100-year-old Joseph Merritt & Co. stayed ahead of marketplace demands by going digital early
By Jason Millman
July 28, 2008
The secret to Joseph Merritt & Co.’s 100-year survival and success has been its ability to evolve and adapt to the demands of the marketplace.
Merritt has grown from a small blueprinting company on Pearl Street to a high-tech industry leader that prints board games and 90-foot banners and has scanned and indexed a historic journal from one of Charles Darwin’s trips to the Galapagos Islands in 20 minutes.
Now operating from headquarters on Franklin Avenue, the company has 102 employees at eight offices in Connecticut, New York, Rhode Island and Massachusetts.
One pivotal decision has helped Merritt emerge as a national presence in graphics, printing and information management.
When Ed Perry took over as president and CEO in 1987, he decided to take the company digital. At the time, going entirely digital was almost unheard of in the printing industry. Offset printing still dominated the industry.
“It was a gut feeling on my part,” said Perry. “It made a lot of sense to do anything to become more efficient.”
The move soon paid off. While many companies were reluctant to take the same leap, Merritt was well-positioned as the marketplace demand for digital printing increased, said Mike Svestka, president and chief executive officer of Printing Industry Equipment Exchange, a for-profit online print quoting service.
Back in 1987, no one knew if digital would ever compete with the production and cost-efficiency of offset, Svestka explained. “Joseph Merritt got into it early, and they’ve grown with it and retooled, which is a smart move. They carved out their niche to survive.”
“Digital is now digging more into the offset arena,” Svestka added. “Before, the digital numbers were lower in cost-efficiency. Now you can print 500 flyers, and it’s cheaper than offset.”
Those in the business of offset printing, which is still preferred for some large print jobs, have seen a notable drop in business during the past three years, said Tim Greene, director of InfoTrends, a print industry consulting company.
As more companies opt to digitize reports and records, larger print runs have become less necessary, and digital printers like Merritt can provide smaller quantities at a much cheaper rate, Greene said.
“We think the offset business is flat at the very best,” Greene said. “You can easily make the case it is slightly declining because more and more documents are being produced digitally.
“The mere printing of black and white documents is not a business that’s growing leaps and bounds,” he said. “The equipment that those things are getting printed on is getting cheaper and easier and easier for companies do to themselves.”
With everything going digital, printing companies are being called upon to manage and organize information for other companies, Greene said.
Merritt offers information-management services, including scanning and organizing documents, for clients ranging from law firms to biopharmaceuticals.
The company scans a client’s documents, indexes them and posts them on an online software service, allowing the client to access the documents easily.
This document management capability has become increasingly useful to companies that are now required to maintain updated records under strict new rules that were part of the fallout from the Enron scandal, Perry said.
Companies could face thousands of dollars in fines each day if their records are not up to date. Instead of taking on the time-consuming task of maintaining documents, companies are finding it more convenient to let printing companies like Merritt do the heavy lifting for them.
During the past two years, Joseph Merritt has invested $3 million on new equipment. The machine used to scan and index the Darwin document, for example, cost $200,000. Perry said the company may well need to pour another $3 million into equipment over the next couple of years. That’s no small investment for a company that brings in revenues of $16 million a year, but that’s what it takes to stay ahead of the game, Perry said.
“If the next hundred years are going to be as tough as the last 20,” Perry said, “then it will be probably more of a feat to be around the next 100 years than the last 100 years.”
For Merritt’s 100th anniversary, the company wanted to give back something to the community. To mark the milestone, it only seemed right to honor the city by highlighting other longstanding Hartford traditions, Perry said. Merritt produced 100 calendars apiece for six Hartford landmarks that have also celebrated the century mark: The Butler-McCook House and Garden, the Connecticut Historical Society, the Harriet Beecher Stowe Center, the Mark Twain House and Museum, the Old State House and the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art.
Perry hopes the calendar, titled “A Century of Service,” will inspire other companies with longstanding roots in Hartford to take on bigger responsibilities in the city. “I’m hoping the reaction will be, ‘Maybe we should do something like Joseph Merritt did to help Harford reach its goal of becoming a rising star. Maybe we could do something like that too.’”