PIP Printing marks 40 years with SBA award
Some people don’t find a lifelong career because of an intense calling to a specific field. They pursue happiness instead by avoiding what they don’t want to do: work for somebody else.
That was the case for John Tatham, who, along with his wife Jan and her sister Shelley Bramstedt started Anchorage’s PIP Printing of Alaska nearly 40 years ago.
The trio was recognized earlier this month as the Alaska Small Business Persons of the Year by the U.S. Small Business Administration.
“I didn’t have printer’s ink in my veins or anything,” John Tatham said. “I just wanted to be in business for myself. I didn’t have any money, so I just starting casting around for something to do.”
A college friend of John’s knew the owner of the PIP corporate franchise at the time and connected him with John, who inquired in the 1970s about opening a store in Anchorage. However, they were told Anchorage was too remote to justify a store, Jan recalled. That lasted for about nine months until John got a call from company officials asking if they were still interested.
They said yes and proceeded to grow their printing shop from the three of them to a total of 38 employees today.
“We started with just copy machines and one press,” Jan said.
Today, PIP offers traditional printing services, vehicle wrapping, design and virtually every type of sign imaginable.
John acknowledged during a tour of the Third Avenue complex they’ve been in for 30 years that the printing portion of the business is contracting. He expects the future of the business is in its sign shop.
“Nothing ever really goes away but it does shrink and force you to change your business model,” he said.
Early on, the trio managed three stores at the behest of corporate leaders who felt more storefronts was the best way to grow the business. They felt that was inefficient and instead consolidated to their current location and developed an outside sales staff to expand.
Jan said the freedom to make their own business decisions was a primary reason for wanting to start a PIP franchise.
John noted that PIP corporate liked the idea of outside sales personnel so much they adopted it into the company’s business plan.
“We’ve done a couple innovative things like that that put us on the map with the franchise,” he added.
PIP President Richard Lowe said in a release recognizing the three that he’s not surprised they earned the award from the SBA.
“They invest heavily in technology to support their customers. They have an excellent team and over 40 years of experience in the marketing, signs and print industry. We are very proud of their accomplishment,” Lowe said.
Jan said their success started with a $100,000 loan underwritten by the SBA that allowed them to open the business. She said they couldn’t get financed through a private bank because they simply didn’t have a track record in business.
“When you don’t have it and you need it, it is huge and the SBA was there for us when we needed them,” John added.
SBA Alaska economic development advisor Kimberlee Hayward wrote via email that the PIP group was selected because they are downright great business owners. PIP offers retirement benefits, health insurance and bonuses not provided by many small businesses, Hayward said.
Additionally, a large portion of their workforce has been with them for up to 30 years and the company has a great reputation amongst its customers.
They are also celebrating their 40th year in a challenging line of work, Hayward noted.
“This is a huge feat as the industry they are in has seen huge changes due to technology. They have successfully reinvented themselves and rolled with the times,” Hayward said.
SBA Regional Administrator Jeremy Field said after a tour of PIP that what’s particularly impressive about the operation is how responsive they have been to their clients’ needs, which he emphasized is common among successful entrepreneurs.
Honoring people who have made the most of the help the SBA was able to offer them — whether loans or counseling or something else — and be a positive force in their community is a highlight of his job, Field said.
“It’s not like we’re in the Constitution; we’re not here to defend the country from invaders, but the value that the SBA brings…you can’t quantify it because it gives opportunities to business people that might not otherwise have it,” he said.
Elwood Brehmer can be reached at [email protected].