1. ENNIS INC.
Ennis Inc. chairman, president and CEO Keith Walters is known for his bold business moves, and this year he didn't disappoint. But would Walters' moxie pay off for the Midlothian, Texas-based supplier or draw criticism from the industry?
From a financial standpoint, the reward came in a $16 million-plus revenue increase compared to 2012 figures. With reported annual sales climbing to $535.5 million, Ennis retained the No. 1 spot on Print+Promo's Top 50 Suppliers list, while placing second on Promo Marketing's Top 50 Promotional Products Suppliers list (published in July 2013). Walters was unable to determine a single reason for success, and instead pointed to overcoming historically high cotton costs in the apparel sector and integrating Printegra and PrintXcel into the Ennis organization. However, he admitted the latter didn't come without challenges.
"Although we had some issues with the integration of Printegra due to a requirement to update their patchwork of dated systems immediately, we are now through these issues," Walters said. "These locations are stronger and better positioned to service their customers as we move forward."
Ennis continued last year's pattern of savvy investments with several key acquisitions. On Sept. 17, 2013, the company executed a letter of intent to acquire the assets of Cenveo Inc.'s Custom Envelope Division. (Editor's Note: The deal was finalized at press time.) The Custom Envelope Division consists of the WISCO envelope brand, which is produced at a facility in Tullahoma, Tenn., and the National Imprint Corporation brand, which is produced in a leased facility in Claysburg, Pa. According to a recent release, the Custom Envelope Division generated approximately $40 million in sales in the previous fiscal year.
Ennis announced another acquisition on Sept. 25, 2013. The company executed a definitive agreement to acquire the assets of Folder Express from Wright Printing Company of Omaha, Neb. An Ennis release stated that Folder Express generated approximately $20 million in sales during the most recent calendar year.
Walters hopes to see these transactions benefit all customers, and explained that a seamless transition is the top priority for 2014. "We will be focusing on integrating [WISCO, National Imprint Corporation and Folder Express] into the network," he commented. "Our No. 1 priority is to make sure we maintain the positive customer experience.
"All three of these organizations are strong brands that have loyal customer bases. There are no immediate changes planned, and all three locations will continue to operate as they have been," Walters added. "We look forward to welcoming new customers as well as strengthening partnerships with those existing customers that also purchase from our new additions."
Despite his company's high marks, Walters is aware of the problems currently plaguing the industry. So, what keeps him up at night? The consolidation of the print distributor market. Walters attributes the consolidation to an aging customer base and the lack of a "clearly defined succession plan."
"Our industry is in need of a youth infusion," he observed. "Without the next generation promoting the benefits of print communication and the distributor model, where will we be five, 10, 15 years from now? The energy, enthusiasm and promotional effect that the next generation brings are necessary for our industry to stay relevant, viable and strong."
The Ennis team will never succumb to indifference if Walters has anything to say about it. In fact, he credits his staff for creating a unique business culture.
"We didn't set out to do things differently or be unique—it is simply a reflection of the excellent team that has been built over the years," Walters noted. "Top to bottom, from the way we manage our business to how management engages prospects, customers and acquisitions, we feel our culture has opened many opportunities that otherwise may not have happened."
Ennis Inc. always keeps the industry guessing, leaving many to wonder what will happen next. For now, Walters wants the industry to understand his company's growing list of capabilities.
"If you haven't taken a look at Ennis in awhile, I think you might be surprised at what we've become," Walters said. "Over the last few years, Ennis has become a major supplier of many new products that we have previously not been known for, including high-color direct mail, envelopes, integrated products, pressure seal and packaging, and we are one of the largest printers of business checks in the world. Our sales team, systems and technology solutions are helping customers open new doors and close new accounts daily."
2. 4OVER INC.
With reported annual sales exceeding the $100 million mark, 4over Inc. moved up a spot to secure second place among Print+Promo's top suppliers. "We are a tireless innovator, and we never accept the status quo," VP of Sales and Marketing Preston Herrin said of the Glendale, California-based company.
Under the leadership of CEO Zarik Megerdichian, the 4over staff hasn't shown any signs of slowing down-not even for Mother Nature. When Hurricane Sandy barreled into the east coast last October, it forced a tidal surge up the Hackensack River. This caused flooding in Moonachie, N.J., where one of 4over's plants is located. Fish, water-soaked print jobs and broken equipment were left behind after water rushed into the 45,000 sq. ft. building from all angles, forcing the plant to temporarily close.
But 4over staff members banded together for the good of their customers and their craft. As Moonachie recuperated, other divisions of 4over, particularly its flagship location, worked overtime to compensate for the destruction. The plant started taking orders again in January and was fully operational in time for its open house March 27.
In addition to the re-opening of the Moonachie facility, 4over's other big success of the year was its involvement in the packaging sector. "At Print 13, we announced-with great excitement from our customers-a packaging line, offering a variety of common box styles and custom order processing, that integrates 4over's simplicity of ordering, print quality, and fast turnaround times to the packaging industry," Herrin explained.
4over isn't finished there. In fact, major projects are already in the works for 2014, including a plan to launch 4over branded website solutions. Announced just before Print 13, the initiative was met with positive feedback on the show floor.
"Customers are 4over's lifeblood. So, the development of market-relevant products and services that enable our customers to earn exceptional profits is our primary objective every year," Herrin remarked. "As we look to 2014, one of the ways we plan to accomplish this is through the introduction of a 4over branded website solution. [...] We are very excited by this opportunity that branded websites will bring to the extension of our customers' brand into the marketplace."
Customers, Herrin reminded, enable 4over to do what it does best: innovate and engage. "It is always about people. In the case of 4over, it's the intersection of loyal, engaged customers and an energetic 4over team driven by an entrepreneurial and innovative company culture. We have the best customers in the business," he said. "We receive regular feedback through many varied customer-facing channels and our marketing team diligently applies this feedback to the betterment of the products and services we offer our customers. We never forget that it is a privilege to serve our customers."
3. WESTERN STATES ENVELOPE & LABEL
Western States Envelope & Label president and CEO Mark S. Lemberger and his staff are constantly looking for new ways to deliver value to customers. Their efforts have paid off, and the proof is in the numbers. The Butler, Wisconsin-based supplier rounded out this year's top three, with revenue consisting of $98.3 million.
"We are constantly investing in our people and our organization to give us the ability to continually improve ourselves and our performance for our customers," Lemberger said. "We are committed to the concept that we need to be the best possible choice available for value and performance."
Western States accomplished this by offering creative products and solutions to meet customers' envelope and label needs. And it's happened at "record-breaking shorter lead times," according to Lemberger, who cited this as the company's greatest success over the past year. Planning ahead, the company intends to cut those lead times even more.
"Our top priority this year is to concentrate on continuing to shorten our industry-leading lead times, while improving quality and also lowering costs," Lemberger explained. "We are focused on helping our customers grow their business by providing them with products and services that add value and give them the ability to exceed their customers' needs and expectations in the areas of quality, delivery and price."
By upholding a customer-driven platform, Lemberger hopes to avoid some of the problems currently troubling the industry. Product-pushing, or what Lemberger refers to as "volume-based business models and commodity-based mindsets," can signal potential danger ahead for guilty buyers and sellers. Western States won't have a part in this if left up to Lemberger. It's all about shaping ideas and selling value.
"We are concentrating on developing exciting, new products and ideas that enable our customers to differentiate themselves from the competition and be successful," Lemberger commented. "The changing marketplace dynamics are always creating new opportunities. We know that our ability to perform for our customers will help them take advantage of those opportunities."
After more than 100 years as a supplier to the trade, all bets are on Western States. "[...] We have learned that our own best chance for success is firmly tied into our customers' success," Lemberger concluded. "We look at things long-term, and consider our customers' best interests to also be our own."