By Ed Avis
The year was 1982, and Kim Long was a typical 18-year-old, hungry for independence. She left her hometown of Toronto, Ontario and landed in San Rafael, California. She got a job as a bank teller and cashed in pop bottles for gas money to get to work.
“I was a very stubborn person,” Long says. “I was damned if I was going to ask my parents for money. I wanted to make it on my own so I got a job, I got an apartment, and I bought a car.”
Long’s self-exploration lasted about a year. She got married, moved back to Toronto, and came to work for her father Jack, who owned Reprodux and wanted his daughter back in the family business.
But that doesn’t mean Long, who today runs Reprodux and just ended her term as IRgA president, is a completely different person from the California girl of three decades ago. Back then people called her stubborn; today people call her determined.
Long’s earliest memories of the reprographics business are riding her tricycle to her father’s shop. Jack Long had founded Reprodux with one Bruning Revolute Star diazo printer in his basement in 1963, shortly before Kim was born.
“Dad was working for a company called Mono Typeseting, and a friend of his needed some blueprints made and realized how much it cost,” Kim Long says. “So this gentleman said to my dad, ‘You should investigate this business.’”
Long did investigate the business and jumped in. Within a year he was able to quit his typesetting job and focus on Reprodux full time. He moved the business out of the basement and rented a shop around the corner from their home.
“Back then there wasn’t a lot of competition. The city was growing exponentially and people needed prints, and it was pretty much us and one other shop,” Long says. “Then one day a guy came in to get a mylar and my dad charged him a dollar a square foot; the total invoice was $90. The guy couldn’t believe how much he charged, and he went back and opened his own business – now that’s another competitor.”
Kim started working for her dad when she was 13. She helped in the billing department by tearing the carbons off the invoices and matching up the invoices with the work orders.
“There was probably more fooling around than actually working,” she laughs.
When Long returned from her year of self-exploration, her father started her as a copy machine operator. She wasn’t content just pushing the buttons all day, though, so she started exploring how the business worked.
“I’m not the kind of person who likes to sit still,” she says. “I need to understand how something works, why it works, why we are doing it this way, etc.”
That curiosity meant that she learned things quickly, and when the general manager of production resigned a couple of years later, she got that job. By then Reprodux had four locations, so she also took over the small-format print management of all locations.
But she never forgot her high school days of tearing carbons off of invoices, so her next big step was modernize the accounting department.
“So around 1987 I started looking after the accounting, and back then they were doing everything by ledger cards, not by computer,” Long recalls. “I wanted a computer there, so I worked with the accountants to find a custom invoicing system that would work for us. We converted the whole system over later that year. That was a big accomplishment.”
Running the accounting department was a natural step in Long’s executive growth. Her next move was to establish Reprodux’s plotting department.
“I saw the Versatec plotter at the IRgA convention in 1990,” she remembers. “We bought one, and when we got the first job on AutoCAD files we worked around the clock for four days to plot the mylars for the job. But we got that job out and that department continued to grow.”
She remembers when modems became popular in the early 1990s and many customers were baffled. “Some of these guys were really old school, and they didn’t understand computers,” Long says. “So you would have to go out and set the things up so they could send files to us.”
She was taking over more of the general management responsibilities by that time, too. As new technology or new regulations emerged, she investigated them and took the appropriate steps to keep Reprodux up to speed.
By the time her father retired in 2000 she was ready to take over the firm. She became CEO that year; her father remains in the position of president, though Kim very much runs the show. Nevertheless, Kim still takes advantage of her father’s years of experience and advice.
Today Reprodux has 12 locations. The expansion started before Long became CEO, but accelerated over the past decade. Some of the expansion – such as the locations opened in 2013 in Ottawa and Hamilton – were completely new shops, while others were acquisitions of existing businesses – such as Curry Reprographics, which was acquired in 2010.
In each case, the strategy is not to simply reproduce Reprodux. Instead, local conditions and traditions are respected, and technology that Reprodux has is supplied to the new locations as needed.
For example, when Reprodux acquired Curry in Windsor, the existing pricing structure was preserved, even though it’s a little different from that of Reprodux’s Toronto structure. But Reprodux did provide a modern online planroom and an advanced accounting system, neither of which the previous owners could afford.
One of the firm’s larger acquisitions was of Entire Reprographics, which Reprodux bought in 2013. Entire had three locations; two were folded into existing Reprodux locations and one remains separate.
Canada v. U.S.
With her involvement with IRgA and with the Reprographics Services Association, Long has had a lot of exposure to the U.S. market. What differences does she see between Canada and the U.S.?
“We have a lot more rules and regulations in Canada,” she says. “Our economy is different; we didn’t suffer as badly during the recession as the U.S. did. We didn’t go into the depths of despair. But it costs us more to operate – we don’t get the same prices as they do in the U.S. I remember that I needed toner one day and I got a price from Xerox; then I called Michael (Shaw, president of Central Blueprint on Long Island) and he told me he pays half of what I was quoted!”
Another difference Long notices is that there is much greater demand for color CAD prints in Canada. Reprodux uses a KIP 7800 to print color CAD projects, and they get many orders from firms creating presentations for municipalities that require color in permit requests. “We get some really nice color orders,” Long says.
A Colorful, Digital Future
Digital color has been a key part of Reprodux’s success since 1994, when the company bought a Versatec 8954 color plotter.
“Now we have some latex printers and Océ Arizona and Hewlett-Packard hybrid printers,” Long says. “We recently had 12 hours to print 100 copies of a 36 x 48 inch four-color, two-sided posters.”
The firm also is modernizing its traditional reprographics business. As Reprodux’s clients rely more on PDFs instead of prints, Long is positioning her firm to continue as an essential part of the equation.
“We’re working on tech offerings that offer services to clients so they don’t need to go elsewhere,” she says. “We’ve worked really hard on developing this and will be it launching it soon.”
Caring About the Community
Reprodux’s financial success is impressive, but Long is also proud of her firm’s commitment to the community. Her son, who has cerebral palsy, uses a wheelchair, so Reprodux focuses its philanthropic efforts on children with special needs. The company has held fundraisers for a local children’s rehabilitation hospital, and sponsors a youth bocce league for children with special needs.
“Now we are looking to create a fund for families that don’t have the ability to afford assistive devices,” Long says.
Long’s commitment to children with special needs, and to Reprodux’s growth, reveal how the rebellious teen has turned that stubborn energy into success.