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A Look at the Ink Industry: Ink World's Interview with Rick Clendenning

By David Savastano, Ink World Editor | 04.06.11

The printing ink industry is clearly evolving, and it is interesting to hear the perspective of people who have long been involved in the field. From time to time, Ink World will interview some of the leaders in the field, and present their viewpoints.

Rick Clendenning
This week, we spoke with Rick Clendenning, president and CEO of INX International Ink Company. Mr. Clendenning also serves as president of the National Association of Printing Ink Manufacturers (NAPIM) and is a past president of the International Metal Decorators Association.

Mr. Clendenning began his career in the ink industry in 1971 working as an in-plant while finishing degree work at Cal-State Fullerton, and joined the company full-time in 1973. By 1979, he was named the point person for opening the company’s new metal decorating ink plant in Charlotte, NC. He also served as branch manager and vice president until Acme became part of Sakata INX in 1989, and Mr. Clendenning was promoted to vice president and regional manager, focusing on metal deco. Mr. Clendenning was elected to the Board of Directors, and in 1995, he was promoted to senior vice president in charge of international operations.

In 1996, Mr. Clendenning moved to INX International’s headquarters in 1996 in Chicago, and took on all North American and international responsibilities in 1998. He was named president on INX International Ink Company in 1999.

A longtime supporter of NAPIM, Mr. Clendenning received the NAPIM’s Printing Ink Pioneer Award in 1997, and was honored with the Ault Award, NAPIM’s most prestigious honor, in 2007.

Ink World: How has the ink industry changed in recent years?

Rick Clendenning: How many times have you heard someone say, ‘Remember years ago when things were a lot easier – whatever happened to those days?’ Well, they were right. The industry has changed in a lot of ways and is putting more pressure and demands on everyone.

I have seen a lot since I started in 1971. One change that affects us all the time is the size and scope of companies. Consolidations on the customer side that lead to larger companies with more buying power; dealing with suppliers that are large enough in size and footprint to service and compete on a national or international level. Ink industry consolidation also affects us ink makers. Consolidation of ink companies can be good at times, but can also make a strong competitor even stronger with more staying and buying power.

Stronger customers often bring greater demands and requirements, many of which are making us better ink companies. At the same time, they can also come at a greater cost because some customers are not always willing to pay the price. For example, the customer in-plant position at ink companies did not exist at many places in the early 1970s, but today it is a way of life and business. I once worked at an in-plant and learned a great deal.

In-plant representatives are inside our customers’ facilities operating a small ink company with virtually all capabilities 24/7. INX representatives are not only knowledgeable with ink making and technical service, but some have become so educated and integrated in the customer’s business that they are valuable assets for both parties. Creating talented people for the industry is a huge advantage as long as we realize this value-added service is a cost and a benefit that somehow needs to be considered in the way a business deal is structured.

Ink World: What are the biggest challenges facing the ink industry?

Rick Clendenning: There are several. Let’s start with there is still too much built-in capacity in the industry. We’re all getting better at what we do by adding modern capacity that makes us more efficient. However, these developments have made the industry become more competitive in difficult times.

Because of the downturn in the economy that began in late 2007/early 2008, ink companies are struggling to keep needed volumes to support their infrastructures as well as develop and secure new business. This is true in all of our product divisions at INX, and especially true in our commercial ink division, where the customer base was hit the hardest by the economy.

Adding to this problem is the unprecedented raw materials shortages and price increases that have affected every segment of our business. This is a dangerous combination for all of us in the industry.

Ink World: How can ink manufacturers best help their customers, whether it is developing new technologies or providing excellent value?

Rick Clendenning: I believe to be successful as a company, you always have to be in front of the pack when it comes to technology advancement. You also have to be strong with value-added services to help customers with their quality and creativity, while controlling the finished cost. This causes problems at times because our company sells ‘added-value services’ in addition to our products, and our customers see them instead as ‘expected value services’ and don’t feel they need to pay for this value.

Ink World: What is your outlook for the ink industry in the coming years?

Rick Clendenning: Although it has been a difficult couple of years for all of us, I feel pretty optimistic about the future. We experienced a pretty solid year of growth and profit in 2010 and have a strong plan in place for this year. A good portion of our sales growth last year was with existing customers, which is proof that the economy is improving and business is heading in the right direction. The only question for 2011 is the raw materials area. If prices increase and available supply does not improve, the degree of difficulty increases tremendously. Let’s hope that doesn’t happen.