218 West Broadway Ave.
Fort Worth 76104
2015 Revenues: $18 million
When thousands of U.S. printing companies began shutting down nearly 15 years ago, John Cockrell Sr. saw the handwriting on the wall for the Fort Worth printing firm founded by his father in 1964.
Cockrell tapped his 22-year-old son and namesake, a 2002 Texas Christian University business graduate, to determine whether the emerging digital technology might fit into the family’s traditional offset printing business.
The next year, heeding advice that the two technologies were too different to co-exist, John Cockrell Jr. started the Enovation Group to focus on digital printing while offset printing continued at Cockrell Printing.
Neither Cockrell anticipated that digital would become mainstream enough that the two firms would merge into Cockrell Enovation in 2009. And they certainly didn’t foresee that digital would dominate the firm’s printing business by 2016.
That’s exactly what happened, said Cockrell Jr., when the two men agreed that digital technology was the future of their business. By 2014, he had built the digital side to 30 percent of the overall business using two 13-by-18-inch digital printers – the largest available at the time.
But offset printers still had to be used for larger projects until Hewlett-Packard developed a 20.5-by-29.5-inch printer that is roughly the same size as the smaller offset printer, he said.
By purchasing the latest digital printer, the firm was able to switch its business from 70 percent offset to 80 percent digital almost overnight, said Cockrell Jr., who assumed the president’s role in the months before the switchover.
“Overall it took about a month,” he said, gesturing to the old press room where a previous era’s printing equipment is represented by bare spots on the floor. He said the technology switch also led to layoffs of 38 of its 92 employees.
Cockrell Jr. conceded that the “overnight” switch came after seven years of pitching digital printing to small local companies and franchise businesses that did not need the massive amount of printing necessary to make the time-consuming offset print process cost-effective.
As an added benefit, digital printing cut out the multiple steps of preparing plates for the offset presses, dramatically cutting the turnaround time for print jobs, he said.
To further serve customer needs, Cockrell Jr. said, computer files are maintained online, allowing customer to access their documents, edit them and order more copies as needed.
That is especially valuable for franchise operations such as Dickey’s Barbeque Pit, which has grown to 550 locations in 43 states, much over the past five years, said Dickey’s communications vice-president, Jeff Gruber.
“With Cockrell’s Print on Demand Portal, our hundreds of franchisees are able to directly access, order and print everything from community marketing materials to in-store Limited Time Offer collateral in a simple, streamlined and timely process,” Gruber said. “They have evolved along with our business needs and the changing times.”
The quick turnaround and the flexibility of digital printing appealed to other types of businesses as well.
GM Financial Services, which finances cars sold through dealerships, uses Cockrell to print everything from direct mailings to thousands of dealers to large-scale displays for trade shows.
“The price may not be that much less, but it’s unbelievable how quickly we’re able to turn projects,” said Mark Hernandez, vice-president of brand management and marketing. “If I needed 1,000 to 3,000 pieces to go to an offset printer, the turnaround was five business days. Now we’re seeing significantly less – a day or two for small projects.
“People expect things to be published almost instantly.”
In addition, Hernandez said, Cockrell staff act as problem solvers, finding solutions for marketing needs and doing creative displays with new printing and cutting equipment.
“They’ve got this new cutter with in-line dye cut that allowed us to do guitar-shaped invitations for a dealer show,” he said.
That flexibility also appeals to Tom Martens, art director for the Fort Worth Convention & Visitors Bureau, a longtime Cockrell customer.
Martens said he has been amazed that Cockrell is doing things with digital printing that were only a futuristic vision when he was a student at the University of North Texas and in the 18 years he has worked in graphics arts.
For a recent annual meeting of the bureau, Cockrell was able to print digitally with opaque white ink on brown kraft paper – a project that in the past would have required several steps to clean the presses of colored ink before using the white ink, he said.
Cockrell also used a digital printer and die-cutter to print red and white pennants for a Ben Hogan table sponsor and a 24-inch round metallic-like laminated sign for the Ale Trail, Martens said.
Martens said Cockrell has survived the economic turndowns that closed many printing companies in the early 2000s. It has thrived by making the conscious decision to change to new technology, he said.
“I see myself as a traditionalist but if you don’t evolve, something has to give,” Martens said. “Cockrell did a good job of evolving with each technological advancement. This seems to be the next evolution in printing and they’re on the forefront of it.”