Aldine Specialty Printing

The Q&A with Alan and Lee Zuniss from Aldine Specialty Printing.

Please give us a brief history of your company.

Alan: The company has been in existence for 34 years. We’ve been located over here in the printing district, when it was a printing district. Things have changed radically.

I started the business as a broker with two people at 200 Hudson Street with 400 square feet. I was in that location for about 5 years. Purchased some equipment and moved that company to 75 Varick Street, and there I got about 10,000 square feet. We expanded, purchased more equipment. I was there for about 15 years. Then we came to this location which is a fantastic space, about 15 years ago. And this is 22,000 square feet.

How have you seen the industry change over the years?

Alan: When I was a teenager an uncle of mine had a printing company on Hudson Street and I used to go there during the summer, it was just something to do to earn some money. That was 1957. There were little presses and it was very tedious job to get something printed.

Things had advanced quite considerably when I went in to the business in 1982. The whole industry has changed. For the better obviously, and we are getting better quality. What is really amazing is digital printing. It basically rounds out all our capability by adding this one particular process. And we enhance digital with our other printing processes—engraving, foil stamping, letter press, dye cutting, so we can offer clients a variety of different things.

Lee: I’ve been with Aldine for over 20 years. I’ve seen the industry change a lot. Quantities of printed materials have dwindled quite a bit and the money that was invested in quantity now focuses more on quality. Companies may upscale from offset printing to letterpress to engraving or something like that. I’ve noticed a real trend in the craft. In recent years craft has been threaded through many things, beer, chocolate, what have you, and it has been the same with printing.

Can you tell us about the machines that you use? Anything highly specialized?

Alan: The most traditional machine that goes back centuries would be engraving, which is the most beautiful printing process.

Lee: Three of our engraving presses, called carvers, were built in 1892 and they are the same presses, except for a few parts which have been changed.

Printers often express pride in old presses, what is beneficial about using an older press?

Alan: Right now, the presses that are available are old presses. There are no new presses being made. The carver, a particular type of press, is the best, and they don’t make them anymore. So what we do is we fix them as best we can, we keep on working on them. I have four of them and if one breaks I have to repair it because those are the best presses.

Digital printing has been a relatively new service that you offer. Why and when did you start the shift to digital?

Alan: I started using digital a year and a half ago. The reason we considered shifting to digital is because we don’t do four-color work here; we only have two-color presses. I don’t have room for four-color presses, it takes up a lot of space. Digital does four-color. The digital press is perfect. The footprint is not too large, and it does great work. We happen to have the Hewlett Packard Indigo press which is the best one of the market.

Why do you think you are one of the only printing companies left in this area of Manhattan?

Alan: The reason we are still in Manhattan is because we are a boutique organization, we don’t try to do everything, and particularly four-color work. Many of the companies that left Manhattan did four color work and there was no place where they could put those four-color presses. The reason we’ve been successful is because we have been preparing ourselves to handle certain accounts that demand and want our services. So we have been very fortunate, dealing with some great accounts.

What’s the best part of having your business in New York City?

Alan: Clients find it very accessible. We have meetings here with a lot of clients; we have open houses a couple of times a year. It’s important to speak to a printer to see if their design is feasible to print. The clients really find it helpful to meet with us because once they are here they can say, I want to make the color a little bit lighter, a little bit darker, can you press this a little bit heavier, and a little bit lighter, and you can’t do that if you’re not there, and that’s what the big advantage is.

Aldine works with a wide array of clients, from corporations to small-scale designers. Could you elaborate on your experience with your client base?

Lee: One of the most important principles at Aldine is clear communication with our clients. When it comes to supplying us with artwork, the artwork is analyzed by our preflight team in our graphics department to make sure that the files are prepped properly for print. We will point out any red flags, not from a design perspective, but from a printing perspective, because not everyone is an expert in printing. We feel it is our responsibility to point those things out.

One of my favorite parts of my job is sitting down with a client and asking what are they looking  for, what are they envisioning and making sure we incorporate the paper in the printing processes to carry through their vision. When we successfully carry that through, it is very rewarding. Aldine’s client base is spilt half and half with designers or anyone in the creative field, and then financial institutions, law firms, and so forth. So, it’s a really nice balance.

While there are many benefits to being based in Manhattan, such as proximity to clients, there can also be major challenges. Can you tell us about some of the biggest challenges for Aldine that come with being based in New York City?

Alan: Being based in Manhattan you have a lot more expenses. Your rents are higher, so we have to condense. We don’t have the luxury of a lot of spacious areas. But the most important thing is clients don’t want to go for a press check in New Jersey, some will, but I know a competitor who moved to New Jersey and they’re struggling. Clients really want to do something that is convenient for them.

What, if anything, could the city be doing to support you more?

Alan: The City can help in certain ways. I think the most important thing is trying to give some benefits to the companies who are here. I’m not asking for tax breaks, but just be a little considerate that we are employing all these people working in Manhattan.  Something could be done, I don’t know exactly what.

Lee: One of the biggest hurdles is the expense of rent, and the greatest thing the city could help us with would be with helping us with subsidizing rent. We are in the same building as one of the most successful advertising firms in the world, so you can imagine what the rent is like in this building.

You referred to the asset that you are providing to the city through job creation. Who makes up Aldine’s core employee base?

Alan: One of my key employees is the foreman of the shop; he has been here 32 years. Most of my employees are here an average of twenty years. I try to hire people from friends of friends who really recommend somebody. I have a policy that I try to promote from within. I have two very key people, one who was a messenger and he now runs the digital press, I have another messenger who is now running an engraving press. I like to think of this more as a family. I do the best I can to help them as much as possible.

I had one employee that appreciated working here so much, that he would thank me for letting him work here. This is a wonderful feeling when someone thanks you for letting them work.

Before we wrap up, can you tell us about anything new in the works at Aldine?

Alan: Aldine is looking into hard covered books. It’s a very interesting area where we could get a machine to make hard cover books and it’s a big market. So we are looking to expand in different areas.