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Quick Turnaround

  • By Mark Gordon
  • | 11:55 a.m. May 18, 2012
  • | 2 Free Articles Remaining!
  • Entrepreneurs
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Rob Smithson took the business risk of a lifetime in 2010.

That's when he spent more than $1.5 million to buy and install two high-end printing and cutting machines for his company, Manatee County-based Trinity Graphics. The firm specializes in designing and printing labels, signs, tags and tickets — anything that needs a design or a graphic.

The equipment Smithson bought, Vutek Superwide digital inkjet printers, can cut on materials up to 10 feet wide and two inches thick. The machines, controlled by lasers, are manufactured by a California company and are so rare and expensive that fewer than 10 are in operation nationwide.

Moreover, the purchase was a big gamble because Trinity Graphics had about $3 million in annual sales at the time. So if business didn't materialize, Smithson would be in a deep hole.

The risk paid off. Trinity Graphics doubled sales last year, from $3.5 million in 2010 to $7 million in 2011. It also doubled its employee count, to 40, and now runs at least one printing line 24 hours a day. Venice-based drinkware firm Tervis Tumbler is a major client.

The spend-to-grow strategy nonetheless had some hiccups. One of the machines, for example, was a lemon, says Smithson, and the manufacturer spent weeks diagnosing and fixing problems. That machine has since been replaced.

“I nearly went bankrupt,” says Smithson. “I was hemorrhaging money. I nearly gave up.”

Instead, the British-born Smithson now seeks other ways to continue the growth track. He recently hired a CEO, for instance, so he could take himself out of day-to-day operations and focus more on long-term planning and new products. Bill Ceperich, a semi-retired executive with four decades of experience in graphic design, is the new CEO.

Smithson moved to the Sarasota-Bradenton area from England in 1987, when he was 27 years old, to open an American branch of a British printing and graphics business his father founded. Smithson is now the sole owner.

The company grew slowly over that first decade, but Smithson is now in fast-growth mode. He projects at least a 30% increase in sales in 2012.


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