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Baton Rouge print companies remain viable with new technology, diversification

By David Jacobs, July 5, 2017

Robert Hetrick’s printing career started in the mid-1980s when his brother got him a job at Quik Print, a now-shuttered franchise in Baton Rouge. “It was just a lot of down-and-dirty fliers; one color, two colors,” he recalls. Four-color printing was reserved for the big boys like Franklin Press (which is now primarily a direct-mail company) or Baton Rouge Printing.

In 1991, Hetrick and Al Boudreau, his friend from Denham Springs High School, started Printing Tech in a 700-square-foot shop. The business has grown into one of Baton Rouge’s leading commercial printers, housed in an 11,600-square-foot warehouse facility on South Harrell’s Ferry Road. According to some predictions, various culprits, from office printers to email, should have killed off the printing business by now. But commercial printing remains a thriving, if not exactly booming, industry. “Printing is a shrinking business,” Hetrick acknowledges. But by keeping up with technology, providing personal service and diversifying their products, local printers like his company remain viable.

Publicly available data on the printing industry presents a mixed but not alarming picture. Almost 50,000 printing businesses employed 454,540 people and did about $85 billion in sales in 2016, according to industry research firm IBISWorld, while average annual growth between 2011 and 2016 was down 0.5%. “Printers were historically central to both publishing and advertising; however, over the past two decades, rapid technological change has upended both markets and sent the industry into structural decline,” the IBISWorld report says. “Over the next five years, the industry will continue to struggle as digital media replaces traditional paper products.”

But a fall 2016 report authored by Idealliance, a visual communication industry association, and sponsored by Canon USA says commercial printing sales are up 6.2% since a 2011 post-recession low, and projects growth of 1.5% to 3% in 2017. A 2015 analysis by financial information company Sageworks found annual sales growing between 3% and 5% at the private commercial printing companies it tracked. “Print isn’t even struggling,” online printing company Mimeo claimed in a 2016 blog post. “In reality, it was only the small printers that hesitated to evolve with the times.”

Evolving with the times often means investing in new technology while profit margins tighten. “The digital age has forced printing companies to spend more money on new equipment so we can charge less for our product,” says Jimmy Gould, a partner in Printing Tech who joined the company a few years after its founding. Advances in office copier technology during the late 1990s took a bite out of the commercial printing industry. Back in the day, Hetrick says, his shop had a color printer that did 135 copies a minute and took up “40 feet of wall.” Now, a desk-sized printer can do the same. Still, digital printing, mainly consisting of quick-turnaround work of 5,000 pieces or less, is almost half of Printing Tech’s business. 

For the full story featuring Sageworks, visit Baton Rouge Business Report - Baton Rouge print companies remain viable with new technology, diversification.