Taft Puts Imprint On Firm

May 1, 2002
| By Katy Rent |
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GRAND RAPIDS — With only four weeks under his belt as the new president of The Etheridge Co., Don Taft is working hard to take the commercial printer into a successful 2002.

Taft comes from New England, but now is becoming more accustomed to Midwest business practices and enjoys the change of pace. He actually entered the graphic arts business by accident — but hasn’t turned back since.

Nearly 25 years ago, a friend who had attended business school with Taft called from New England. “He was being used as a consultant by a firm that was looking for three other people that had engineering backgrounds and MBAs to bring new perspectives into the company, so he called me up,” said Taft. “My wife is also from New England, and so it was really decided before I got to the phone that we would at least go for a visit and take the interview.”

After a nice weekend with his wife’s family, the Courier Corp., a Massachusetts publishing company, made him an offer and Taft ended up staying there for 14 years.

Taft and his family made the move to the Midwest when he took a job at Banta Corp., a printing and digital imaging company in Wisconsin, as vice president of marketing and planning.

Coming to Grand Rapids was a process of making the right connections. “They tell me that a lot of jobs are found through a friend of a friend of a friend,” Taft said.

The daughter of a friend who used to work for Taft in New England now runs a major paper supply company. She happened to be talking about Taft to one of her regional managers in New York, who in turn was a good friend of Charles White, COO of Consolidated Graphics. Consolidated is just one step away from The Etheridge Co. Taft and White talked, and White agreed that someone with Taft’s skills and experience was needed at Etheridge.

A high quality commercial printer in business for nearly 100 years, Etheridge produces visually impressive commercial products such as posters, annual reports, sell sheets, catalogs and brochures.

A lot of the company’s clients are in Michigan, but with Etheridge being part of Consolidated Graphics, which has offices across the country, the reach can extend much further.

“The trend (is surfacing) where a lot of clients want to deal with someone nearby, make decisions nearby, do their color OKs nearby, but then may have a need to have product shipped to another location,” Taft said. “We have some clients that are printing here, in California, on the East Coast and basically wherever the customer needs it. And I think that is becoming more and more advantageous these days. Speed to market is very important.”

And while Taft’s wife, three sons and daughter are still in Wisconsin until the house sells, Taft said that this time allows him to focus solely on work and put in the late hours that are sometimes required by a new job.

“We are working on some new things and some exciting things which I feel are going to help us attain new clients and really grow our sales force,” he said.

One thing Taft feels will bring the company into the future is its ability to cross sell and develop new ways to help its customers do more than just print.

Two products will take customers into the technological future.

The custom ordering interactive network will allow customers to control the wording on products, similar to a text control tool, which is most useful on business cards, letterhead, envelopes, etc. It ensures that all text comes out the same way, but in a less costly and time-consuming fashion.

The second tool is an online digital asset library, which is a digital archiving tool, and helps clients with catalog layouts and other similar projects. “In the past you would save your photo scans, pull them up and try to change them from there,” said Taft. “Now it is really advantageous to save those graphics electronically and have the option to pull up a graphic and say, ‘OK, last month the lady was looking this way but now I want her to look the other way, and now instead of a blue blouse I want her to have on a pink blouse.’”

He added that good software is also essential in the development of this product. “You need to know how you are going to save these images, how you are going to find them and how you are going to call them up. Now we not only have the resources to offer them a good printed product but also a good digital process.”

Besides the technological future, Taft said he is looking forward to utilizing the additional resources of Consolidated Graphics along with electronic sources to help customers broaden their printing capabilities and, in turn, bring in more sales and more success.

“Printing in the past has been a very segmented business, and I think a lot of other printers don’t have the resources or the stretch and breadth to do what I believe is necessary to keep up with what technology is doing,” he said. “And I think we have a nice combination here with local control, local management, and people responding to what customers need — and we really have the resources behind us.”

While waiting for his family to join him and settle into the community, Taft said he will help to streamline certain business practices to allow and prepare for growth over time.

He also added that he credits the people at Etheridge with making this transition fairly painless and helping him adjust to a new company, new surroundings and a new community.

“I really like the people here, they are very open, interested in new ideas and they want to do a great job for the client. I think that our people do a great job for the clients. I think our people work hard, not only to do a high-quality job, but to give a really good day’s work,” said Taft. “I’m delighted to be here in Grand Rapids. It seems like a great community and I really like the people. And I think Etheridge is a great company. I think we have a great reputation and great resources, and I look forward to bringing in more business.”           

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