At a time when large corporations dominate certain segments of the printing ink industry, it can be a challenge for new ink companies to find a niche in which to thrive.
Barney Lenhart, owner and president of JK&M Ink, decided a few years ago to start up his own ink company, and found just the market to enter by courting small- and mid-sized high-quality sheetfed printers. Now, six years later, JK&M is continuing to grow rapidly.
“The best area to get in was the small market, where there is the least resistance,” said Mr. Lenhart. “It’s not a lot of volume, and the competition was mainly from graphic arts distributors. We called on small printers who had never been called on before.”
One of the ways JK&M differentiated itself from other ink companies was its emphasis on service.
“Technical service was a key selling point,” Mr. Lenhart said. “Our customers could call me 24 hours a day. You give a quality product and back it up with service, and you’ll keep your customers.”
Mr. Lenhart’s path into the ink industry has been unique in its own right. He had four years of experience in the printing industry when he took on a part-time shipping job at Inmont. Soon after, he moved into the lab, where his talents at creating ink became noticed.
“Formulation became a knack for me,” Mr. Lenhart said. “I did a lot of specialty projects for them.”
He left Inmont for two years to join Ron Ink, then came back to the lab at Inmont. In time, Mr. Lenhart became branch manager for Inmont in Connecticut, but after the company was sold to BASF, he and his wife Mary decided it was time to move to Florida. “I was tired of working in large companies,” Mr. Lenhart said.
He joined Continental Ink for two years before forming JK&M Ink, which he named after his children: John, Kate and Mary.
With his experience as a formulator, Mr. Lenhart knew that he wanted to specialize in custom inks at JK&M, although the company has five vegetable oil-based inks in stock.
“These are all my formulas,” Mr. Lenhart said. “Way back when, I knew vegetable oil was the way the market was going. It makes a better product. You also get faster setting and very high gloss, and you are using renewable resources. It was a 100% solids ink, and we got our materials from American-based companies as much as possible.”
JK&M began by serving printers in the immediate Tampa area, and has moved out across the state. The company also has some national sales for its duplicator inks. While JK&M is growing, Mr. Lenhart does not want to expand too rapidly.
“We’ve branched across the state of Florida as we can handle it, and not bitten off more than we can chew,” he said. “We’ve been aggressive, but we have not gotten over our heads. It’s a cliché, but I tell our people that we’re no better than the last batch of ink that we made.”
As JK&M has grown some of its earlier customers have also expanded along with them. “I always hoped that some of them would be like the acorns that grew under the oak tree,” Mr. Lenhart said. “As we’ve grown, a decent portion of our early customers have grown, too.”
It’s clear that JK&M Ink’s strong commitment to small- and mid-sized printers will continue to spur its growth in the years to come.