Some say railroad companies were dethroned as kings of the transportation game because they thought they were in the railroad business when they were actually in the transport business.
“If they went out and got into trucking and air, maybe they wouldn’t have gotten into such trouble,” Newark Trade Digital Graphics owner Bob Wislocky mused recently.
Wislocky knows all about the necessity of change. His company started as a hot metal typesetting business under his grandfather, Theodore, 80 years ago; now it’s a full-service print and digital graphics company.
Its original clients were printers, but NTDG (née Newark Trade Linotypers) evolved into a content-creation relationship with the like of AT&T, the wealth management firm Gurien Group and others. Well-known brands now rely on NTDG’s array of services to create materials such as print and digital displays for corporate events and sundry other promotional materials.
Evolution has been good for his business, said Wislocky, and change needn’t be something to fear.
“Maybe the first time [a big change] happens, you say, ‘Oh, this is terrible! What am I going to do?’” he said. “But the next time, you say, ‘Hey, that’s not so bad. We made it through the first one.’ You have to look at everything that happens as an opportunity and not a curse.”
It’s worth noting that machines similar to the ones NTDG originally used have found their way out of commercial use and into The Museum of Printing. That’s reflective of an industry history with shifts dramatic enough to decimate any business averse to sea change.
The first major shift in the printing industry since NTDG’s inception in 1946 came when printing shifted from letterpress to offset printing. NTDG originally produced and sold Linotype slugs from hot metal linecasting machines to printers. In 1946, NTDG purchased a Vandercook proof press that produced high quality images on paper. The repro proof was photographed onto a film negative that produced a printing plate for offset printing.
Wislocky’s father, John, then just home from World War II, joined grandfather Theodore’s operations with the foresight to embrace the change, seeing offset printing as the future. Offset printing allowed bigger runs of products, allowing NTDG to shift its client focus from printers to ad agencies and art departments.
The market stayed much the same until 1984, when Apple introduced the LaserWriter and the era of desktop publishing.
Throughout the decades, the Typographer Association of NY (TANY) and NJ Typographers Association (NJTA) proved a valuable partner in navigating industry twists and turns, Wislocky said.
“The reason trade associations were wonderful was that people shared not only their knowledge of technology but on business issues as well,” he said. “Where do you go to get the best deal on a new piece of equipment? How about financing? Those trade associations put on technical seminars to teach you how to fix equipment. People would just share their knowledge with you on a one-to-one basis and it really helped you make decisions. It was like the LinkedIn of the past.”
Apple’s introduction of the LaserWriter didn’t kill the printing business overnight. Business was still booming through much of the 1980s.
Recalled Wislocky: “1984 is when the paradigm shift occurred, but the dramatic shift [fell closer to] 1990. It was like the stock market crashed. We had to be in a position to adapt.”
And adapt they did. The gang at NTDG learned how to use the LaserWriter, and still work on Apple computers today. But from 1990 to 1996, they focused mostly on imaging films, scanning photographs, color separations, making color proofs and book composition.
Then NTDG found a niche market with pharmaceutical materials, working with some of the biggest names in pharmaceuticals to format FDA-approved source copy and repurpose it for use in print and web.
Art Director Gary D’Atrio said the business has become a go-to expert on how such pharmaceutical materials need to be.
“We know the guidelines from the FDA so well that, sometimes the pharma companies ask us what font size this or that needs to be instead of them telling us,” D’Atrio said.
Since further rejoining the printing ranks in 2002, the company has grown to serve clients from concept to creation. And if a client pinpoints a problem within its printed materials, NTDG helps come up with a solution.
“We’re helping clients grow their marketing, grow their sales and see how they can wisely use our creative services and print capabilities for promoting their business and their client share,” said Joe Tallman, NTDG’s long-serving vice president of sales.
He’s seen firsthand the changes the business has had to navigate, and how it has grown along the way.
“We all know businesses that were very hard set about what they do, only to find out one day that they’re obsolete,” Tallman said. “When I first came here it was the analog typography world. We could have never thought we’d be a digital agency, but here we are together today.”