In October 2017, Ginger Bowman bought a commercial printing business. In the five years since, she has overcome three key challenges by being flexible and agile.
- High customer concentration.
- An industry set its way.
- The pandemic.
Some in the industry thought Bowman would fail. But sometimes it takes an industry outsider to think outside the box to see where opportunities lie.
The printing industry is dominated by men. Initially, no one took Bowman seriously. Many in the printing industry passed on their business to them through their fathers.
Her background was in the film industry as a technical director. She had held leadership positions in Oscar-nominated and winning films. When she had children, she realized that the long hours of the film industry were not compatible with the type of mother she wanted to be. She began teaching at the Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD), which has programs for film and television.
When her children were older, “I felt like I had a lot of skills and abilities that weren’t used as a professor,” Bowman said. “I wanted more, and I wanted to push myself, use all my strengths and have more control over my destiny.”
She planned to modernize a commercial printing business by combining marketing and printing services. Bowman wasn’t a marketer, but she was confident in her ability to learn. After all, she hadn’t gone to school for animation, but learned it on the job and grew up to be a senior technical director for top films.
“I wanted more control over my financial future,” Bowman said. “I wanted to push myself and use all my strengths.” She chose to buy a business rather than start one from scratch.
Before she bought it, the company had changed hands several times and the business model had also changed. It started as a franchisee of Franklin Printer, based in Atlanta. It was a lot like the printing services Staples and UPS now offer. “The company was targeting people who came in and needed something printed quickly,” Bowman says. When the company changed hands again, it changed its business model to commercial printing rather than walk-in services and changed its name to Southprint.
Bowman now owns the company, which has been renamed Synergetic Media. Under her leadership, the business model has changed again.
The advantages of buying a business is that the difficult startup work is already done. You have direct cash flow from existing customers. The company has a financial history, which makes it easier to get a loan. Existing employees and managers have experience in the company. Bowman took out a mortgage on her house to get a $200,000 SBA loan to buy the company.
One of the drawbacks of buying a business is that you may not know the company’s weaknesses before buying it. Little did Bowman know that 70% of Southprint’s sales came from just three customers.
One of those customers, Whole Foods, accounted for about a third of sales. When Amazon bought Whole Foods, it changed its print buying habits. While Bowman has retained Whole Foods as a customer, it is a much smaller customer. The other two major customers had started outsourcing their printing needs.
Turnover fell by 50% in the first year. Lesson learned: When a business depends on a small group of customers, its income is very fragile. “I recently looked into acquiring another small print company,” Bowman says. Before making a decision, she asked the business owner to look at the company’s revenue by customer to see if only a few customers accounted for the majority of sales. Revenues were concentrated at only a few customers. She walked away from the deal.
Bowman set to work rebuilding Synergetic Media’s client list. No matter how small, every customer was treated as if they were the company’s number 1 customer. Small customers grew in size and new customers were added.
Knowing video, Bowman added video services first. No one understood why a printing company would offer video service.
Still, the company picked up. Then came Covid lockdowns. Colleagues shared with Bowman that their sales had abruptly dropped by two-thirds. Although she was pleased that her business was outperforming the competition, income had fallen by a third.
Bowman attributes her better-than-average performance during the pandemic to learning to be nimble when her top three clients drastically reduced spending during her first year in business.
While others cut back, Bowman invested in her business. She trained staff in website building and SEO to expand services. Suddenly, customers and prospects understood why all these services, including video and printing, were under one roof.
Bowman ducked in and scooped up their equipment for pennies of the dollar when another printer went bankrupt. She can now make signage, and that’s where the money is.
It was time to rebrand the company to a name that reflected what it had become. Bowman renamed the company Synergetic Media. The rebrand will leverage Bowman’s filmmaking skills to create content that grabs attention, evokes emotion and creates meaningful connections.
Synergetic has moved from 4,000 square feet to 11,000. It just won a major customer and several smaller ones. Business is back to pre-pandemic levels and on track to surpass sales levels for the company that bought them in 2017.
What business challenges have you overcome?