Where are they now? A Look Back…and Forward…with Three Former Spotlight Companies

by Dianna Brodine

In each issue of The Binding Edge, a bindery or loose leaf manufacturer is placed in the “spotlight,” providing an inside look at its history, capabilities, and goals. In this issue, the magazine revisits three of those former Binding Spotlight companies to see what changes have occurred and how the companies have reacted to one of the most challenging periods in the industry’s history. Triggered by a depressed economy, consolidations among printers, and an increasingly demanding customer base, binding and loose leaf have faced faster turnaround times and shorter run lengths. Rickard Bindery, Universal Bookbindery and Trends Presentation Products have weathered the storm. Although the challenges aren’t completely behind them, all are optimistic about the future.

Rickard Bindery

Since 1900, Rickard Bindery has been a part of the Chicago landscape. Opened as Rickard Circular Folding Company by Fay Rickard, the company has a long history of technological advancement. In 1922, with Fay’s guidance, the Faydon Sealing Machine Company developed and patented an automatic tabbing and sealing unit and in 1945, Fay developed what is believed to be the first mechanical gate fold attachment. The company has remained family-owned, passing from Fay to his son Les, and then to Les’ son, Jack. Jack is still president of Rickard Bindery, a position he has held since 1966, and his son, Kevin, is currently vice president of operations.

The bindery keeps its focus on its core competency – folding paper. It has no mechanical binding, perfect binding, or case binding capabilities, and the recent revenue environment has discouraged Rickard Bindery from expanding its service offerings. “Over the past three years, our priority has been fine-tuning the equipment we have on hand, rather than overextending ourselves financially,” explained Kevin Rickard. “With minor adjustments, our existing equipment continues to serve our market niches well.” Those “minor adjustments” include adding glue units, modifying existing folders with special purpose feeders, and adapting the pharmaceutical folders to handle thicker pieces. Rickard Bindery also added automated padding equipment more than a year ago, which has contributed to a more efficient workflow and much quicker turnaround times.

In 2006, when the company was profiled for the Fall issue, 75 employees operated the folders during three shifts each day, creating pharmaceutical inserts and instruction sheets, coupons and product inserts, and direct-to-market products, like maps. Today, those same products are being produced in three shifts by 70 employees. “Like many of our peers, we’ve adjusted the size of our company to fit the reality of changing market conditions,” said Kevin. “Specifically, we’ve reduced our bindery worker and supervisor workforce as appropriate. However, we serve the high-volume production needs of many customers and are committed to maintaining three-shift capacity.”

To counteract the impact of the economy, Rickard has made an effort to expand its geographic reach, with 70 percent of its business now coming from outside the greater Chicago metropolitan area. In addition, the bindery has developed manufacturing partnerships with select companies to reduce the amount of capital investment required to maintain its presence in less profitable business sectors. Such partnerships allow Rickard to provide resources to customers without compromising its cost structure. Perhaps most important, Rickard is placing a priority on those customers who pay their bills. “Customers who pay on time and adhere to our terms are our company’s lifeblood,” Kevin explained. “And it may be just us, but we’ve noticed the others tend to go out of business.”

Rickard Bindery believes that the markets it serves have stabilized, at least from a per-piece volume standpoint. The company expects industry consolidation to continue and that doesn’t worry Kevin: “Consolidation means that fewer companies will produce higher volumes of work. This is good news for Rickard Bindery as long as we prioritize excellent customer service and develop stronger relationships with the survivors.”

Rickard Bindery is leaner, meaner, and more customer-centric than at any time during its 110-year history. “We may not like certain trends, such as shorter runs and turnaround times, but we’ve learned to adapt,” said Kevin. “One lasting change is that we’ll never take our market position and good fortunes for granted.”

Universal Bookbindery

Universal Bookbindery, Inc., located in San Antonio, Texas, was founded in 1918 by Leo Picard and Bob Hearn. After building the business by doing school textbook rebinding, the company evolved into a manufacturer of hard and soft cover books, and then developed a line of highly decorated yearbook covers that were sold to printers and other binderies across the country. A series of acquisitions followed in the 1980s, but Leo Hearn (son of Bob Hearn) repurchased the bookbinding and loose leaf divisions in 1986. That’s when Trip Worden, Leo Hearn’s stepson, made his way back to the company. Attaining the presidency in 1996, Worden has been guiding Universal Bookbindery through the economic downturn.

Profiled in the Summer 2005 issue of The Binding Edge, Universal Bookbinding continues to specialize in medium- and large-run casebound books, with elaborate covers that could include metal appliqué, embossing, top stamping, spot graining, and antiquing. At the time of its Spotlight article, Universal Bookbindery employed 80 full-time employees. These days, the company operates with 65 employees. “Our volume was much larger in 2005, both in number of jobs and total sales dollars,” explained Worden. “The recent slowdown really didn’t affect us until winter of 2009, but now it has forced us to adjust our employment levels.” The company continued to reinvest in the business, adding a new high-speed Kolbus DA-270 casemaker and a Polar cutting system with jogger and unloader in 2008. “Each of our significant equipment and technology acquisitions has helped us be more competitive and react quicker to the market,” he said.

With volume down, Worden took the opportunity to embrace Lean Manufacturing Training. “The San Antonio Manufacturers Association has been touting the benefits of lean for a while, but the thing that made me realize it was a worthwhile process to undertake during a down time was watching our local Toyota plant,” stated Worden. The Toyota plant had been hit hard by the economy and, during the summer of 2009, the plant was idled for eight weeks. Employees were kept on with reduced hours to work through the enhanced lean manufacturing process. Worden decided the time was right. “I will tell you, it’s not easy and it’s not cheap, but I believe lean manufacturing has been a great thing for us,” he said. “We were already a well-organized, well-lit manufacturing plant. But you look at us now and look at us a year ago, and it’s a world of difference.” Focused on eliminated waste – including labor, time, and actual materials – lean manufacturing promotes a highly organized plant floor. “Lean promotes reduced spoilage and, while we can occasionally stub our toes, we have been really impressed with how well the plant floor operates,” stated Worden.

A significant change to the atmosphere at Universal Bookbindery occurred in January of 2010 when Leo Hearn passed away. Although a succession plan had been in place for 15 years and Hearn was no longer involved in the day-to-day operations, his absence has left a noticeable gap. “When he passed away, it was more of a jolt than I thought it would be,” said Worden. “With business down, it would have been nice to have him available to talk about the current challenges and solutions to those challenges.”

Worden believes that over the next five years, the companies that have made wise investments in their people, equipment, and facilities will be serving a customer base that – while probably smaller than is in place today – will be glad to have successful finishing options available to them. “It appears the market is shrinking,” said Worden, “but we do not feel it is in danger of going away. There will always be a need to print and bind the printed word, along with offering creative packaging solutions for a wide variety of users. The investments we made when times were good are a good part of why we’re still here today.”

Trends Presentation Products

Profiled in the Spring 2005 issue of The Binding Edge, Trends Presentation Products, Washington, Mo., began as Stationers Loose Leaf. Originally an archival binder supplier, Stationers had entered the commercial binder market but the advent of office superstores turned the company’s focus to custom turned-edge binders and packaging. As production lead times were cut, production runs became smaller, and service demands increased, the company attempted to look into the future. It looked as if a web-fed digital press was the answer.

Trends became the first loose leaf binder manufacturer to purchase a Xeikon web-fed digital press in 1999. The press was large format, 18.7 inches wide by 36 feet, and had duplexing capability. Expensive film, contract proofs, and printing plates were completely eliminated with this new piece of equipment. The Xeikon is still in use today, and Trends has made continual investments to keep the press up-to-date in order to maximize its digital capabilities. Graphic design programs also have been upgraded to ensure the highest quality of graphics.

Producing custom turned-edge products, including ring binders, catalog binders, post binders, slantboxes, slipcases, tote boxes, menu covers, easel binders, point-of-purchase displays, and much more, Trends still sells exclusively to resellers. “The pressures of the economy, combined with easy accessibility to the internet, have pushed many manufacturers to start selling their products direct,” said David Inman, sales manager. “We have decided against that and want to keep the loyalty and trust between our dealers a priority. We believe that still means something.” Utilizing a variety of techniques, Trends can screenprint, foil stamp, emboss, deboss, diecut, laminate, and use digital technology to customize its products.

The recent digital/on-demand printing trend seems made to order for Trends Presentation Products. “As demand for faster turnaround, just-in-time delivery, customization using variable data, and shorter runs have increased with digital printing, we feel fortunate to be in our position,” stated Inman. Trends Presentation Products has positioned itself carefully in this niche market, with more than 12 years of experience thanks to its 1999 Xeikon purchase.

At the same time, the current economy has definitely had an impact. “Like many businesses, we were forced to stop and re-think everything,” said Inman. “This included how we quoted items, deciding what products to offer, how products are delivered, and even how we answered the phones.” The company organized quick pricing methods to ensure timely turnaround for quotes and renegotiated its supplier prices, including shipping rates. Inventory levels were closely watched and Trends found creative ways to continue offering its full line of custom packaging.

“There is no question that the next five years are going to be challenging for us and for the industry, especially as social media applications increase and become a stronger way for companies to market products,” said Inman. With a soft economy and the tempered buying habits of consumers keeping pressure on price, the focus for Trends Presentation Products will be controlling costs and improving productivity. In addition, Inman believes more consolidation is inevitable for the industry and he is determined that Trends will not become one of the casualties.

“We believe in our products, service, and customers, and plan to stay optimistic,” he said. “We are operating more efficiently than we ever have before. We know what our customers want and need, and if a project is within our ability to handle it, we will do it. That hasn’t changed.”