BJ Bindery: Taking a Risk, Reaping the Rewards

by: Dianna Brodine

In 1985, Naresh and Renu Arya purchased BJ Bindery, located in Santa Ana, Calif. Founded in 1970, BJ Bindery consisted of 5,500 square feet and six employees at the time of purchase. Since then, BJ Bindery has grown to over 50,000 square feet and more than 120 team members.

What has made the difference? An owner unafraid to take risks on behalf of his customers, an aggressive growth strategy, and a determination to do what had to be done in order to succeed.

“I worried less about how much money I was making – and more about pleasing the customer.”

Naresh Arya was in the printing business. He had used the services of BJ Bindery and watched the company slow down as the owners neared retirement age. When the bindery went on the market, Arya talked to the bank. “It was an opportunity,” he said. “I knew I might only break even in the beginning, but it was a growth opportunity.”

Growth happened almost overnight. Within six months, Arya had doubled business at the bindery, and in the second six months, the work load doubled again. “The people who previously owned the bindery were running it more for something to do, rather than as a business,” explained Arya. “When I came in, I was hungry. When the customers called, we said we could take care of whatever they needed. I didn’t worry about overtime.”

The phones kept ringing. The quick turnaround times and excellent service allowed printers to please their customers, and word started to spread. “I worried less about how much money I was making, and more about how much business I could bring in and pleasing the customer,” Arya said of the early days. “As the word got around, it had a snowball effect.”

“My model was to be a one-stop shop for the printers.”

BJ Bindery is a full service bindery shop, but the California company goes beyond the basic services of cutting, folding, stitching, and binding. Additional offerings include plastic coil, wire-o, thermal binding, side stitch, and tape binding. BJ Bindery also offers unique applications such as remoist glue, envelope conversions, tipping, double stick tape, index tab cutting with colored mylar, spine reinforcing, diecutting, P.U.R. perfect binding, kleen pack and shrink wrapping, counting, round cornering, wafer sealing, and drilling. Most binderies are not this diverse, and the wide range of offerings was a conscious business decision made by Arya.

“Some companies go for vertical growth – they just go for saddlestitching or perfect binding and doing everything in that field. My model was to be a one-stop shop for printers and we went for horizontal growth,” stated Arya. “Anything that a printer could need, we went for all the machines and services. For a bindery, I think there are very few binders that do as much as we do.”

At the time of purchase, BJ Bindery was using three or four old folders, a four pocket McCain stitcher, and a small perfect binder. The employees did a lot of hand work. Within the first year of Arya’s ownership, he started changing out the equipment. “The growth was way beyond my comprehension and the machines that we had were very slow. In spite of my accountant, I just kept going for it and kept taking my chances because I relied on the demand, rather than worrying about the cash flow,” laughed Arya.

Today, the bindery’s equipment list demonstrates its commitment to horizontal growth. In two buildings, the business houses 14 Stahl folders in sizes up to 30×50″, two MBO folders, three Muller Martini stitching lines, three Horizon collators, two Horizon and one Kolbus perfect binders, five Polar programmable cutters, index tab cutting machines from Scott, several mechanical binding machines and several gluing lines, and a variety of other equipment. The sheer volume of equipment on site allows BJ Bindery to meet its customers’ needs quickly, without worrying about which jobs are scheduled first.

However, Arya has found that purchasing equipment sometimes isn’t enough. Sometimes, you have to buy an entire company to show your customers that you will go above and beyond to earn their business. As of April 1st, BJ Bindery acquired a company with a 26-year history of producing index tabs. Arya acknowledges that index tabs are not directly a bindery business, but the jobs his company was producing in plastic coil and perfect binding required index tabs. Rather than letting someone else take that business and adding a second stop for his customers, Arya found another solution.

General Manager Anthony Estrada quickly saw the benefits of the acquisition. “It was easier for our customers – they just drop the materials off here and we take care of the job from start to finish. It was a very good marriage of the two companies.”

“It’s a matter of trusting your customers and your vendors.”

BJ Bindery’s primary customers are commercial printers of all sizes. “We firmly believe that our success has been built largely by establishing close relationships with our customers, and this has enabled us to become the largest bindery in Orange County,” stated Estrada. The bindery has expanded to service the surrounding areas as well, such as Los Angeles, Inland Empire, and San Diego. “One of our biggest claims to fame would have to be our fast turnaround times. We have the equipment, capacity, and capability to meet our customers’ deadlines. And our customers know that we are at their disposal no matter how large or small the job might be.”

Arya believes the relationships the company has built are at the heart of his success. “It’s a matter of trust between your customers and your vendors. I have gone to visit very few companies as the owner to ask for their business, but I know that if a customer comes here, he will leave with happy expectations.”

One thing Arya has done to foster trust is to take on any special projects that a customer might have, even investing money in equipment that may not have other obvious current applications. Occasionally the customer’s contract has fallen through after the equipment purchase had been made, but BJ Bindery has simply gone out and found work for the new machine. Estrada knows that the company’s willingness to take a risk has made an impression. “We’ve earned a customer’s loyalty by being willing to invest in their needs.”

The company’s customer service focus applies to the end of every production run, too. “I wouldn’t say that we don’t make any mistakes, but I think the key to any successful business is how you take care of the problem. I think that has earned us more customers than anything else,” said Arya. “They come to us for the peace of mind. If the project is tough, they will come to us because they know we will stand behind our work.”

“They need us as a business, and we need them to run our business.”

BJ Bindery boasts an open, family-like atmosphere that fosters a low employee turnover rate. Twenty percent of its employees have been with the company for over 15 years and 50 percent of the employees have more than ten years with the business. The bindery does its best to promote from within, and trains its employees one-on-one, carefully fitting each new employee into the area where he or she will have the best success.

Estrada spoke about the challenges in hiring new staff. “It’s always easier to find somebody that has experience, but that person could have excellent habits or bad habits. It’s sometimes easier to train someone new to the business.” The most experienced operators teach newcomers the basic quality control systems, working with them until they are promoted to run their own machines. In fact, more than 75 percent of the bindery’s employees have been trained and promoted to positions as operators, lead persons, or supervisors.

“In this market, nobody wants to lose a good person just because he’s not earning enough money,” said Arya. “If the person is a good worker with initiative, then we move them through the training process faster. It’s good for everyone. They need us as a business, and we need them to run our business.”

“Now we have to grow vertically.”

For BJ Bindery, the most prevalent industry trend is the increase in customer expectations in the areas of turnaround and impact to the bottom line. Arya believes the only way his company can continue to provide its customers with superior service and competitive pricing is to remain on the technological forefront. To that end, the company keeps an eye out for advancements in the industry and tries to stay one step ahead. “About a couple of years ago, I said ‘we’ve got most of the capabilities, so now we have to grow vertically’.”

“We have gone through a horizontal growth, meaning that we have increased our capacity and the capabilities that we can offer to our customers,” explained Estrada. “Rather than looking at other binderies as our competition, we try to find ways that we can do things better and faster, to try and maximize profits, as well as save our customers money. Any potential growth is just keeping up with technological changes – faster machines with faster set-up, faster running speeds, and less human intervention needed.”

Looking to the future, BJ Bindery will continue its phenomenal growth by working closely with its customers. With an excellent industry reputation, most of the business’s new customers are referred by existing customers. Arya has committed himself and his business to servicing the commercial printers in his area, taking some risks to cement the level of trust that has kept his business growing strong for twenty-two years. “I’m here to meet my customers’ needs,” he said. “Money is the byproduct.”