Pioneer [payh-uh-neer] n., One who goes before to prepare or open the way for others to follow.
Have you ever stopped to think how much courage it takes to be the first at something? Sure, it’s easy to spout off words like “pioneer” and “trailblazer,” but consider how challenging it is to go your own way and go there first.
How do the pioneers, the trailblazers, know where to go and when? How do they find the strength within themselves to beat back the questions of self-doubt or the weariness and simply go for it?
What’s more, some pioneers don’t even recognize that’s what they are. Cyndy Harkins of Pioneer Printing in Lincoln, Nebraska, is one such pioneer.
Semi-retired, and having moved from Illinois, Cyndy’s parents, Bud and Genni Rettke, thought they needed something to do and wanted to give the world of printing a try. So, in 1980, they opened the very first Sir Speedy in all of Nebraska and Lincoln.
Shortly thereafter, in 1981, Cyndy moved to Lincoln and began to help her parents in the print business as a press operator.
“I wanted to help my parents out, so I moved to Lincoln and learned how to run a printing press,” explains Cyndy. “It took about six months for me to realize that a press operator was not my gig, so I taught the next guy, and the next, until I taught Dave Grosenbach. Dave is currently my #1 person at the shop and has been with us for 38 years. I became a manager, then the bookkeeper, a graphic designer, and finally took over the business in 1992 after my folks retired in 1991.”
In 2004, Cyndy left the Sir Speedy franchise and went out on her own as Pioneer Printing. Today, they offer a mix of some offset printing, mostly digital printing, with a bit of wide-format thrown in there as well.
“Our typical clients include associations, manufacturing companies, rehab facilities, doctors, and dentists,” says Cyndy. “Lincoln is a university town, a state office and federal office town, and a town with a lot of insurance companies that do their own printing. We’ve worked hard to carve out our share of the business, but we’ve done alright.”
“Alright” is an understatement. Cyndy has been in the printing business for 42 years this year.
“The shop has been life. It hasn’t been perfect. In fact, it’s been really, really hard, but I wouldn’t change it.”
A four-decade career in the printing industry will leave behind a trail of lessons. Here are four that you can learn from Cyndy’s legacy.
We all expect our journeys to progress in one steady uphill line. After all, life is a formula, right? You do a + b, and you get c. You buy a printing company; you run a printing company; you get success. Isn’t that how it goes?
Of course not. Every journey, every path and new trail, requires you to remain fluid and ready to pivot for what works and what doesn’t. As Cyndy tells her story, you can hear how she’s had to switch directions or try new things to remain successful and relevant.
“We embraced high-speed copying in the early 80s, got into the Mac early on, and kept that going. We’ve become more digitally oriented (that was a good thing), and we even purchased three different shops along the way.”
No one blazes trails or tries new things because they enjoy the struggle. They do it because they have a vision and possess a dream.
As Mark Twain says, “Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do, so throw off the bowlines, sail away from safe harbor, catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”
Entrepreneurship requires seeing yourself through disappointment and choosing to see the brighter side of life.
“I’m an optimist. I try not to worry too much, and when I do, my team always reminds me it gets better. Sometimes we have to be a little fly-by-the-seat-of-our-pants and believe it will get better,” says Cyndy. “The key is to surround yourself with good cheerleaders and work hard. I have the best team on the planet and wouldn’t be here today without them. Dave has been here over 35 years and my press operator about 20 years. Replacing either of them would be impossible.”
A common misconception about growth and innovation is that it must be constant. But the truth is, that’s not the case, and it’s unrealistic to think so.
Sometimes the greatest innovating you’ll ever do is eliminating the things that don’t work for you. Sometimes the best growth comes after a season of releasing yourself from the burden of better.
“A lot of what we’ve tried hasn’t panned out. Vinyl and signs didn’t work out, and we sold everything. We had to narrow our offering to do what we loved, and I had to learn that I don’t have to do what everyone else is doing,” explains Cyndy. “You can grow yourself right out of business. I regret some of the money I spent along the way trying to keep up with people I shouldn’t have been trying to keep up with. It took me a long time to get over the buy-it-and-they-will-come mindset and instead do what worked for me.”
The ups and downs of print ownership are inevitable, but you can learn to enjoy and share the moments of laughter when they come.
“There was a time when you could’ve called us the Kinko’s of Lincoln. We had several self-serve, walk-in machines for our customers to use. One day, we had a lady come in who waltzed over to use a copier. Suddenly, she yells, ‘They’re all blank! How do you stop it?!’ So, I went over there and explained to her that you have to put your original face down on the copier. She just looks at me at says, ‘Why?’ And I’m like, ‘Uh… searching for a polite response,’” laughs Cyndy.
It’s laughs like these that will hold you steady on your own path to success.
In closing, Cyndy offers the following words of encouragement.
“Being in printing is hard. It’s unpredictable. But it’s also rewarding and never boring. So, keep on trucking. Be creative. Be ambitious. But don’t wear yourself out trying to be something you’re not or doing things that aren’t a good fit for your business. Do what works best for you and your shop.”
This article originally appeared in the June 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 firstname.lastname@example.org or head to their website at NPSOA.org.