Growth For The Future: Quality Printing
April 2, 2015
By Stanley Schwartz
Recently, a group of Minnesota newspapers made the decision to expand their central printing plant, and they did it with an eye toward the future of print newspapers.
Back in the late 1960s, when offset printing was replacing hot metal, a group of five Minnesota publishers decided to pool their resources and start a central printing plant.
Reed Anfinson, publisher of the Swift County Monitor in Benson, MN, said, his father and four other publishers wanted the new offset printing technology but knew they could not afford it on their own. They created Quinco Press, centralizing their print operations and starting them on a growth path that has led to a major expansion of the company’s Lowry, MN, plant.
“I got involved in the 1980s,” Anfinson said. “The company gradually grew to 13 owners. But one of the papers that had been part of the owners group was recently sold, and now the print company is owned by 12 publishers.
Currently, the plant, operating with just one shift a day, prints more than 30 publications. Most of them are weeklies, with a few monthly and specialty publications thrown in.
John Stone, the plant’s business manager, had at one time been a part owner of the printing operation when he owned two weekly newspapers nearby.
“I sold my papers and retired in 2005,” he said, but he was later asked to come back and be Quinco’s plant manager by the other owners. He returned to duty and managed the plant for five years before semi-retiring, becoming the part-time business manager for the company in 2010, overseeing the new plant manager.
“Even if we lost all our non-owner business,” Anfinson said, “we would still be profitable with just the owners’ newspapers.”
“At least 75 percent of our business is from the owners,” Stone added. “There may be 12 owners, but that represents more than 12 newspapers.”
Looking to the future of print
In order to keep the business it had—and possibly expand at some point—the owners decided to make improvements to the printing operation, said Anfinson, who is a past president of the National Newspaper Association.
“We could have continued going the way we were, without debt for as long as we could,” he said. “Or we could invest in the future of newspapers. We believe in our newspapers and wanted to give some value in this business to the next generation of owners.”
The only way to do that, he added, was to invest in expanding the printing plant, providing more and better quality color for the newspapers. There was a lot of demand for more color, and to avoid losing business to printing plants that could provide that color capacity, the shareholders decided on expansion.
About two years ago, Stone said, they started researching what type of press would fit the bill. They went to similar sized printing operations and checked what type of equipment was being used.
Even though Quinco was running a 14-unit Harris press, Stone said they decided on buying a used Goss press with three, four-high towers. The reasoning came down to maintenance. He noted that there were more Goss presses in operation in the state and it would be easier to find someone who could repair one, should the need arise.
The press was installed last fall, and Stone said it is currently operating at about 80 percent capacity. Most of the weeklies range in circulation from just 500 to about 3,000. The common section publication has a print run of about 29,000.
The Goss can print 12 broadsheet pages in color or 24 tab pages. Anything larger, Stone said, and they have to do it in two sections and insert them.
The town of Lowry has a population of 276. The plant employs 24, but only eight are full time. That is the same number of employees from before the plant expansion. Stone said that’s because the number of customers had not changed, and they still only needed one shift operating the presses. Most of the part-time people are retired guys who do the deliveries.
The plant offers a full-service printing and mailing operation.
“We do it all,” Stone said.
Anfinson added that they deliver to newspapers up to 50 miles away. Quinco also does labeling and will deliver papers to the post office for customers.
A lot of our customers used to have their own drivers, Stone added, but that meant taking someone like a reporter away from his regular job and have him pick up the papers.
Now, Anfinson said, the newspapers just e-mail the PDFs to us, and we deliver the finished product back to them. They don’t have to own a van or incur the insurance costs. “We charge them for the delivery, but it’s more cost effective for them.”
“We will even deliver to newsstands,” Stone added, “and collect the revenue from Casey’s stores—whatever they want us to do.”