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Guiding firm through changes

Ray Brown learned the hard way how to overcome adversity and make the most of a tough situation.

For years, he raised bees. And in doing so he had been stung hundreds of times. Then one day he developed an allergy that would send him to the emergency room with anaphylactic shock. Now he raises chickens.

As president and CEO of Canfield & Tack Inc., Brown has seen his fair share of obstacles in his professional life as well. The commercial printing industry has been rife with turmoil since the rise of online technology, and it is continually reinventing itself to stay relevant.

A number of local printers have shuttered their businesses in recent years, including Monroe Litho Inc. and Evolution Impressions Inc., both in 2014. Canfield & Tack, however, has weathered the storm.

“We started off as a letterpress shop, specializing in high-end stationery, business cards and things like that. Eventually we got into general commercial printing, so brochures,” Brown, 52, says. “There was a technology shift that happened in the ’60s from letterpress to offset. And in the last 10 to 15 years, the transformation that we’ve made is offering a complete package of services—still with printing at its core—but what we call collateral management, or print management.”

The shift in offerings has been successful. The company ranked sixth on the most recent RBJ list of commercial printers. Canfield & Tack has 74 employees in Rochester, as well as a handful at an office in Syracuse. In 2015 the company posted gross sales of more than $18 million, roughly on par with 2014 sales.

While final numbers for 2016 were not yet in, Brown expects sales to be roughly equal to that of the last couple of years.

“We are a fully integrated collateral management company. What does that mean? We manage companies’ marketing collateral, typically printed and promotional items seen at point-of-purchase in retail environments,” Brown says.

Canfield & Tack develops web portals for sales representatives and distributors to use to order materials they need to promote their brands and products.

“We also have robust direct-mail and data handling capabilities,” Brown adds. “Offset and digital printing are still at the center of nearly everything that we do.”

A 90-year history

Canfield & Tack was founded by Hubert Canfield and Larry Tack in 1926 as a lithographic printer. Lithography is a method of printing using a chemically etched metal plate and dates to the 18th century.

In 1967, Tack’s son, Daniel, bought the business and began to invest heavily in offset printing, a common form of commercial printing that transfers images from a plate to a rubber blanket, then to the printing surface.

In 1994 Tack chose to step away from the business, but he wanted to keep the company his father helped found intact. He sold Canfield & Tack to its employees through an employee stock ownership plan.

“Dan Tack had been approached by consolidators, people who wanted to buy printing companies all over the country, and he didn’t like the idea of the potential for the plant to be shut down, shrunk, the name to go away or the employees to lose their sense of identity,” Brown says. “We have an outside board of directors and I serve at the pleasure of that board.”

It was the best decision Tack could have made, he says.

“Because we’re an employee-owned company, we really work closely as a management team running the day-to-day operations,” he says. “It’s not a real hierarchical setup.”

At the time of the ESOP, Brown was serving as an account executive, having joined the firm in 1989. In 2005 he was named vice president of digital and marketing and moved into his current role in 2014.

Brown shares responsibility for the company with several individuals, including Gary Cvejic, who serves as chief operating officer; Chris Adams, who is vice president of finance; and Tom Dellas, who heads the former Dellas Graphics Inc. office in Syracuse, which Canfield & Tack acquired in 2012.

“We went through a transition where the three Rochester-based members of the executive management team were all given C-level titles but no president,” Brown says. “And we do still work as a triumvirate.”

Dedication

Canfield & Tack has a low turnover rate, Brown and his fellow leaders say. It is not uncommon for employees to stay at the company for decades.

“I’ll bet the average person is somewhere between 12 and 15 years,” says Cvejic, a 40-year veteran of the company. “Generally, once people start here they’ve stuck around.”

Employees are dedicated and loyal, Brown says.

“We talk a lot about work ethic here. People work long hours when we’re busy, and they come in on short notice, and they put in a lot of time,” he says. “And I don’t hear people complain about it. They want to be here. They want the company to be successful.”

That is one of Canfield & Tack’s greatest strengths, Brown says.

“I think it’s important that we’re employee-owned,” Cvejic adds. “I think we think of ourselves as more of a service organization to customers. Dan Tack used to drill it into our heads years ago: We’re not a printer, we’re a service organization.”

Brown says the company’s success is a result of its people.

“There has always been a sense of family at this company, and employee ownership has helped to maintain that sentiment,” he says. “For us, it means that everyone is engaged in getting things right, from the color accuracy of a printed piece, to on-time delivery, right down to labeling, distribution and shipping requirements.”

And while other printers may offer similar quality or price points as Canfield & Tack, Cvejic says the company and its staff are more consistent, reliable and customer-focused. In a highly competitive industry, that is what makes the difference.

“You have to have something to separate yourself,” Cvejic says. “I think equipment and technology have put us all on a level playing field. That’s why we’ve branched out over the years.”

Canfield & Tack vice president Adams says the company’s ancillary offerings are what make it stand out

from the competition.

“You can’t sell on quality anymore,” he says. “I think it’s the wide range of products we offer, whether it be digital printing or in-house bindery, our mailing capabilities, our warehouse, distribution and fulfillment.”

Investing in the future

In recent years, printers have invested heavily in technology; Canfield & Tack is no different.

“Our digital equipment, we just updated everything last year,” Brown says. “I never thought we would have been talking about software investments; a couple hundred thousand dollars last year just in software investments. Probably at least that much again this year.”

Canfield & Tack has branched out and now builds business-to-business websites for its clients, while offering a full range of collateral management.

“It’s a part of the business and, for us, it’s the largest growth area,” Brown says. “Although printing’s in the background, a lot of the work that’s up front and goes on every day is electronic ordering-related and the logistics of that. It’s a whole other skill set for us to concentrate on.”

Within the general commercial printing space, it is dog-eat-dog, Brown says, with thin margins. Canfield & Tack’s collateral management program differentiates it from others in the industry. The company has a complete, end-to-end service, from being able to develop a website to producing and delivering the pieces.

The company also has seen a resurgence in direct mail. Research shows printed materials stay with a customer longer than an online ad, Brown says.

Adams, who joined Canfield & Tack six months ago, said his outlook for the company is good.

“(We’re) looking for different opportunities out there with new customers or existing customers, not just print,” he says. “I’m forecasting an increase next year over this year.”

He sees pockets of growth within the company, particularly in its warehousing and fulfillment and its mailing capabilities. Canfield & Tack’s office and production operations are located at its facility on Exchange Street, while warehousing is done from a building at Eastman Business Park.

“We’re increasing our offerings, going to full-service mail, so becoming a bigger player within that space,” Adams says. “With it I think that will bring more print and other revenues.”

Some of the company’s biggest accounts are within the alcohol and beverage industry, and Canfield & Tack has been able to successfully target individual wineries through its portfolio of past work, Adams says. The company plans to do the same thing for the financial and medical industries.

Brown says short-term goals include increasing the firm’s direct mail and other data handling, manipulation and interpretation of clients’ data. Consolidating the company’s two Rochester locations also is on the horizon, and company leaders have met with city and Monroe County officials to discuss that possibility.

Challenges ahead

The biggest challenge Brown sees within the organization has been changing the way it approaches the work it does.

“Is there a better or more efficient way to do things? Can we reduce the number of steps? Can something be automated?” he asks. “We have to be continually asking these questions and changing accordingly.”

Maintaining the relevance and the power of print as a communication vehicle has been one of the toughest industry challenges, Brown says.

“Everyone spoke of the paperless office and how email would make printing and direct mail irrelevant,” he says. “Clearly the internet and digital publishing have affected our industry dramatically, however, print still has very high retention and response rates. Print still has validity and relevance and should always be considered as a viable medium for nearly any promotion.”

Adds Adams: “It’s the move toward digitalization. So, if you’re not reinventing yourself and looking for different revenue streams, you’re not going to survive. You can only downsize so much until you’re not a viable entity anymore.”

Fifteen years ago, Canfield & Tack would have been heavily involved in printing annual reports, Cvejic says.

“Companies don’t do that anymore. A lot of that technology has changed,” he says. “I think one of the things that helped us survive as a company is the diversity of what we offer. I think the days of a standalone printing company, that’s all you offer, are long gone.”

Canfield & Tack’s management team has become accustomed to overcoming adversity and the challenges the industry faces. Brown says, despite those issues, his job is rewarding and exciting.

“I love interacting with people, whether it’s employees or vendors or customers,” he says. “That’s what gets me going every

day, and that’s my favorite part of the job.”

Off the job

Brown was born in Providence, R.I., but raised in Rochester. He and his wife, Leslie, have a 23-year-old son, Spencer, and a 21-year-old daughter, Mirin. The Browns live in Mendon.

In addition to raising chickens, the couple has a miniature horse they rescued from Lollypop Farm, as well as a goat named Sheila that came from Seneca Park Zoo.

“She was getting beat up by her brothers at the zoo and we wanted a companion for the mini so it worked out perfect,” Brown says.

Brown is involved in community organizations, including the zoo’s marketing and strategic planning committees, as a past board member of Rochester City Ballet and a member and past president of the Pittsford Central Schools board of education.

It was there that he met Mary Alice Price, the now retired Pittsford school superintendent. After 15 years of working together, Price and Brown have mutual admiration for each other.

“She’s a great leader and I’ve clearly stolen a lot of things from her,” Brown says. “The time I’ve spent with her professionally has been very valuable.”

For her part, Price calls Brown warm, engaging and attentive. He is a good listener and speaker and is bright and thoughtful, she says.

Brown’s family is most important to him, Price says, but she notes the importance of integrity and doing the right things for people, particularly in business.

“He’s able to engage with people from all different walks of life with all different perspectives,” Price says. “And he’s always looking for ways to improve the company and do the right things for customers but at the same time do the right thing for employees.”

She also points to the importance of his civic responsibilities.

“He has a job that could take up all of his time, yet he devotes time to charities or serving on the board of education,” Price says. “That idea that he’s committed to others and he’s going to do the best job he can in those roles, I think is integral to who he is.”

Ray Brown

Position: President and CEO, Canfield & Tack Inc.

Age: 52

Education: B.S., biology, 1986, Denison University in Ohio

Family: Wife, Leslie; son, Spencer, 23; daughter, Mirin, 21

Home: Mendon

Pastimes: Family, charitable organizations, raising chickens

Quote: “Because we’re an employee-owned company, we really work closely as a management team running the day-to-day operations. It’s not a real hierarchical setup.”

2/10/2017 (c) 2017 Rochester Business Journal. To obtain permission to reprint this article, call 585-546-8303 or email rbj@rbj.net.

 

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