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Commentary & Analysis

“Then the Bottom Just Dropped Out”: A Glimpse at a Printer’s Ordeal

This unusual letter from a printer speaks volumes about what happened to the industry as a whole during the Great Recession.

By Guest Contributor
Published: June 25, 2013

By Joe Cavey

Editor’s note: WhatTheyThink is publishing this unusual letter because it says so much about what the industry as a whole has gone through over the last five years. We will follow up with the writer after the planned relocation of his company to develop a detailed report on his quest to reestablish the business. In the meantime, your comments are welcome. 

I was alone as usual, waiting for my wife to fall asleep so she wouldn’t again see the concern in my eyes. I was sitting outside, kind of a chilly night, another cigarette, another cup of coffee, and another night of pacing with apprehension—when I came across the article, ”M&A Mythbusting: Just How Good an Investment Is a General Commercial Printing Business?”

I must admit that reading the article chipped away a little of the apprehension and anxiety I’ve had over my life’s chosen career. Actually, I don’t see it as a career—I see it as a blessing, a “gift,” as I often hear myself saying as I speak to others. I believe that as entrepreneurs we have something special inside, something that is handed out to only a few. I’ve never actually seen myself as a businessman per se. I actually believed I was blessed, able to do something I love every day and actually get paid for doing it: the American dream come true. 

We are in our 30th year. I started in the basement of my home after operating presses for what turned out later to be my competition. All was going extremely well those first 20 years, with 20% increases in revenue every year ending at $9.5 million in sales in 2008. Then the bottom just dropped out, along with my spirit and self-respect. Gone was that special gift that I truly believed was bequeathed to me…a fiery, remarkable passion. 

I find myself in such disarray, in such unfamiliar territory and so much alone. The article did give me some hope, hope that if someone out there still thinks we are worth something…then we must be?

I am moving my company to a new location on July 1. Why? Because I believe that my employees—the people who have stayed the course through the pay cuts, the tears, and the fears—deserve a fresh start in a newer, downsized location.

I will pour the last of my money, my heart, soul, and everything I am into this move. Perhaps it will be my last “hurrah” that only the Almighty knows for sure.

The article, its declaration, has somehow given me another breath. I’ll take it. 

I want to thank you for your words. 


Joe Cavey, President 
RPM Solutions Group
Baltimore, MD




By Jim Albany on Jun 25, 2013

Joe, I was there, all by myself in 2008. I ended up closing down and transferring the business & most of my 25 employees, along with myself, to one of my customers. The promises they had made didn't work out, but for 2 years we were able to be employed and serve my customers. It was enough time for most of my employees to find other jobs and opportunities & I was able to move onto a more sucessful company. I am still in the industry and feel lucky to have survived (physically & emotionally).

Good luck to you, I feel your pains, hopes, & dreams!


By Joel Salus on Jul 02, 2013

Our company (which we sold in Dec 2007) was not in the "printing" business, but in a related "sub-industry", the one known as the "reprographics" industry. Many reprographics firms felt the recession in a very serious way, suffering sales revenue declines ranging from 20% to 40% (some even more than 40%.) And, today, most are not even close the revenue levels they achieved back in 2007 and 2008. Congrats to you, Joe, for keeping your nose to the grindstone and for doing whatever you can to keep your business going. Do your best to operate debt-free (or with a very, very low level of debt). Also, there's almost always a buyer for any company; it's generally a function of what you'll accept. Best wishes on your move to a new location. Good luck.


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