there’s no disagreement that the merger has made each organization’s memberships stronger.
“There’s no doubt in my mind that (the merger) was a wise
choice for both sides,” says Rick Schildgen, president of CL
Graphics in Crystal Lake, Ill., who had been a member of both
NAPL and NAQP and currently serves on NAQP’s board of governors. “This is still a work in progress, but a lot of good work
has been done.”
RESPONDING TO THE PRINTING INDUSTRY
So what prompts an otherwise healthy association to pursue a
merger with another? In NAQP’s case, it was a changing industry. Around 2000, printing businesses were consolidating.
According to the U.S. 2002 Economic Census, the total number
of printing establishments in the country dropped 17 percent
from 1997 to 2002. Print shop owners were aging and often
selling to others; the rapid change in printing technology made
it difficult for some to keep up on their own.
These trends particularly affected NAQP’s membership target — smaller printing businesses with revenue less than $3
million. These businesses — either independents or franchises
— typically were run by sole proprietors less likely to have a succession plan for handing down their business or have the capital to make significant equipment investments.
In the early 2000s, NAQP as an organization was healthy by
many accounts. “We had money in the bank, and we were making money, though not a lot,” says Steve Johnson, NAQP president and CEO. “It wasn’t like we were going bankrupt, but times
were changing, the industry was changing … the long-term outlook was more of a question mark. We decided we’d rather look
at a partnership or merger now rather than down the road when
we might be less attractive.”
“Things were going OK,” concurs then-NAQP Chairman Tom
Gardner, president of Curry Printing in Westborough, Mass. “But
we had reached a bit of a plateau and peaked at new member
numbers. We wanted to look to the next horizon.”
As the only national association serving the smaller print business
segment, NAQP didn’t have any peers to look to or partner with.
NAQP executives had brief conversations with a photography-related
association with whom it had partnered on a trade show, but there
didn’t seem to be much more the groups could do together.
“I give great credit to (NAQP’s) staff and volunteer leadership for deciding to look into a strategic relationship or merger,”
says Joe Truncale, CAE, NAPL president and CEO. “Unlike
many other associations, they weren’t just looking at this year’s
operating budget or this year’s strategic plan. They were really
focused on what’s going on in the industry and what they could
do for their members in the long term.”
EARLY SEEDS OF PARTNERSHIP
Johnson had met with NAPL executives, including Truncale, in
2001 shortly after joining NAQP. That meeting was part of a
round of friendly visits with those in the industry, but the two
groups realized they had a lot in common and agreed there were
ways they could work together. Not much came of it immediately, but Johnson and Truncale kept in touch during the next
Several other national associations serve the printing industry, and some were considered at the board level when NAQP
decided to pursue a partnership of some kind. But according to
Johnson, NAPL was the clear-cut choice.
Both were national membership-based trade associations
with no chapters or affiliates. Both were very member-centric
and had similar missions. Though there was some overlap, their
membership bases were more complementary than competitive.
(The majority of NAPL’s membership was mid-size to large print
shops that tended to have multiple layers of management and
sometimes were publicly traded.)
And from Johnson’s early experiences with NAPL, he felt
comfortable with it as a potential partner. “We both had the
same philosophy about how an association should be run,”
The two agreed that “the primary focus has to be on members,” Truncale says. “Sometimes that is overlooked. It’s not
about the organization itself or what looks good in the short term.
The organization is the members.”
Despite making his own job vulnerable in the process, Johnson says he was comfortable recommending a merger. “I felt
comfortable enough in myself that things would work out fine
for me,” Johnson says. “Early on, I told my board that if (the
post-merger) doesn’t involve me that’s OK.” As talks continued
though, he developed a high degree of trust and respect for
Truncale and NAPL board members and believed they wanted
him to remain involved.
Johnson formally presented the idea of a partnership to the
NAQP board in fall 2004. At that time, “partnership” did not
necessarily mean “merger;” it was mainly a summary of items
they could be doing together. The board signed off on the idea,
and formed a committee to explore options with NAPL.
MISSION OF THE NATIONAL ASSOCIATION FOR
PRINTING LEADERSHIP AND THE NAPL NETWORK
“ To advance management in the graphic
NAPL is a management research and consulting organization that helps its constituents make better decisions to
improve and expand their business. It provides research,
management and leadership training, public seminars,
conferences and custom programs for clients.
CAUTIOUS OPTIMISM, POSITIVE ENERGY
“My philosophy when we first started the process was proceed
cautiously, consider everything, and evaluate what’s best for
members,” says Keith Kemp, NAQP chairman at the time of the
merger and president of Xerographic Digital Printing in Orlando,
Fla. “As we got into conversations, we realized the groups
weren’t all that different. And as we got to know the people at
NAPL, we realized we had a lot of the same type of folks. So
what started out as cautious optimism turned to positive energy.”
Truncale says NAPL learned a lot through its merger in
2002 with a small association of printing equipment engineers
and therefore shared NAQP’s desire to take it slow.
“At each organization, there’s a culture, there’s a history,
there’s a level of competency that needs to be evaluated,” Truncale says. “The values and the culture need to come first. We
tell our consulting clients: ‘Take your time. Get to know the peo-