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 talked to Joe Walkup, president and owner of Innovative Business Products LLC, Nashville, Tenn.; and vice president of PSDA, Chicago. Here, Walkup expands on industry threats and opportunities, the influence of relationships and his company’s current focus.
Joe Walkup: My background in the printing industry started over 30 years ago at a small print shop in my hometown of Smyrna, Tenn., at the age of 14. I started out in the bindery department and eventually learned to run a small offset press. I planned to leave the printing industry, but I kept coming back to it. I worked in manufacturing on printing presses, learning to run everything from envelope presses to forms presses. I moved into management at a distributorship in Nashville around 1995. That company was later acquired by Global DocuGraphix, and I was told to move into sales. Needless to say, I have been in sales ever since. I started Innovative Business Products in August 2004 with my wife, Teresa, and one other employee. I always dreamed of owning my own business, but didn’t realize the many challenges that come with that.
How does the economy continue to affect the industry?
JW: The changing economy will continue to make an impact on the industry. We have been moving to a “paperless society” for as long as I can remember. For years, I had sold one particular client continuous forms. They moved to snap-out forms and now use both. The usage has continued to drop because they offer the same form online. Also, I still see promotional products on the rise. I recently read an article that speculates the U.S. economy is expected to grow by 2.7 percent over the course of 2017, and will continue to grow in 2018, but probably not at the same rate. We are based in Nashville, and our local economy is really going crazy right now.
What do you expect to be some of the biggest changes or challenges the industry will face?
JW: I believe we will see distributors and manufacturers consolidate. I also think the online players will rise, but think ours will always be an industry in which personal relationships are very important. I see many people who are afraid of the millennial generation, but in many ways I don’t see them differently than the baby boomers. Both of them really want to be able to have a person to deal with. I am encouraged by the current rise of small businesses. I see people wanting to go out and start a business right now more than ever.
What keeps you up at night?
JW: In many conversations with entrepreneurs, when I ask them, “What is the toughest thing you deal with?” the answer is usually personnel. I want to make wise decisions that help everyone who works for me. Sometimes that occurs, and sometimes it doesn’t. We recently had a long-time employee leave us to go to work for someone else. I hate losing that knowledge, but I want what is best for them. Also, with a smaller business, training is difficult as well. When someone leaves and you have to replace that person, it can be difficult to get the new hire on track quickly.
What do you think is the most exciting, cutting-edge thing your company is doing right now? Why?
JW: Our focus is getting our clients ordering from our online platform and using our warehousing/fulfillment capabilities. The quicker we can get them doing this, the more we can collaborate and work on special projects with them. Our knowledge of printing, promotional, apparel and direct mail works in our favor. We can be the one-stop-shop for them. When working with a larger, multiple-location client, our abilities line up well. We have numerous clients that are based here in Nashville, but have no storefronts here. Being in the Nashville area, our delivery accessibility to the U.S. is relatively easy.
What would people be surprised to learn about you?
JW: I met my wife when I was working at a forms company. We stayed in touch for years before she ever dated me. The company she was running was a forms design company that did film positives before the days of Mac computers. We have one son who just finished his second year of high school. He is a tennis player and loves school. I enjoy working outside on the weekends on my yard. The fall is my favorite time of the year because my son and I go to the University of Tennessee football home games.