From Local Print Shop to Global Group

October 23, 2013

By Mary Carr Mayle, Savannah Morning News

When Al Kennickell took over the family printing company that his grandfather Milton Kennickell started in 1892, it was basically business as usual.

“I bought the company in 1981 and continued to do the same thing we had done since 1892,” he said.

“We sold printing jobs. There were tons of them out there, and life was great.”

But in 2003, the Internet changed everything.

“Suddenly, printers were competing with website design, email blasts, Facebook and other social media.

“We saw the writing on the wall and realized that, if we didn’t change, we might not be here much longer,” Kennickell told the nearly 100 business people gathered in the Savannah Morning News auditorium for the quarterly Business in Savannah luncheon.

Embracing the adage that “When you’re no longer able to change your situation, you are challenged to change yourself,” Kennickell and his staff set out to employ a combination of technology and strategy that would bring a 111-year-old printing company into the global marketplace.

Fast forward 10 years and today, you won’t even find printing in the Kennickell name.

“We’re now the Kennickell Group, with several different and distinct businesses,” he said. “We are different things to different people, and all of this happened in the last 10 years.”

Among the first things Kennickell got into was an area called collateral fulfillment.

“We needed to break out of the traditional model, which was doing business within a 50-mile radius of our plant. And we had to avoid the price-cutting wars that printers were getting into and then pricing themselves out of business.”

Kennickell used the example of a company that sells golf carts and ATVs.

“They sell different models, so they need different brochures for each one,” he said. “Instead of just printing the brochures and shipping them to the company to ship to their dealers, we set up an online store, where dealers could order what they needed and have them shipped directly from our warehouse.”

Today, Kennickell serves more than 20 different companies from the same facility, filling up to 100 orders a day.

“With collateral fulfillment, it doesn’t matter where the printer is or where the customer is,” he said. “What matters is that the material is printed and shipped in a timely manner.

“Now we are doing business nationally and are no longer tied to a small, shrinking market.”

The key to success in this area, he said, is how well the online storefronts are programmed and how accurate the picking, packing and shipping is.

“It’s no longer enough to do an exceptional print job — you sell the package of services, so we have a team of computer programmers scattered all around the world.”

Now, Kennickell said, his company has Fortune 500 clients like Proctor and Gamble and continues to grow.

One such company presented a special challenge in that it needed brochures in 22 different languages to sell its products globally. In helping build solutions for them, Kennickell began working with a European organization called the International Printing Network to develop a way to link each country with IPN print partners.

Suddenly, Milton Kennickell’s little print shop had gone global and, as such, continues to thrive.

And while the Kennickell Group still does the printing and mailing it’s always done — as well as expanding into signage — that’s only a part of what keeps them moving forward.

“We had no idea how this was going to work out — or that one thing would lead to another — when we hired those programmers a decade ago,” he said. “But if I had to describe how we did it, I would say we got started, kept moving and never stopped.

“Half the battle is showing up.”