Interviews | November 16, 2020
Family Ties Bring Independent Graphics Forward
Nobody would have blamed Independent Graphics for throwing in the towel nine years ago.
In the 25 years since the printing manufacturer had moved into its location on River Road in Pittston, Pennsylvania, in 1986, the Susquehanna River had flooded four times. None of those floods did significant damage to Independent Graphics’ facility, says the company’s president, Lou Ciampi Jr. But the fifth time was a different story.
Tropical Storm Lee swept through Pennsylvania in September 2011, lashing the Susquehanna with torrential rain until the river began to rise again. The Independent Graphics team rushed to the River Road location and began to transport everything they could to dry safety. Ciampi Jr. says the team saved all the live product and some of the light machinery. The heavy machinery was not so lucky.
When all was said and done, the Independent Graphics press room was in 6 feet of water, and the heavy machinery was destroyed. The company was left without a location and the equipment needed to fulfill orders. With no way to complete jobs for its customers and nowhere even to operate as a company, the situation was grim.
But it was precisely at this point — when Independent Graphics would have been justified in deciding the obstacles to a return were insurmountable — that Ciampi Jr., his brother Jim and his father and founder of the company, Lou Ciampi Sr., rolled up their sleeves and got to work.
Lou Ciampi Jr., Lou Ciampi Sr. and Jim Ciampi.
The flood occurred on a Thursday. On Saturday, the entire Independent Graphics team gathered in a dry location to hammer out a plan. Over that same weekend, the company began cleaning its River Road location and setting up a temporary satellite location. By Monday, the company was filling digital orders out of its satellite office. Meanwhile, some friendly competitors offered the use of their own facilities so Independent Graphics could complete offset printing projects.
For over a year, Independent Graphics operated in much the same way. In February 2013, Independent Graphics moved into its current location on West Eighth Street in Pittston, putting distance between its new facility and the Susquehanna. The move also brought a silver lining: the new location was a better manufacturing space.
In the aftermath of the flood, Independent Graphics rebounded stronger than ever. Ciampi Jr. credits that success to the strong trust and camaraderie among him, his father and his brother. When Ciampi Sr. founded Independent Graphics in 1980, it was a small operation. Ciampi Jr. and Jim joined the company in 1986 and 1993, respectively, and helped keep Independent Graphics prosperous and well-regarded in the community. All the while, they learned from Ciampi Sr., whose lifetime in the printing industry had come with invaluable wisdom and experience.
“We got trained by Lou Ciampi Sr.,” Ciampi Jr. says. “We couldn’t have had a better mentor.”
It was Ciampi Jr., Ciampi Sr. and Jim who first huddled together after the flood to come up with a plan, and Ciampi Jr. says it was their “blood, sweat and tears” that built the company back up to have its best year ever in 2019.
“You learn a lot about yourself when your back is against the wall,” Ciampi Jr. says. In this case, Independent Graphics learned that it had the grit and determination to fight back against even the most challenging of circumstances. This lesson would prove vitally important in 2020 at the outset of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Connections Are Key
Independent Graphics prides itself on using old-school sales methods to build strong relationships with its customers. According to Ciampi Jr., Independent Graphics makes connections with its customers on sales calls, through referrals and at networking events. Several times a year, the company sends out special direct mail pieces to “a mix of clients, strategic partners and hot prospects,” about 100 people in total, Ciampi Jr. says. He credits this approach to a lesson from “The Ultimate Sales Machine” by Chet Holmes. A recent example of one such special direct mail piece was the COVID-19 Survival Kit that earned a shoutout in the PSDA Community.
When initial contact has been made, Independent Graphics goes out of its way to put itself in the customer’s shoes and understand what steps and actions can make the process easier. Because Independent Graphics has a delivery van, it can control its own timetable and dictate how and when products are dropped off, depending on whatever is most convenient for the customer.
“We are the guys you use when it absolutely has to be there, on time and correct,” Ciampi Jr. says.
Independent Graphics puts the same relentless work into its customers’ projects as it did into rebounding after the 2011 flood. Ciampi Jr. likes to call the company “the home of the 120-hour workweek” because Independent Graphics’ employees squeeze three traditional 40-hour workweeks into one single workweek. That willingness to work on projects day and night underscores why the Independent Graphics team is such a strength for the company. Independent Graphics’ five longest-tenured employees alone have almost two centuries of collective experience in the industry, and all 29 employees have more than five centuries of industry experience. Ciampi Jr. says the experienced, dedicated team sets Independent Graphics a step ahead of its competition.
“We’ve got great equipment,” Ciampi Jr. says. “Guess what? Everyone does. It’s not the equipment you have; it’s what your people can do with the equipment.”
Being the home of the 120-hour workweek leads to strong trust with customers, which comes with its own special perks. In 2008, Independent Graphics became a sponsor of the local Triple-A affiliate of the New York Yankees, now known as the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton RailRiders. At that time, Independent Graphics assumed responsibility for printing the team’s programs. For the first couple of years, the programs needed to have variable covers and eight-page inside spreads for each game in a given home stand. So, after the last out was recorded each night, Independent Graphics got to work printing and binding the programs for the next day’s game, hustling to meet the quick turnaround and living up to its nickname.
One of the perks of the RailRiders account was that Independent Graphics got its own suite at the ballpark. But this past summer, with Minor League Baseball on hold because of the COVID-19 pandemic, there were no RailRiders games to attend. Ciampi Jr. missed the opportunity to settle in and enjoy America’s pastime at the ballpark over the summer, and says he looks forward to the day when the RailRiders suit up again.
Ciampi Jr. is also looking forward to the day when live PSDA events can resume. He has been a constant presence at PSDA events since he joined the association five years ago and regards the annual CEO Summit as one of the best events in the industry. Ciampi Jr. says the opportunity to come together and connect with fellow PSDA members is invaluable.
“Most manufacturers our size tend to be limited to very local and regional exposure,” Ciampi Jr. says. “With PSDA, I feel like I have gained a lot of new friends and colleagues all over the country.”
When he’s not attending PSDA events, Ciampi Jr. is staying up to date with industry trends and ideas through PS Magazine. And Independent Graphics looks to forge new connections within PSDA by placing ads in the Supplier Directory.
Overall, Ciampi Jr. says, his PSDA membership has introduced him to great people in the industry as well as new, exciting and intriguing ideas.
“We’re all in with PSDA,” Ciampi Jr. says.
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