Dan’s Story… Reflecting on 20 Years in Business.
Dan Sawyer, the founder of Image76, was a junior in high school when he was introduced to the printing industry. His graphic arts instructor, Jack Condon, had taken leave after suffering a heart attack. His class was turned into a study hall with no printing instructors on site to run the program. The seniors, who were trained to run the printing presses, had also left for the year, leaving no one to run the presses.
The school still had its usual printing jobs to be completed. Dan says, “Rather than use my time actually studying or shooting spit balls at the substitute teacher with my fellow classmates, I saw an opportunity to keep the presses rolling. I convinced the substitute teacher that I was in fact able to run the press. Okay… so I lied.”
“I knew there was paper and ink involved and I guessed that water went into the machine with some sort of chemistry”, and I thought “How hard can it be?”
After tinkering with the press for several days, he had it up and running like a well oiled machine. Sort of. Regardless, the school was well supplied once again with the hall passes and permission slips needed to keep the school going for the rest of the year and well into the next.
At one point, the principal called him into his office. “He had a serious look on his face as he instructed me to close the door behind me.” I thought I was in big trouble, recalls Mr. Sawyer. “He slid an envelope across the desk toward me. It was a copy of his resume. He was asking me to print 50 copies on the QT.” This is a true story that gave me the confidence I needed, especially since I had earned the respect of my principal. I think that by now the statute of limitations has expired, but I’m sworn to secrecy and still won’t mention any names.”
As fortune would have it, the instructor, Mr. Condon, returned with the new school year. Now a senior, Dan also returned to the graphics class. “The instructor had pulled me aside and thanked me for keeping the shop running in his absence. He noted that a new printing company had just opened up and he had stopped in to speak with the owner. He said that I should call the new print shop and speak to the owner myself. I did and after interviewing with him, he hired me as a press operator.”
When Dan was only 16 he was printing full time at night while attending classes during the day. At 17, he was managing the printing production. At 18, he received a call from Corporate Headquarters to overhaul the production in one of their other locations. “As a teenager, I was managing, hiring and, when necessary, firing production workers.”
At the age of 20, Dan started his own printing company. “I had skills, confidence and the crazy idea that anything was possible. I was literally starting with nothing. No equipment, no customers, no money,” he recalls with a nostalgic grin. “My own family said I was nuts. I’m not sure that they were wrong. I didn’t understand the rate of failure for a startup business, nor would it have stopped me if I had.”
Today, 20 years after his very humble beginnings, he notes some of the many changes that have taken place over the years. “I’ve survived five moves, each one affording me more space than the last. The industry has changed substantially over the years. The technology is light years away from where it was when I started in the business.”
The biggest change was when his wife, Nancy, joined him as his partner in the business in 1999, more than ten years ago. “Again…people said I was nuts, but in truth it was the best thing that ever happened to me and the business. Nancy and I make a great team. Her strengths complement my weaknesses and vice versa.”
“When Nancy joined the company, we added our mailing services within the first year. Shortly after that we added screen printing and then embroidery services. Just two years ago the majority of our work was in offset printing. Today we are on the cutting edge of digital technology. Projects that once took days to produce are now often times accomplished in minutes.”
Dan continues, “By adding digital capabilities, we’ve embraced Variable Information Printing (V.I.P.) technology. This gives us the ability to personalize printed material with astonishing results. It’s amazing how quickly the technology changes in this industry, it’s very different from my grandfather’s time.”
Dan’s grandfather, Roy Graves, was a pressman at Parker Brothers in Salem, MA, where he printed the very first Monopoly games. “When my grandfather retired from Parker Bros., he started his own print shop which he ran for several years. After retiring from printing altogether he sold his equipment. Years after his death in 1987, I made several phone calls on a whim, to track down the various elements of his shop. I learned that his Heidelberg press had been sold to a company in Maine and as far as I know, it’s still in operation today.
“About 12 years ago, I received a phone call at my shop from an older gentleman who told me he had something I may want to see. I scheduled a visit with him.” As it turns out, the gentleman, Ken Sullivan, had the original print blocks that he had purchased from Dan’s grandfather when he had closed his print shop. Mr. Sullivan was terminal with cancer and knew he didn’t have a lot of time left on this earth. “When I met with Ken, he gave to me the entire collection of what had once been my grandfather’s print blocks that he had used in his own print shop.”
Though his grandfather was long since retired and had passed away before Dan’s entrepreneurial spirit had set him on his path to the printing business, he feels that his grandfather is a big part of the business that he and his wife Nancy now enjoy.
Pointing to a photo from 1937 on his wall, Dan adds “I think he would be impressed.” The photo is one of his grandfather, Roy Graves, printing Chinese Checkers games at Parker Brothers. Next to the photo is a gift from his wife, Nancy, of an unopened replica of the original Monopoly game from 1935. Above that is an arrangement of his grandfather’s wood block letters.
When Dan tells you that he has ink in his blood, he’s not joking.