Executive Perspectives: Tommy Gillis of CFC Print & Mail
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 Tommy Gillis, managing partner at CFC Print & Mail, Grand Prairie, Texas. Here, he gets candid about COVID, talks about implementing efficiency measures, and expresses hope for the future.
How did you get started in this industry, and what path did you take to land in your current role?
Tommy Gillis: My first initiation into print was [in 1984] working for a direct selling manufacturing facility, Wallace Computer Services in Metter, Georgia. I needed a job and money for my new Mustang, girlfriend(s) and weekend trips to Tybee Island. I was a peon within a large company and had no intention of a lifelong career in print. I bounced around in school (Georgia Southern University and University of Georgia) a few years and ultimately landed with Continuous Forms and Checks in Peachtree City, Georgia. The environment was like no other — family-oriented, self-paced, exciting, growing and, most importantly, fun. I decided to hang my hat a while. [Roughly,] 22.5 years later, I resigned as a divisional general manager and fractional owner after we sold our company (Printegra). I was ready for entrepreneurship.
How do you set goals for yourself? For your business?
TG: Pre-COVID, I ran an annual, three-year and five-year business plan. During the throes of COVID, those plans were tossed. I suddenly moved to day-to-day planning, and “long-term planning” became six-month planning. An emergency plan has always been in the left drawer of my desk, but it did not incorporate a pandemic — nor did it include me getting COVID in March 2020, being hospitalized [for] two weeks and having a lengthy recovery. I feel fortunate to have survived. My outlook on business and life has dramatically changed. I don’t take anything for granted. And life can change in a single moment.
How does the economy continue to affect the industry?
TG: We suffered during April, May and June of 2020. Gearing a business down is tough, especially after so many consecutive years of growth. But the industry has come back, and CFC has come back too. More and more buyers of print and print-related services realize our value add is second to none. We are being afforded new opportunities weekly. Current challenges are labor (lack thereof) and a volatile paper market. These challenges have not stopped us from taking an order, and buyers are patient and understanding with longer-than-normal lead times. We fully expect stabilization by Q2 2022.
What do you expect to be some of the biggest changes or challenges the industry will face?
TG: Age is becoming a factor in traditional distributorships and manufacturers. Our industry is not necessarily an appealing industry to youth. We acquired high-speed production inkjet equipment (Canon Colorstream 3890 Twin Z) in the fall of 2017 ($2.5 million capital investment). It eliminated 11 positions in our production room. The acquisition allowed us to move 65% of our business to a true digital platform in anticipation of future technology and labor changes, and has opened many doors to new and exciting opportunities. We went from an average of 11 individual touches per order (to completion) to two.
What do you think is the most exciting, cutting-edge thing your company is doing right now?
TG: We continue to leverage the capabilities of Canon equipment (this is not a Canon advertisement). Canon has become a terrific business partner for CFC — from connecting us with forward-thinking Canon customers around the globe that allow us to collaborate on new and exciting opportunities, to the development of high-end digital workflow that automate our processes. The Canon Colorstream has allowed us to print high-speed CMYK/CMYK on multiple substrates with variable imaging — and we just installed the Canon 6890 Titan. It will replace some older CFC equipment and allow us to provide quick/down-and-dirty black on white projects like catalogs, brochures, imprinted documents, checks and one-to-one marketing collateral, with variable imaging.
What would people be surprised to learn about you?
TG: I’m a pretty normal guy. I enjoy my business. Can be intense at times. I love my wife of 24 years [and] three awesome daughters. I carry a post-COVID golf index of 12.9 (was sub 10 prior to COVID). I like a margarita on Friday nights (April - Sept). I vacation in LA during the summer (Lower Alabama/Ft. Morgan). I love Texas BBQ.
Elise Hacking Carr is editor-in-chief/content director for Print+Promo magazine.