How technology saved a company
Tired of an inability to distinguish his company from the competition, Mike Duvall was ready to throw in the towel.
The 59-year-old founder of Harbor Duvall Graphics in Hampden went into the printing industry 20 years ago after about a decade working on the financial end of manufacturing for Black & Decker and other manufacturing companies.
Duvall decided to pursue printing because it was manufacturing-based and service-oriented. He returned to his hometown from Chicago and founded Harbor Duvall Graphics in 1977. However, he soon grew weary of the cut-throat competition in the industry, where everything seemed to hang on price.
"I didn't expect printing to be viewed as a commodity," he said.
The bottom line always lingered over his head. After 20 years in the industry, Mike wanted out. He lacked a solution to make Harbor Duvall stand out from other printers. At the time, his youngest of three daughters was finishing college, and he finally had the flexibility to look for a new career.
"I was looking for a change but couldn't find a way out, printing was all I knew," he said.
But something happened as he prepared to get out of the industry: a technological revolution.
Now, instead of planning an exit strategy, Mike Duvall is expanding his business into the Washington metro area with the acquisition of Bel Jean Printing of Beltsville.
The pace of modern business changed the printing industry. By 2000, customers were no longer buying massive amounts of repeat orders. Such orders -- which include company stationary, letterhead and envelopes -- will stay exactly the same with each purchase.
The pace of business does not wait for letters today, not when e-mail and the Internet offer instant accessibility, Duvall explained. Many of Harbor Duvall's repeat orders were drying up or coming in at a much slower rate.
"Today, people don't order the same thing. Their information is different and new," Duvall said.
In general, the industry pulled away from large repeat orders. Customers wanted smaller orders faster. Many printing companies failed or were swallowed up by large corporations.
Duvall was on the other end of the spectrum. He saw the new push to produce smaller orders faster as an opportunity to create a niche. He said the industry's shift changed his prism and his view was colored differently. He was finally excited about his job.
"In the past, we couldn't offer anything anybody else wasn't offering," Duvall said.
Now Duvall offers specialties in three areas: fast and affordable color printing, total package bundling and the ability to adapt to his customers instead of expecting them to change for him.
In 2003, Harbor Duvall invested in a six-color digital printing press. This press can print high quality, full-color pieces at a competitive price. Harbor Duvall began offering full color short-runs or small orders of manuals, brochures, invitations, books and workbooks at a competitive price.
When asked how technical advancements changed the printing industry as a whole, Dillon Mooney, technical consultant at the Printing Industries of America/Graphic Arts Technical Foundation said, "The companies that didn't adapt or change went out of business."
Duvall credits his employees, more than his own strategy, for the company's continued success. A third of his workers have been with Harbor Duvall for more than a decade.
"Without this staff, I would still be trying to get out of the business," he said.
Instead, an expansion opportunity found him. A mutual acquaintance told Duvall that Jean Belleman, owner of Bel Jean Printing, was ready to retire and looking for a buyer.
Bel Jean's history was similar to Harbor Duvall. Belleman started her company in 1974 after a career with IBM.
"I wasn't looking for an acquisition. My plate was already quite full when it came along," Duvall said as he shook his head. In June, Harbor Duvall Graphics bought Bel Jean Printing. Although Duvall declined to disclose terms of the deal he said the combined companies will take in $5 million in sales this year. Harbor Duvall's estimated revenues were $3.4 million last year.
Duvall said he plans to keep the name Bel Jean Printing in the Beltsville office because it is a proven trademark in the D.C. market. No jobs were lost in the takeover. In fact, the 30-person company is planning to add two outside sales people to the Beltsville office.
As Duvall looks toward the future, he is optimistic that his spin on a tired industry and the commitment of his work force will keep the competitors at bay. He is also researching new technological advances that will continue Harbor Duvall's technical leadership.
Duvall's daughter Ashley joined Harbor Duvall as a sales account executive earlier this year. Mike said, "The first 20 years this was not a business you'd bring your child into, but now there is opportunity that was not here before."