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Hooksett printing company won't fade away

Sunday News Correspondent

March 29. 2014 12:00AM
Jack Cummings oversees the printing of hundreds of local, national and international publications. (RYAN O'CONNOR/Union Leader Correspondent)

HOOKSETT -- With the state of the printing industry seemingly in decline - having been attacked by the Internet and its endless array of access to resources - Jack Cummings decided his company wouldn't go silently into the New Hampshire night.

He is, after all, a third-generation owner of Cummings Printing.

"Right now, the future looks pretty bright," Cummings said. "It looked a little more glum, or grim, five or six years ago when everybody thought everything was going to be on their phone or their tablet, or their Kindle. But now statistics are showing the trend is actually going the other way, where people are saying 'Hey, I know I can read it on my Kindle, but I'd rather read a book,' or 'I know I can get it on my phone, but I'd just as soon (have it in hand).'"

So he decided to celebrate the company's 100th anniversary by purchasing an $8 million state-of-the-art Komori System 38D web press, the first of its kind in North America. It cost him an additional $1.5 million in infrastructure upgrades.

"I thought it was a good idea because our competition was sort of on the sidelines. You know the economy isn't that great, and people are still a little uncertain about the future of printing, so I figured, we either go forward or we go backwards, and I think it was the right decision," Cummings said.

The new machine is 155 feet long and two-stories high, weighs 227 tons and runs at 29 mph. At 32-pages a sheet, the new machine quadruples the output of Cummings Printing's two existing presses.

The key to Cummings Printing's recent success, however, has been focusing on speciality and trade publications. While most consumers seek immediate news through the Internet, Cummings says his company rarely prints time-sensitive content.

"The printing that's been hammered is the big national weeklies and monthlies that you see, like U.S. News and Time. They don't deal with something specific," Cummings said. "Advertisers like (publications such as) New England Bride, that we print.

"That's of interest to a New England company that makes gowns, or cakes, or deals venues, and they know that advertising in that book gets right to buys, right where they want it to be."

And while the company produces hundreds of local and national publications, Cummings says his top profit source is waste paper. Instead of paying for disposal of thousands of pounds of recyclable waste, he has a machine that mulches all the scraps, which he then sells.

Currently, Cummings prints publications for organizations as small as a chamber of commerce or high school to multimillion-dollar campanies and sports organizations such as the Boston Bruins, Boston Celtics, Boston Celtics and New England Patriots.

In 2014, Cummings Printing employs roughly 100 employees. The company provided approximately 150 jobs before technology led to a more efficient work environment. Many of the current employees, like Cummings, have deep roots in the company.

"I'm not the only person here who's (associated with) several generations," he said. "I bet out of 100 people, 70 people have some kind of (family member) here."

In addition, 70 percent of the Cummings workforce has been with the company more than 10 years, and 50 percent have been there for more than 15 years.

"We have a very mature, well-trained staff here, and it's one of our strengths, for sure," Cummings said. "That's something I'm proud of. We're able to compete with most of our competitors because we're as big as most of them, but we're still family-run so we can get an answer right away. You don't have to go through layers of upper management."

Pressing the past, the history of printing in the Cummings family began at least one generation prior to Cummings' grandfather establishing the current business.

"When my dad passed away, I was going through some paperwork, and I found this one envelope, and in it was my great-grandfather's induction to the Civil War and discharge papers and all that. And there was a pay stub that had his name and as his occupation it said 'printer,'" Cummings said. "And my sons have worked here in the summer, so we're at at least five generations now."

The company was first established in 1914 when Lew A. Cummings hired two employees and opened a small commercial printing company in Concord.

The company grew and evolved steadily over the years, and, after a fire damaged the original building, the elder Cummings decided to move to a three-floor structure on West Central Street in Manchester, where he was better positioned to market to Massachusetts.

Lew A. Cummings Co. Inc,, as it was known in the early part of the century, continued to flourish in the Queen City, forcing the owner to construct a new facility at the site of the former Manchester Public Gardens at 215 Canal St.

Jack Cummings said it was there that the company evolved from a small commercial letter press printer to a much larger and more efficient business that produced many out-of-state publications.

Four years after the big move, however, Cummings died and left the company to his son, John W. Cummings, who ran the company through an up-and-down period in the 1960s and '70s. In fact, Lew A. Cummings Co. Inc. nearly went bankrupt and skirted a union takeover during that time.

Yet the company survived and, in 1988, Jack Cummings was made president.

He said the company's equipment and methods had become "dangerously antiquated," and had neither the space nor finances to transition into the modern era of web printing, Cummings spent the next five years slowly updating the company's equipment and constructing a 65,000-square-foot-plant at the current location of Cummings Printing at 4 Peters Brook Drive.

The transition was costly, and the company struggled for several years, he said.

Still, the upgrades made Cummings Printing competitive again, and as sales increased, so did the technology. The company streamlined its procedures by becoming ISO 9000 certified and using those methods to manage the suddenly thriving company.

Printing a recipe for future success, Cummings said he'd like to see his two sons take over the family business and carry the company in a lasting direction.

"I'd like to see them diversify a little, maybe into packaging. There will always be packages, as long as there are products, and package printing is a growing and stable industry," he said. "(The future of the print industry) will always be a nervous question for us, so I'd like to see them get into other printing that can't go away, and let's face it, boxes, cartons, point-of-sale stuff, printing on plastics and medals and packing, that's not going anywhere.

"For the short term, anyway, we're magazine printers."

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