"Our sales are growing 15 to 19 percent this year," he says. "That's what we're doing all the time." Steenbergen compares his strategy for acquiring new technology to that of buying a new car -- you don't want to buy that first model, no matter how exciting it appears.
Instead, Steenbergen buys the third model, knowing that the bugs have been worked out. That allows him to improve his price points, as well. But that's not to say Print Communications lags behind when it comes to technology. Says Steenbergen, "We were the second printer in the area to put [a digital image press] in."
And then there's his strategy for financing.
Over the past 14 years, Steenbergen has tried to minimize his financing of equipment, preferring to pay cash. This is in stark contrast to many competitors, who found themselves overextended financially in the late '90s when companies that had previously published all of their corporate materials using outside printers starting putting them on the Web instead.
Sales in the printing industry slowed, and additional financing became tougher to come by because banks began looking differently at the industry. Explains Steenbergen, "Today, banks look at the management and how it is performing, how the company is performing, more than the equipment."
So to stay ahead of both his competition and the technology curve, Steenbergen is determined to leverage technology to provide more services to his customers. His goal is to reach "partner" status with each customer and understand his or her needs before they arise.
"The industry is changing," he says. "With technology, we can teach you what you need to be No. 1."
Smart Business spoke with Steenbergen about how he's integrated technology, and its impact on the printing industry.
How have you kept up with technology changes and leveraged new innovations?
You just keep buying new equipment. It's an ongoing thing because technology changes so fast. In the printing industry, you have two basic types of equipment - a web printer and a sheet-fed printer. Web printing technology hasn't changed as much, mainly because there are more clients needing brochures than 250,000 magazines.
Changes in front-end technology -- from completion of the design to plate -- have been there for five years. It's no different from buying the first model of a car. You may have liked it, but the next year it went away or the front end was improved.
When Texas Instruments introduced the first calculator, it cost $500. It was the same one that, two years later, if you opened a checking account at a bank, you got for free. Now, there is no net equity in the equipment.
It used to be you bought a web press and it would last 30 years. Typically, you financed the equipment for seven years. Now, however, after five years, you can end up upside down [owe more than it is worth] on a piece of equipment.
Banks are looking at the industry and questioning whether it is a good place to put money. They're no longer looking at the equipment itself as security. It's similar to what happened in the '80s, when farmers needed to buy new equipment. The feds said, 'Wait a minute, we have loaned them too much money. What are that combine and that land worth?' So the feds didn't guarantee the loans. It didn't make sense, and it shut a lot of farmers down.
A lot of printers were buying $3 million sheet-fed presses and chasing the same work. The sheet-fed printer is a high-end press, and a lot of the work was annual reports. That kind of work is gone.
It dried up as businesses consolidated and when companies began launching Web sites. Why spend the money when you can post the information on a Web site?
How much did the rise of the Internet affect your business?
I wasn't printing a lot of anything that got hit by the Internet. Because of our customer mix, when one segment was down, another was booming. The Internet eventually affected the number of pieces we print.
For example, we printed a lot of advertising fliers that are inserted in the newspaper.
Our clients decided that what they needed to do was to send out something that would get customers in the store. Instead of 16 pages of advertising, they now print four pages to tantalize the customer.
We do the majority of our printing for the retail segment. We do finance some of our equipment, if it is a major piece, or we use cash. The press we just put in was vendor-financed -- the vendor knows he is selling more than equipment; he is also selling consumables for the press. He is selling us plates, and the company's money comes from the plates.
We're all smarter now. Three years from now, we'll have 3-year old technology, and after five years, you can't count on the value of that machine. We stay informed of the technology by going to a print show every year in Chicago. Customers want everything faster, cheaper and better quality.
Our customers want color on every page. So we buy our equipment from people that are progressive, and our customers are just like us -- they want quality, service and value. In the old days, you told people you had to pick two of those three. Our mission statement is that customers will get all three -- the best price, the fastest turnaround and service.
Have you had to change anything about your sales team in order to adapt?
Currently, we have two outside sales representatives. Ten years ago, a company our size would have eight salespeople and two customer service people. Salespeople did a lot of cold calling, a lot of researching on the road and three-martini lunches.
The reality is, no one wants that sales approach today. They want the best service, quality and price. So today, we have two salespeople and nine customer service reps.
Once we get your business, you need a point of contact and to know that someone's looking out for you. You'll have that salesperson, but the customer service rep will contact you daily.
We now conduct all business with phone calls and the Internet. There is little face-to-face contact anymore. And right now, we are operating at 85 to 90 percent productivity. There is not a lot of room for more work. The printing industry is a connection-type business. For good customer service, the timing has to be perfect.
We retain our people by paying them well and treating them well -- like people.
How have you managed the company's growth?
I didn't have any bad habits, and I didn't buy too much equipment. The Internet killed businesses that were overfinanced. My success is based on luck and a lot of hard work.
We service the heck out of our customers and work 10 times harder to keep your business. A lot of our work is continual publications, so we are not as vulnerable. Any of our top 10 clients could go away and we'd survive.
The challenges I face today are the same as they've been since the beginning -- getting good, quality people. I still have customers that I had when I started, and in 14 years, I've only had one year that was not a growth year. We are the 180th largest printing company in the country, but no one knows, our customers or our competitors.
We recruit people from all over Indiana and the surrounding states. As the sheet-fed guys go away, that's good and bad. There aren't a lot of web printers in the area, so there isn't a pool of people to draw from. We have to go to Columbus and Detroit to recruit.
We go to job fairs and vocational schools. Most of our turnover is in the entry-level positions. I hired most of my employees in January of '91, and most of them are still with me, except for those lower-level jo bs.
What in your past has helped prepare you for running this company?
I started out with common sense and a strong work ethic. I worked in grade school delivering groceries. My parents instilled those ethics -- to work hard, be fair and have fun, but don't lose sight of what's important.
Right now, that's my grandchildren. In December of 1990, I quit my job of 20 years and bought the assets of the printing company. We were able to walk in and quickly start printing.
After six months, we had a positive cash flow, and I didn't look back. I worked a lot of 80-hour weeks.
What's the biggest challenge you face today?
To stay ahead of the technology curve and take care of our customers' needs. We need to read their needs before they happen. We want our customers to feel that we are their partner, not a vendor, and choose us not strictly as a low-bid vendor.
We produce a real estate publication in Columbus, and then Realtor companies wanted their own magazines. Now individual Realtors want their own magazine, to be a front-runner and stay ahead of their competitors.
My biggest personal challenge is getting time off. I am 53, and I would like to eventually retire. So my biggest challenge is making sure that we are covered for the future.
My succession plan includes involving more family members. And we might sell to a larger company; who's to say. I'm not looking for that to happen soon, though. I'm old, not tired.
How to reach: Print Communications Inc., (800) 968-8216 or www.pciprint.com.