Bill Berg spent four decades in the reprographics business, beginning with Frederick Post, a manufacturer of drafting products, and concluding with MBC Precision Imaging (previously called Maryland Blueprint Company).
Here are excerpts of an interview with Bill conducted by Joel Salus. The numbers beside each question represent the number of the question in the original interview. To read the complete original interview, click here.
4. Did you start a reprographics company from scratch, and, if so, how did you capitalize the company and how much capital did the company start out with? Also, did you start that company with partners, or, if you did not, did you add partners later on?
I started MBC from scratch with $750. I was fortunate that I knew my needed suppliers very well. They cut me slack on paying within 30 days and I was TENACIOUS about my collections. My landlord gave me breaks as well. I had a partner for about 3 or 4 months.
When we where working late one evening he saw a couple of guys he suspected of shop lifting some drafting supplies. He went to his car and brought out a 357 magnum and said quietly to me, “if they touch anything I’ll blow their f... heads off”. I knew I made a very big mistake. The partnership ended two days later.
14.Different from a “merger”, did your company ever “acquire” another company, and, if you did, did the acquisition benefit your company, and, if it did, how so?
MBC purchased three and all worked out well. The number one benefit was the great people that came with the acquisitions. I remember them clearly. They contributed greatly to our growth. This is something we did not expect. Secondly new clients, areas and markets opened up for our services.
15.Regarding any acquisitions or mergers you completed during your time in business, did they accomplish what you expected they would accomplish? With the benefit of 20/20 hindsight, what are the key issues to be aware of to ensure success with an acquisition or merger?
Since we only purchased the assets of the firms and did not acquire their liabilities or stock many problems were avoided. In addition we knew the owners their clients and reputations. We purchased local companies. MBC had a good lawyer and accountant plus our team.
We looked at their location and lease to be sure we wanted to locate there. In addition, were the clients ones we wanted, i.e., small, medium customers or one or two large customers? Did they have a usable inventory? What type of equipment did they have? How much would we have to spend after the sale on upgrading? Did their clients pay on time?
You get the picture!
26.How did you get feedback from customers?
One small low-tech feedback method was to simply put a self mailing card in each production job randomly. Asking a few job related questions. No sales pitch whatsoever. I got many back and answered all. Many became part of our next meeting. Any problems were addressed by the appropriate manager or by me.
27.What factors led to your company’s success in its geographic market area?
Our service was unmatched. As an example: MBC opened up a branch that was purely on speculation. Our operating procedure for all new branches was to have our best employees working from day one.
The branch manager was a legend. He brought a cot to the new shop and camped out every night. Why? Well, because he said we had to be ready when the phone rang. We couldn’t lose and that shop did a mil very quickly.
34. Did you have a mentor (or more than one) when you started in business or later on, and how did having a mentor (or mentors) help you?
At Post I worked with a wonderful person, Al Horn, that I became very close with. He became Sales Manager for Azon when I started MBC. His knowledge of the business was vast and he introduced me to other Azon dealers who were very generous sharing their knowledge with me.
He died tragically very young and I think of him often.
35. Would you share with us two or three of the most significant “good decisions” you made during your career?
Spent money to get great people, went quickly to digital, opened branches as a business strategy.
36.Would you also share with us two or three of the most significant “bad decisions” you made during your career?
Opened first branch and didn’t understand the commitment necessary for it’s success. Actually my wife says my memory is so bad I can’t remember all the bad decisions I made. I say that’s why I made out ok.
Want to read more? Click here for the complete interview.