So What Is My Story…

CL Graphics 004In my previous post I shared how the concept of storytelling is a great marketing tool. Ideally the story engages the reader and shares the mission and passion about you organization. And while  many times it is a story from a client or volunteer, or someone else that has been impacted by your organization’s work, the concept of sharing your own personal story as the leader can also be a way to personalize your work. With this in mind, I offer a bit of my own background – and how I came to be part of C L Graphics!

I had first become involved in Graphic Arts and Printing through my high school instructor – Len Wilson, at Hersey HS in Arlington Heights, IL. While my initial thoughts of a career might well have been in architecture (my creative side), the initial classes I took in Graphics were very interesting to me. Len was a strong influence, along with my brother Tom who also was involved in these classes (he actually pulled me in first). After 3 years I was so immersed  already that I elected to continue my education in Graphic Arts at Illinois State University – also following along with my brother, who was 1 year ahead of me. While at ISU, I was mentored by two professors –  Dr. Fred Kagy, and Dr. Dean Blomgren. They shared not only a good knowledge of the industry, but also instilled the drive to continually learn and also become involved – in organizations and trade groups. To this day, I believe the value of a college education is much more than just the classes you take, but rather the influences and networking that help shape who you become in the workforce.

Following college, I chose to begin my working career as a high school instructor – at Addison Trail HS in Addison, IL. Likewise I had great individuals who helped me become involved. Norm Sturm, Wayne Simms and others helped mold me. The students – some of which I have even heard from 15 and 20 years later, were the real reason for the work you do as a teacher. I continued gaining experience through teaching a night school class and then as an adjunct instructor at Triton College for 1 year.

While I genuinely did enjoy teaching, there was a part of me that wanted to do more – and to get further involved in the industry outside of teaching. With this in mind I approached my HS teacher – Len Wilson, and asked him how he had begun a part-time business that he worked out of his home with his wife Carolyn. Our discussions progressed to the point that he asked if I would be interested in joining them by taking C L Graphics full-time. This was a pretty neat opportunity I felt, and at the age of 25 I became part owner of the business! We found a building to rent, purchased some additional equipment and with the help of a bank loan at the then going rate of 18%, we were “all in.”

The beginning years were not easy. Carolyn would do typesetting, layout and camera work – I would do platemaking, presswork and bindery – and then I would put on my sport coat and not only deliver, but also then go out and make sales calls! After about 3 months it became apparent that the cash flow generated would not be enough to initially sustain us, so I also took to delivering pizzas – something just to be able to pay the bills. Over time though, our sales grew and we even needed to begin adding additional members to the team. I am proud to say that some of them – Dave Fisher and Pat Bauer, are still with us today, at 31 and 29 years!

The partnership lasted for five years, and then Carolyn, Len and I chose to separate. Not an easy transition by any means, and this required me to take on additional debt from family and a new banking relationship as well. Over time though, and with a strong work ethic and commitment, C L Graphics has grown and become successful. Over these years (33 now), we have received numerous awards for client work from trade associations, recognition for management and marketing achievements, and in 2012, I was named NAQP/NAPL Printer of the Year! I have been honored to have served on two national trade association Boards, several local ones and have been President of the Crystal Lake Chamber of Commerce and the Ambassadors as well. I currently serve as Board Chair of the McHenry County Community Foundation as well.

Over time I have found that getting involved in the industry and other groups has given me so much more than what I have had to put in as effort. I also know that the individuals I have mentioned at the HS and College level, as well as my business partners, have been a strong influence in how I choose to run C L Graphics. My  education experience has helped me in learning how to market ourselves, helped me be comfortable in offering seminars and educational opportunities for our clients, and no doubt has helped me in being able to tell my story as I have here.

I have much to be thankful for, and it is this experience that provides the passion for what it is I do!


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