February 26, 2014
When Opportunity Knocks: Tales from a top executive

The end of the 20th century was a mixed bag for many. As the '90s prepared to make an exit, the mystery surrounding the new millennium intensified. Change was coming, though the details were uncertain.E-commerce exploded thanks to big corporations like Amazon and eBay. This, coupled with the infiltration of other technologies,forced the print industry into an early revolution. While certain prepress and production jobs were eliminated, new opportunities emerged for digital typesetters,desktop publishers and other computer related occupations. For Andrew Alford, the timing was perfect.

"When I joined the industry [in 1999], I wasn't necessarily looking for a job in print. I was looking for a ground floor opportunity in an industry that needed technology to survive," he recalled. "I had always been intrigued by the process of putting ink on paper, and entering this field was a way to apply my skills to this process." Alford scored such an opportunity at Printegra, a manufacturer of short run checks and forms. He was commissioned to develop a "Web-2-Print" application that would allow users to customize and order checks and forms with a few keystrokes.Alford later found work at Cenveo, where he oversaw the company's e-commerce technologydevelopment. Today, Alford continues to focus on innovation, serving as vice president, Information Technology, for Austell, Georgia-based Graphic Dimensions. As he put it, "We aren'tplaying catch up, we're raising the bar." Read on as Alford talks shop.

What do you expect to be some of the biggest challenges the industry will face?
Lack of youth infusion. Let's face it, how many 20-somethings do you know who would be excited to wake up each day and sell print door-to-door? I've seen a large number of distributor principals set to retire, yet few are filling the void they're leaving behind. People in their twenties have been raised on technology and embrace it, desire it and live by it. Farming the next generation of printers and brokers is a necessity, and technology is the key to accomplishing this.
What keeps you up at night?
I hear far too many people say that print is dying. I can't agree with that. What we're seeing is a paradigm shift. This shift is a result of a change in our economic climate coupled with the advent of new technology and the drive to become more efficient, cost-conscious and eco-friendly. Some product lines may wither and even cease to exist, but show me any industry where this doesn't happen. Fifteen years ago we couldn't live without pagers. Do the same companies that sold us pagers 15 years ago still sell us pagers? Of course they don't. What happened? They adapted. The companies that survived ushered in a new age of communication with mobile devices and the next wave of technology. The same principle applies to us. We must adapt and respond to this change. At the end of the day our entire basis for earning a living is dependent upon us fulfilling a need. We all joined this industry to satisfy a demand. It is up to us to develop new products and innovations and understand the needs of our consumers.
What do you think is the most exciting, cutting-edge thing your company is doing right now? Why?
LaunchPad Marketing and TechnologyServices, a brand that we've established for two reasons: First, to develop custom technology solutions that resolve many of the unanswered needs within our industry, and second, to equip and enable our distributors to utilize and resell this technology. Additionally, we've made a tremendous investment in digital presses and process automation. We've been looking closely at all facets of our operations and are implementing changes to increase efficiency at every turn. This translates into a better product, faster turnaround and great pricing for our customers.
What would people be surprised to learn about you?
I'm an avid guitar player and have been playing for over 20 years. On many occasions, I've had the opportunity to play in front of thousands of people. I'm fascinated by the fact that I can sit down and express myself in a way that goes beyond the ability of language, simply by manipulating six strings on a fretboard.