2023 Innovator of the Year: J.S. McCarthy Printers Leans Into Automation
Editor's note: In today's printing industry, the concept of innovation is wide in definition, but rather narrow in its goal. Leading companies grasp many tools to define themselves, increase profitability, and differentiate themselves. They utilize new technologies, systems integration, novel human resources practices, diversification, exemplary customer services, and so much more.
The six companies included in the 2023 class of Printing Impressions’ Innovators of the Year were nominated by printing industry experts and consultants who identified them as notables. The business tactics and philosophies they employ may provide some inspiration to take your company to similar, greater heights.
The summary of J.S. McCarthy Printers that follows shares what makes this company innovative, interesting, and exceptional. The insight it presents may provide the inspiration you need to take your company to a new level, or in a new direction.
In Augusta, Maine, Jon Tardiff leads J.S. McCarthy Printers as it takes its folding carton capacity to the next level. One of New England’s oldest and largest commercial printers, the company has welcomed innovation and successfully kept its pulse on the evolving printing industry.
Founded as a commercial printer, J.S. McCarthy has several mergers and acquisitions under its belt. And starting more than 18 years ago, the company did what any growing business typically does — explored new horizons. It added packaging to its commercial printing and mailing offerings, changing the trajectory of the business and helping it rise to become a Printing Impressions “2023 Innovator of the Year.”
With the printing company’s long list of equipment, it offers various printed items from books and brochures to folding cartons, greeting cards, magazines, and more. Because of its experience with greeting cards, the team was familiar with some packaging equipment, so they weren’t going into the space completely blind. Today, paperboard packaging makes up nearly 70% of J.S. McCarthy’s business and remains its biggest growth area, focusing on the three main markets: food, pharma, and cosmetics.
Growth in Folding Cartons
Coming from the commercial printing market, the company had service, quality, and price dialed in. Bringing that same experience and customer service to the folding carton sector was a game changer, Tardiff says. On the packaging side, he says customer service can be a pain point for a lot of print services providers. J.S. McCarthy used its experience to exceed expectations in the category, which was especially helpful amid the COVID-19 pandemic — a time of extreme growth for the company.
While the company’s many equipment purchases during the past 18 years have aided in its success, there are a few major ones that have had a lasting impact. In 2013, it invested in its first Bobst flatbed diecutting and folder/gluer equipment. “It was a big jump in technology for us and a big improvement in productivity,” Tardiff recalls. “And then a huge change was when we installed our sheeter in 2016, which allowed us to go mill-direct and develop strong mill relationships.”
Additionally, 2018 was especially notable for J.S. McCarthy with the installation of its first Heidelberg press, an eight-color, 41” Heidelberg Speedmaster XL 106 LED-UV perfector capable of 18,000 sph Tardiff says this provided a huge leap in productivity. Going from running another manufacturer’s equipment to running the Heidelberg nearly doubled the company’s sheetfed offset productivity.
Its partnerships with Bobst and Heidelberg help the company run at its best. And its latest purchase — the new, higher speed option Speedmaster XL 106 equipped with Intelligent User Experience (UX), Push-to-Stop technology, and AutoPlate Pro — runs at 21,000 sph, making it the fastest-rated sheetfed offset press.
The press will be installed early in 2024, making it the first of its kind installed in the U.S., upping J.S. McCarthy’s folding carton capacity.
With that, Tardiff says there’s a lot of excitement swirling, especially as J.S. McCarthy not only expands its capabilities but adds square footage to its Augusta plant. The company currently has 150,000 sq. ft. of space, employs 135 people, and operates 24/7. The add-on will give the business 12,000 more sq. ft., which will be used for updated offices, a training facility, and increased cafeteria space. Phase two of the addition, happening in two to three years, will add 30,000-35,000 sq. ft. Once completed, it will bring J.S. McCarthy’s square footage to just shy of 200,000 sq. ft.
While an expansion like this might seem like it would require tons of new employees, Tardiff says that’s not the case, thanks to automation. Equipment automation lessens the necessary manual touch points, thus reducing the number of hands needed during production.
“We’re doing so much more with fewer people,” Tardiff says. “It’s fun being a leader in the industry — to have the latest and greatest. We’re very fortunate.”
Committed to Customer Success
If transitioning business focuses and investing in major equipment wasn’t enough, J.S. McCarthy also restructured its business model from family-owned to an employee stock ownership plan (ESOP) in 2019. Tardiff says it was a good way to transition the company from the first to second generation, as his parents exited the business.
Today, the company is 100% owned by its employees. “It’s been great for morale,” Tardiff says. “Employees act differently when they’re part owners of a company. It’s been a win-win for us.”
Like many leaders, Tardiff doesn’t take sole credit for the company’s success. His strong management team helps with strategic planning and operations. His brother, Matthew Tardiff, serves as the chief financial officer, and his sister, Amy Tardiff, is the vice president and general counsel.
With such a strong team, the company has seen many triumphs, and taking on the folding carton market takes the cake for Tardiff. “If we hadn’t done that,” he notes, “we’d be in a tough position right now.”
He looks at the decline of the commercial print market as a whole and knows his family made the right decision by reworking its business focus. “It would be tough to be as successful as we are today without going down the folding carton road,” he adds. “That was probably one of the best decisions we’ve made.”
What It Means to Be an Innovator
To do what J.S. McCarthy does — to face change head on, be willing to explore new revenue streams, and keep customers and employees happy — Tardiff says you have to be a visionary. It’s not just being concerned with what tomorrow brings, but looking at the next three to five years and where a business wants to head. It’s ensuring every part of a business aligns with its mission. For Tardiff, that means keeping a pulse on the industry and being a hands-on leader. He likes to know what’s happening on the production floor, in sales, and with his team.
“To me, being an innovator means looking out at a longer time period. It’s not only equipment, technology, and automation; it’s also making sure that your equipment and your people are aligned with where you envision your company going,” he explains. “To me, that’s being an innovator – people, technology, and automation all synchronized and focused on the same end goal. “
Looking at the next five years, Tardiff sees J.S. McCarthy continuing its focus on folding cartons and diving into artificial intelligence. Specifically, he wants to integrate robotics into some of the company’s warehousing and fulfillment needs, and believes there are some strong fits that make sense for the manufacturing floor.
Offering advice for PSPs looking to restructure and explore new verticals, he tells them to go full speed ahead. “If you wait too long, you might be too far gone to make a change,” he stresses. “If you have the vision for a change you want to make to your company over a three- to five-year horizon, do it. Put a stake in the ground, start down that path, and do it rapidly. You can’t fear change.”