For the record: Bill Knepper

billIn each 2013 issue of Graphic Arts Magazine, we will be interviewing an interesting member of the graphic communications industry and asking them for their opinions on a few important topics. Every month we will be interviewing someone who represents a different part of the industry (technology, paper and printing, for example) so stay tuned for each interesting viewpoint!

This month, we had the opportunity to speak with Bill Knepper, President and CEO of Knepper Press, a very successful Pittsburgh-based commercial printer.

What is your stance on offset vs. digital?

Both are relevant, and in many cases complement one another. Obviously the big growth area going forward will continue to be digital. Digital is obviously necessary for most VDP production, but we blur the line on short run static production with the offset press technology we employ, creating space in offset that a lot of people would consider to be strictly digital. Although, going forward, there will continue to be a lot more technological advancements made in various digital production platforms than there will be in offset technology.

Where do you stand in the ‘(our world is going) paperless’ debate?

Well there is lot to be said for that in many aspects, the forms, book, and phone directory industries are great examples. But print is still very tactile and as I like to say, “Print lingers,” unlike email and web based messaging. Printed direct marketing is still extremely effective even among the 18-35 demographic. Many companies that tried to drop print and go 100% web-based have found that was a mistake and have returned to a more balanced web/print marketing scheme. Although 10 years down the road, who knows. Market changes are evolving at probably their fastest pace ever.

What’s one problem that the printing industry could have already solved but hasn’t?

The industry’s biggest problem is “slowly” resolving itself now, and that is excess capacity. Consolidation, mergers, and closures will continue to happen, and must continue to happen for the industry to remain on a viable financial footing.

Only 8-10% of printers are profit leaders. What do you believe makes them different?

Probably the biggest profit leaders, and your 8-10% number might be high, are most likely in specialized niches that are either growing, or have fewer capable competitors than the general commercial print market. In this day and age you must also employ the most advanced hardware and software technologies available in the industry to attempt to maximize productivity from your workforce. Like many industries, gross margins are only shrinking, and we all must find ways to be as efficient as possible in every facet of our plant and production.

What do you miss about the “good old days”?

I’m not sure if in my career there have ever been any “good old days” and I’ve been at this for 35 years. For me it’s been a constant struggle to keep up with the technology, the marketplace, deal with the competition, and to continue to survive and grow. There have been many times in my past that we could have done nothing, but if we had done that, we wouldn’t be here today.

What keeps you up at night?

The capital requirements that staying ahead of the curve entails, and the overall cost of the human resource component of running a modern printing plant in this day and age. Without the right people in the right jobs, you can have all the best technology in the world, but you’ll be dead in the water. And we must cover a whole lot more ground with what the digital world has brought to our industry. It’s requires an extremely big investment that comes due every two weeks whether you’re busy or not!

What makes you happy to come into work in the morning?

The team of people I work with. We have developed a great management team and I really love working with each and everyone one of them, even when we’re duking it out …lol. Also we have a lot of extremely talented production people, many of whom have worked for me their entire print career. Also with the softness in the market, we have cherry picked some of the best talent in the region. 80% of our employees have been in print their entire lives.

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Diana Varma is an Instructor at the School of Graphic Communications Management at Ryerson University and the Owner of ON-SITE First Aid & CPR Training Group, a health & safety company that provides training to the Graphic Arts Industry.