Interview with a commercial printer

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Read as Peter Semington gets JobShadowed about his career as a commercial printer.  You can find him and his business at www.dunnsemington.com and on his Twitter feed in the sidebar of this interview.  

What do you do for a living?

I run a small commercial printing operation.

How would you describe what you do?

I am mainly responsible for the day-to-day operations and production. I do still do a little of the design work (when I can)

What does your work entail?

I consider this project management on a grand scale. At any one time we’ll have over 50 different print projects in-house in various stages of production. I work on Adobe Creative Suite (I.e Illustrator, InDesign, Photoshop) all day long in addition to the MS Office programs. I also manage a small staff of press operators, designers and office workers.

What’s a typical work week like?

Fairly long days (Monday through Friday, 8-6) Now with smartphones and remote computer access, I’m able to stay in contact virtually 24/7.

How did you get started?

I learned traditional keylining at my first job right out of college. I made product labels on a rented computer from Kinko’s using Pagemaker.

What do you like about what you do?

Everyday is something new. My job depends greatly on creativity (both for design and for problem-solving)

What do you dislike?

There’s not much. We have problems every once in awhile, but I always view them as opportunity for improvement, rather than look for people to blame.

How do you make money/or how are you compensated?

Every job that passes thorough our office! We make between 20-40% margin. A portion goes to our monthly expenses, the rest is profit!

How much money do Commercial Printers make?

It really depends on what level you’re at. An entry level designer can start at $15/hr and up. A production manager can start at $30K/yr. I’m really impressed by the independent designers and independent production people. They are able to work out of their house (low overhead) and earn far more money than working at a company. They also have the security of a large client base.

In my experience most people who get a job straight out of college and go to work at a print facility will enter in one of 3 ways; as a skilled pressman or bindery worker, as a clerical or entry-level production person, or as a salesperson. Income ranges from $15/hr for bindery up to $40K/yr plus bonuses for the salespeople.

I started out brokering printing independently. I rented a Mac computer, did my own design/production and contracted with external print vendors. This allowed me to earn a much higher rate than starting out in a traditional print environment. Most print sales people were in the $40K/yr level, independently I could earn up to $70K/yr if my sales were good. As the business grew I opted to add personnel and purchase my own printing equipment rather than draw a larger salary. This allowed me to build our print business to over $1,500,000/year in sales. I still draw roughly the same salary, but receive bonuses based on sales. I also offer this bonus to all employees.

In retrospect this was probably a more difficult path, but worth it from a financial standpoint.

How much money did/do you make starting out as a Commercial Printer?

I started this business from scratch, so I needed to paint houses while I was building my client base. I was poverty-level for years. For those starting out, straight from college, I’d expect an entry-level production job to be in the mid to high $20K per year.

What education, schooling, or skills are needed to do this?

Printers will hire people with practical trade experience, a trade school education, or a college education. It all depends on the type of job you’re looking for. Our Bindery workers learned their skill either on the job or at a trade school. Most of the sales staff and Management are college-educated.

What is most challenging about what you do?

Managing people.

What is most rewarding?

Managing people! You can have an enormous impact on people’s lives. I see these people 8 hours a day (that’s more than most people spend with their families) Little things make a huge difference in people’s lives.

What advice would you offer someone considering this career?

Learn the computer programs inside and out. Familiarize yourself with the web and web programs. This seems to be the direction things are moving across MANY industries.

How much time off do you get/take?

2-3 weeks per year

What is a common misconception people have about what you do?

It’s not as glamourous as people think. Sure we have some high-profile clients with beautifully designed pieces. There is a tremendous amount of work that goes into these projects.

What are your goals/dreams for the future?

Stay current with technology. Printing is changing. It’s not going away, just changing. There is more integration with the web now, so I need to stay on top of this.

What else would you like people to know about your job/career?

I never once expected to be where I’m at, career-wise. I always was open to new experiences and opportunities.

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