Palmitier Steers Integra's Future

April 19, 2004
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GRAND RAPIDS — While many companies are "downsizing" or "right sizing" or whatever the buzzword of the industry may be, Integra Inc. CEO Jeff A. Palmitier has come up with a novel approach for growing his business.

"We've been adding a new team member every month for about 18 months now," Palmitier said. "We're trying to definitely grow the company and we've been successful doing that. As our volume continues to grow in all our business units, we have been able to fill people in those positions."

Palmitier's print and communications solutions company currently employs 85.

That concept is apparently working. Integra posted record sales of $16 million in 2003.

"We've been able to increase sales every year for the last three years," Palmitier said. "The key has been our ability to understand research and implement technology the customers are looking for.

"About 40 percent of printing plants in the United States have closed over last the six years. We realized three years ago that we needed a strategic plan based on technology to help customers with communication needs."

Known for years as Integra Printing Inc., Palmitier said the decision was made a little over a year ago to drop "Printing" from the name. Sure, the company still runs its massive offset and multi-color presses, but the scope of the business has expanded beyond the art of printing.

"We took 'Printing' out of our name in the past year and we're now known as Integra, because the types of projects we're involved with are quite varied," Palmitier said. "The printing presses are a significant component to the business, but it's really the technology before and after the press that's really driving our success and meeting our customers' needs.

"We really see ourselves as ultimately moving information from one spot to another. Traditionally, we did that through printing, but now we also work with a lot of Internet-based applications and other types of technology and we help people do that."

As a result, Integra has become an operation with turnkey capabilities. Integra developed a product marketed as "Mindwire." The process implements technology to help customers with their communication needs.

"A typical project is to help people design what they need and then do the printing portion, as well as digital printing and one-to-one marketing," Palmitier said. "We then have the capability to follow up with sales and marketing with the project.

"We can take a project from beginning to end. On some projects, we work on only one particular aspect such as printing or fulfillment, or we can take the project completely through.

"Our customers are looking for a resource with a single point of accountability, and we've implemented the technology to tie people together, and that has really fueled our growth. Our strength has been our ability to understand that technology and then make it work all together."

Palmitier, 42, holds a degree from Central Michigan University in finance and accounting. He worked as an analyst for a brokerage firm for 12 years — from the mid-1980s until 1995 — before coming back to run the family business.

Integra has been in business since 1937. In 1970, Palmitier's father, Richard, purchased 50 percent of the company. He bought the remaining 50 percent in the mid-1980s.

Jeff Palmitier and brother Scott began running the company in the 1990s.

"I was an investment consultant and did all sorts of financial analysis and portfolio management with stocks and bonds and commercial real estate," he said. "The investment environment is always up and down and you can never call it stable, but it was great experience learning about a lot of different industries and some very solid business principles that I have found work across the board. Being in the investment analysis business was very valuable experience for me, because I learned to determine what makes a company successful and not successful, and those principals can be applied in our industry as well."

While 80 percent of Integra's business is currently being driven by printing jobs, Palmitier foresees a 50 percent split between printing- and technology-based projects.

"That's our goal," he said. "While print volume across the country is down or declining, our traditional print business continues to grow because we have turnkey capabilities.

"We found we can offer excellent prices and be competitive because we offer the technology. There are more economical ways to do things than they have been done in the past."

While the printing business is highly competitive by nature, the West Michigan market is extremely so.

"It's really as competitive as any industry is," Palmitier said. "The print business has always been a very capital-intensive business that is about as competitive as it can possibly be.

"The average printing company makes less than 3 percent before tax on printing, but you have to keep it running. Over the last three years, printing on the whole has been in the red. From a pricing standpoint, it has been very competitive.

"At one time, West Michigan had more printing companies per capita than any area in the United States."

Many of those printing companies — Integra included — are located along "Printer's Row" on Oak Industrial Drive.

"That's really by default," Palmitier said. "It is a great location and it allows us to still do a lot of things face-to-face with our customers. Our competition here finds it to be the same way."

Palmitier said he has become so comfortable on Printer's Row that Integra is building a new plant right across from its current headquarters at 2201 Oak Industrial Drive. The new plant is scheduled to open in December, and will combine the operations from its current plants on Oak Industrial Drive and 2474 Turner Ave. NW.

"This one also has good visibility, but were combining two facilities into one with our new plant," Palmitier said. "It will also allow us to do some additional things internally from the state-of-the-art technology standpoint because it will have the supporting technology infrastructure.

"It will have a lot more space to work with our clients to educate them on the new technology and how to use it."

Palmitier says that getting an edge in the printing business means staying on the cutting edge of technology and delivering a quality product.

"Our basis is still the same as it always has been," he said. "We try to over-deliver. Whatever our customer expectations are, we try to deliver more than that.

"The technology side has given us a competitive advantage as well.

"There are a lot of people talking about implementing technology, but certainly less than half the companies are actually able to do parts of it," he added. "We have clients in California, Colorado and Georgia, and we have found we can compete with anybody in the U.S. when it comes to offering technology-based strategic communication and information."

When the new plant is completed, Integra will continue to offer additional technology-based products and options to its customers, according to Palmitier.

"We'll be in the new facility by the end of the year, and we're continuing to expand and grow and seeing some outstanding opportunities in the marketplace," Palmitier said. "We've been fortunate and blessed to grow in a down economy and feel we can grow even more and become a significantly larger company in the next three years now that the economy is starting to pick up.

"We have begun our third year of our strategic plan. We're following closely a five-year plan and we're on track where we want to be." 

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