Acquiring Merit Ink Coating, Century Color Provides Wikoff Color with New Opportunities

By David Savastano, Ink World Editor | 11.02.09

When companies are acquired in the ink industry, the larger ink manufacturers are generally involved. By contrast, Wikoff Color Corporation, Fort Mill, SC, has never been known for purchasing ink companies.

That changed in the last six months, as Wikoff Color acquired two small respected ink manufacturers. On April 30, Wikoff Color acquired Century Color Co., Lowell, MA, a high quality sheetfed and web offset ink manufacturer with sales in the northeastern U.S.

On July 28, Wikoff Color acquired Merit Ink & Coating, Alpharetta, GA, a manufacturer of flexo and gravure inks and specialty coatings for the packaging and security industries with sales primarily in the eastern U.S.

“It’s not like we have changed to a big acquisition strategy, but in these cases, the circumstances just seemed right,” said Phil Lambert, Wikoff Color’s president and CEO. “Neither company was being marketed, and there are a lot of really good people involved in both companies.”

Century Color

Century Color, the first acquisition, provides Wikoff Color a greater presence in the Northeast. Ralph Viscione, president of Century Color, which was founded in 1972 by his father, joined Wikoff as Northeast regional manager, responsible for Wikoff’s operations in Massachusetts, New Hampshire and New York.

“We had competed against them for a number of years and they were a good strong competitor with good core values,” Mr. Lambert said. “Our two companies were very compatible in our core values, in our focus on tailor-made inks to maximize pressroom efficiencies, and in our commitment to developing ongoing consultative relationships with customers. Century Color earned its excellent reputation in the New England market and the valued employees who contributed to its past success are a welcome addition to the Wikoff team.”

Mr. Lambert said that the timing was perfect for this acquisition.

“Ralph decided it would be good to join forces with us, and our northeast regional manager wanted to relocate back to the southeast, so the timing was right,” Mr. Lambert said. “Acquiring Century Color gave us the opportunity to advance in the northeast.”

Merit Ink & Coating Co.

The July 28 acquisition of Merit Ink & Coating Co. was also a case of ideal timing for Wikoff Color. Merit Ink & Coating was the ink and coatings supplier for Scientific Games International, the world’s largest manufacturer of scratch-off lottery tickets, and Wikoff Color was bidding on Scientific Games’ ink and coatings business.

When it became clear that Wikoff Color would receive the contract, Scientific Games’ leaders suggested Mr. Lambert look into acquiringMerit Ink & Coating.

“The circumstances were right,” Mr. Lambert said. “We had a proposal on the business for Scientific Games, and our customer wanted us to get together with Merit, which had been a good long-term supplier for them. We appreciate the customer putting us together.

“Merit’s expertise in the packaging and security markets along with its commitment to quality and exceptional customer service made it a great fit with Wikoff,” said Mr. Lambert.“We are excited that the valued employees of Merit have joined the Wikoff team.We are also very pleased to be the ink and coating supplier of Scientific Games International, the largest printer of scratch-off lottery tickets in the world, as a result of this transaction.

“Merit was a well-kept secret in the industry,” Mr. Lambert added. “They were a 60-employee company with a diverse range of quality products and a lot of talented, experienced people.”
Mr. Lambert said that Merit Ink & Coating’s technology offers Wikoff Color tremendous possibilities in segments where the company has not traditionally been involved.

“They offer many other opportunities for us,” Mr. Lambert said. “We’ve done very little solvent-based fluid ink business in recent years, and Merit had a good product line and really good technical people. The depth of their technical group was surprising.”

Merit Ink & Coating opened its first plant in Cumming, GAin 1992.After outgrowing its original plant, Merit relocated in 1999 to its state-of-the-art 26,000 square-foot facility in Alpharetta, GA.Hank Johnson, principal owner and CEO of Merit Ink & Coating, is working with Wikoff in a consulting relationship during a transition period.

The acquisitions of Century Color and Merit Ink & Coating are indeed a change of pace for Wikoff Color, which is itself a unique company in the ink industry.

Founded in 1956 by Fred Wikoff, it has become an employee-owned business that is the eighth-largest U.S. manufacturer of printing inks and coatings for the graphic arts industry, according to Ink World’s U.S. Top 20 Report. Today, Wikoff Color has 550 employees in its 29 manufacturing plants and three sales/service centers throughout the U.S. and Canada.Its main manufacturing plant, technical center and home office are located in Fort Mill, SC. For Wikoff Color, acquiring Century Color and Merit Ink & Coating allows the company to increase its geographic presence and add sophisticated new technologies, which provides opportunities for expansion in the coming years.