This is the first in a four-part series about Wallace Carlson Printing – the history, technology, processes and people – and how it developed into the printing powerhouse it is today. In this article, you’ll learn about Team Turbeville and how this duo came to be at the helm of an 86-year-old commercial printer.
“Not many women can say they got a six-color press for Valentine’s Day,” said Ann Turbeville. February 14, 2005 was the day she and her husband Brian completed their acquisition of Wallace Carlson Printing in Minnetonka, Minnesota. “Of course, with that gift came new challenges”
Ann and Brian Turbeville were no strangers to the printing industry when they purchased Wallace Carlson, a commercial printer established in 1931. In 1985, the husband-and-wife team – together with Brian’s father, Jack, who retired in 1999 – co-founded Lightning Printing, a company they started in their garage with a $500 printing press, and built into a successful corner-store printer with two busy retail locations.
In 2005, the acquisition of Wallace Carlson by Lightning Printing was a big step for the Turbevilles, who chose to keep the Wallace Carlson brand. Now, all these years later, the duo reflects on those early years and what it took to grow, and to succeed, first as Lightning Printing, then as Wallace Carlson Printing.
“Lightning Printing moved from our garage to its first retail location in April 1986, just six months after we got started,” said Brian. “Later that year, we hired our first employee, and a year after that, we added a second retail location. As a regional, small format print shop, most of our customers were walk-ins. We specialized in letterhead, business cards, one and two-color postcards, brochures, and similar materials.”
Growth was steady and business was good for Lightning Printing.
Things moved along nicely for about a decade, but by the late 1990s, the ubiquity of newer technologies – email, computers, even fax machines – reduced the need for custom-printed supplies like letterhead and envelopes. Seeing this trend continue into the new millennium, and realizing the future of the small format print shop model was in flux, Team Turbeville decided it was time to make a change.
“Ann and I went out looking for bigger locations and bigger presses, with the idea of increasing production and growing into new types of print jobs,” said Brian. “Then a colleague told me about Wallace Carlson.”
At the time, Wallace Carlson was run by Jay and Glenn Carlson, sons of the founder for whom the company is named. Their father passed away in 1997 and the company had peaked in sales a year or two later.
Jay and Glenn were ready for a change themselves. “We were impressed with their operation from the minute we stepped foot on the production floor. Wallace Carlson had come a long way from its first print job, a label for bootlegged whisky bottles in 1931,” said Ann. “The plant was big and beautiful and presented the perfect acquisition to take the next step in our growth.
“Not only was it the story of a smaller company buying a big company, but it was 2005, not a good time for the U.S. economy,” said Brian. “Yet we were fully committed to making this investment in our future. We completed the acquisition on Valentine’s Day 2005, then closed the retail locations and got to work.”
Brian admits that, while they had positive cash flow, things were tight during those first few years under the Wallace Carlson roof, which was understandable, considering the new acquisition. He and Ann say they have their people to thank for much of their early success.
“We immediately turned our attention to blending the two companies, cultures and work force,” said Ann. “It was a lot of hard work, and it took dedication and perseverance from all those involved.
From 2005 until 2010, Ann and Brian focused on creating efficiencies, particularly in the front office. Ann is the CEO, and because she is also the majority shareholder, Wallace Carlson was able to attain WBENC certification as a Women’s Business Enterprise in 2012. Brian serves as president and oversees sales.
“We worked together to streamline front-office processes so we could do more with less, and we also set our sights on growing our sales numbers,” said Ann. “The equipment we gained through the acquisition was more advanced and had much higher production capacity than what we had in our Lightning Printing shops. We were able to offer new capabilities and the ability to turn big jobs around quickly.”
Lightning Printing fulfilled short-run printing needs of small businesses, schools, churches and nonprofits. “We brought many of those customers to Wallace Carlson with us,” said Brian. “Academy of Holy Angels High School was one of our first half-dozen customers, and they’re still a customer today, 30 years later. But now we also count among our customers medium and large enterprises, including Fortune 500s, from coast to coast. Customer demographics started changing ever-so-slightly in those first five years.”
In 2010, Team Turbeville turned its attention to the production side of the business. “It was time for us to improve production floor efficiencies and expand the business,” said Brian. “That’s when we met Charlie.”
Charlie Cox joined Wallace Carlson Printing as COO in 2010, and a new transition was soon underway.
Check back next week for part two in this series.