All too often, competition leads to hard-nosed tactics and hard feelings, as some companies will try to take away business by any means possible. However, there are also companies that do insist on competing fair.
For Jim Stanley, president of American Printing Ink (API), Chattanooga, TN, competing fairly has been the only way to do business, and when a 1997 fire burned his business down, his years of doing business fairly paid off in unexpected ways.
“When we burned flat to the ground in 1997, we lost everything, including our inventory and machinery,” Mr. Stanley said. “While I was able to send some of our people to work at some of our customers’ inplant operations, I still had to send work in the direction of some other ink companies.”
In particular, Mr. Stanley gave a call to Phil Lambert, president of Wikoff Color Corporation, and to Signal Printing Ink, which competes locally in the Chattanooga area. Neither hesitated to help out.
“I called Phil Lambert the day of the fire and explained what happened, and asked him if he could get ink to my customers to make sure they could keep running their presses,” Mr. Stanley said. “Meanwhile, Barry Vandiver and Bill Henderson of Signal Printing Ink helped me locally. They even allowed my people to come in to their plant at night to work on R&D and rebuild our inventory. How many competitors would allow you to do that?”
Mr. Stanley even received support from Kramer Ink in Southern California as well as many key suppliers.
“Chan DeKramer of Kramer Ink called to ask us if we wanted a mill from them, and just loaned it to us,” Mr. Stanley said.“Our big vendors were willing to continue to supply us, and put us on a payment plan with no interest for a year.”
Once American Printing Ink was fully operational, Wikoff Color and Signal Printing Ink withdrew from API’scustomers.
“When we were back on our feet, Wikoff and Signal pulled back from our customers,” Mr. Stanley said. “As a result, I did not lose a customer. These are all class acts.”
Mr. Stanley said that sense of fair play is something he learned from his father, Dewey Stanley, who founded American Offset Printing Ink in Charlotte, NC. Dewey Stanley had been a pressman at Craftsman Printing in Charlotte before starting his ink company in 1970.
Jim Stanley started with American Offset Printing Ink in 1972, and joined Wikoff Color in 1979 for three years for its Midwest operations.
“I really enjoyed Wikoff Color and Chicago, but I wanted to return back to the South,” Mr. Stanley said. “On Jan. 1, 1982, my dad and his partners opened a branch of American Offset Printing Ink in Chattanooga, TN. There had never been an ink company in Chattanooga, and I agreed to come back and run it with the understanding I could buy my father and his partners out. I called it American Printing Ink. I think we sold $132 in that first month.”
Obviously, API has come a long way since then. API specializes in sheetfed, and a new generation is moving the company forward.
“Doug is vice president of sales, and Michael, my youngest son, is purchasing director,” Mr. Stanley said. “We specialized in sheetfed until 2000, when my sons decided we needed to expand into specialty applications. I was able to retire my father Dewey and my brother Ron, and I hope my sons can do the same for me.”
Regardless of who is running API, some things will not change. Mr. Stanley said that quality and service will remain the most essential ingredients to API’s future success.
“We had to make a name for ourselves to make a living, and we have succeeded,” Mr. Stanley said. “We still make ink the way it was done a long time ago, passing everything through three roll mills. Service still thrives in the small- and medium-sized print shops, where they want to know that they can call you 24/7/365. The big companies don’t want to do that, which is why there’s still a place for a small ink company in America.”
For American Printing Ink, treating both customers and competitors honestly has been critical to its success.
“It goes to show that if you treat people right and play by the rules in this country, good things happen,” Mr. Stanley said.