Chris Sowers, chief financial officer of Sowers Printing Co. (left), inspects one of 3.6 million college registration booklets hot off the Heidelberg four-color press with general manager Arthur Schafer (center) and John M. Collard, chief operating officer. Thanks to new efforts to drum up business, this press is running 24 hours a day at the 115-year-old family business located at North 10th and Scull Streets, Lebanon.
Printing Firm Turns Corner
Orders set record for Sowers

Last March, Sowers Printing traveled a road that top management said could have led to bankruptcy or liquidation in a few short years. Four months later, the 115-year-old family firm is running its presses 24 hours a day to keep pace with a mountain of orders.

"Our bookings are at a record level for the history of Sowers," said John M. Collard, chief operating officer at Sowers. "We've been pushing very hard to jump-start sales."

In business since 1882, Sowers offers a full line of printing services from art and design consultation to desktop publishing and Internet services. The company achieved gross revenues of $8.3 million in 1996, and is on target to hit $10.5 million in 1997 if current trends continue, Collard said.

An outsider hired last March by the company's board of directors to build a new management team and transform the ink-on-paper printer to a full-service provider of digital printing and multi-medium communications, Collard said the transition is nearly complete.

The purpose of the new management team in part is to relieve Sowers president and CEO Geoffrey Sowers of day-to-day responsibilities to allow him to focus on long-term planning with an eye on retirement.

"I'm working my way out of a job," said Collard, president of Strategic Management Partners, a transition management and investment firm based in Annapolis, Md. "I'll be here on a relatively full-time basis through mid-August."

That's when he'll turn over the reins to Arthur G. Schafer, who began last Monday as Sowers' general manager after a lengthy search. Schafer most recently worked for BSC Litho of Harrisburg, and has a management career that spans 20 years, 10 in the print industry.

Sheridan Press, a Harrisburg medical publisher, grew from a $12-million to $70-million company in the seven years Schafer served as vice president of finance and administration, he said.

"I am proud and excited to have been selected as the team leader for this long-established, quality-reputable company," Schafer said. "The key is to keep this company moving forward, to grow the business. When we reach sales of $10.5 million, it's not going to be an event. We are just going to continue."

Schafer said the name of the game is volume and speed. The sales staff must provide the volume, while the pressmen must crank up the speed.

Collard said that when he arrived, complacent members of the sales staff settled for calling on existing accounts rather than turning leads into new customers. As a result, press operators routinely stretched six-hour jobs into eight hours.

"There was too much complacency," Collard said. "No one was accountable. We've seen a total change of attitude in the company in recent months. People now see that what we're asking for makes good business sense. It has nothing to do with emotions."

The best job security, Schafer said, is to have a tall stack of orders awaiting their turn on the presses. By making more efficient use of the press, productivity can be increased by 20 percent without the purchase of additional equipment or hiring of more people, he said.

"Truly what we need to do is push the pressmen for more speed until they get to the point where there is a little spoilage, then you turn it down," Schafer said.

Christopher H. Sowers, brother of Geoffrey Sowers, president and CEO of the company, has been promoted to chief financial officer -- a second key position of the new management team. A 28-year veteran of the company, Sowers will develop business projections and work with banks to finance where necessary to handle anticipated volumes.

"We're turning quotes around in 24 hours which is unheard of in the industry," Collard said. "We also want to look down the road at problems rather than waiting until they occur so we can begin to solve them sooner."

"The company is on track to create a new image in the graphic communications field with a need to incorporate the printing of the present and to use the media of the future," Christopher Sowers said. "We are building a team at Sowers to expedite the creative implementation of this transition."

A sales manager is needed to round out the new management trio. "We are not to the point of a short list of candidates," Collard said. He added that it is hard to induce a sales manager at a larger company to step back to the same position in a smaller firm.

Sowers serves clients in New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Washington, D.C.

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Consummate Transition, a year in the making
At the Crossroads   Firm Turns Corner   Transition Progress   Sowers Completes Transition