Printing firm makes its mark in marketing

Graphic designer's skills plus Internet, promotions work set company apart

Small business

July 08, 2002|By TaNoah Morgan | TaNoah Morgan,SUN STAFF

Janice Tippett's print shop is as multifaceted as its owner.

Tippett is an artist with beach scene paintings adorning her wall, the granddaughter of a pressman, and the graphics designer who started a business producing brochures and then decided that she needed to print them, too.

A pile of her company's brightly colored promotional items on one end of the table says she is something else, as well: a marketer.

"I got into the design field because I love design and printing," she said. "I found what I enjoyed was to promote. We're passionate about our jobs, we're passionate about our employees and we're passionate about our business."

If the pens, notepads, mugs and hats all stamped with the Millennium Marketing Solutions Inc. logo didn't show as much, what Tippett and partners Jody Franklin and Ginny Gautier have done with the business certainly does.

In the five years since Tippett bought the Millennium Press quick-print shop on U.S. 1 in North Laurel, she has transformed it from a mom-and-pop operation to a design, printing and promotional machine that can serve as a marketing department for businesses.

The 17-employee company has won international awards and increased its revenues by 400 percent, she said.

Tippett said the company, which was recognized recently for its achievement by the Equal Business Opportunity Committee of the county Economic Development Authority, has outgrown its space and is looking to expand, possibly building its own facility.

While many small printers in Maryland have been suffering as advertising revenues declined nationwide, Millennium combined Tippett's expertise in graphic design and love of promotion with its printing capabilities and the Internet.

The result is a company that can put art behind a message, put it on a poster, post it on a Web site and top it off with a matching baseball cap and golf shirt.

"Printing is becoming part of this larger communication industry," said Russell D. Hewitt, vice president of the Printing and Imaging Industries of Maryland, a trade association.

Hewitt said printing is a competitive business, and the largest manufacturing industry in the state, with more print shops located in Maryland than Pizza Hut, McDonald's and Taco Bell restaurants combined.

With that kind of competition, and with technology transforming everyone with a computer into a publisher, the small printing business that is going to succeed is the one that can use technology to its advantage, he said.

"Technology is forcing them to understand the digital world," he said. "Information is multipurpose. The same information is going to different sources - print, CD-ROM and the Internet. Print shops are starting to understand how they make that information go in those directions. They're becoming more information-type companies."

Tippett sees it as different methods of presentation.

"We promote ourselves as the one call for design, printing, promotions and the Internet," she said. "Our success is the fact that we're diversified. We're a marketing and printing company, and we're experts in those four areas."

Tippett had ink in her blood before she bought Millennium. Her grandfather was a pressman before he was drafted into World War II, and her grandmother was his workplace replacement while he was away.

Tippett's first jobs were in graphic design, and in 1990 she started J.T.'s Graphic Design.

Seven years later, with a stable of customers, two employees and a drive to assert more control over her customers' final products, Tippett bought the print shop from a couple who had owned it for 20 years, and brought on Franklin, who is Tippett's sister, and Gautier, a longtime friend, as business partners. Franklin handles the administrative side of the business, and Gautier oversees sales and customer service.

To the two-color press machine in the tiny, cramped shop, she added an offset machine and a digital press that can turn short runs in full color at a high quality in as little as 24 hours.

Then she brought in staff members to handle design, sell promotional items and create Web pages.

Within the next month, the company will install online software that will give some of its larger customers a Web portal to view proofs of artwork, check inventory, request estimates on new jobs and see virtual proofs of new orders on stationery and business cards.

"They do it all," said James K. Eagan, president of Lakeview Title Co. in Columbia, who uses Millennium as his marketing department. The print shop has done everything from a logo and tagline to the company's Web site, business cards and Christmas gifts. But Eagan said what he appreciates most about Millennium is that the company is easy to work with and accessible.

"They're small enough that you get personal attention, and they're big enough that you get what you need," he said. "When you're a small business, that's what you need, somebody to answer your phone call."

Tippett has her sights on finding more room to grow.

Revenues are expected to grow only 10 percent over last year, she said, because the company has done as much as it can with its small space. Promotional items cannot be displayed well squeezed in on racks surrounding the short counter at the front of the business.

New space would mean more than room for larger machines that kick out images by the second. A promotional-products showroom with contrasting-color walls, beachfront art and pet footprints could show customers that they are dealing with an artsy entrepreneur and dog-lover who is big on presentation.

"The building will help demonstrate further who we are, our style," she said. "The building will fit our image more."

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