Walk into Simpson’s Printing Co. and the ambient odor wafting through the spacious lobby still imparts the distinctive smell of a print shop.
The modern aroma of inks and other chemicals isn’t nearly as overpowering as it once was, with petroleum-based inks and alcohol-based solvents and chemicals no longer the norm.
“You walked into a print shop, and you felt like you weren’t going to make it out, because you’re thinking ‘what is wrong with me, the room is spinning,’” said president and owner Dan Simpson, recalling the earlier days of working in the family business.
Now, all of the inks Simpson’s uses are vegetable-oil based.
“They cost a little more, but they work very well,” Dan said.
That’s just one of the many changes Dan and Kathy Simpson have seen as second-generation owners of the Rapid City print shop that was started by Dan’s father, Frank, 50 years ago. Their son, Jonathan, 34, marks the third generation in the business.
Frank Simpson went to work in 1949 for what was then called Holmgren’s Fine Printing in Rapid City. He started in the bindery and worked his way up to head pressman at the plant then located on West Main Street.
But tragedy struck when print shop founder Carl Holmgren died in an automobile accident in 1962.
Frank tried to help Holmgren’s widow, Clara, and son, Lowell, run the business but it struggled for three years and was on the verge of closing, Dan recalled.
“He borrowed some money from my grandfather, and basically bought a bankrupt printing company in 1965,” Dan said.
In 1968, Frank moved Simpson’s to 1116 Jackson Boulevard where the business continued to grow and thrive until it moved again to a larger building on South Plaza Drive off of Deadwood Avenue in 2003. A satellite print shop opened in Gillette, Wyo., 25 years ago.
Jonathan grew up in the family business, then left for a time to work for automotive businesses in Rapid City and Spearfish.
He returned to the family business about 12 years ago.
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“I grew up printing. I know it inside and out and upside down. I’m an equipment guy, too. I know every printing press and every speck on it,” Jonathan said.
Jonathan oversees the digital printing department, which can also produce large format image on hard-surface materials as well as vinyl vehicle wraps.
“It’s fun. We always want to do innovative things and fun things, but it’s also about putting groceries on the table. It’s just work,” said Jonathan.
Another Simpson’s staple seen in many offices around the area is their quarterly calendars, which showcase their printing and Dan’s amateur photography skills.
"We started the calendars 35 years ago,” Dan said. “We print a stack about six feet tall four times a year and hand deliver them.”
“How do you get your business name, address and phone number out to people? A calendar is something they use eight hours a day, and it’s right in front of them all of the time,” he said.
In 2007, Dan bought out other family members and became sole owner of the business. He also invested in new press equipment, just in time for the recession to hit in 2008 and 2009.
"We just kept working hard. I don’t know what else to do, just keep going forward. We did. Now we’re down the road that much further, and we’re hitting all of our cylinders,” Dan said.
The need for business cards, letterheads and promotional booklets and programs will continue. Printing packaging for retail products is a possible area of expansion, but Dan also said the future of the industry is hard to predict.
The basics of Simpson’s success, however, will remain in place, he said.
“We want to keep it local. We want to build a strong economy here. We want to have our employees well-paid and healthy and living in the community and provide the best products we can possibly provide,” Dan said.
“If we treat our customers with respect and do what we say we’re going to do, we don’t have to worry about the competition, we’ll be fine, he said.