Childs Just Getting Started

June 30, 2003
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WYOMING — Jill Ann Childs' passion for design — and willingness to work hard for what she wanted — has paid off beautifully.

In 1978 her husband, Jim Childs, bought out a small printing business and established Printech in their one-stall garage. It started out as a graphic design and offset print shop.

Two years later, he coaxed Jill, a designer with a visual arts degree from Kendall College of Art and Design, into working full time for the family business.

She became the company's art department.

The first 10 years, they each worked 100-hour weeks.

"He used to say to me all the time, 'Jill, it will be worth it. Keep going,'" she recalls.

The Childses eventually grew the shop into a multi-million dollar corporation with four businesses under its umbrella and 50 people in its employ.

Printech is parent company to "Bigboard," a large format division specializing in large-scale print, design and fabrication for the exhibit, advertising, hotel/hospitality and retail markets.

Products include large-scale signage for museums, specialized exhibit components, dimensional signage and customized wallcoverings. That includes booth graphics, banners, frontlit and backlit signs and easel signs.

The company's large format printing can print pieces up to 16 feet wide by 200 feet.

A venture Childs started 18 months ago, i.candy, is billed as an "eclectic design house" that offers artwork for both home and office, as well as the hotel/hospitality industry.

It specializes in corporate artwork, unique giftware and tableware, furniture pieces, pillows, mirrors, clocks, specialty prints sized to fit, custom wallcoverings and a proprietary line of custom-designed frames featuring interchangeable canvas prints.

The two other businesses are an offset lithography print shop that specializes in large runs and a graphic design/advertising services business that serves the print and advertising community.

The Childses bought Printech's current headquarters at 3670 Jefferson Ave. SE in 1990 and three years later bought the building next door, which later became home to Printech's Bigboard division.

"We were one of the first five in the nation to buy a large scale print machine," she recalled.

"You can pretty much do anything you want on those machines because they print on any kind of roll-fed fabric, including carpet."

She's now looking at the purchase of the next generation of large format printers that print on rolls as well as on flat stock, such as ceiling tiles, glass, wood and Plexiglas.

Opening the Bigboard division snowballed into "all kinds of things," she said.

Today, Printech is more or less a one-stop design source.

Printech can do everything from designing and writing brochures and company stationary, to creating a client's ads, designing their billboards, printing their billboards, designing their exhibits — all the way to designing their store or facility and decorating it with corporate artwork, as it has done for D&W Food Centers.

"We don't have to go outside for anything. We just do it all right here," Childs said.

"We design it, we fabricate everything and install it. So we would take a store that they have from the very beginning stages and do all the interior design work and tell them what wallcoverings, carpeting and lighting to use. We even print the wallcoverings.

"I've had a lot of companies hire me to just go in and look at what their corporate offices look like and do their corporate artwork so they have a consistent look all the way through their offices."

The business breaks down into thirds — a third of it is graphic design, a third is offset printing and a third is large format printing. Printech's offset printing and graphic design divisions serve customers primarily in West Michigan, while Bigboard serves customers nationwide.

Childs wants to continue incorporating Bigboard's large format design capabilities into developing signature looks for interiors and to continue expanding the i.candy line, which, like the Bigboard division, targets a nationwide customer base.

Two years ago, Printech's art department was going through a lull in business, so Childs focused the department's energies on the creation and development of i.candy.

"I said, 'We're going to start this little thing and we're not giving up until we're the next Pottery Barn,'" she recalled, laughing.

Right now she's working on introducing i.candy into the hotel industry, which tends to buy hundreds of pieces of artwork at a time.

About 50 percent of i.candy designs are stock designs and the remaining half are those either Childs or her partner in the i.candy business create themselves.

Childs said she currently has an opportunity to do some work for a 33-hotel chain headquartered in North Carolina that owns everything from Hiltons to Marriotts.

Jim Childs stepped out of the business a couple of years ago but remains company president.

"I always said I was going to retire at 50, which is a year away," Jill Childs said. "Now that I'm starting to develop this company, I'm kind of starting all over. I'm finally at a place where I'm more financially secure, so I can do the things I'm passionate about rather than having to work just to pay my bills.

"This is something I'm passionate about. I love my work, and design probably more than anything. I get excited about developing new things."

She anticipates i.candy will become a huge part of Printech's overall business and that it will probably take her five to 10 years to get it to where she wants it.

To do that she'll need the support of her employees — the very people she calls her friends.

"A lot of my success is due to my employees. I have absolutely phenomenal employees. A lot of them have really stayed and stuck with me. I have a lot of 12- and 15-year people, which of course makes my job easier because they know the business"           

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