By Frank J. Romano Growing from one level to another requires a focus and investment in technology, sales, and marketing. February 15, 2005 -- We subscribe to a search engine service that reports activity within industry firms. Recently, the following news items popped up on the same day: 1. Type Case, a Fort Worth TX printing company once recognized by Baylor University as an outstanding family-owned business, is closing after 30 years. Computer technology and desktop publishing have taken a toll, said Becky Couch, Type Case's president, who started as a typographer. The company upgraded and changed its equipment many times over the years to meet market needs, but the business has been unprofitable for two years. Five workers will be laid off when the company shuts down; 27 workers were employed at its peak. The company will sell its 5,000-square-foot building and its production equipment, including a 4-color direct-imaging press. 2. Bert-Co says it plans to open a plant that could eventually employ 230 people. With two plants in Los Angeles that print DVD covers and computer game packages, labels, and sales displays, Bert-Co says it plans to spend $12 million to open a third plant in Pulaski, TN. The company says that it will use a 112,000-square-foot building that formerly housed an electronic circuit board manufacturer. The plant will employ 60 people at first, and build its work force to 230 over the next five years. State and local governments are helping with property tax breaks and tax credits when the company buys equipment. Analysis Perhaps there is something to learn in these two news items--one of a printer coming and the other of a printer going. We would all like to know what separates a successful printer from one that is less successful, and I am sure there are consultants out there who will tell you what it is. But, barring one great secret of the universe, like those pills that melt the weight away, it probably involved a number of elements. 1. If what you print can be done with desktop tools and printers, move on or up. If it is simple printing, some users will do it themselves. I have always told my students "If it is easy to do, no one will pay you a lot to do it." The more complicated the task, the greater the value-add and thus the greater the price. 2. The concept of niche marketing has been mentioned endlessly; yet, Bert-Co is an example of howit works. Although the company has a packaging focus, it specializes in DVD and gaming packages--two growth areas. 3. Small printers will have to become larger printers. I met a $5 million printer the other day who told me how his firm was over 100 years old. You would think that the company could have gotten over $5 million in that time. Growing from one level to another requires a focus and investment in technology, sales, and marketing that small printers may not be able to make. 4. Find growth markets rather than thinking of oneself as a general commercial printer. They do a lot of everything and a little of something. I think they will need to do a lot more of something and a little less of everything.