Key Printing Industry Trends: Companies are Growing Thanks to Wide-Format
It’s not a major surprise, really, that the 38th annual ranking of the largest printing industry companies in the U.S. and Canada, as ranked by annual sales, is now the 2021 Printing Impressions 300 — and not the Printing Impressions 350 that appeared in 2020. After all, the majority of the graphic arts businesses on the venerable list reported their calendar 2020 annual sales as their most recent fiscal year, with calendar 2019 representing their previous year sales.
Given the onslaught, and subsequent shutdowns, of many segments of the U.S. economy beginning in March 2020 due to COVID-19, it’s understandable that CEOs of commercial printing companies were not racing to report their annual sales numbers. And, although the printing industry was ultimately deemed “essential,” many of the vertical markets that these primarily privately-held printing businesses serve were not. Combine that with all the business uncertainty among marketers, brand owners, retailers, and other print buyers, it’s no surprise that many companies appearing on the 2021 list in this issue reported double-digit annual revenue drops.
But, just as hope springs eternal, I remain optimistic the pandemic, and all its variants, will begin to wane in 2022 — and next year’s ranking will see the list bump back up to 350 companies. Nevertheless, longtime readers will recall that our list included 500 companies for many years, then dropped to 400 — primarily the result of printing industry consolidation — followed by declines to 350 in 2020, and 300 in 2021 — this time, largely due to COVID’s negative impact on the industry.
Some Printing Industry Companies Flourished
But, just as every cloud has a silver lining, there are signs of optimism, and some businesses on the list have actually flourished during these uncertain times. Not surprisingly, these companies have grown via print markets beyond commercial printing, such as wide-format digital print output, labels and packaging, mailing and fulfillment, data management, and other services.
The 2021 Printing Impressions 300 itself also reflects several ongoing industry trends and dynamics. Starting at the top, it appears RR Donnelley (RRD) — North America’s largest commercial printer — will be purchased by a private equity firm. Although, at press time, it was still undetermined if RRD’s new parent will be Chatham Asset Management or a yet-unnamed strategic buyer, RRD will represent the poster child of large printing companies that have been swallowed up by private equity firms.
RRD joins several others: LSC Communications (Atlas Holdings), IMAGINE (Cerberus Capital Management and Arbour Lane Capital Management), SG360° and OneTouchPoint Inc. (ICV Partners), Vision Integrated Graphics Group (H.I.G. Capital), DG3 Diversified Global Graphics (ResilienceCapital Partners), and Arandell Corp. (Saothair Capital partners), among others.
Although perhaps unfair to make a blanket statement, one has to wonder how these acquisitions by financial buyers will impact the printing industry on a longer-term basis, given that the business model for many private equity firms, traditionally, has been to rightsize a holding and then flip it a few years down the road so investors can cash out on their capital appreciation.
With that said, eFront reports that private equity holdings extended in 2020 to a record 5.4 years, on average. So, perhaps a buy-and-hold strategy is becoming a viable business model for some private equity buyers, and it’s not just an indication of lower valuations in comparison to what they paid.
Commercial Printing Converges Into New Markets
Although not necessarily new, another trend illustrated on our 2021 list is the overall convergence occurring throughout the industry. While the distinct lanes that used to separate different types of printing companies have been blurring for quite some time, the pace of printers entering — or at a minimum, seriously investigating — completely new market segments and product applications continue to accelerate, partly due to the lower market entry costs of digital print equipment. Commercial print shops, for example, aren’t just looking at digital wide-format and package printing as product line expansions, they’re jumping headfirst into direct-to-digital-garment, and even industrial, printing applications.
In talking with key commercial, direct mail, and book printing players, many signals point to across-the-board market growth opportunities within all of these segments, despite the ongoing paper, labor, and general supply chain shortages impacting the entire printing industry, coupled with headwinds from the high inflation rates currently permeating throughout the general U.S. economy.
During these unsettling times, we can take solace that we as an industry, and a nation, are all in this together. We just need to focus more on what unites us than on what divides us, and that conditions will continue to improve. Because, after all, a rising tide truly can lift all boats.
Top 10 Printing Companies That Made the 2021 Printing Impressions 300 List
Rank|Company Name|Headquarters|Annual Sales
- RR Donnelley | Chicago|$4.80B
- Taylor Corp. | N. Mankato, MN|$3.50B
- Quad|Sussex, WI | $2.93B
- Cimpress|Waltham, MA | $2.59B
- Orora North America|Mesquite,TX | $2.02B
- Transcontinental Inc. | Montreal|$2.02B
- LSC Communications, MCLC Div. | Warrenville, IL|$1.05B
- Donnelley Financial Solutions | Chicago|$894.5M
- Cenveo Enterprises|Stamford, CT | $831M
- Lakeside Book|Warrenville, IL | $825M
Click here to download the complete 2021 Printing Impressions 300 list, which includes the Top 5 rankings of the largest Book, Catalog, Direct Mail, and Publication Printers as ranked by segment sales. For comparison sake, you can also click here to download the 2020 Printing Impressions 350 list.