Industry Influencer: Bruce Peterson

Bruce Peterson, president and CEO of Colter & Peterson, a leading distributor in paper cutters and paper handling systems, has been at the helm of the 86-year-old family company since 1978.

“I basically grew up in the industry,” said Peterson. “My grandfather founded the business in 1932, and my father worked alongside him. When I was old enough, I would start tagging along and do some chores in the office.”

At 23, Peterson took on the responsibility of running the company. He notes that at that time only six employees were producing $200,000 in sales. Today, Colter & Peterson is a $12 million company with 40 employees and three locations across the US.

“Colter & Peterson has established itself as North America’s largest independent distributor of paper cutters and paper handling equipment,” he said. “We’ve accomplished this through hard work and exhibiting at the industry’s largest and best tradeshows.”

Peterson shared more about his role in the industry and why he and his company continue to be influencers.

With 45 years in the business, what wisdom have you acquired that continues to serve Colter & Peterson and the industry?

To succeed in the graphic arts industry, you have to work hard, be honest with your customers and try to find the best solution for them. It’s not always about selling the most expensive piece of equipment. I’ve found that when you take the time to listen to the customer and learn about their business, you can find the right solution that will work for them.

You also have to be invested in the industry and ready to accept change. I served on the board of NPES for 10 years, then stepped away for a few years. NPES is now APTech, and I am a board member again. People have to understand it is a not-for-profit organization that is designed to assist printing industry members.

APTech is very good with government outreach and tracking legislative issues that can favorably impact our industry. For example, I’m not a fan of tariffs, and I think they are harmful to our industry. APTech is doing what’s best for the industry by voicing our opinion with lawmakers. APTech also provides significant market data research and is on top of the latest trends to help run our businesses.

What are some of the biggest changes that you have seen in the printing/graphic arts industry?

After 45 years, I’ve experienced a lot of things. By far, the biggest change is the tremendous volume decline in the need for general commercial offset printing. At the same time, there has been a significant rise in the demand for digital inkjet printing. All of these changes have resulted in the need for various types of related finishing equipment.

Over the years, we have adjusted to these changes by getting ahead of the curve. With the growth in wide-format printing, we adapted and developed equipment to answer the call, including a series of larger and wider paper cutters. It’s a line extension that we didn’t have 10 years ago. Now we design, engineer and install them, oftentimes building to custom specifications to fill a specific market niche for our customers. And they are not cutting just paper anymore, but plastics, wood and other exotic substrates that no one thought of doing or had a solution for years ago.

Within the last decade, we began offering our CHM and CPM precision sheeting machines. The market changed, and customers wanted a method of better control on saving paper and dictating when they need it.

In your opinion, why is the graphic arts industry still valuable to our world of communications?

I believe there is a real, visceral value for the user of information to physically open and feel the product. That way, they become more willing to purchase or look at buying a product or service. By having marketing materials or a brochure in their hands, I think it leaves more of a mark or impression on them compared to looking at something on a phone. There is still a purpose for printing catalogs and brochures.

That said, I realize people want greater access to information faster and quicker. That’s why we just redesigned our website to add more information and make it easier for people to navigate.

What trends have you seen evolve with the machinery over the years?

As I mentioned before, the growth of wide format is a key one for us. The advancements made in vortex technology have been significant; so has the ability to program and store information seamlessly.

That has led to the success of our retrofit back gauge controllers. The electronics package is now a standard feature for all of our new paper cutters. It dramatically improves their productivity.

What predictions do you have for the industry over the next five years?

I think more consolidation is inevitable. Hopefully in the next three to five years, the demand for general commercial offset printing will reach its bottom and won’t shrink at the rate we’ve seen in the last decade. Many more of the small mom and pop shops probably won’t be around. We have almost reached a point where businesses need a niche or specialized market, or have a geographical advantage, in order to be a certain size company that can invest in technology. In the last decade, the number of general commercial printers has shrunk from 58,000 to 23,000. Only the strong have survived at this stage, and more will have to think and plan ahead in order to survive the next few years.