Last year, Gary Stiffler purchased five companies that provide printing, packaging, fulfillment and pre-press services, because he saw an opportunity to save them.
While managing the companies for Quebecor World Inc. for the preceding four years, Stiffler recalled, he had realized they were at risk of becoming stagnant and eventually beginning to decline. The global printing corporation’s lack of investment had caused each of the five companies to lose key sales people.
“It would have been a matter of time, if something didn’t change,” Stiffler said.
So he took the companies and formed The Matlet Group, based in Pawtucket. He hired 12 sales people, boosting the sales staff by 30 percent. He invested more than $6 million of the companies’ capital into new equipment, systems and software.
“Now, not only our employees see, but our clients see that we’re serious about this business,” Stiffler said. “Now, we’re better able to recruit top-notch management and sales people.”
As a result, The Matlet Group has experienced a 6-percent increase in sales over the past year.
But that boost is not entirely due to the companies’ investments and stronger sales staff.
Because Stiffler is half Japanese, The Matlet Group in March became a certified Minority Business Enterprise through both the National Minority Supplier Development Council and the New England Minority Supplier Development Council.
“We just felt it would give us a … selling edge,” Stiffler said. “This is not the first thing we go out and sell .… We sell our capabilities and our quality and our service.”
Still, as more and more major corporations see increasing diversity not just in their employee base, but also in their consumers, those corporations are giving more business to MBEs.
“The best example right now is Procter & Gamble,” Stiffler said. “They commit over $2 billion [per year] to spend on diversity suppliers. They are one of our fastest-growing clients, because of our capacities and the fact that we’re a minority-owned business.”
The Matlet Group is the largest minority-owned printing company in the United States. And with 650 employees nationwide, it is one of the largest minority-owned companies in the New England minority council.
The fact that it’s big is one of the company’s advantages over other MBEs, Stiffler said. Though more than 17,000 minority-owned businesses are members of the national council, 80 percent of them have fewer than five employees.
“They start out, in a lot of cases, with three employees,” he said. “With three employees, how can you go out and get a Procter & Gamble? How can you go get a Raytheon and say, ‘I’m big enough to handle your work?’ ”
Stiffler said The Matlet Group is fortunate because it can handle large clients’ needs. About half of the group’s clients are Fortune 250 companies and operate on a national level.
The Matlet Group comprises Packaging Graphics LLC in Pawtucket, Acme Printing Co. in Wilmington, Mass., Central Florida Press in Orlando, Nova Marketing Services in Maryland Heights, Mo., and PreMedia Services in Detroit.
“We do combine those plants together to service some clients,” Stiffler said.
But many clients are immediate to an area. Central Florida Press, for example, prints the majority Disney World’s and Universal Studios’ amusement-park maps. But it also is a leading printer of menus for national restaurants including Outback Steakhouse and Carrabba’s Italian Grill.
Now, Stiffler said, he is looking for minority suppliers of his own, because clients are asking him how much money The Matlet Group spends with such suppliers.
He said he is also becoming more involved with the New England council of minority suppliers, because he believes it is the company’s responsibility as one of the council’s largest members to lead other MBEs toward opportunities.
That’s why he is chairing the NEMSCE’s new E-Procurement Ready committee, which will help prepare MBEs to do business with major corporations.
The committee is asking corporations what are the 10 most important things they need a minority supplier to have. It then will share that information with the MBEs, assist them in completing every requirement on the list, and then give those companies a special designation so the big corporations will know they can handle the job.
“Lack of technology is the biggest hindrance to them,” said Wil Spencer, president and CEO of the NEMSCE in Boston. “But it’s not so much that they don’t have it … rather they don’t know how to use it effectively.”
Most MBEs have computers, Spencer said. But they might not know how to download a PDF, for example, and that frustrates the big corporations.
Stiffler said he has introduced some MBEs to his clients and, in turn, has received leads from other MBEs. “We’re trying to get the message out to the corporations that we have a number of very capable minority-owned businesses that can help them.”
In the meantime, he said, The Matlet Group will continue to reinvest in its current platform and possibly to acquire companies that “fit and complement what we do.”