Culture helps printing firm survive

Daily stretching is a wellness program staple for many employees at Ideal Printers, a second-generation, family-owned commercial printing company in St. Paul.

Employees and owners stretched a bit financially when they accepted a 10 percent pay cut as the Great Recession and a continued drop in demand for conventional offset printing services squeezed the company.

The result: No job cuts and no complaints. The company’s handling of the tough times and its folksy, familial culture also contributed to its recognition as one of the small businesses among this year’s Star Tribune’s Top 100 Workplaces.

“It was amazing,” President Lana Siewert-Olson said of employee reaction to the 2008 pay cut. “Not one employee came and complained to me. Some said thank you for not laying people off, we’d rather all take a piece of the brunt of it. A lot of printing companies have had major layoffs or gone out of business.”

Today, Ideal Printers is enjoying moderate growth and profitability, with 2011 revenue topping $10 million for the first time since Siewert-Olson’s father, Howard Siewert, founded the company in 1979. Pay was restored to pre-cut levels a year ago, Siewert-Olson said, and Ideal Printers’ 79 employees received a modest bonus this Thanksgiving.

The company has rebounded with an improving economy and with the acquisition two years ago of a smaller printing company that added key new services to Ideal Printers, including digital printing, mailing and online stores that clients can use to order and customize printed materials. The new offerings have brought increased business with existing clients and helped attract new customers.

“We’re working on getting a larger piece of a shrinking market,” Siewert-Olson said.

As the company seeks growth primarily through referrals, investment appears to be on the horizon, she said. Printers and other equipment need to be replaced or updated to improve efficiency.

Siewert-Olson and her sister and company vice president Joan Siewert-Cardona were named Women Business Owners of the Year last month by the Minnesota chapter of the National Association of Women Business Owners.

Their parents, Howard and Rhonda Siewert, operated the company until 2002, when their daughters and their sons-in-law, vice president of operations Andy Olson and vice president of information technology Francisco Cardona, began managing it. Howard Siewert serves as chairman and works at the company part time.

The sisters, who have business degrees from Concordia College in Moorhead, Minn., credit their parents with establishing a respectful company culture where family and non-family members alike are comfortable and where turnover is low. Employee longevity encourages loyalty from customers who know the company understands their printing needs and deadlines, they said.

“We have a team approach and are fortunate to get along,” Siewert-Olson said. “We saw my parents working in a small office together for years and saw how well they worked together. You can disagree at work but go home and still get along. We all had a Christian upbringing … that plays a little piece in it.”

Running the company transparently has contributed to the favorable culture, Howard Siewert said. “One thing we’ve always done is share our performance with them, our numbers, whether they’re good or bad. I don’t think they have the feeling that ownership is bleeding the company. We’ve always taken modest salaries and tried to reinvest in the company.”

The company’s wellness program, which Siewert-Olson said appears to be on the cutting edge for a company the size of Ideal Printers, includes daily stretching routines and periodic visits from instructors, Siewert-Olson said.

Employees can sign up for on-the-clock massages from a masseuse brought in on the firm’s anniversary.

Ideal Printers also offers employees $200 toward the cost of classes for personal or professional development. Employees can give co-workers “good catch” or “team player” awards, which come with $5 gift cards.

“It is gratifying to work with professionals who are caring, thoughtful and fun but yet determined, team-oriented and hardworking,” one Ideal employee wrote in the Top Workplaces submission.

Another wrote: “I believe that everyone here cares not only about each other but about the customers as well. I also feel that the people here are willing to give their best and pull together to get the job done.”

Independent graphic designer Carolyn Porter said she has had Ideal Printers produce brochures, sales materials, letterhead and other products she has designed for her clients for 10 years.

“One thing I so appreciate about them is that they always work so hard to make it right, to get it as good as it can possibly be, which is really extraordinary because the printing industry margins have been trimmed so much,” Porter said.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *