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The printing professionals.

The Printing Professionals For over 80 years, D.W. Friesen & Sons has produced some of the finest quality books seen in the marketplace. Its reason for success is simple: "treat the customer right and give him what he wants"

It is often said that the best advice is the oldest advice. Consider today's successful business operations. To achieve any level of prosperity, managers and CEOs know that it pays to put their customers first, to foster and nurture a strong relationship with the people who buy and use their products - in short, the people who pay their bills. Staying in touch with customers and addressing their needs are obvious requirements for success. Robert Waterman Jr., the co-author of "In Search of Excellence" says, "Companies that do this are always going to know more quickly whether the market wants their product."

Pretty basic stuff, wouldn't you say? While it's not exactly the reinvention of the wheel, it's still a sound business credo to subscribe to; one that has withstood the test to time. Just ask D.K. Friesen, honorary board member and retired president of D.W. Friesen & Sons Ltd. of Altona. In a recent address in an employee publication, the son of the company founder and father of current president David Friesen Jr. said that without customers there would be no jobs and no business.

"Customers are not only one of the reasons for being in business, they are the only reason for being in business. Therefore, it is of the utmost importance that we look after our customers well and treat them fairly and properly at all times.

"Customers expect the best quality and should receive nothing less," continued the senior Friesen. "Unless we can produce better quality products there's no point in being in business. While we realize that different customers require different quality levels, we must recognise at all times that each customer must receive the quality of product he is looking for."

A little threadbare and well worn perhaps, but it was the cornerstone upon which D.W. Friesen built his business back in 1907 and it is still in vogue today. In fact, the record shows that it has been the formula for success these 80-plus years.

Starting as a printer of office forms and school text and yearbooks, Friesen has grown and developed over the years to become the largest book printing company in Canada that rivals any of the industry giants in the United States, Hong Kong or Spain. Quality of workmanship and competitive production and printing costs have acted as the springboards to customer satisfaction, says David Friesen. "My father has always said that if you treat the customer right and try to give him what he wants, you'll succeed."

In this case, success can be measured by the fact that the original plant, in the heart of southern Manitoba's Pembina Valley, has been expanded no fewer than 12 times. In addition, the 125,000 square foot plant of today is home to some 315 employees, making D.W. Friesen & Sons one of the largest employers in all of rural Manitoba.

"We feel we have a world class production facility for color books, and our equipment is as good or better than any in the industry," says David. "But, our success is more a reflection of the people that have worked here over the years. There is a good source of quality labour throughout the Pembina Triangle as evidenced by the fact that 95 percent of our staff are local people."

Today's employee is hard working, dedicated and responsible, qualities that epitomize the early years of the company, says R.C. (Ray) Friesen, David's uncle and current chairman of the board. "While machines, computers and modern systems are all necessary today, none of the growth we have enjoyed could have been accomplished without a loyal, conscientious and hard working staff."

In addition to the plant and corporate offices in Altona, D.W. Friesen & Sons has sales offices and warehouses in Winnipeg and Edmonton, as well as sales offices in Calgary, Vancouver, Regina, Saskatoon, Kelowna, Toronto, the Maritimes, Newfoundland and Grand Forks, North Dakota. Counting the wholesale and retail stationery supply and printing business, the 58th largest company in Manitoba (as recorded in the current edition of Manitoba's TOP 100 companies) had sales of $43 million in 1988.

The company is comprised of three main divisions - printing, wholesale stationery and retail. Sixty percent of annual sales emanate from the printing division, which produces a wide range of books for Canadian and American publishers, including trade, educational, juvenile and cook books. It also produces and prints school yearbooks, local/regional history books and calendars.

An important selling feature is that Friesen printers is one of the only plants to be fully integrated from design through binding. Full color separations are available as well as all types of binding, including hard cover, soft cover and specialty binding.

While Friesen's has long enjoyed a solid reputation in the book printing market, the "big break" came seven years ago when it penetrated the lucrative Toronto book publishing domain. "Ninety percent of all English language books published in Canada come from Toronto, so we knew that if we wanted to continue growing in this area, we would have to make some impact in this part of the country," says Friesen.

After three years of tough sledding, they caught a break when Hunter-Rose, a major book printer in Toronto closed its doors. Friesen seized the opportunity to fill the void, and within a year such major publishers as McClelland and Stewart, MacMillan Co. of Canada and Key Porter Books each gave the Altona company one book as a test.

"We are able to offer them something different: something unique to their industry," says David. "We could provide color printing and binding under one roof." This approach obviously met with the approval of the eastern giants, because work soon began pouring in to the Altona plant. Full-time sales and marketing people were soon hired and the rest, as they say, is history. "Now we're one of the major players in the game," Friesen says with pride.

But, as business began to grow and expand so too did the demands on the staff and the equipment. To keep pace, virtually all areas of the company were expanded or upgraded - typesetting, the press room, bindery, shipping, the works! The biggest single development though (figuratively and literally) came last year with the purchase of a new 50-inch Komori press, capable of producing "table top" books of irregular shape in sheet size, including educational text books along with the regular product.

"The new press allows us to print nonstandard size books, 7 by 9 in size, which are very much in demand by the educational market," explains Friesen. "Things like text books, teacher's manuals and so on come in these nonstandard sizes, so the new press has opened up new markets for us."

The 80-ton press arrived in Altona in late September, following weeks of testing in Tokyo, in 15 crates on five semi-trailers. With the help of Komori personnel, the press was up and functional within three weeks. Preparation for its arrival actually began in February, 1988 with the relocation of the company's Box Plant to Friesen's Main Street facility in Altona.

While the printing division perhaps has the highest profile within the company, D.W. Friesen produces more than best sellers and top quality color books. It also produces a wide range of setup and folding boxes, including the famous "blue boxes" used by the Birks Jewellers stores. But, the other key division within the company is Friesen Wholesale Stationers, which involves buying items from manufacturers and selling them to retailers, school divisions and offices.

Goods are purchased and warehoused either in Altona or Edmonton where there is a 20,000 square foot facility employing 12 office workers, three outside sales people and nine warehouse personnel. Over 20,000 different items are offered for sale, including such things as desk and office accessories, writing instruments, filing supplies, furniture, accounting supplies and ribbons for most all makes of typewriters, adding machines and calculators.

To better facilitate this side of the business, Friesen says the company is planning to construct a new warehouse complex in Altona directly across the street from the main plant. Construction on the new 40,000 square foot building will begin this spring and will be ready for occupancy by the fall of 1989. "This will in effect separate the two main divisions of the company and will free up some much needed additional space for the printing division in the main plant," Friesen explains.

Having a world class operation in a small, rural town like Altona has both an upside and a downside. On the plus side, the town of 3,000 provides a "great environment to run a business and the employee turnover is very low," says Friesen.

"As book printers go, most of the large ones in North America are located in smaller, rural communities," he adds. "Because book printing is not usually a time sensitive industry proximity to your market is not as vital as it is to other industries so locating in a major city is not a pre-requisite for success."

On the down side, there are the inevitable problems that distance brings - getting something to the plant or to a customer in a hurry, replacing skilled staff or even bringing customers to the plant can be a hassle. but, true to form, Friesen's has worked hard to overcome even the smallest problem. They have instituted their own extensive training program to ensure continuing quality of workmanship and the company has secured a two-bedroom suite in an apartment block in Altona to accommodate visiting dignitaries and clients, "so they don't have to drive back and forth to Winnipeg three or four times a day," adds Friesen.

Altona's proximity to Winnipeg allows D.W. Friesen & Sons relative ease in transporting its books and other items to any part of the world. Company trucks and vans run into Winnipeg every two hours usually loaded with cartons ready to be loaded on to a plane bound for some major centre. One of the big advantages in the book printing and binding business is that "books travel well. They are dense and flat which means they pack beautifully and are very compact to ship."

Looking ahead, David Friesen remains optimistic, if not bullish on his company's future. While not a proponent of the recently signed Canada/U.S. Free Trade Agreement, he does not feel that it will have any adverse affect on the company, or on the industry as a whole. "Books travel tariff free all over the world now, so the industry has nothing to gain or lose in terms of tariffs."

"The 1990s will present great opportunities for us both in the U.S. and throughout Canada. Even though we've grown to a point where we really don't need to increase our market share in Canada, there are still many opportunities for us in the west, and we plan to pursue them. However, our main thrust will likely be in the States. The market there is so large, even if we secured .5 percent, we'd be miles ahead.

"Our proximity to the North Dakota border is a plus for us, which is another reason for wanting to continue building our business around Altona."
COPYRIGHT 1989 Manitoba Business Ltd.
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Title Annotation:D.W. Friesen and Sons publishers
Author:Bain, Don
Publication:Manitoba Business
Article Type:company profile
Date:May 1, 1989
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