In October 2017, Ginger Bowman purchased a commercial printing business. In the five years since, she has overcome three significant challenges by being flexible and pivoting.
- High customer concentration.
- An industry that was set in its ways.
- The pandemic.
Some in the industry thought Bowman would fail. But, sometimes, it takes an industry outsider to think outside the box to see where opportunities are.
The printing industry is male-dominated. At first, no one took Bowman seriously. Many in the printing industry have had their businesses passed to them by their fathers.
Her background was in the film industry as a technical director. She had held leadership positions in Oscar-nominated and winning films. When she had children, she realized that the film industry’s long hours weren’t compatible with the type of mother she wanted to be. She started teaching at Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD), which has programs in film and television.
When her children were older, “I felt like I had a lot of skills and abilities that were not utilized as a professor,” said Bowman. “I wanted more, and I wanted to push myself, use all my strengths, and have more control of my destiny.”
She intended to modernize a commercial printing business by blending marketing and print services. Bowman wasn’t a marketer, but she had confidence in her ability to learn. After all, she hadn’t gone to school for animation, but she learned on the job and rose to be a senior technical director for top movies.
“I wanted more control of my financial future,” said Bowman. “I wanted to push myself and use all my strengths.” She chose to buy a business rather than start one from scratch.
Before she bought it, the business had changed hands several times and its business model had changed, too. It started as a franchisee of Franklin Printer, based in Atlanta. It was much like the print services Staples and UPS now offer. “The business catered to people who walked in and needed something printed quickly,” said Bowman. When the business changed hands again, it changed its business model to commercial printing rather than walk-in services and changed its name to Southprint.
Bowman now owns the company, which has been rebranded to Synergetic Media. Under her leadership, the business model has changed yet again.
The advantages of buying a business is that the difficult start-up work has already been done. You have immediate cash flow from existing customers. The company has a financial history, making it easier to get a loan. Existing employees and managers have experience in the business. Bowman mortgaged her home to get an SBA loan for $200,000 to buy the company.
One of the disadvantages of buying a business is that you may not know the company’s weaknesses before you purchase it. Little did Bowman know that 70% of Southprint’s business came from just three customers.
One of those clients, Whole Foods, accounted for about one-third of revenues. When Amazon purchased Whole Foods, it changed its print purchasing habits. While Bowman has maintained Whole Foods as a client, it is a much smaller client. The two other big clients had started to insource their printing needs.
Sales dropped 50% in the first year. Lesson learned: When a business relies on a small group of customers, its income is highly vulnerable. “I recently looked at acquiring another small print company,” said Bowman. Before making a decision, she asked the business owner to see the company’s income by client to see if just a few customers were responsible for the bulk of sales. Revenues were concentrated with just a few customers. She walked away from the deal.
Bowman got to work rebuilding Synergetic Media’s client list. No matter how small, every client was treated like it was the company’s #1 customer. Small customers grew in size and new customers were brought in.
Since she knew video, Bowman added video services first. No one got why a printing company would offer video service.
Still, business picked up. Then Covid lockdowns happened. Colleagues shared with Bowman that their revenue had precipitously dropped by two-thirds. While she felt good that her company did better than her competition, its income still had fallen by one-third.
Bowman credits her better-than-average performance during the pandemic to learning how to be nimble when her top three customers reduced spending dramatically during her first year in business.
While others cut back, Bowman invested in her company. She trained staff on building websites and SEO to expand services. Suddenly, customers and prospects got why all these services including video and printing were under one roof.
Bowman swooped in and scooped up their equipment for pennies on the dollar when another printer went out of business. She can now produce signage, which is where the money is.
It was time to rebrand the company to a name that reflected what it had become. Bowman renamed the company Synergetic Media. The rebranding leverages Bowman’s movie making skills in creating content that gets attention, stirs emotion, and creates meaningful connections.
Synergetic has moved from 4,000 square feet to 11,000. It just won a big client and several smaller ones. Business is back to pre-pandemic levels and on track to surpass sales levels for the company she bought in 2017.
What business challenges have you overcome?