Originally created 12/08/96

A world of printing



Never argue with someone who buys his ink by the barrel, or so the saying goes.

But at World Color's Augusta plant, they buy ink by the railroad tank car.

Familiar to most Augustans as Ringier America, the plant was acquired in May by New York-based World Color.

With 500 employees, the catalog and advertising insert printer is among metropolitan Augusta's larger employers.

This quiet giant sits on 80 acres in Columbia County near Evans on Evans-to-Locks Road. The facility, built in 1980 primarily to print Montgomery Ward's thick annual catalogs, is a giant assembly line. Forests of rolled paper wait in a mammoth warehouse adjoining rotogravure presses in the plant's back end. Across the plant's midsection, thousands of square feet of racks hold printed products awaiting processing in the plant's bindery, where they are stitched or glued into book form.

Nearer the road, trucks load and haul away waste paper and products.

In the past, the August plant, then called Ringier, printed giant department store catalogs. Today it prints 400 million smaller catalogs and 300 million newspaper inserts every year.

Catalogs are often addressed by computers in the plant's bindery and mailed directly from the plant.

The plant has its own post office.

"Because of our volume, it necessitates having full-time postal employees on-site," said Chuck Rimkus, the plant manager.

Although the plant printed Montgomery Ward's annual catalog when it began operations, that abruptly changed in the mid-1980s, when the giant retail chain canceled the thick catalog.

Marketing forces - including the need of merchandisers to adjust prices more often than once a year - shifted emphasis to smaller direct-mail catalogs and other printed marketing tools, such as newspaper inserts.

It was an upheaval.

"This plant did produce some of that work," Mr. Rimkus said. "They did have huge layoffs when that happened. Since that time, we've rebuilt out client base."

Today, the plant's largest clients are Victoria Secret, Spiegel, Service Merchandise, J.C. Penney, fashion catalog Clifford and Wills, and United Stationers, which prints office supply catalogs with covers individualized for different marketers.

But if the demise of the giant catalogs were the bane of the '80s for printers, the '90s brings its own worries, such as paper prices, which have risen as as much as 50 percent.

"There were catalogers who went out of business because of that," Mr. Rimkus said.

And though paper prices have backed off recently, they are still high, and still a concern, Mr. Rimkus said. The largest clients often supply the paper for large jobs, he said, but the increase in paper prices still affects printers because it increases the cost to clients, who might order less printing, he said.

ABOUT WORLD COLOR

WHERE: Evans, on Evans-to-Locks Road.
EMPLOYEES: 500
PRODUCT: Four-color printed catalogs and inserts ready for mailing or shipping
VOLUME: 400 million catalogs, 300 million advertising inserts, annually
CORPORATE REVENUES: $100 million in sales
TOTAL PLANT PAYROLL: $20 million annually.