On April 15, 2009, the EPI Companies closed their doors after 40 years of business in Marietta, Georgia, not far from Atlanta.
Founded in 1969 as Executive Printing by the late William F. Woods, Sr., the company reached a peak of $53.5 million in annual sales with a staff of 275 full-time employees by Spring 2007. A current LinkedIn profile for the EPI Companies reports 215 employees.
Dropping printing from its name in 2003, the company positioned itself as a “diversified marketing support services provider” and expanded to offer value-added services such as mailing, fulfillment, warehousing and logistics, Web-based ordering, creative services, and promotional products.
By July of 2006, the company, which had grown to occupy 6 buildings, moved into a new 266,000 square foot location in Marietta and a 127,000 square foot space in Chatsworth, Georgia.
At the time of the move, Bill Woods, told the Atlanta Business Chronicle, “We firmly expect to be a $100 million player over the next several years,” as he forecast 20% growth for 2006.
Family-Run Until 2008
William F. (Bill) Woods, Jr., the last family member to manage EPI Companies, grew up a printer. While he didn’t begin his career in the mail room (per Hollywood), he did run printing equipment at the tender age of 12.
In 1981, he was named president and in 1993, Woods became CEO. Woods is a past Chairman of the Printing Industry Association of Georgia, a 2001 inductee into NAPL's Walter E. Soderstrom Society, and a member of the NAPL Management Plus Society.
Cindy Woods, Bill’s wife, listed in her LinkedIn Profile that she had served as senior vice president and CMO, from August 1992 until November 2008. She had been featured widely in Heidelberg print ads.
Acquired by LINX Partners, a private equity firm, EPI Companies was listed as one of their portfolio companies as late as March 30, 2009.
Upon Woods’ departure, former Heidelberg executive Bill Blair, moved from COO to CEO and lead the company at the time of its closure.
Not a man to speak ill of anyone, Bill Woods commented in an email to WhatTheyThink: “There were a great many bright, dedicated and loyal people with the company, and they will pollinate many fine companies around Atlanta and elsewhere and make them all better companies.”
What took the EPI Companies down?
Was it trying to be all things to all people? The company offered everything from sheetfed offset to digital color and B&W printing to wide format imaging. Add promotional items to the mix and you have a pretty long stretch.
Reaching up and down the supply chain, EPI had a staff of full-time graphic designers, and promised full “concept to design” including digital photography and copywriting.
On the other end of the supply chain, EPI’s logistics, mailing, and distribution services included fulfilling tire samples and housing 1000s of photo props for a home improvement chain.
Was it the inability of the company to execute a more “mature” management philosophy required by an equity owner after having operated under an entrepreneurial management style for decades?
Was it simply the result of a shrinking economy, tight finances, and the current recession?
Or could it have been a combination of all three? Until the final analysis, that question is still open.
By Michael J on May 06, 2009
They say that the essence of strategy is knowing what not to do. Of course this kind of awful event needs many factors to line up. The good news is that the many fine people will find new places to use their experience.
Having said that, my take is that it's a focus problem exacerbated by so much blabla noise that the signal couldn't get through.
In my not so humble opinion, the sign of something really wrong was in 2003, " when the company positioned itself as a 'diversified marketing support services provider' ".
Positioning is marketing blabla not to mention diversified support services provider. Printer who does anything else that needs to be done is pretty clear.
By Larry Erwin on May 07, 2009
EPI's demise can be blamed on the economy. Why not? That's easy to do. As a vendor partner and friend to this company for years, I saw the 'downfall coming' BERORE the economy was a factor.
A mentor once told me, "Do ONE thing, do it BETTER than anybody else and do MORE of it."
The demise of FPI was 'diversification'. The name change from EXECUTIVE PRINTING to EPI COMPANIES implies a problem. When you try to position yourself with EVERYONE you wind up with a 'vanilla' product and a position with nobody. The biggest oxymoron in life is: FOCUS ON EVERYTHING. EPI lost their focus and their business.
By Cindy Woods on May 07, 2009
The EPI Companies was a very healthy and extremely successful company with a strategic vision and mission that every employee could articulate, understood and unconditionally and excitedly supported. Our customers were also very aware of our company direction throughout the many years of change and growth that EPI experienced. Our model of diversified offerings was developed over the course of 4 years and as part of the corporate strategic planning process. Through the orchestrated efforts and committment of the talented people we had on board, many customers were able to understand and utilize this model of a "single touch point" for multiple marketing needs very successfully for their organizations. When executed properly, the use of one service area would undoubtedly lead to an opportunity in another area and our customers saw great value in our model.
Marketing of this model did not create the success of the company, it was the pure fact that the model worked for the customers. And the proof was in the double-digit growth the company experienced for 6 years running, prior to the sale of the company in August 2005 to the private equity group, and prior to the replacement of leadership in January 2008. An interesting question might be: if a company was built on an agressive, robust, planned and successful business model, why would you make major strategic changes and then wonder "what happened?"
Every decision and direction EPI made and took was always about the employees and the customers, we took care of the employees, the employees took great care of the customers and thus the company took care of itself.
When the leadership of a company changes, and the vision and direction is changed and not commnunicated and understood throughout the company or the audience it serves, this can quickly become the beginning of the end.
The strength of EPI was in it's leadership and the leadership team that led it. It was, in fact, a company that was mature and had already accomplished becoming a successful model of a "marketing services provider" prior to that model becoming so commonplace, as is the case today. The company was poised to survive an economic downturn, loss of a large client, or any other situation that it may have been faced with, and there was a solid strategic plan that never saw the light of day over the last 18 months. This is a testament and could serve as a great case study as to the power of a strategic plan, having the right people in the right positions, a sense of urgency and willingness to change, but above all... leadership, integrity, and honesty.
At the end of the day, without the backbone and heartbeat of the company (visionary leadership and committed, informed employees to that leadership) the company faced its ultimate battle, and lost.
Now, we all take what we learned, and every person who served there will enhance the organizations they join.
God Bless America, and our industry; and stand tall and stay strong.
By Alan Roberts on May 07, 2009
While I did not know of the company personally, it will be intersting if someone could write a Harvard Business Review case as to what transpired for others to follow. Speaking from personal experience, if you can't clearly measure profitability from new lines of business, you are in serious risk. Simply put, you can't add a lot of bells and whistles and expect to only make your profitability out of the ink on paper where most printers live in their comfort zone relative to establishing pricing strategies and fully understanding their costs.
By PGN on May 07, 2009
Looks like we have our first case of what will happen if we all try to become "Marketing Service Providers". Specialization, not generalization is critical in this day and age.
Outsourcing is not a bad thing.
By William F. Woods, Jr. on May 07, 2009
Gail seems to liken entrepreneurial ownership with a "gunslinger" type of mentality as opposed to her suggestion that private equity owners would require a "more mature management philosophy". I beg to differ.
At the time of my sale of the company in 2005, EPI had a robust financial and MIS infrastructure. Monthly management meetings by the 15th every month with a complete financial package. Profitable. Growing. Differentiated in the marketplace. More importantly, we had a strategic vision and game plan, great people, and, combined with whatever history deems my leadership abilities to have been, a common sense of purpose throughout the organization. I challenge anyone to tell me why private equity would want anything else?
Our mission (prior to ownership changing hands) was to be our particular niche of customers' single touchpoint for dissemination of their marketing message. This led to our assembling many services around our print platform. We were "print-centric". It worked beautifully.
I won't comment on the later leadership or ownership. I will say that I left the company in January 2008 and its board of directors soon after that. Having had decades of involvement with NAPL, I was thrilled to join their team last year. I work with printers who value or desire a strategic approach to their business. In good times, this philosophy helped EPI grow faster than our competition. In times like these, you either have a strategic vision and game plan or you shut your doors.
By Gail NIckel-Kailing on May 07, 2009
Actually I do think of entrepreneurial leadership as more willing to be adventurous, to take risks, to try new things - so if that is "wild west" thinking, maybe so... I also see the "mature" management style of most equity partners as careful, conservative, more willing to put short term profit before long term development.
I put the word "mature" in quotes because I think the concept of maturity is better equated to slowness of thinking and bureaucracy in those circumstances. Not something a company that has to be light on its feet wants to take on.
Frankly, I'm really sorry to see the company you and your family built with blood, sweat and tears go away.
All the best,
By David Pitts on May 07, 2009
As someone familiar with EPI over several years I disagree with those that think that diversification of services caused the company to lose focus. Quite the opposite.
I had the good fortune to be in a Peer Group with Bill and he spoke frankly about what he was doing at EPI, and I can assure you he was not trying to be all things to all people.
I think Bill Woods and his team exemplified the kind of strategic focus that most printing companies should adopt. While they provided many services, they became more rather than less selective in the sales process. They sought customers for whom they could provide real value, and they succeeded. Their significant growth speaks for the results.
Sadly, EPI's demise was caused by a myriad of factors and circumstances including the economy, loss of a huge customer and not least the staggering debt load that a private equity company created when doing the deal.
I think Bill is one of the visionary thinkers in our industry, and it was not his thinking that eventually doomed EPI, unless it was his significant success that attracted investors that thought no amount of debt was too much for a printing company.
By Michael J on May 07, 2009
Bill and Cindy,
Thank you for weighing in. Looking at it from the outside with no personal knowledge and hating the "marketing service provider" meme, I jumped to the wrong conclusion.
From what I hear the story is much simpler. It's the same story we are hearing all over the place.
Too much debt without an accurate analysis of whether that debt can be supported when there is a business downturn.
It's also a story about how family owned and grown printing companies are the real source of value of this wonderful business we are all in.
The issue is not about taking risks. The real issue is about taking care of your people. We've seen how the globals behave when it comes to taking care of their people. It's not very pretty. Nobody's fault. Just a different DNA.
By RJL on May 07, 2009
The real crusher was the debt put on the company . Have the Woods declared publicly how much they received for the sale of the company. Unless they had many stock holders they were likely the main beneficiaries of the sale. They cannot escape some of the blame unless an ESOP was in place.
By S. Swann on May 07, 2009
There is most likely no one thing that caused EPI to close. But, as a production worker there for almost 11 years, I feel I have a different perspective. Yes, I was there the final day. We had about a 2 hour notice of a meeting, at which we heard we were closing our doors, effective immediately. The "well-cared for" employees were given no severance packages, not even offered our earned vacation and personal leave time.
The company completely changed the moment it was bought by Linx Partners. Not to blame them, they just did what they are in business to do. At that time we just became numbers, profits or losses, and ceased to become human beings. We were demanded to work 6 or 7 days a week for 12 hours or more. I worked in pre-press, and we were a great combination of talents and personalities. We made the best of the situation and did what was asked of us. Then, within six months we were being chastised to working any overtime at all. We were given no thanks for getting the company through the transition from the merger. As far as I know, no one in pre-press received raises for probably the last 4-5 years. Through all of this, in all production departments, you could just look around and see the morale dropping day by day. As things got worse, it seemed the production people were blamed for the lack of work. We were told we should be grateful to have jobs (which, I believe we all were), we had highly skilled technicians doing kit-packing when work was slow. And, again, we made the best of the situation.
I definitely believe there were management problems. We had a lot of people "in charge", but no one really leading. I admit, I am, always have been, and will always be a production worker. I don't have a marketing degree, or a business degree. I'm just calling it from where I was sitting.
I will remember EPI as it was when it was Executive Printing, a family business, where we all felt we were part of the family. The last three years or so, I think I will just try to forget.
By Jeff R on May 07, 2009
Well said, S. Swann. Having also worked in Prepress for 10 years I saw many of the same things. Once Linx Partners got involved, the "family" atmosphere at EPI was completely gone. We were at the mercy of the bean counters. To me the problem was pretty simple: EPI acquired an extraordinary amount of debt and began to lose customers as the economy worsened. When you spend more than you bring in, it's tough to stay in business.
By Michael J on May 08, 2009
Thanks for taking the time to share.
The same thing is being played out many places in our industry and the whole economy. It's always the same story.
Management being too busy being busy to focus on doing the job they are paid to do. Then comes blablabla economy blablaba competition blablabla immigrants blablablab Washington blablbla Internet blablabla Print is Dead blablabla.
When it's family run human caring usually keeps the better companies focused enough to keep on keeping on. . But once the bean counters come in its about ROI blablablabla. Notice it's not about the fact that they made stupid decisions about taking on debt.
Meanwhile they destroy exactly what created the value in the first place.
By OU812 on May 13, 2009
I think is fair to them after what the did to us in Chatsworth. They didn't mention 2/3 of their earnings where from us, By the way it happened to us the same way. We were growing and they wanted to move things to Marietta to be the big shots and 58 of us where out of a job just as fast as you guys. I like Karma, they destroyed a lot of lives here in a matter of minutes, it was time for them to get their pay back!
By John Garland on May 13, 2009
The poor leadership by the "Heidelberg executive" who took over the reins as the CEO was THE major contributing factor in the demise of EPI.
By Michael J on May 13, 2009
Assuming you're right, it's that leadership DNA thing. Amazing what a good leadership team can do. Amazing what a leadership team who doesn't get it can break.
By OU812 on May 13, 2009
Oh did I mention, in a meeting in 2006 The great Bill made a statement in a production meeting that he likes to take something that is going good and break it apart and rebuild it and make it better, WELL guess what BILL you DID IT!!!!!!!!!!!!
By Michael J on May 14, 2009
except for the making it better part, I guess.
By Doug Aucoin on May 14, 2009
One word sums up the problem: "mismanagement"
The economy was not diving in 2006. A very viable part of EPI was dismantled and sold or moved to Marietta from Chatsworth (more than half of EPI's growth came from the merger of DPI (Chatsworth) and EPI.
The first management error was at Linx Partners for letting the merger happen.
The rape, pillaging and plunder that followed by EPI management was atrocious. Facilites were shut down and equipment moved,sold or thrown in dumpsters in Chatsworth. Nearly 100 jobs were lost in Chatsworth and the customer base was destroyed by overpricing, poor quality and lack of regional customer service.
The total rupture of EPI had to follow. I feel for the people in Marietta that lost their jobs but, they should have seen the handwriting on the wall.
By Mark H on May 14, 2009
I was one of the first round of people to lose their jobs in Chatsworth along with 58 others, The Idea was to move all printing down to Marietta close us down and take the customer base also, but as they came to find out they (EPI) were not as skilled as they thought in the market we were in (Chatsworth "Colonial Printing" DPI) and were unable to do what we were capable of doing. It is no wonder they went out of business the economy WAS NOT in trouble when the company started its trouble it was EGO that was the demise of the company! The attitude of everyone in Marietta (management) when we went down there was how great they were and you were lucky that they print for you. I was at Colonial / DPI / EPI for 11 years, that was almost 3 years ago I knew it was a matter of time before they closed you can't do business as they did and stay in business.
By Melanie Allen on May 14, 2009
I was one of the employees from the Chatsworth facility. I was one of the fortunate few that retained my position until close to the time they closed the operation completely. I must say that the management was very helpful during a very difficult time with my family during Hurricane Katrina. I would first like to send my thanks and also condolences on the closing of the company.
Many of the earlier posts echo some of my opinions but there is one observation I felt was key in the demise for Chatsworth and very possibly Kennesaw.
I can only speak from the Chatsworth point of view. The most accurate phrase to convey the way I saw things is "Smoke and Mirrors". The emphasis was more on the company image. It was more important to appear in a certain light to prospective customers rather than focusing on their needs and the product we provided. The market in our area is very specialized and the customers expect things to be done a certain way. I was always told the number one thing to remember in customer service is the customer is always right. It's my feeling that the customer's feelings were set aside. Rather than changing to fit the customers' needs the customers were put in a position to change their ways. The customers were not happy and took their business to more accommodating vendors. This was only one in a series of events to lead to this unfortunate failure. It’s pretty simple. If the customer isn’t happy with the product and service you provide they will find someone that will satisfy their needs. As for the mention of the economy it is an unfortunate time for many however it’s my opinion that these problems started long before the economic downturn.
Thank you for taking the time to read my post and I wish the best for those looking for employment during this difficult time.
By Michael J on May 16, 2009
Thank you for taking the time to post. Your common sense message is a very valuable observation for our industry. And very well said to boot.
"The most accurate phrase to convey the way I saw things is “Smoke and Mirrors”. The emphasis was more on the company image. It was more important to appear in a certain light to prospective customers rather than focusing on their needs and the product we provided."
My bet is that divider between the winners and the losers is exactly this point. Princeton University Press published a book by Prof. Henry Frankfort, a well respected philosopher, that take 100 pages to say pretty much what you said in a couple of sentences. The title of the book is "On Bullshit."
By lynn steelman on May 16, 2009
I was one of the oldest employee's at colonial printing when the linx investment bought it. At least for the first six months it was business as usual with no changes which gave us false hope that for the most part every thing would remain the same.Colonial printing was a family owned business with high Godly values and a concern for there employee's a company that would share there profits with there employee's and knew them buy name. The colonial family was well respected in the business world and also by there employee's and had built a great company to work for.When I was asked where I worked at I was always proud to say I worked at Colonial Printing and that was the way every body that worked at Colonial felt.I knew this family well enough to know if they had known the end results they would have booted Linx out the door when they showed up with money in hand.After a short period of time the changes began to surface and they were all for the worse. Linx family had named a new ceo of the company that would eventually send the company into a spiral down ward. A company that had steady growth over a period of several years. That man cared noting about the people nor the company he was employed by, all he ever did was collect his payroll check and laugh at linx all the way to the bank. This was the beginning of the end for Colonial or at that time EPI.We went from a company that cared and shared to a company that cared for nothing but numbers and self gain.We went from a company that would listen to and respected the employee's opinion to a company that listen only to the few band of fools they put in charge.Linx when you buy a company from now on look beyond the dollar and look at the peoples lives and there familys and there hopes and dreams and there hard work that has made that company a thriving company when you buy it and I promise you will reap much greater rewards than a company like EPI and DPI that so many people counted on for there lively hood left in ruins. L.S.
By binderychuck on Jun 10, 2009
First off, I hope all those that lost their jobs the best of luck finding another job. I predicted the closing of EPI the day Home Depot decided to close the Expo stores. I said we'd be out of business by March 31st. The company survived 15 more days than I predicted. I used all of my vacation in the first 3 months of 2009 because I knew it would be over sooner rather than later. After the Woods' left EPI it was a horrible place to work. The executive staff with Bill Blair, Mickey Gulley, Andy McClure and the so called CFO Dave Gadecki have to be a group of the most unknowledgeable people in the industry. One of Gadecki's brilliant ideas was they had us turn off lights in production areas when there was no work to save money. That's coming from so called executives. Hell my mother taught me to turn off lights when I was a kid. EPI/Linx Partners did break the federal laws by closing without giving proper notice. They knew they were doomed in January 2009 but chose to do the executive thing which is to screw everyone else. then put in the letter of closing that they were actively seeking capital blah blah. A nice loophole put in their by some politician that makes the law useless to the everyday worker. I know Mickey Gulley applied for a new job with a local company on April 7th, 2009, a week before the "official" closing. It was a soap opera in that place: who's screwing who? who's trying to get who fired? who can do a better job than who? When EPI didn't contract Mohawk for their work, that was the first nail in the coffin. Over spending, not forcing the sales people to sell beyond their comfort levels was another nail in the coffin. Bill Blair couldn't run a laundry mat without screwing it all up. They laid off so many good workers but kept the same amount of overpaid and stupid execs, even though they said at one point "we're at 2004 sales levels, so our employees will be cut to 2004 levels" I remember in 2004 there were only 2 real execs: Bill Woods and Mickey. Cindy could have been #3. So why did EPI have 5 execs when it closed down? All in all it was a mismanaged mess with idiots trying to do something without communicating with each other.
By Michael J on Jun 10, 2009
Sounds alot like General Motors to me.
Just more executives running around being busy being busy and then blaming the economy blablaba and the union blablabla and the customer blabla and of course the best of all "It's the End of Print" blablablabla
Blaming everything and everyone else but themselves.
By TMS on Jun 12, 2009
I was hired on at EPI a little over 3 years ago. I started on the press and worked my way into the warehouse later. In the beginning I was told they never had a layoff. I witnessed 4 of them. A lot of good people were gone while some of the people I considered unreliable were kept til the end. I'm really sad that it came to an end. I learned a lot more about people and the printing business in those 3 years than I did at my previous printing job which I had worked 15 years for. It makes me sad and frustrated when I found out Bill B and Dave G got their money in the end while I didn't even get my personal time and vacation pay. I figured the employees would not receive their PT and VP pay but it would have been a nice gesture. I had gotten to know Bill B. and Dave G. a lot more when I moved to the warehouse and thought I was in good hands. I agree it was a very negative atmosphere for the last year but I felt we would overcome and tried to remain positive. The worse thing I ever saw was the day Cindy Woods collected her things in the warehouse and noticed Bill Woods was with her. They packed everything in a U haul and were gone after saying their goodbyes in the warehouse. It made me sad to think that two of the most important people in EPI's history were gone and shown the door like that. I'll miss EPI and the people I got to know there. I don't think I'll ever find another work enviroment like that again. I agree that their were many reasons for the closing of it's doors but to point the finger at one person or event would not be right. Good luck to everyone who is still job searching like me.
By Dennis Cole on Jun 13, 2009
To all who think they know,
First and foremost, I hate to see any printing company close down. It's bad for the industry, which in turn, is bad for those who man it, blue collar as well as white. Having said that I will also state that I wish everyone well that is actively seeking and searching for work.
I began my offset printing career loading paper when I was 19 years old for Mickey Gulley (Executive Printing) and returned to EPI in 04' (approved by Mickey Gulley) and was one of those who felt that they helped to "Take it to the next level" as the company continued to grow. I remember coming back in in 04 and there were signs all over the place stating "20 million in 05'". I was in fact PROUD to be a part of it. EPI was were I started and was in fact "My Home". I am saddened to know that it will not be there for me to visit in the future.
Now, for those of you who chose to sit around with your chip on your shoulders and sulk. Each and everyone of you are grownups and no one is responsible for your choices but YOU. We each would get out of EPI as much as we put into it and if anyone failed to see that return it is due only to your personal lack of investment in not only EPI as a company, but yourselves as well.
I am a high school dropout with a GED and worked my rear off and I'll tell each and everyone of you, what I did, what I contributed, what I gained, I did for me. It was a choice. It was ethic. It was because I, personally, chose to give all that I had to the success of the company I worked for and it in turn paved the road for my success. Cindy is so correct in her statements about give and take and everything that Bill did was to protect what his father had worked so hard to build which in turn protected each and everyone of us. By the way Bill was smart enough to know this.
To all those opinions out there I say, each and everyone of you have your own measure of success. I respect that. But your lack of ownership in what you contributed to the end of days is appalling. I walk away from what was EPI with a mentality that I would have gotten nowhere else. A sense of self worth and purpose. The knowledge I have received from the aformentioned individuals is invaluable (good as well as bad). And my heart is saddened to know that this day has come.
I am glad to know that Bill is out there, spreading that mentality to others. It is through you Bill, that the spirit of EPI shall spread and propagate to many others for years to come. May each and everyone of you know, I will do my part, to share what I have gained to others. What you give and take from this industry, this world, is your own personal choice. Employees, vendors, competition, we are all one in the same.
Dennis J. Cole
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