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 July 1, 1999

Johnson Printing stands test of time with new technology

BOULDER — When Ray and Ada Johnson opened Johnson Publishing Co. more than 50 years ago in a north Boulder barn that had been converted into a two-story garage, it’s doubtful they could have envisioned the growth the company would undergo.

Johnson Publishing quickly outgrew that garage, and within two years it had moved to Ninth and Pearl streets, where University Bicycles is today. Again, growth forced a change in location, and in 1979 Johnson moved to its current 80,000-square-foot site in Boulder’s Flatiron Park, east of 55th Street.

Some of the physical history has been carried forward. A 40-inch by 60-inch black-and-white photograph of the Ninth Street facility hangs in the lobby. By the front door stands the original Chandler & Price Press. In the late 1940s, the Johnsons used it to print stationery and business forms, work some of their first customers requested.

The family continuity is there as well.

Several Johnsons are still integral to today’s business operations — Jerry Johnson, son of Ada and Ray, is president of Johnson Printing, the commercial printing division, and Barbara Johnson Mussil, Jerry’s sister, is publisher of Johnson Books, the company’ other division that focuses on specialty book publishing. Even Ada Johnson remains involved today, serving on the company’s board.

In fact, Johnson Publishing, which reported revenues in excess of $14 million in 1998, is one of the oldest family-run businesses in Boulder, according to company officials.

To remain competitive, Johnson Publishing has adapted to changing customer requirements. In a capital-intensive industry such as printing, change can be found in the equipment printers use today vs. years ago.

Jerry Johnson says the biggest challenge for the company is keeping up with the digital revolution. “Changes in technology have really intensified in the last 10 years. Knowing what to buy and when to buy new equipment is critical,” he said.

In the last year alone, Johnson Printing, which accounts for about 90 percent of the company’s revenues and focuses on user guides, journals and catalogs among other commercial printing needs, pumped almost $3 million into new equipment. On the far side of the well-organized printing plant, for example, the newest and prized addition to Johnson Printing’s press lineup has been installed — a powerful Process King Press.

Manufactured in Missouri, the $1.8 million Process King Press is a Web press, a high-volume printing press that prints from rolls of paper, thereby increasing the speed of the job.

After more than a month of setup, the new Web press went “live” in June. It will replace an older Web press, a Harris-V15.

Steve Iwanicki, marketing manager for Johnson Printing, said the new Web press is a significant upgrade for customers.

He cited three significant reasons for the new press: “First, it will double our capacity,” he said. With the Harris printer, four-color print jobs had to be run through the press twice. Because the Process King has four-color units, a four-color job can be run through once.

“Second, the new press will improve image quality as it can better manage ink distribution on the paper,” he said.

“And third, computer process controls on the new press will improve efficiency of our printing.” A trend toward smaller, more frequent print jobs means printers must be able to fine-tune color quickly, he added.

“Our business is to help our customers make money and save money,” Iwanicki explained. “The Process King allows us to meet these customer needs.”

Even with the high price tag, the new Web press should not translate into higher costs for customers, Iwanicki says.

In addition to the Web press, Johnson Printing spent $750,000 to add state-of-the-art pre-press equipment. Another $1 million is earmarked to upgrade the division’s bindery operation, which converts printed sheets to finished pieces, such as books, catalogs or magazines.

To help fund much of Johnson Printing’s capital improvements, Johnson Publishing issued a $3 million bond last year through Denver’s Banc One Financial Services.

The new equipment and increased capacity will allow Johnson Printing to expand its customer base, according to Iwanicki. While currently the printing division serves customers in the Rocky Mountain states as well as California, he said plans include having some of the six outside sales representatives target new printing opportunities in Dallas, Albuquerque, N.M. and Phoenix.

In addition to the expanded capacity the new equipment offers, the increased service to existing clients has helped the company. “Even if a client has stopped printing large runs of a user guide because they’ve moved to CD-ROM, we offer to print and sell the manual to their customers on an as-needed basis, actually creating a profit center for them (since they receive a royalty),” he said.

While Johnson Printing services commercial printing needs, Johnson Books, the other arm of Johnson Publishing, was established in 1979.

Johnson Books is a specialty publisher, focusing on areas such as archeology, natural history, guides and travel. Current titles include outdoor enthusiast Steve Ilg’s “The Winter Athlete,” Daily Camera columnist Clay Bonnyman Evans’ “I See By Your Outfit” and Merrill Gilfillan’s “Chokeberry Places: Essays from the High Plains.”

Johnson Publishing employs 125 people at the Flatiron Park facility. It expects to add an additional 10 employees to support expanded capacity capabilities.

BOULDER — When Ray and Ada Johnson opened Johnson Publishing Co. more than 50 years ago in a north Boulder barn that had been converted into a two-story garage, it’s doubtful they could have envisioned the growth the company would undergo.

Johnson Publishing quickly outgrew that garage, and within two years it had moved to Ninth and Pearl streets, where University Bicycles is today. Again, growth forced a change in location, and in 1979 Johnson moved to its current 80,000-square-foot site in Boulder’s Flatiron Park, east of 55th Street.

Some of…

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