Providing Superior Quality and Value

By David Savastano, Ink World Editor | 09.06.05

Superior Printing Ink prides itself on offering 'Modern Technology, Old Fashioned Service' throughout its storied history.

Back in 1918, Harry G. Kriegel convinced newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst to lease him an unused ink manufactuzring plant in Hoboken, NJ.

While that may seem rather inauspicious, Mr. Kriegel’s acquisition led to the founding of Superior Printing Ink Co., Inc. Today, Superior Printing Ink remains a family-owned operation, growing to sales of more than $75 million in 2000, making it one of the seven largest U.S. ink manufacturers. From its lower Manhattan headquarters, its leaders survey a nationwide operation of more than 25 branches.

Superior Printing Ink has risen to its present status through hard work and timely acquisitions. It is a recipe that its leaders plan to follow for the next generation and beyond, while they examine what Superior Printing Ink needs to do to make further strides in the highly competitive ink industry.

Superior’s Beginnings
Superior Printing Ink was the brainchild of Mr. Kriegel, a successful ink salesman from New Jersey who went into business for himself after a falling out with his employer.

“He was a very good salesman at an ink company in New Jersey,” said Harvey Brice, Superior Printing Ink’s president and a member of the third generation of leadership. “His commission was cut, and he got mad.”

Mr. Kriegel must have been a good salesman, as he was able to work out a deal with Mr. Hearst, a legendary newspaper publisher and businessman.

“Harry was able to go to Mr. Hearst and get a deal,” said Harvey Brice. “No one knows how he did it.”

Superior Printing Ink has been a New York City fixture for nearly 80 years, including more than 50 years at its 295 Lafayette St. location, above, where the company stayed until moving into its 70 Bethune St. headquarters, below, in 1981.

Soon after he took over the Hoboken plant, Mr. Kriegel set up operations in New York City, moving from West 31st Street to West 25th Street, and on to 295 Lafayette Street in 1930. Mr. Kriegel needed to raise funds for his growing operation, and one of the people who invested, Morton E. Kapp, purchased shares in 1930.

Mr. Kapp became a major figure in Superior Printing Ink’s history. He rose to the rank of vice president and ran the company’s finances. He also began Superior Printing Ink’s tradition of leadership within the industry, serving as the National Association of Printing Ink Manufacturers’ (NAPIM) president from 1951-53.

Mr. Kapp also began a tradition of receiving industry honors, earning the prestigious Printing Ink Pioneer Award in 1956.

Upon Mr. Kapp’s death in 1961, Mr. Kriegel became sole owner. Mr. Kriegel then sold his interest in Superior to Nat Rosen, Mr. Kriegel’s son-in-law, who had been the company’s chief chemist. Mr. Rosen then became president. Meanwhile, Joseph M. Simons, Mr. Kapp’s brother-in-law, was named vice president and secretary.

From left, Meyer Mandel, Joseph Simons and Nat Rosen, the second generation of leaders at Superior Printing Ink, began the transformation of the company from a small letterpress ink manufacturer to the major company it is today.

The Second Generation
Mr. Rosen, Mr. Simons and Meyer Mandel, who had been named treasurer, would then form the nucleus of Superior Printing Ink. Prior to 1961, the trio had each been at Superior Printing Ink for more than 25 years, and with Mr. Rosen and Mr. Simons in place, the second generation was well represented.

“Nat Rosen really transformed us,” said Mr. Brice, Mr. Rosen’s son-in-law.

“Joe and Meyer were in the sales end and promoted the business.”

Mr. Rosen would serve as the company’s president for 28 years, stepping down in 1989 to become Superior’s managing director. He retired from Superior Printing Ink in 1997, capping a distinguished 62-year career which included receiving the prestigious Ault Award from NAPIM in 1972. Mr. Rosen and Mr. Simons also joined Mr. Kapp as recipients of NAPIM’s Pioneer Award, in 1966 and 1993, respectively.

A brilliant chemist, Mr. Rosen was the key innovator who led Superior into the then-new field of lithographic inks.

“In the beginning, offset ink was sophisticated letterpress ink,” Mr. Brice said. “Letterpress printers were small entrepreneurial companies, and they could do just about anything on those presses. Some entrepreneurial letterpress printers bought offset presses. It was an exciting time. We were at the right place at the right time.”

To get an idea of Superior’s sales in the early 1960s, letterpress inks comprised 80 percent of the company’s sales, while offset accounted for the other 20 percent. Those numbers would soon be reversed, and letterpress sales are non-existent today. Mr. Rosen’s efforts ensured that Superior Printing Ink would continue to grow.

“His foresight, at a time when most of our competitors were continuing to concentrate their efforts on the old letterpress technology, gave Superior a crucial cutting edge in creating a huge market share in New York,” said Mr. Brice.

The death of Mr. Mandel in 1991, followed by Mr. Simons in 1996 and Mr. Rosen in 2000, signaled the end of the generation that formed Superior.

“It was a great group,” Mr. Brice said of Mr. Rosen, Mr. Simons and Mr. Mandel. “Each was a rare gem in their own way, and they always worked well together. They respected each other for their abilities. It was wonderful to see. There was a cohesion these fellows developed.”

The third and fourth generations of Superior Printing Ink are represented today by, from left, Michael Brice, Jeffrey Simons and Harvey Brice.

The Third Generation
In 1962, Superior Printing Ink was still a $3 million to $4 million company. Mr. Brice would join the company that year as a trainee, and Jeffrey Simons, Mr. Simons’ son, would join in 1964, putting the wheels in place for the third generation to take over.

“Jeff started in 1964, and was instrumental in developing computer systems for the company in its infancy,” Mr. Brice said. “He worked very hard in that area. He did a really good job.”

When the offset market took off in the early 1960s, Superior Printing Ink was ready.

“The timing was there,” Mr. Brice recalled. “We had a new sales staff, and it took hard work and a lot of effort to make it work.”

Part of that effort came in guaranteeing printers that they would get what they needed, regardless of the amount of time and energy it took to get the ink to the customer.

“There was never the word ‘can’t,’” Mr. Brice said. “That’s what made us. There was a tremendous need for service. You never said no. We did impossible things, like calls at 5 p.m. needing ink right then. We wanted them to call us.”

By 1981, Mr. Brice was named the company’s chief operating officer. Today, Mr. Brice is Superior Printing Ink’s president, and Mr. Simons is the company’s CEO.

Today, the next generation of leadership is in place. Michael Brice, Harvey Brice’s son, joined Superior Printing Ink as a trainee in 1985, and like his father, learned all facets of the operation. Today, he is the company’s COO.

“The experiences Mike has gained are tremendous,” Mr. Brice said.

The company also has a top-flight executive committee in place, including Harvey and Michael Brice, Mr. Simons, executive vice president Stan Hittman, and Harold Rubin, senior vice president and CFO.

“We have a tremendous group of people who have made Superior what we are,” Mr. Brice said.

Mr. Brice also followed in his father-in-law’s footsteps by serving with distinction with NAPIM. Mr. Brice was NAPIM’s president from 1991-1993. He received the Printing Ink Pioneer Award in 1987, and earned the Ault Award, the industry’s highest honor, in 1998.

While Superior Printing Ink has grown organically over time and controlled a large portion of the New York metropolitan sheetfed market, its leaders looked to grow both in the metropolitan area and across the nation.

“There are two ways to open a new area,” Mr. Brice said. “You can either open a new branch yourself, or you can acquire a local company with its own infrastructure and people. Most of the people in an area like to deal with local people so it works well. The best way was to keep the owner, who was the entrepreneur.”

In 1964, Superior Printing Ink purchased Graphic Art Ink Company from Seymour Wallenstein, who would join Superior’s sales force and strengthened the company’s position in New York.

The most significant acquisition came in 1971, when Superior Printing Ink added Gotham Ink and Color Company from Samuel and Isabel Kantor. Gotham Ink was a noted flexo and gravure manufacturer, and its two branches in Long Island City, NY and Marlboro, MA gave Superior an increasing presence.

“Gotham is a niche flexo and gravure company that specializes in customized service, color matching and creating inks for different substrates,” Mr. Brice said. “We wanted to expand into another area we had always been interested in, and we realized this was a growing area for packaging.”

In 1992, Gotham Ink moved to a 25,000 square foot plant in Stony Brook, NY.

Outside of New York, Superior started to improve its sales in the mid-1970s through a series of small acquisitions and organic growth. Branch operations were formed in Fort Lauderdale, FL and Charlotte, NC in 1973, and in 1976, Superior Printing Ink purchased Continental Printing Ink Co. in Philadelphia, PA and Graphic Color Inc. in Boston, MA and Hamden, CT.

Other acquisitions soon followed in the 1980s. Baron Industries in Connecticut was acquired in 1982. In 1984, Prescott Ink, Springfield, MA and Century Printing Ink and Consolidated Printers Supply in Atlanta, GA joined the Superior Printing Ink fold.

In 1985, the Brady-Flaherty Ink Company in New England, Warden Printing Ink and Chemical Company in Yonkers, NY and CFC Printing Ink Company, Buffalo, NY were purchased by Superior. Colora Printing Inks in Long Island and J.H. and G.B. Siebold Inc. in New York were bought in 1986. In 1989, Superior opened its Cleveland, OH branch and also purchased the assets of American Offset Printing Ink in Jacksonville, FL.

Superior Printing Ink has also manufactured varnishes since its early days, with the formation of the Quality Varnish Corporation in 1935 in Long Island City, NY. That facility moved to Newark, NJ in 1966, taking over a building previously owned by Lawter Corporation. In 1983, Quality Varnish was sold to Covar Corporation, which remains part of Superior.

By 1990, Superior was branching out to the West Coast, establishing a branch in Gardena, CA near Los Angeles. The acquisition of Spinks-Dryco Ink Company in Sarasota, FL gave the company another Florida site.

Spinks makes ink for smaller presses such as duplicators and smaller offset presses. “We felt it would be a good adjunct to the business,” Mr. Brice said.

Superior Printing Ink bought Rexart Chemical Corporation, Jersey City, NJ in 1992. In 1994 and 1995, Superior Printing Ink made a major initiative in the Midwest. In 1994, it relocated its Chicago operations to a 28,300 square foot facility in Addison, IL, which manufactures inks for Superior and Spinks. In 1995, Superior Printing Ink acquired Americolor, Milwaukee, WI and Midwest Printing Ink, Kalamazoo, MI.

In 2000, Superior acquired Moeller Ink, Cincinnati, OH and Ink Services in Culver City and San Diego, CA.

“The opportunity to find a company for sale makes it a natural,” Mr. Brice said. “We were always looking for an opportunity for acquisitions. We would get the details and make a decision. We turned down several over the years that didn’t fit.”

Anyone who visits Superior Printing Ink’s headquarters at 70 Bethune Street in lower Manhattan has to be struck by the prime location. After all, a waterfront property in a residential area in New York City is hard to come by.

Actually, when Superior bought the 83,000 square foot property in 1979, no one even considered it a good location, let alone an amazing investment.

“We had to get out of Lafayette Street; we were growing, and the building’s ownership changed,” Mr. Brice said. “We bought it from Swift Printing Company, and moved into it in 1981. We wanted to stay in Manhattan, and the printing business was still in Manhattan. It was just south of the meatpacking district, and a terrible area, not residential at all. No one cared about the waterfront.”

The other major strategic move was setting up the company’s 35,000 square foot Central Manufacturing Facilities (CMF) for sheetfed and other inks in Hamden, CT. This has allowed the company to dramatically improve its efficiency and consistency.

“There’s a lot of printing in Connecticut, and we looked for a site,” Mr. Brice said. “We found a building that was a good buy, but it was 25,000 square feet, which was too large for us at the time. But we thought, it was close to New York, so why don’t we centrally manufacture our product under one roof. Ultimately, we outgrew it and expanded it, adding more automated equipment.”

The CMF gives Superior Printing Ink the ability to concentrate on consistency. “Without the CMF, production would be decentralized, and branches would make our ink, which would be a risk to consistency,” Mr. Brice said. “Our branches manufacture spot colors.”

Superior Printing Ink’s two Ault Award winners shared a moment as Nat Rosen, left, congratulated his son-in-law Harvey Brice after Mr. Brice received the prestigious honor from NAPIM in 1998.

The Future Of Superior Printing Ink
While Superior Printing Ink has its next generation in place, the question must be asked: What does the future hold for the company? The market it is strongest in – sheetfed – is becoming more competitive, and it is ever more challenging for a medium-sized ink company to survive as their customers consolidate and become more globalized.

It is a question that Mr. Brice considers very seriously.

“Where is our future?” Mr. Brice asked. “We’re in limbo as to which direction we should go. The bottom line is that you can grow in sales, but do you make more money?

“I think we have to make some major decisions in the future,” Mr. Brice said. “We’re bigger than most. We can continue to be an integral part of the industry, but without future mergers and acquisitions, we may end up stagnating.”

There are all kinds of possibilities for Superior Printing Ink, ranging from continuing to acquire small companies to a larger deal to merge medium-sized companies. There could also be an approach to become more vertically integrated, although that also has drawbacks.

The future of printing ink is also on Mr. Brice’s mind.

“A lot of inks will take shape in the next five years; printing is still ink on substrate, but what form will it be in?” Mr. Brice said. “I think non-impact inks are the wave of the future for the industry, and I think UV hybrid inks are a great area.”

Ultimately, Mr. Brice believes that Superior will need to stand for what the company has prided itself on throughout its storied history: service and quality. Superior Printing Ink prides itself on service; it was known for a “get-it-there-no-matter-what” delivery approach in its early days, and its motto, “Modern Technology/Old Fashioned Service” is one they live by even today.

“We want to be the best value, service and quality provider to the commercial printer in the U.S.,” Mr. Brice said. “We have no aspirations to globalize. We want to be a strong national company.”

Superior Printing Ink has long stood for superb service and quality. It is reasonable to believe that the company’s leaders will continue to make sure that Superior Printing Ink remains synonymous with excellence.