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The China-Columbia connection: Potterfield launches printing company

The China-Columbia connection: Potterfield launches printing company

Russ Potterfield tends to get his biggest ideas far away from the office. Relaxing in the shower. Eureka! Half asleep in bed. That’s IT!
Potterfield, who runs Columbia-based Battenfeld Technologies from a satellite office in southern China, made the decision to start a printing company while fishing in a remote part of Alaska. He came up with the name — PrintNinja — while driving home after a long day at the Columbia office.
“I was rolling names around in my head,” Potterfield said. “Print Perfect. Print This, Print That. PrintNinja. PrintNinja.” He shouted the second word with his version of an Asian accent.
“It had all the points I look for in a brand name — internal rhymes, a hard consonant at the beginning and the end,” he said. “The word ‘print’ is good for SEO (search engine optimization), and everybody loves ninjas. Then I had that giant, internal smile that comes over you when you know you’ve really come up with something.”
Nearly two years of perspiration followed the initial inspiration, and PrintNinja will have its public debut during an event on July 29 in Columbia. A national marketing campaign will begin in August or September.
Battenfeld is an independent company spun off from MidwayUSA, which was founded by his father, Larry Potterfield. Battenfeld designs sporting goods, such as rifle scopes and gun-cleaning supplies, and arranges the manufacturing and distribution. MidwayUSA markets sporting goods through catalog and online sales. Although some assembly is done in Columbia, most of Battenfeld’s products are made in China.
Potterfield moved to China one year ago to be closer to the manufacturers. Battenfeld has about 50 employees in Columbia and 14 in Shenzhen, a rapidly growing city of more than 14 million people. PrintNinja, which had its first sale this spring, has three employees in Columbia and two full-time and several part-time workers in the Shenzhen office.
Battenfeld was using a company in St. Louis to do its printing when Potterfield decided “kind of on a whim” to find out what a particular job — 5,000 product boxes priced at $2.10 per unit — would cost if printed in China.
“That box came in at 88 cents (per unit),” he said. “The price difference was profound.”
Because Battenfeld ships products in containers from Shenzhan to a port in southern California several times a month, the marginal cost of adding boxes of printed products “was quite low,” Potterfield said.
Not long after moving Battenfeld’s printing sources to China, Potterfield was trying to hook a King Salmon in the Alaska peninsula. “I thought, if we’re able to make this sort of dramatic reduction in our own purchasing cost, we could do it for other customers,” he recalled. “We knew enough about printing and sourcing that we could bring value to people.”
Pricing was the hardest part. Potterfield put a team together to examine other online printing companies — “every one we could find,” he said — to determine where PrintNinja could have a competitive advantage.
One was flexibility: “Because we don’t own printing presses, we don’t have to stick with the technical constraints of the presses that we own,” Potterfield said.
Another was the company’s experience finding vendors in China and being able to do business in Mandarin and English. PrintNinja has employees watch each press run to make sure the printers are meeting the specifications.
They are at a disadvantage when it comes to small printing jobs and those requiring a quick turnaround time. “It’s not the solution to all printing requirements,” Potterfield said.
Asked whether outsourcing the printing to an Asian country is detrimental to the local economy, Potterfield said, “I’m very comfortable answering that question.”
“If you are running a company and you can lower costs by 25 or 30 percent, you can hire more people, expand,” he said. “If you have a $100,000 printing budget and take off $25,000 to $30,000, what are you going to do with those returns?”
Outsourcing to China enabled Battenfeld to grow substantially in the past five years, Potterfield added, “putting money back into the local business, back into the local economy.”
Potterfield plans to use what he called “American know-how and Chinese execution” to start a company that will make products for home gardens later this year and a third company early next year.
The motivation for holding the event in Columbia this month is not just to spread the word about PrintNinja. Potterfield wanted to “see a lot of people I haven’t seen in years and find a way to do it at one time.” And he wanted a chance to promote the Columbia-China connection.
“I’d like to share some information with people,” Potterfield said. “I’m a huge fan of what doing business overseas can do for local business. It makes you more competitive. It teaches you more about how the world economy works. It’s fantastic.”
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