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PrintingNews - Cherchez LaPlume

Updated: Apr 4

A gas explosion and a pandemic have not stopped this 85-year-old family printer.

Eighty percent of all U.S. printing companies have fewer than 20 employees. We often read about large companies acquiring advanced technology, but what about the small shops? It was the advent of offset duplicators that saw the spurt in new printing businesses in the 1950s. Many of those firms grew and became the base for today’s printing industry.

Digital printing became the “go to” technology for small printers after 2000. With flexible acquisition plans, small printers could compete effectively with full-color printing in many new markets. 

Meet LaPlume & Sons Printing of Lawrence, Mass. In addition to multiple offset presses, they run a large contingent of digital devices. They were expanding into new services and things were going well, and then...

In 2018, gas service in the Greater Merrimack Valley of Massachusetts had a pressure surge. Suddenly, LaPlume & Sons Printing saw its heating system burst into flames. Part of the building was destroyed. They survived that catastrophe only to be hit with a pandemic two years later. Non-critical Massachusetts businesses were to close down and printing was not categorized as a critical business. But their customers specified them as important to their supply chain and LaPlume was able to remain open.

For all printers, these have been challenging times. LaPlume has served its community for 85 years and survived many challenges. At just about 20 employees, it is bigger than a small printer and smaller than a mid-sized printer. LaPlume exemplifies the heart and soul of the printing industry. It has established a production footprint that is expansive and a service level that is very high.

Gabriel LaPlume, a Canadian native, owned a small bicycle repair shop in a shed behind his Lawrence, Mass. home. As a depression-era business in the community where he lived, he was known for his hard work and generosity. 

It was out of his generosity that LaPlume printing was founded on a sunny day in 1935. After completing the repair of a local customer’s bicycle, the customer returned to pick up the bike, but with empty pockets. LaPlume accepted a small Kelsey Excelsior hand press in lieu of payment. It was then that he realized there was an opportunity to supplement his repair shop by printing small items, such as wedding invitations, greeting cards and raffle tickets. Slowly and steadily, he began moving his tools out of the shed, trading them for professional printing equipment, paper and ink.

Their table-top hand press evolved to a power-driven Chandler and Price platen. By the 1950s, they moved into offset litho with a small duplicator and expanded to six-color 40-inch capability. I have seen this story repeated throughout the printing industry. 

Gabriel and his wife Regina had 13 children, and his seven sons took an interest in the business. This was a unique way to populate a workforce. They formally branded as LaPlume and Sons Printing Co., Inc. By 1966, his sons, Raymond, Ronald and Jim, took ownership of the family business and began expanding it into the multi-faceted operation it is today.

Today, the company is run by son-in-law Scott Morton, who began his career in law and engineering, but is now firmly a printer. 

Specializing in all forms of printing, LaPlume has both offset and digital printing. Many of their experienced and dedicated staff are family members and many have been with LaPlume for 20 and even 40 years. Today, they continue to do business with hundreds of customers in their immediate area, across the country, and even international.

LaPlume operates multiple offset presses, ranging from two to six colors, which offer the flexibility to print large runs in widths up to 28 inches. Heidelberg and Akiyama presses are driven by PDF-based computer-to-plate workflows. 

LaPlume’s production equipment also includes multiple digital presses. Xerox and Konica-Minolta systems produce exceptional printing. Digital printing lets LaPlume produce variable data pieces that can be customized to each individual recipient. Digital press manufacturers are paving the way for the future of the print industry, and LaPlume has fully embraced this changing technology to better serve its customers' needs.

LaPlume also offers the ability to create mass mailing through its newly expanded in-house mailing capability. Through the use of variable data, envelopes, post cards and other individually addressed printed pieces can be mailed using bulk mail services, with delivery dates specified by the calendar. 

LaPlume's team of experts also design and create stunning apparel and promotional items. Its designers know the apparel and promotional business inside out, and have mastered the tricks to make a brand shine. Services include embroidery and screen printing of all forms of apparel, as well as promotional and giveaway items to help get the word out about a brand.

Our visit to LaPlume revealed several reasons for its success over 85 years:

  1. Although LaPlume deals with customers directly, a major part of its business comes from printing brokers. This gives them a very large sales force.

  2. Capabilities that the company does not have are farmed out. When volume reaches a certain level, that capability is brought inhouse.

  3. They have leveraged the advantages of social media and the web, both from a promotional and a customer communication point of view.

  4. They have seen runs become shorter and have thus expanded their digital and workflow capabilities.

  5. New challenges abound. Paper availability is tightening. Finding new employees is not easy as many vocational schools have de-emphasized printing. 

But LaPlume, like many other American printers, keeps moving ahead, overcoming obstacles every day. 


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