Bindagraphics: Aggressive Growth, Progressive Education

by: Dianna Brodine

An aggressive growth strategy, a commitment to educating the industry, and a willingness to provide a multitude of services to meet customer needs has proved successful for Bindagraphics, Inc. of Baltimore, Maryland.

Family Footprints

Marty Anson is the third generation of his family to be involved in the printing industry, following the footprints of both grandfathers and his father (a photoengraver). For Anson, working in his high school print shop and then proceeding to the Rochester Institute of Technology where he earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Print Management in 1965 seemed a natural progression.

Upon graduating from college, Anson went to work for a commercial printer in the estimating department until drafted into the United States Army in 1967. After his tour of service, Anson landed a job with a book printer as a controller. “Part of my job was to formalize production standards in an effort to increase efficiencies,” explained Anson. “I spent a lot of time in the bindery and became very interested in this area of the business.” Anson founded Bindagraphics in 1974.”

Located in downtown Baltimore, the fledgling company went into operation with two employees, Anson and a partner (a machine operator), in 10,000 square feet of rented space on the eleventh floor. Starting with cutting, folding, and stitching – “the basics for any bindery” – Bindagraphics’ services were limited to binding soft cover books and pamphlets. “As you can imagine, moving materials and product up and down 11 floors via an elevator became very difficult and time-consuming,” stated Anson. So when the company’s lease was up, it relocated to the Lansdowne section of Baltimore where it doubled its space. Bindagraphics continued to flourish and in just over five years, added an additional 30,000 square feet of space and established two additional divisions under the same roof.

Through steady growth and the continual addition of new capabilities, Bindagraphics once again relocated in January of 1992 to its current facility located in the Crossroads Industrial Center in southwest Baltimore. In 2002, a 55,000 square foot climate-controlled addition was completed. Today, Bindagraphics’ Baltimore location boasts 175,000 sq. ft. of manufacturing and office space, and over $15 million in annual sales. Anson also has brought two of his sons – Todd and Matt – into the fold, to help carry the torch into the modern era. Matt acts as COO of the Baltimore operation and Todd is president of the company’s Buffalo, N.Y. division.

Aggressive Growth Meets Customer Needs

The key to Bindagraphics’ success, according to Anson, has been its continual re-investment in the latest equipment and technology, as part of its drive to expand its capabilities to better meet the diverse needs of its customer base. In connection with some of these acquisitions and expansions, Anson set up separate divisions within the organization to better allocate expenses and profits, and to help identify different product lines and customer needs.

Quality Information Packaging division (QIP) was launched in 1982, specializing in custom packaging and design services, ring binders, slipcases, portfolios, index tabs, spot and raised UV coating, litho mounting, and fulfillment services. In the mid 1980s, Bindagraphics made the decision to diversify into the finishing arena, offering foil stamping, embossing, diecutting and ultimately, film laminating, UV coating, in-line folding/gluing, and hi-die capabilities. “We kept getting calls from our print customers to provide various finishing services,” stated Anson. Adding finishing capabilities allowed the company to capture a bigger piece of the pie, reduce delivery times, and better control the quality of its end product.

A satellite facility in High Point, North Carolina, services bindery customers in the southeastern areas of the East Coast. According to Anson, “The facility, which opened in the spring of 1999, enables customers to get many of their jobs done locally and more efficiently.” The binding arena primarily services a regional market, mainly due to the expense of moving materials back and forth across the country. Consequently, opening satellite facilities makes good economic sense. The facility has grown significantly since its inception, and recently expanded into a 40,000 square foot building. Anson plans to add finishing services over the next year, which will help the North Carolina operation be more of a one-stop shop. “Our business model in Baltimore is to be a warehouse full of options for printers,” explained Anson. “We’re very diversified, and we want to keep that same footprint in North Carolina.”

In August of 2005, Marty Anson bought a high-end ring binder and packaging operation in Buffalo, New York. The packaging operation, which primarily services colleges and universities, allows Bindagraphics additional diversification and the facilities are able to exchange work, utilizing specialty equipment when needed for specific jobs.

The most recent acquisition came nine months ago, when Anson found an established finisher in Atlanta, known as Art Laminating Finishing, that had been in business since 1947. Anson currently spends three days a week in the Atlanta facility, getting it up to speed and introducing the Bindagraphics capabilities to a new market. “We have a lot of specialized equipment in Baltimore, but this helps us give a presence in the southeast,” said Anson.”

Facility acquisitions aren’t the only investment Anson has made. The Bindagraphics facility in Baltimore has added a 12,000/hr Kolbus perfect binder and a mechanical binding machine from Kugler-Womako for coil binding. “That’s over $3 million in new equipment right there,” explained Anson. “We had some 15-year-old equipment and we decided it was time to upgrade. It sure is nice to have a new piece of equipment for makeready and quality control. The new perfect binder increased throughput significantly.”

Educating the Industry, Present and Future

A key philosophy to the successful growth of Bindagraphics over the decades has been to become a source of information and knowledge, for its customers and the industry at large. Bindagraphics’ web site houses one of the best reference libraries of industry-related articles written by Marty Anson on topics ranging from binding basics and finishing to bindery management/quality control and multimedia packaging. By contributing helpful information on a variety of topics, Bindagraphics has secured a reputation in the industry as being a leading source for education.

Bindagraphics University, or more popularly known as Binda U, is a training seminar conducted at the Bindagraphics facility for customers, potential customers, or for those just wishing to enhance their knowledge of the industry. Established over 20 years ago, Binda U continues to attract a wide range of attendees. Attracting technicians to designers to those in upper management, the one-day seminar remains popular today with its focus on education rather than “selling” the bindery. Anson, however, will admit that education does sell, “We make people aware of what we’re doing and what we can offer. Hopefully, they’ll think of us down the road when they have a project because of the positive experience they had at our facility.” The sessions are offered once in the fall and again in the spring. “We provide an overview of different binding and finishing techniques, provide hints and tips to help printers avoid the typical pitfalls and then conclude with a tour of our facility,” said Chris Martin, director of marketing. “Additionally, we also provide that education to a local university located in the D.C. area. The students have been in twice over the last six months, which allows us to show graphic designers how the bindery side works. That, in turn, helps us when these students find jobs and are producing projects that we have to make work.”

Bindagraphics also does an online newsletter and e-mail blasts that talk about the industry and general bindery tips. “We also have ‘e-infos’ that focus around a specific product,” said Martin. “Projects that we think would be interesting are featured for printers, which both shows off our techniques and shows them the possibilities for future projects.”

Internally, the importance of education has filtered throughout the organization in a variety of programs. Bindagraphics became the first bindery in the U.S. to achieve ISO 9001: 2000 certification for its quality management system. Approximately 10 years ago, Anson evaluated the company’s current quality management system and found that it was not very effective. Upon examining the positive results that ISO certification can produce for an organization (utilizing a business acquaintance as a model), the decision was made to undergo the process. “It has definitely helped us to control our processes better,” stated Anson. He also pointed out that the ISO process does not mean much to the smaller printer but to larger ones, the certification process can be a key selling point.

Internal education in the areas of cross-training and safety procedures also are key within the organization. Because the company runs a large amount of specialized equipment to accommodate custom jobs, Bindagraphics employees need to learn how to run various pieces of machinery. “The specialized machinery doesn’t run all of the time, so cross-training is extremely important in our company,” stated Anson.

Looking to the Horizon

For now, the latest acquisition in Atlanta will keep Marty Anson busy. “It’s going to take a couple of years to get that facility operating the way we want it, so I’m all set for right now,” Anson laughed. “I’ll be 66 on May 1 and I haven’t got too many more acquisitions under my belt.” Anson will keep his eye on the industry, however, knowing that he has to be sharp to stay on top. He’s seen his printing customers adding more binding and finishing equipment. He’s also noticed the Internet absorbing traditional print work. “It’s a tough environment,” concluded Anson. “The printers are having a tough time and it gets passed down to the bindery level. Hopefully it will all settle down and everyone can make a living.”