Paul Kelly, owner of Printing Arts Co., and Mark Oosting, owner of Foremost Graphics LLC, began discussing the possibility of a merger nearly a year ago and made it official Nov. 1. They subsequently decided to retire the Printing Arts name and combine the two businesses under the Foremost Graphics name.
Both Kelly and Oosting are equal partners in the deal. Foremost Graphic’s order and fulfillment company, Foremost Direct, is included in the merger. Printing Arts and Foremost Graphics have operated locally for 67 years and 17 years, respectively.
Under the merger agreement, Jim Karel, former president of Printing Arts, serves as president of the newly formed company; Oosting serves as CEO and Kelley as COO. Other officers in the company are Tim Karel, vice president of sales; Larry Schutt, vice president of finance; and Mike Butterfield, vice president of operations.
All employees of both companies were retained in the merger, for a combined full-time staff of 120. Some 41,000 square feet of space is being added onto Foremost Graphic’s 37,000-square-foot plant on Wilson Avenue NW in Walker to accommodate the addition of Printing Arts employees and equipment.
The companies are currently in process of combining computer, electronic pre-press and sales staffs, Karel said. He expects the move will be completed by mid- to late-February. Foremost Direct will remain in its present facility on 76th Street near the expressway, he noted.
“It’s really tough to compete as a medium-sized company today with the cost of technology in our field,” Karel explained. Foremost Graphics had some technology that Printing Arts did not. At the same time, Printing Arts had some equipment that was attractive to Foremost.
As Karel pointed out, the two companies weren’t in direct competition with one another because they had few crossovers in terms of clients, so their common client base will naturally expand as a result of the merger. Both firms have traditionally drawn clients from the West Michigan area, but also service some clients in the Chicago and Detroit markets.
“Today the trend is for printing companies to be bought out by conglomerates. We intend to stay independent,” Karel stressed. He said a lot of suppliers as well as vendors were happy to see the companies remain independent and merge into one large independent organization.
“We can still make our own decisions at the local level and not be handcuffed by corporate conglomerates,” he said “We can be more flexible, more in tune with our customer’s needs, and we can change processes to respond more quickly to changes in the market.”
Before considering the merger possibility from the standpoint of stock transfers and everything else, Karel said, both companies wanted to make sure their goals were aligned and their basic philosophy of doing business was the same.
“Once we determined that from a management perspective we were enough alike to make a smooth transition, then it was up to Paul and Mark to work out the financial arrangements so that it would truly be a merger and not an acquisition.”
The “new” Foremost Graphics harnesses the synergies of two companies, combining employees, buying power and equipment to provide enhanced customer services, Karel said, adding that the number one strength both companies have brought to the venture is people.
“We both bring to the table top quality employees – a lot of people with a lot of longevity in this field. With all these things together we just feel we’re going to have a real impact on the market in general,” Karel remarked. “For both companies, another one of our strong points is our attitude and devotion to customer service.”