During the recession, Register was printing money

Adoption of modern presses helped company compete, thrive as other printers folded

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    Gene Markowitz in front of some of the products Register Print Group creates for retailers. The company's emphasis on technology helped it thrive during the recession, when revenue increased at least 20 percent each year.
    Gene Markowitz in front of some of the products Register Print Group creates for retailers. The company's emphasis on technology helped it thrive during the recession, when revenue increased at least 20 percent each year. - (AARON HOUSTON)

    The commercial printer Register Print Group supplies retailers with vivid, eye-catching signs that splash the trends of each new season across the sales floor. When the 2008 recession suddenly made austerity fashionable, retailers clamped down hard on their printing expenses — yet Register Print's revenue kept rising at least 20 percent a year.

    Gene Markowitz, one of the company's three partners, said the recession would prove the wisdom of the company's strategy of investing millions of dollars in new equipment. With vastly more productive technology, Register Print could compete on price during tough times, and give retailers the fast turnaround they need to constantly refresh their store merchandise, signs and displays to entice the fickle shopper.

    Register Print, with annual revenue of $35 million, has more than 20 retailer clients, including Macy's and H&M, and a work force ranging from 75 to as many as 175 when retailing heats up at year-end. Markowitz started the company in 1972, and has since been joined by two partners, Josef Fishman and Joseph Goldbrenner. All three have sons working in the company who are being groomed to eventually take over.

    The company has also been capitalizing on its Clifton location as a strategic advantage in retail-heavy New Jersey and New York. Retailers with operations in the metropolitan area, like Secaucus-based Children's Place, save money when their print buyers can drive to nearby Register Print to check on a print run of new window signs, instead of flying to a distant print shop to check on work in progress.

    "We used to have five weeks to do a job, and now we may only be given two or two-and-a-half weeks — and you need technological firepower to be able to handle that," Markowitz said. "The retailer that used to have five printing buyers, now they've got three. So if you are an hour's drive or a 10 minutes' drive away, even if you are a slightly higher price, you are going to get the job."

    Children's Place, the children's clothing chain, has been a Register Print client for 12 years. Alex Alzate, print production manager, said, "When we need a price estimate, they do it immediately: if we need to meet delivery dates that are unmeetable, they will do it."

    Alzate said store signs change nearly twice a month. "If our competitors are doing a markdown, we have to be competitive." He also likes that "I am always dealing with one of the principals of the company," so decisions get made quickly.

    In January 2008, Register Print acquired an 81-inch KBA press, which Markowitz said is the largest sheet-fed press in the world, with productivity equivalent to five of his old presses. It played a major role in getting the company through the recession, which arrived in full force soon after the new press was installed, putting tremendous price pressure on the industry. Register Print was up to the challenge, he said: "When you can produce 20 jobs in one day, instead of five jobs, you are able to sell for less, even though the press costs more money."

    Register Print's newest machine is a digital press that Markowitz said delivers high quality on small-quantity runs. Offering digital allows him to be the one-stop shop for clients who in the past had used him for traditional lithographic printing, and had farmed out their digital work.

    "You need the right equipment to produce items at double or triple the speed you used to have," he said. "The old presses were not capable of handling the sizes, the quality and the speed you need for today's retail accounts. You need to be able to turn things out very quickly, and the quality has to be very high."

    Besides in-store signs, the company prints merchandise catalogues and produces point-of-sale display kits: three dimensional, free-standing cardboard displays that snap easily in place when they reach the selling floor. Markowitz said all these visual magnets — window banners, wall-sized murals, product displays, in-store signs and catalogues — still drive foot traffic, even in the digital age: "You need something that says: 'Hey, come into my store, too.'"

    One of the company's newest ventures, launched 18 months ago, is storesigns.com, where small retailers can design custom signs that Register Print can produce in small quantities. He said the site now has hundreds of customers and a 40 percent return rate. "Once the retailers try it, they come back for Mother's Day, Father's Day, back to school, the holidays. We are building a new customer base."

    E-mail to: beth@njbiz.com
    On Twitter: @bethfitzgerald8

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    Beth Fitzgerald

    Beth Fitzgerald

    Beth Fitzgerald reports on health care, small business and higher education. She joined NJBIZ in 2008 after a 34-year career at the Star-Ledger and has been reporting on business in New Jersey since 1978. Her email is beth@njbiz.com and she is @bethfitzgerald8 on Twitter.

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