Community Printers was founded in 1977 by a small group of young idealists who wanted to help social and environmental causes. With a small single color offset press we started offering free printing for community organizations throughout the Monterey Bay.
We all volunteered at the shop and worked other jobs to pay the bills. Many of us worked at other print shops by day and then came in the evenings and weekends to donate our time. Eventually we realized that instead of working other jobs that we could build Community Printers into a business that could continue our goal of using the printing press as a tool to help our community.
Fast forward 35 years, we are the largest commercial printer on the central coast. Thirty-one people work at the shop. The shop runs 16 hours a day producing printing for a wide array of community organizations, public agencies, municipalities, and local businesses both large and small.
True to our roots, we still donate over $40,000 a year in printing to non-profit organizations in our community as well as maintain a 13% discount to many more non-profits in our area.
Our structure is unique as well. The Board of Directors of Community Printers, Incorporated is comprised of all the employees who have worked at Community Printers for at least six months and been voted onto the board. As far as we know, we are the largest worker cooperative on the central coast.
The privately held stock of Community Printers Incorporated is held in trust by a non-profit called the Eschaton Foundation. We donate 1% of our sales per month to Eschaton who in turn uses these funds to underwrite our print donations. By structuring our monthly donations in this way, there is never a question about whether we can afford to make a particular donation. We have an ongoing program that is funded on a monthly basis, rain or shine.
Many people are curious about this structure. It is unusual. The employees of Community Printers have complete say over such fundamental decisions as wage and benefit levels, hiring and firing, investment into technology...virtually all the same things that any board of directors oversees.
The board has appointed a management team of leads from each of the departments; sales, administration, pre press, press room, bindery, and fulfillment to manage the business day to day. The management team in turn reports to the board at quarterly meetings and additionally from time to time when a large decision must be made quickly. Monthly financials are posted for all to see. Our daily sales totals are on the bulletin board right next to the time clock.
The decision making process has evolved or 35 years. We have tried to develop a "corporate culture" that is honest and transparent to all who work at the business. During good times we share the benefits of our efforts with additional bonus and profit sharing. In bad times everyone has tightened their belts and shared in the challenges of running a business. The business culture is unique because all of us must constantly change hats between being managers and being employees. We must represent our own personal interests, the interests of the group and the health and interest of the business.
We believe that much of our success as a business comes from our structure not in spite of it. Major decisions must be vetted by the larger group. That process has consistently yielded good decisions in an industry that is constantly changing where a wrong call about investments in new technology can destroy a company. There are half as many printers today as 10 years ago. Some tried to change too fast, others didn't adapt to new technologies or invested heavily in technology that turned out to be the wrong direction. Our business model tends to be conservative in that we spend a significant amount of time deliberating big decisions. There is a lot of caution built into collective decision-making.
In the past, the people who sell printing technology have been willing to finance just about any purchase. This made it easy for printers to get under water in debt. In hind sight our more measured approach to growth has ended up serving us well. The challenge has been to create a culture that values the need to constantly change and innovate. We are fortunate to have a team of people who are obsessed with print. A large number of us read trade magazines for fun and get excited to visit other print shops to keep up on the latest trends in the industry.