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Designing success: Columbus’ Ultra Graphics

For years, Ultra Graphics provided top-notch service to its customers in the Columbus area and beyond.  But when the owner needed to spend more time with his family, he reluctantly decided to look for a buyer for his company.

That’s when Tony Windingstad stepped in.

Windingstad had been working with a business broker for a couple of years trying to find a small business to purchase both a building and the land it was on to reach his goal of becoming a successful entrepreneur.  The printing and graphic design company seemed a perfect fit--and the seller was willing to work with Windingstad during the transition to show him the nuances of the business, introduce him to key customers and help him preserve the legacy of a longtime Columbus fixture.

To finance the purchase, Windingstad and his lender, Wells Fargo, used a SBA 7(a) loan approved July 2012.  

And business has been good. “Since then,” Windingstad said, “we’ve been up 10 to 15 percent each month compared to the same month this time last year.”

Not bad work for a guy who spent most of his professional life in the wine and spirits distributorship business.

Originally from Minneapolis, Windingstad started out in his career with a wine distributorship as a merchandiser two days after graduation from college, working up the ranks eventually to serve as a sales manager for 11 years for one of the company’s five divisions.  

“I always knew I wanted to own my own company and after years of experience and working for other people,” he explained, “the time was right when I learned about Ultra Graphics.”

Taking over a printing business wasn’t completely foreign to Windingstad; the last two companies for which he’d worked were large enough to have their own smaller printing shops.  And with his experience with sales and managing employees, by taking over Ultra Graphics Windingstad hoped he could kickstart new growth beyond the business from company’s loyal customers.

“I wanted to seek new business in new areas,” he said.  “We picked up 30 new regular customers in six months, which is pretty good.”

Ultra Graphics offers a wide, professional variety of printing, collating and bindery. From offset to digital printing, from large orders to just a few copies, the firm even offers wide format printing and laminating for banners and larger images, such as posters.  The company also provides a direct mailing service to help its clients target messages to specific customers.

Ultra Graphics is more than just ink and rollers.  The staff of highly-trained designers crafts artistic and creative promotional products, including work on a client’s new logo and branding.

And continuing to build new business is a priority to Windingstad.

“I do a lot of networking,” he explained.  “One of the areas we’re looking at is focusing on franchises, where we can do printing for multiple locations.  We want to print all the printing from companies we work with, a one-stop shop for convenience, quality and price.”

The company also snagged a contract to print real estate guides, and in a state with plenty of gun enthusiasts, Ultra Graphics has begun supplying archery and hunting practice targets to local sporting goods stores and for sale online.

Access to capital in his case, Windingstad said, wasn’t daunting, but that’s because he already lined up an accountant and an attorney he trusted to help complete the necessary paperwork for the application.

“I don’t know how you would do it otherwise,” he said.  

Being a business owner wasn’t quite an eye-opener for Windingstad, who drew upon his previous management experience as he assumed ownership of the company.  But there would be a few things he would tell an aspiring entrepreneur. The first:  don’t expect to be in the black right away.

“The first 45 to 60 days, you’re basically paying out everything and nothing is coming back in, but by the third month, everything starts to come back to you,” he said.

And make certain you talk to the employees first.

“When I took over the business, I knew I had to learn, and then afterward apply my control systems and procedures. The number one thing was to get the trust of the employees, and get a good idea of what each employee is doing.  So I interviewed all the employees, asked them what they liked, disliked, and what they would like to change.  So I took three months to make the changes I had in mind to positively affect the company.

“If you have a knowledgeable staff,” he added, “things will take care of themselves.”