More Than a Printer: Northern Ohio Printing, Cleveland, OH

Cleveland, Ohio, is a city known for innovation.

From the first indoor shopping mall in 1890 to the first automobile sale in the United States in 1898 to the first blood transfusion in 1905, Cleveland has made its mark as a city of firsts and welcomed others to do the same.

Nearly a century later, Gary and Patricia Chmielewski, along with two partners, decided to stake their claim in this historically rich city by founding Northern Ohio Printing.

Introducing Northern Ohio Printing: The Print Heartbeat of Cleveland

Centrally located outside of downtown Cleveland, Northern Ohio Printing has become a staple in the minds of print buyers throughout Ohio, Pennsylvania, and surrounding states.

“My wife, Patricia, and I purchased Northern Ohio Printing in 1994 along with two other partners. In 1997, we bought out those partners and have since grown from two to 21 employees. While lots of printers in our area have gone out of business or been acquired, we’ve been able to take a lot of that market share and service over 950 clients.”

To meet those client needs, Northern Ohio Printing offers a 50/50 mix of digital and offset printing. “We have a Heidelberg six-color press we bought in 2006 that still does 50% of our work, mostly publications,” Gary says. “I really believe we’ve grown because of our good people and good technology. We focus on more than commodity printing through strong partnerships in the areas where we don’t specialize.”

In speaking with Gary and Patricia, their confident, yet humble approach to owning and operating a printing firm makes it easy to understand their success. Here are some of the pillars that stood out.

The Fundamentals of a Confidently Humble Printer

Know Who You Are

To know who you are as a business, you have to ask yourself why you’re in business in the first place. Are you all about the sales and numbers, or are you about the people and serving others well? Gary explains this as either being transactional or relationship-focused.

“There’s a big difference between transactional relationships and real relationships with your buyers,” explains Gary. “We’ve made it our mission to be relational over transactional, and it’s those relationships that have helped carry us through.”

Give of Yourself

Anne Frank once said, “No one has ever become poor by giving.” Northern Ohio Printing has found the value in giving as well.

“In 2020, during CoVid, we decided we wanted to give back to the community and gave away 250,000 carry-out menus to local restaurants at no charge,” says Gary. “Each restaurant could receive up to 1,000 menus at no charge. Through this, we were able to keep customers happy and take our service level to new heights. Sure, we got some business back, but more importantly, we got the word out that we’re a company that gives back to our community.”

CoVid aside, Northern Ohio Printing has also become involved with PrintReleaf. The idea behind this giving-back effort is that “…for every job you do, you’re planting trees. For every 83 pounds of paper, you’re planting a tree,” explains Gary. “It helps us give back and shows our responsibility to the environment.”

Think Value, Not Commodity

When you sell printing, are you selling the product, or are you selling what that product does to make your print buyers’ lives easier?

This mindset shift takes you beyond the physical properties of a product and moves you into a value-added mindset. How are you adding value to your buyers?

For Northern Ohio Printing, they’ve taken a stand on this by declaring, “We’re not a commodity printer. We want to provide value-added things, such as digital foil, UV, laminate, etc., over offering just commodities like direct mail or brochures,” Gary says. “The more value-added things we bring to the table, the more enhancements we provide, the more valuable we become in the eyes of our customers.”

Be Confident in Your Support

American television writer and producer Michael Schur famously said, “You can’t achieve anything entirely by yourself. There’s a support system that is a basic requirement of human existence. To be happy and successful on earth, you just have to have people that you rely on.”

But are people enough?

For Gary and Patricia, what keeps them going is their incredible faith. As Gary puts it, “What keeps me going is my faith in God. Without God, I wouldn’t have a business. It’s my calling and my job to run His business. Yes, we have amazing people to drive our technology and loyal clients who help make us a success; without them, we wouldn’t have a business. But ultimately, it’s our desire to be the beacon, the light on the hill, and run God’s business well. Patricia and I are not ashamed of that fact.”

Be Proactive

As most printers know, one of the hardest hits of the pandemic aftermath is the supply chain issues that have been created, especially in regard to acquiring paper. Northern Ohio Printing is no stranger to feeling these effects.

“One of the things that has helped us the most is learning to be proactive. We contact our clients who do regular work with us six weeks before their scheduled time and get everything lined up and ordered,” says Gary.

“Paper ordering used to be a 20-minute job, and now it’s three hours. We’ve even nicknamed one of our team members ‘The Paper Hunter’ because of how much time and effort it takes to get paper. It’s shown us the importance of being proactive. Now, we stock up to six times as much inventory as we used to, and we offset that cost by having the client pay for half of the paper upfront,” Gary continues. “My team has come up with a lot of good systems to stay relevant.”

Capturing a “More Than Print” Mindset

Staying up to date with the needs of your audience and getting them to recognize your value can be some of the steepest climbs you’ll face, but it can be done.

As Gary says, “Yes, you need to be relevant and keep others informed of your services, but you also have to keep it simple. Figure out the best way to reach your clients and then take the initiative. And practice what you preach. If you’re going to preach direct mail, you have to send out direct mail yourself.”

Parting Words of Wisdom

When asked what parting words of wisdom he had to share with other print owners, Gary responded with, “Come up with your own blueprint of moving forward long term, have a vision, focus on relationships and not transactions, be value-added, and put your faith in God. My life verse is Proverbs 3:5-6, and I believe what it says because it’s been true in my life. It says, ‘Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and He shall direct your paths.’”

This article originally appeared in the April 2022 issue of NPSOA magazine. For more information on how you can become an NPSOA member and enjoy the many benefits offered there, contact Member Services at or head to their website at