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Making a transition at the top

From six to 60 employees, Tony Denison has seen his career in the printing industry grow leaps and bounds in its 26-year-span. Previously the co-owner of Denison Print in Breslau with his brother, it was announced this week he’ll preside over Bloomingdale’s Simpson Print as president.

Martin Johanns is stepping back from Simpson Print, where Tony Denison will now run the show as president, the latest step in his 26 years in the print business.[Whitney Neilson / The Observer]
Martin Johanns is stepping back from Simpson Print, where Tony Denison will now run the show as president, the latest step in his 26 years in the print business. [Whitney Neilson / The Observer]
Martin Johanns remains the owner and chairperson of the company. The two merged businesses in 2014.

“When Martin bought Denison Print, he hoped that that would happen,” Denison said. “For the last year I’ve been here as a salesperson, making sure that my clients came across and learning about the business.”

Denison and his brother opened Denison Print in Kitchener in 1987. They grew the business and then moved it to Breslau in 1994. They bought the building there, used about half of it, and over the course of 10 years they expanded to require the whole building.

He says they learned the business just by being in it.

“It was the ’80s and printing was a very profitable business,” Denison said. “That was before the Macintosh computer and, actually, desktop computers were just kind of new at the time. It was with desktop computers and Apple computers that sort of changed the printing industry quite a bit. So we got into it just before that only to find out this was not as easy a business as we thought it was going to be.”

Combining the two companies last year meant Denison was able to learn from the expertise of a larger company, like Simpson, which creates products for companies across North America. They offer screen, lithographic and digital printing.

“Denison Print was quite a different kind of printer than Simpson Print,” Denison said. “Simpson Print needs those accounts like Walmart. Denison Print couldn’t even manage that kind of an account. We didn’t have the equipment or depth of knowledge. We were looking more for the catalogues and the letterheads and the envelopes, so our market was quite local.”

He said Denison Print made their name known in the region by sponsoring events and getting involved in the community. Some of the high profile clients Simpson has include Home Hardware, Coles, and Walmart.

“We can be more creative,” Denison said. “You can go after target markets or vertical markets or horizontal markets. Different people can do different things and we are very much a team. I think that’s my favourite part. The size of the organization gives me access to depth of knowledge that I’ve never been able to access.”

Where they’re limited to a certain sheet size for lithographic printing, they can print on up to four feet by eight feet for screen printing. This means they’re able to do graphics for things like vending machines or trade show banners.

“Signs, floor graphics, window clings, posters – any printing that you see in a retail store is done by a company like ours,” Denison said.

This is only one of the major changes he’s seen in his time in the print industry. Back in the ’80s you could buy a press for $10,000 or so and set up shop in your garage. Now a press runs in the multi-million dollars figure, and there’s a lot more to know.

“If you had a press and a cutter and a folder you could do just about anything,” Denison said. “Now technology really drives the business. Files supplied by clients, there’s no film anymore.”

This is why a lot of smaller print shops are closing up. They don’t have the capital to invest in the kind of equipment to compete with large, established printers. He says there’s significant consolidation going on in the industry. Take Denison Print for example. Before joining with Simpson, they absorbed four other companies.

But now, he’s ready for the challenge of president.

“Being in sales I just dealt with my own clients and that’s all I needed to think about, really,” Denison said. “As president I need to be aware of all facets of the company and I’m sales manager as well. My focus really is to build the business, sales-wise. In that way it’s kind of the same, but it’s a little broader scope now because I’ve got seven sales reps to work with.”

He knows he’s got some big shoes to fill, but having a long history with Johanns helps. He actually bought the Denison Print building in Breslau from Johanns in ’94. Johanns’ daughter is also married to Denison’s high school best friend.

“The number of ways we’re connected is amazing,” Denison said.

As for future growth, Denison says Johanns is making plans to grow out the back of the 50,000-square-foot shop. Denison’s looking forward to the challenge of doing this. When he started in the business you could grow without even trying, there was such a demand for printed goods.

“What are your target markets, how are you going to approach them? You have to sell strategically,” Denison said. “That’s the fun of being in a company this size.”

His other goal with running Simpson Print is to continue the local traditions of Denison Print, along with the national work Simpson has become known for.

“We are committed to the community and committed to Waterloo Region,” Denison said. “Denison Print sponsored events and Simpson Print has been continuing on with all that. That’s very much one of our objectives to continue supporting the community.”

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