have a big yellow lab that loves the beach (all labs do). I bike and read on the weekends. I try to avoid working around the house. I also avoid social media—I stay in touch with my kids in other ways. I have a wonderful family. Life is good, even as a printer.