Printing to make its mark again
- Published: January 28, 2016
A village legacy is being given new life by a Dayton company that is, in all senses of the phrase, on the move.
Dayton Mailing Services, or DMS, which specializes in high-tech mailing and printing services, is poised to purchase 888 Dayton St., a 10-acre commercial property near Antioch University Midwest. For 39 years, that property was home to specialty printing business the Antioch Company, and later Creative Memories, its scrapbooking supplies subsidiary. Creative Memories left Yellow Springs in 2013, ending a long chapter of village industry that began in the 1920s, when Ernest Morgan, Arthur Morgan’s son, founded the Antioch Company’s earliest incarnation.
But if DMS buys the building, as expected, printing will be back — in a big way. The company plans to move its headquarters and most of its production to Yellow Springs, DMS President Christine Soward said in a recent interview. That means relocating most of the company’s 80 employees and hundreds of thousands of tons of equipment from its current headquarters, a red-brick behemoth on Keowee Street in downtown Dayton, to the newer, sleeker site. (DMS will keep its Dayton location for warehousing and some production.) The company will not displace the existing tenants of 888 Dayton St., but will occupy the majority of the building, plus expand its footprint by nearly half, according to Soward.
“There’s some nervousness, and it’s a big job, but we’re excited,” she said.
The sale has not yet closed, but DMS spokesperson Gery Deer said by email on Wednesday that company officials expect the closing to be completed by the end of this month.
As previously reported, a major hurdle was cleared on Jan. 7 when the Greene County Board of Commissioners approved an enterprise zone agreement that Village Council had previously voted unanimously to accept. Essentially a tax deal, the agreement commits DMS to specific workforce, payroll and capital expenditure levels in exchange for a 10-year, 75 percent abatement of taxes on the company’s planned $1.5 million improvement to the property.
According to Greene County Director of Development Pete Williams, who oversees enterprise zone agreements for the county, DMS will pay the full amount of property tax based on the building’s current assessment, or about $20,000 annually. On the planned expansion, it will pay only about $10,000 of the roughly $40,000 the Village would otherwise collect — a tax break of around $300,000 over 10 years, after which the Village receives the full yearly amount.
Though that’s money the Village won’t see, Village Council President Karen Wintrow said last week that the company’s presence will be a boon to Yellow Springs.
“A company this size doesn’t come along every day,” she said. “This is a business of the size and scope I really didn’t allow myself to hope for.” And the fact that DMS “takes the building back to what it was — that’s profound to me,” she reflected.
A family business
Like the Antioch Company, DMS is a family business. It was founded in 1984 by Soward’s father, Robert Hale. Just 18 years old at the time, Soward, the eldest of six children, jumped in to help, sensing an opportunity to learn a business from the ground up. She attended Sinclair Community College while working as her father’s “right-hand man” in production, office administration, customer service and sales.
“I started in the shop,” she said. She’s done nearly every job there is to do in the company, she added, which means “I know how hard people here work — from the person pushing a broom to the salesperson.”
Though Soward grew up in Dayton, she was born in the Philippines. Her father, a Dayton native, was a Peace Corps volunteer during the earliest years of the program, she said; in the Philippines, he met and married a local woman and started a family. When Soward was three years old, the growing family left for the United States.
“It was the first time my mom had seen a plane or a boat, and we took both,” recalled Soward. “Twenty-eight hours later, we landed in Dayton.”
Soward is a typical oldest child, she said: bossy and ultra-responsible. And “always an opportunist,” she mused, looking for new and sometimes overlooked opportunities in the industry. In 2005, she bought DMS from her father (who still has an office on site, and remains a strong presiding presence) and set the business, once a fairly straightforward mail house, on a new path.
“I like to say we started as a ‘lick ’em and stick ’em’ operation,” said Soward, with a long, delighted peal of laughter. (That laugh is one of her trademarks. “People say it’s so quiet when I’m not in the building,” she joked.) During Soward’s tenure, the company has invested heavily in new mail processing and digital printing technologies, expanding its service areas and increasing efficiency.
“I always have my ear to the ground on new technology, what’s significant and what’s going to be a fad,” she said. “And I talk to our customers, trying to understand their ‘pinch points,’ what their needs are.”
DMS operates within what’s called the direct mail industry — helping clients with large-scale printing and mailing projects ranging from advertising solicitations (in common parlance, junk mail) to mandated mailings of confidential and often time-sensitive financial, medical, legal and election-related information. Privacy considerations preclude disclosing specific clients, Soward said, but client industries include health care, insurance, municipal and state government and retail. Some clients are regional; others are national and even international.
The company can handle runs of 25 documents through to millions, noted Chief Operating Officer Tom Cooper. More typically, he said, it deals with projects involving anywhere from 25,000 to 1.3 million documents — financial statements, EOBs (explanation of benefits), tax mailings, sales collateral and the like. Depending on the client’s needs, DMS might develop and print materials, personalize them to the recipient, manage client databases, prepare documents for mailing and develop mailing strategies to minimize cost and maximize delivery speed.
Until about six years ago, Soward directly oversaw all facets of the company’s business. “I was the sales person, the data person, the production manager; I handled the financial side,” she said. It became a strain. “I’m a wife, and a mother to four kids. Too much time at work impacts everything.” She began delegating, building an executive team that includes her husband, Ken Soward, as vice president.
“I’m the balloon and he’s the string,” she said of their very different, but complementary, temperaments. “He holds me to the ground.”
It’s unusual for a printing business to have a woman at the helm, she noted. Walking this reporter around a portion of the Dayton facility, she showed off two of the company’s newest acquisitions — a massive, ultra-fast inkjet printer and an “intelligent inserter,” a sophisticated envelope insertion device that can process and personalize millions of pieces of mail — with obvious pride. She spoke easily with workers on the floor, teasing one woman about her Pittsburgh Steelers gear.
“You’re only as good as the people who work for you,” she said. Later, she added: “Cream rises to the top. We have a lot of cream here.”
After announcing the move last month, the company hired a school bus and drove workers to the new site, which company officials referred to as “right outside of Fairborn,” Soward said, to counter the perception that “Yellow Springs is so far away.” But in fact, some workers live in Springfield, and for those who are Dayton residents, DMS plans to help with transportation, at least initially.
“These people are an extension of my family. I feel responsible for feeding 80-some families,” Soward said. “I take that very seriously.”
Growth motivating move
The company has been looking for a new location for a couple of years, according to DMS spokesperson Deer, who is also the managing director of its new in-house advertising agency, the Bricks Agency. A previous almost-purchase, in the Dayton suburb of Moraine, fell through last summer. “It’s just as well,” said Deer recently, calling the move to Yellow Springs a “great merge.”
What’s motivating that move is growth. While company officials declined to disclose annual revenue, Jim Hoffman, vice president of business development, said DMS has been growing by 30 percent annually over the past two to three years. The acquisition of faster, more efficient technology is driving some of that increase. Quick turnaround, or what is known in the industry as “time to market,” is key.
“We’re sometimes known as Dayton Miracle Services,” Soward said. “We’ve completed quite a few jobs that I didn’t think we could pull off.” Competitors sometimes rely on DMS to handle their overflow, she added.
Expansion into new lines of business is another factor. Over the past couple of years, DMS has partnered with Deer to offer creative services through the Bricks Agency; it has also acquired legal publishing firm Barrett Brothers to increase its legal printing business.
“Our growth has been based on innovation,” Soward said. The “lick ’em and stick ’em” company is now as much about digital printing (including print-on-demand), creative services, computer programming and data management as traditional mail house functions, she said. A recent update to the company’s name, from DMS to DMS, Ink, and related rebranding efforts reflect that shift, according to Deer.
But processing mail will be a big part of its operations at 888 Dayton St. The planned expansion of that facility will accommodate a detached mail unit, or DMU, an area in which U.S. postal workers process outgoing mail on site. (The company’s large-volume, commercial mailings will entirely bypass the local Yellow Springs post office, Soward said). DMS has already been approved for the unit, but currently lacks the space to implement it.
Asked if mail was moribund, Soward answered with a confident negative. “Mail isn’t going away,” she said. In fact, she added, as mailbox volumes decline, companies are returning to direct mail as a higher-impact way to reach customers. And sensitive financial and medical information continues to be sent by mail, she pointed out. At the same time, DMS has added email and web marketing to its service offerings, and aims to grow that area of business through the Bricks Agency.
Soward also dismissed questions about the negative environmental impact of direct mail. “We recycle almost everything,” she said, noting that the company currently spends just $250 per month on trash, down from many hundreds in past years. New technology has a “lighter eco-footprint” than older equipment, she added; one indication is that the company’s utility bills are about a third lower now than in the past. “Every equipment choice we make is based on energy usage,” she affirmed.
DMS has opted not to seek Forest Stewardship Council, or FSC, certification, a designation that ensures products come from responsibly managed forests, due to the expense involved, said Soward. But, she added, it has received sustainability certification through EPICOMM, the print and mail trade association.
The company currently operates two 10-hour shifts six days a week, but hopes to ramp up to a 24×7 schedule. Its technological investments have given it greater capacity, and it’s seeking to grow the business to fit, said Soward.
In line with these changes, DMS expects to hire new employees across all facets of its business: press and pre-press, customer service, sales, marketing communications and IT/computer programming. The company’s enterprise zone agreement with the Village and county commits it to reach and maintain an employee level of at least 90 workers — about 10 more than it currently has — and a payroll of $3.2 million within two years.
“The most exciting thing to me is that this is a growing business that provides a number of different career opportunities,” said Hoffman.
Yellow Springs is a good place to seek new hires, company officials believe. “There’s a lot of competition for employees in Dayton,” said Soward. “From our perspective, Yellow Springs is more untapped.”
Village Council President Wintrow predicted that “opportunities we’re not even aware of” will emerge from DMS’s presence in the village. “Employment, of course, but also support businesses and our visibility to customers and partners visiting their facility” are some of the benefits she posited.
It will likely take a year after the deal closes for the company to complete its move. But when it does, Soward believes something significant will be set in motion, for DMS and for Yellow Springs.
The Antioch Company was once an icon in the local printing industry, according to Soward. “Everyone in printing wanted to work there; it was state of the art, it was successful.” That feeling lingers, she said. Longtime employees know, and connect with, the history of the building.
“The way we see it, we’re bringing something back,” Soward said. “It’s a facility that was made for greatness.”