Family-owned Garland Printing relies on new, old technology
Mark Sleizer’s grandparents started Garland Printing in the basement of their North Side home in 1953. Ten years later, they moved the business to a nearby storefront on Garland Avenue.
Sleizer’s parents bought the company in 1978, and five years later moved it to its current site, 833 W. Garland.
Mark Sleizer assumed management in 2000, and subsequently added digital prepress technology. Yet he still prints many jobs on a Heidelberg Windmill letterpress his grandfather bought in 1954.
Sleizer discussed the evolution of his family’s business during a recent interview.
S-R: What’s your earliest recollection of the print shop?
Sleizer: When I was about 10 years old, I’d come down and help rub out plates in the darkroom standing on a stool. I’d put on an apron, and I had to wrap it around twice because I was so little.
S-R: Did you get paid?
Sleizer: No. I just did it because that’s what we did. The whole family was involved in the business.
S-R: Did you always assume you’d work here someday?
Sleizer: Not really. I also worked in a lumberyard and an appliance store.
S-R: What brought you back?
Sleizer: I grew up in a close family. My grandparents and parents worked here, and it felt like home. My two younger brothers and I all worked here together.
S-R: Was the business successful from the start?
Sleizer: Yeah, because there wasn’t a lot of competition back then. We were one of the first shops in town to get a web press, and we printed all the grocery store handbills.
S-R: How has the business changed since you first became involved?
Sleizer: Twenty years ago it was much more hands-on from start to finish. People would bring in a job and we’d do everything – typesetting, paste-up, negatives. Now it’s so computerized that people can manufacture what they want at home and either print it there or bring it in for us to print.
S-R: How is it the same?
Sleizer: We’re still putting ink on paper. And we still use that old Heidelberg press every day. The customers’ needs are similar.
S-R: What do you like most about your job?
Sleizer: I’ve been at it forever, so I feel comfortable. I have a good knowledge of the business.
S-R: Did you learn that here?
Sleizer: Pretty much. I did go to Spokane Community College and took printing classes. And I took printing in high school.
S-R: What do you like least about the business?
Sleizer: The uncertainty. The recession has started catching up with us the last six months.
S-R: How would you describe your management style?
Sleizer: I’m pretty easygoing. I let everyone control their little area and try not to tell them what to do.
S-R: What qualities do you look for in potential employees?
Sleizer: Someone who can adapt to the digital world, but also understands old-world technology. Good pressmen are hard to find anymore, because everyone’s a button pusher.
S-R: How many family members used to work here together?
S-R: And now?
Sleizer: Just one – me. But my 19-year-old son is getting interested, and I’m hoping he’ll want to take it over and keep it alive another 10 or 15 years.
S-R: What has worked well for you over the years?
Sleizer: Doing business on a personal level. We try to get to know each customer and their needs – chat with them a little bit, rather than just get their job done and send it out.
S-R: What’s the biggest challenge you face?
Sleizer: Right now? Collecting money.
S-R: Who are your clients?
Sleizer: We used to do all the school newspapers, but they’re going away because schools are getting rid of journalism classes. We do little-town newspapers, Good News Northwest and Tidbits. We also do catalogs, periodicals, magazines, a lot of business cards and envelopes.
S-R: Are there any common misconceptions about your business?
Sleizer: People don’t realize how much work goes into some orders. They think they can bring it in and pick it up later that same day. They don’t understand ink and paper and all the things that go into printing.
S-R: Could someone launch a business like this today?
Sleizer: You’d be a fool to try to open a print shop now. Ten years ago, the phone book had pages of printers. Now there are only five or six of us left.
S-R: Will there always be a need for printers?
Sleizer: I think so. The price of toner brings in a lot of people. The higher the volume, the more they save. And the quality of our digital machines is way better than your home printer.
S-R: What’s your favorite customer reaction?
Sleizer: When they tell me we did a really great job and that we were their lowest bid. We hear that a lot.
S-R: If you hadn’t joined the family printing business, what do you see yourself doing?
Sleizer: Something outdoors. Maybe a fly-fishing guide in Alaska.
S-R: Do you usually go home with ink on your hands?
Sleizer: Ink on something. Everything I own has ink on it.
Spokane freelance writer Michael Guilfoil can be reached via email at email@example.com.