This month I had the pleasure of sitting down with Rich Pauptit, the President of Flash Reproductions. If you are not familiar with Flash they are a go-to printer for work that seems nearly impossible. You may have recently read about Flash, as they just launched a pilot project to print a creative magazine that features a different design studio each issue. Wayward Arts is published and printed by Flash, with the first issue released at the start of 2013 (check out waywardarts.ca).
With many highly technical and complex jobs, Pauptit was proud to share with me that the company is only bound by the laws of physics. That willingness to accept challenges has made Flash into an award-winning powerhouse for creative print. “We create beautiful things for creative people,” he explains. A second-generation printer, Rich is very passionate about the industry and I am so excited to share his distinct point of view.
What is your stance on offset vs. digital?
They are both relevant. The run lengths that digital can produce are increasing, and the costs are decreasing. However, I do not see digital playing a big role in specialty work in the near future. The emphasis from the press manufacturers has been on creating faster and more cost effective digital presses. Specialty work will remain offset. Those clients that fetishize the print portion of the project are whom we will continue to do offset work for.
Of course there is the web-to-print side of the business, which has tremendous opportunity. I see that as slightly separate from digital print as it’s very logistics driven.
Where do you stand in the ‘(our world is going) paperless’ debate?
Print has an incredible ability to evoke something within you. There is something about holding a book, business card or stationery even though there are other, perhaps more efficient ways to produce all three. The key is to know whether the product needs are purely informational (in which case we may see digital perform with better success) or if it’s meant to stir something within you. The tactile experience is still important. While print may be changing, at the end of the day nothing really disappears completely.
On the sustainable side of the debate, it’s frustrating when people forget that paper is a crop. Just the same way that we harvest corn and eat it. We plant and replenish forests in order to produce paper. Maybe even more important than this is the fact that the paper industry encourages green space that is profitably maintained. It’s naïve to think that if we no longer used a set of trees for paper, that the forest would remain…it would likely turn into some other profitable enterprise, that is not necessarily as good for the earth.
What’s one problem that the printing industry could have already solved but hasn’t?
Credit. Cash flow is such an issue in our industry. Customers have a tendency to break payment terms without consequence, which leads to cash strapped printers who have delivered the work, paid their suppliers, and anxiously wait. You need to be cash rich to be able to afford the lag. Unpaid undelivered work is also high risk. We are in the custom manufacturing business. Once the product is printed, no one but the client has much use for it. We all need to be firmer with our terms but it only works if we all are.
Only 8-10% of printers are profit leaders. What do you believe makes them different?
Protecting your cashflow and profits is very important. You need cash. Good decisions, such as buying the right equipment or hiring the best people come with a price. Cash empowers you to make good decisions; resisting shortcuts is key. My partner David is great at this…obsessive actually. People who are good at making money are impressive; people who are good at spending money are my heroes.
You also need to know what you want your business to look like. Growth is not the only goal. At Flash we constantly think about the present and the far out future. We know that we will always want to be connected to our clients and the work. Knowing that allows us to make decisions that support this vision.
What do you miss about the “good old days”?
Profits. There was a definite decline in the profit margins of printers as a result of the unstable economy. As things have gotten better and business has picked up, the profits have remained lower. This isn’t important because we’re in business to line our pockets. It’s important because investing profits back into the company is what allows for those good decisions that make you great at what you do.
I also miss having more time. Any advancement in production seems to be passed on to the client within months of existence. Time also becomes a politically sensitive asset. Sometimes we work so hard to get something done on deadline, and the client does not pick it up. We try to make sure this does not happen because it can really impact morale.
What keeps you up at night?
Worrying that I will not get to do what I do now for the rest of my life. I’m sure it’s the worry of every business owner. You’re the master of your own destiny so it’s on you every day not to mess it up. I slept a lot better when I could trust my father to steer the ship while I focused solely on my projects. I wonder how he sleeps now. At the core of it I just want to continue to bring beautiful things into the world; these presses are the only tools I know how use to contribute to that cause. I can’t imagine not being able to do that anymore.
What makes you happy to come into work in the morning?
As much as I worry when I go to bed, I wake up confident and excited to take it on every morning. I’m a morning person. Everything seems possible at 6 am. We’re lucky; we have the opportunity to work on some great projects, which makes every day exciting. I love working on amazing things with amazing people. How great is it that I get to do that? I’m surrounded by creative problem solvers at Flash, and creative problem givers (jokingly) on the other side of the coin. It makes things fun.