By Andy Greder
Ahead of the Curve
Arrowhead Printing Expands and Diversifies its Services and Customer Base Through Major Equipment Investments
Back in 1982, Rick Fuller opened Port Cities Printing in Superior. When he purchased Arrowhead Printing in 1988, the name was kept because the letter “A” would keep it near the front of the telephone book.
A lot has changed since then – heard of the Internet? – but Arrowhead Printing has stayed ahead of the curve for decades.
Dan Ericksen (Fuller’s stepson) and his wife, Sarah, now own Arrowhead Printing. And while they’re all about the company’s future, they vigilantly maintain the business principles employed when Rick Fuller and Beth Fuller (Dan’s mother) owned the company.
“It’s doing what you are saying you are going to do,” said Ericksen, who bought the business from the Fullers in December 2007. “If you commit to a deadline, you commit to the deadline. If you give a quote and you realize later that the quote might not be accurate, you still honor it.”
That ethos has helped Arrowhead Printing maintain a customer list in excess of 500 and has helped it thrive in the Internet era.
Charter NEX Films has been a customer for 15 years. The company has purchased letterhead, business cards, marketing materials, literature folders and advertising copy.
“They are easy to work with,” said Katie Peltier, accounting manager at Charter NEX Films. “They are local, their prices are reasonable and the quality is wonderful.”
A byproduct of the Internet era – besides fewer printed materials – is a desire to have things done immediately.
“I’ve never had an issue; they have great turnaround,” Peltier said. “And they deliver, which is nice.”
Henry Schipper started Arrowhead Printing in a garage in Duluth in the late 1930s. Schipper first used the business to print birth announcements.
In the mid-1970s, Rick Fuller moved from Illinois to work for Midland Printing. He took the opportunity to learn everything he could about the printing business before Midland closed in 1982.
Fuller was then ready to open his own business and did so with Port Cities Printing in December 1982. Meanwhile, Schipper moved Arrowhead Printing to Superior.
When Fuller bought Arrowhead in 1988, he moved the business to 625 Hughitt Avenue, its current location. In the next decade, he put two additions on the building.
Dan Ericksen started working at Arrowhead Printing near the time of his graduation from Superior High School in 1990.
Ericksen then moved to Minneapolis, where he “tried like hell to get out of printing,” he said with a hearty laugh.
“When I wasn’t in love with it, there didn’t seem to be a whole lot of change or excitement going on,” he added.
“What we are starting to see with ad campaigns now – it’s a printed piece, it’s a social media piece and then a website.”
– Dan Ericksen, co-owner, Arrowhead Printing
He went to an employment agency and a woman there saw printing experience on his resume and knew of an opening at a printing company, Data Print Distribution in Minneapolis.
“I started there initially just doing some deliveries out of the Foshay Tower location,” Ericksen said.
Ericksen then became customer service manager. “When I got to Minneapolis, the early age of digital was just starting with the Canon color copiers,” he said. “It was more challenging and part of it was just not working for my parents! In the early ’90s, printing changed so much and it was a real exciting time.”
Ericksen came back to his roots at Arrowhead Printing in 1998. “I was told by my parents that if I wanted anything to do with the business, I needed to move back up and essentially start from the bottom,” he said.
He restarted in the prepress department.
“It gave me an opportunity to know all of our customers and all of our presses and all of our sheet sizes and all of the variables,” Ericksen said. “You didn’t just see jobs for one press, but you saw the jobs for all of the presses and all of the customers.”
Erickson continued to work his way up. He was in sales in 2001 and became general manager in 2005. Then, in 2007, it was ownership.
“It was the opportunity to own my own business,” Ericksen said. “You can be a manager [elsewhere at another business], but it was the opportunity here.”
Sarah Ericksen started at the bottom just like Dan. She was an office assistant through high school before graduating in 1997. She returned full-time in 1998, the same time as Dan, and she worked up to office manager, inside sales, customer service and then outside sales. She is now vice president and chief financial officer.
“They are a wonderful company. I love Sarah and Dan both professionally and personally.”
– Katie Peltier, Charter NEX Films
What led them to each other before getting married in 2004?
“My charming personality,” Dan quipped.
“Yeah, let’s go with that,” Sarah replied.
The Ericksens have worked together for 16 years and have been married for about 10. How do they balance work and personal lives?
“We know when to hand stuff off,” Dan said. “That has been our thing … I will handle a project to a certain point and once I’m done with it, Sarah will take over and then I don’t intervene at all anymore. We both have our areas that we feel we are very good at and we try not to overlap very much.”
To outsiders, they are a great pair, according to Peltier of Charter NEX Films.
“They are a wonderful company,” she said. “I love Sarah and Dan both professionally and personally.”
Arrowhead Printing is producing less letterhead and envelopes, but has diversified in recent years to be able to do more wide-format printing, such as banners, coffee cups, oversized posters, stickers, clothing, vehicle wraps, political campaign signs, golf balls, doors or tile.
In other words, pretty much any printing need imaginable.
“There has been a large investment in equipment and that is because of the technology and having to do the quick turns on everything,” Dan Ericksen said. “The computer has pushed it to where we have had to keep updating our offset equipment. We got a larger format and that does the four-color printing and coating. We can already be moving it a few minutes after [the printing process] and start cutting it and doing the finishing services. We couldn’t do that type of stuff before. We would have to let it sit for a day or so to let it dry.”
Things haven’t dried up because of the Internet, either.
“One of the things that we are seeing more of is printed material to drive people to the Internet,” Dan Ericksen said. “At the end of the day, you can have a website – but it doesn’t mean anybody is going to find it. We are seeing a better balance. The Internet has supposedly been getting rid of printing for the last 15 years. But what we are starting to see with ad campaigns now – it’s a printed piece, it’s a social media piece and then a website. That is a lot of what we are seeing now.”
Arrowhead Printing prints plenty of traditional materials (including this magazine, which is also online), but the company encourages customers to do higher-quality pieces less often. That could be an annual report instead of quarterly reports, for instance – a publication that has a longer shelf life and doubles as a marketing piece, since it traditionally provides perspective on the year just past as well as business plans for the year ahead.
“They are looking for a more high-end looking piece and that is what we are trying to offer,” said Ernie Harker, who has been in sales and estimating at Arrowhead for 26 years. “It’s going to look richer. Your product is going to look better.”
Arrowhead also handles all the design, cutting, binding and mailing.
“We do our best to do that with any solution,” Harker said. “We try to help and not blindside anybody. We try to come up with solutions.”
Besides honoring deadlines, Ericksen said, the best advice he got from his stepfather was “You get what you pay for. He always said that.
“Quality equipment makes all the world of difference,” Ericksen said.
“I don’t know how you can even put a value on that. That is the ability to make a deadline – to know that I can rely on people in every area.”
– Dan Ericksen, co-owner, Arrowhead Printing
The addition to the building in 1998 allowed for Arrowhead’s first multi-colored press, where the equipment could add five colors in one pass. The company added a new press in 2011 and it runs 30 percent larger sheets with full automation from plate loaders.
“Essentially, we are doing 25 percent more work on one shift than we were doing with two shifts on our other press,” Ericksen said. “We run fewer presses than we were doing 10 years ago and we are doing considerably more work.”
Arrowhead added another digital press in December.
“The efficiencies,” Ericksen said, are the greatest gain from Arrowhead’s substantial investment in equipment. “We have things that we ran on our older presses; it would take us two days. The last time it took us six hours. That is really where a lot of the things are changing.”
Arrowhead printing has about 20 employees, with some seasonal variability in staffing numbers. But the company’s work ethic never varies.
“We have the ability to go back and ask them [Arrowhead employees] on a Thursday afternoon, ‘I have a job that I have to have first thing tomorrow morning. Can you stay and run it?’” Ericksen explained. “The answer would be yes. I don’t know how you can even put a value on that. That is the ability to make a deadline – to know that I can rely on people in every area. They are really the ones that make it all happen.”
Arrowhead Printing also contributes to help make good things happen all over Superior with commitments to the Bong Heritage Center, the Salvation Army and other nonprofits.
“We make it a point to support local organizations whenever we can,” Dan Ericksen said.
Supporting the community was another good business lesson the Ericksens learned from the Fullers. P.S.
Andy Greder is a freelance writer.