Editor‘s Note: Kevin Howes has been selected as the new executive director of the Reprographic Services Association (RSA). Kevin spoke with IRgA about his background and outlook on the industry. Here is an edited version of that interview.
How did you first got into reprographics?
It was 1987, and I was married and in graduate school with a kid on the way and working for my father-in-law’s chemical reagent packaging business. One day my aunt said to me, “The company I’m working for is looking for a manager.” That company was Print-O-Stat, and they needed a manager for one of their shops in Baltimore. They were kind enough to take a chance on me. I was fortunate to be part of the old school reprographics – we worked with K&E and Dietzgen, BlueRay, Diazit and the Xerox 2510, which had just entered the market. It was a fun business – I fell in love with it. The sales side of the business fit my personality well.
What experiences did you have in reprographics after Print-O-Stat?
After Print-O-Stat I worked for Rowley Scherr Reprographics, and then I was hired by CAD One, which was an Ohio-based company that was expanding nationally while transitioning from CAD software, equipment and supplies distribution into broader color markets. Initially I was a region manager in the Mid-Atlantic for the core business but then was promoted to graphics marketing manager to drive business development in the color graphics market. This was right at the time when color electrostatic plotters from Xerox/Versatec and Raster Graphics were creating vinyl graphics through wet and dry transfer processes. CAD One was a leader in the distribution of those materials at that time. This was also the period when inkjet printers were starting to explode onto the market for short term graphics.
While I was at Print-O-Stat, I met a guy named Jim Protiva who was the dealer sales manager from XES. Jim was a mentor to me in the business and we became friends; we stayed in touch and he was instrumental in helping me land a few later positions. Early on in our friendship he said to me, “Someday you’ll work for me.” That day came in 1997 when he was at Océ and he needed a digital color specialist to help the traditional sales team drive new color business on the East Coast. The move to Océ advanced my career in terms of professional training, as they were very good at providing sales and management training courses. At that time Océ was trying to get beyond the traditional diazo and bond products serving the repro industry and into inkjet materials and new markets.
I had only been at Océ for a short while when an opportunity for my wife to take an expatriate position with her employer, a French based chemical company, allowed us to relocate to France. We both wanted to give our kids an international experience and since I am a dual citizen of the US and Ireland, I could work in France as well. I was hired by Regma Solutions as their export marketing manager, and I helped drive their coated inkjet media business. In fact, I was able to develop some polyester film business with my previous employer, Océ, thanks again to my ongoing friendship with Jim Protiva.
When we moved back to the United States, in 2002, I went to work for XES as the business development manager for wide-format inkjet solutions. Unfortunately, Xerox was selling off assets at that time, and they eventually killed off that program. I eventually landed at ICI – ImageData, a UK-based specialty coater, where I was the North American sales manager and later the global sales and marketing director. In 2011 I joined Delphax Technologies in Minneapolis, which was my first exposure to the Memjet array printheads. Delphax made high-speed digital print solutions for the label, check printing, and book and transactional print business. That work led to my most recent position, as director of print solutions centered on the Memjet technology for RTI.
RSA members are reprographics shop owners, so they will appreciate your time at Print-O-State and Rowley. How do you think your experiences at those two firms will affect your leadership at RSA?
The RSA is made up of variety of types of companies, some of which are repro services only, some of which are repro equipment only, and some of which are hybrids and do both. They also vary in terms of size and market share, but the one consistent thing is that they are family businesses, which Print-O-Stat was. Rowley at the time was investor-owned so my experience was more corporate there. While I consider my Print-O-Stat experience to be a hybrid of services and equipment, Rowley was services focused and CAD One was equipment and supply focused. All of that experience is relevant to the current RSA membership mix. Additionally, I understand what’s it like to work in a family-owned business, having served two tours of duty in my in-laws’ business. In total, I think I can empathize with both the owners and employees in a family business.
A lot has changed in terms of technology and especially print volumes since I worked for Print-O-Stat and Rowley, but some concepts have remained. For example, manned and unmanned FMs still exist, but the technology and equipment mix is different than just deploying a blueprint or plain paper copier machine. It’s just a matter of how you apply the technology of today to those concepts and continue to provide value to your customers.
Another aspect of my industry experience is having spent time with the OEM side of the industry. It gives me a unique perspective and appreciation for the love/hate relationship that sometimes happens between reprographics shop owners and the OEMs. And I understand the importance of the OEM side of the business to an organization like the RSA and its members so I want to continue to build on the good working relationships that Mark Beilman has established between the RSA and its OEM partners.
What’s the future of reprographics?
We all like to think we have the crystal ball! Part of my mission is to see what opportunities are out there on the horizon that will be part of the reprographics industry over the next 13 to 15 years. That’s part of the beauty of working with an organization that has 84 members – there are 84 sets of eyes looking for the same thing.
One area that’s interesting to me on a broad level is the impact of millennials and how they communicate. I think their life experiences will influence this industry. Right now I can’t tell you how, but I think we need to pay attention to them.
More specifically, I think there’s still a lot of room for growth in the graphics business. With the general decline in technical print, folks need to be in color printing. I’d be surprised to learn of a service firm that is not already into color or getting there. I think it’s important to keep following the trends in color.
What’s the future of RSA?
To be fair, that’s a question you should probably ask me 120 days down the road! My leadership style is that you have to appreciate the history of an organization, and you have to get to know the members, their expectations, their personalities. Mark’s done a great job -- he managed the RSA through the post-internet bust, then the high-growth years, then the 2007 collapse and the tremendous technology changes all along the way – so he’s doing something right, and I respect that.