A Man of Letters

A career in print

by Will Lindner

reprographics0118In 1997 Charles (“Chuck”) Siegel and his wife, Marilyn, bought Reprographics of New England. After buying three more related, local companies, they consolidated them under the names Repro and Reprographics of New England.

When Charles (“Chuck”) Siegel entered the printing trade as a youth in Brooklyn, New York, he worked weekends and summer vacations for his father, Irving’s, company, Mercury Lithographing. It seemed the sky was the limit for an industry whose history paralleled and even facilitated the evolution of civilization itself.

In a career that has now spanned more than half a century (Siegel was born in 1942), he has at times very nearly touched that sky. Employed for 23 years by R.R. Donnelley & Sons, one of the world’s leading commercial printing and business communications companies, he ascended from the rank of sales rep, then sales management, to business unit president working for R.R.D. Direct, a $160 million business unit.

Siegel then migrated to AT&T, hired as an S.M.E. (subject matter expert) to coordinate printing practices that had become fractured following the antitrust litigation famously brought against that company a decade earlier. “My job was to look at all their printing, which was in different silos,” Siegel recalls. “What’s our total expenditure, and how can we save money?”

He was making the weekly trip in the company’s corporate jet to AT&T’s headquarters in New Jersey from Chicago, where he had moved with his family from Connecticut for his executive positions with R.R. Donnelley. Beside him sat a longtime friend, Siegel explains, the COO of AT&T and former chairman and CEO of Donnelley, who had brought him to the company and was being groomed to become AT&T’s next CEO.

His friend hinted that a “palace revolt” (dissension on the company’s board) was brewing, which indeed led to his associate’s severance. “He told me on the corporate jet going back to Chicago,” says Siegel, who decided to look elsewhere for his next opportunity.

He found it in Vermont.

repro_group0118Repro has 12 employees. Lyn Beane (left) is administrative manager; Mary Dearborn, production manager; and Tom Wetzel, equipment sales manager.

In December 1997, Siegel and his wife, Marilyn, purchased Reprographics of New England (RNE), which was based in Williston. Soon they purchased three more local companies: Bergman Graphics, Champlain Valley Printing, and Hard Copy. They have since consolidated these entities under the corporate name Summits 7 Inc., reflecting Siegel’s lifelong fascination with the climbers and guides who ascend the world’s seven most perilous mountain peaks.

“The only climbing I’ve ever done is in Vermont — Mount Mansfield — and some in New York,” he confesses. “And that’s hiking, not climbing.” Summits 7 does business under the names Repro and Reprographics of New England.

RNE has taken Siegel somewhat afield of his earlier endeavors. There is an on-demand printing element to RNE’s profile: It employs wide-format inkjet and scanning equipment suitable for architectural and engineering designs — producing today’s version of yesterday’s “blueprints,” for example. However, RNE also services and resells such equipment regionally — machines manufactured by Canon, HP, Ricoh, and Océ (plus standard-format Kyocera office copiers).

“The whole Reprographics business was new to me,” says Siegel. “I’ve learned about it from the standpoint of our selling strategy and pricing. But I have factory-trained service technicians who know the machines inside and out, and a sales manager who sells the equipment.” RNE also sells the paper, toner, and ink used by these specialized machines.

Siegel is back on home turf on the Repro side of his business. Repro’s customers are manufacturers, service and commercial entities, universities, municipalities, nonprofits, and professionals like doctors, dentists, and attorneys. Repro prints business and appointment cards, letterhead, envelopes, billing forms, advertising posters, brochures, town reports — the gamut of readable products its customers need.

Housed since 2006 in an industrial complex on Weaver Street in Winooski, Repro offers offset and digital printing alternatives, and binding and finishing services to provide a professional-looking finished product.

Offset printing was invented in England in 1875 and has modernized over time. Digital printing came along in 1991. Siegel explains that his choice for each project (with the customer’s consent) is based on cost.

“Longer runs, when you’re in the thousands, will be more cost-effective doing offset; your fixed costs, which is your plate and make-ready (adjusting for size and color) and your ink, are amortized over the length of the run, so the price per page goes down. In digital every [sheet] you print usually costs the same.”

Another factor is color. Digital technology uses four primary colors, and in some instances — Siegel mentions the color silver — the reproduction can be imperfect. Digital printing, however, is efficient for shorter runs.

repro_john_goodman0118John Goodman, the photographer, shoots for customers such as DR Power, Rock of Ages, Harrington’s catalog, and Turtle Fur as well as studio work.

“With each individual job we say, ‘Okay, which process is going to be more cost-effective? And is it going to satisfy the customer’s quality requirements?’”

Any well-run company will prioritize its customers’ expectations over its quest for profit, in the interest of staying in business. For companies like Repro, however, that concern is paramount. That’s partly because some of Siegel’s customers have left Vermont, but it’s also because it turned out that the sky was not the limit for the printing trade; its trajectory was far humbler. Printing has fallen victim to so-called “disruptive technologies” — universities and colleges choose to publish their alumni magazines online; companies invoice, and their customers pay their bills electronically, substantially reducing paper bills and forms.

Siegel provides a dramatic example from his career managing printing contracts for R.R. Donnelley. “At one time I had the jewels of the company: Sears, Penney’s, K-Mart, and Radio Shack.” All, now, are reduced from their halcyon days. “That’s what you call disruptive technology, because who has replaced them? Amazon. The technology has changed from bricks-and-mortar to online shopping.”

Repro is not alone in feeling the pinch.

“I’ve lost 25 percent of my accounts over the past five years,” estimates Mike Zeno, a Vermont sales representative for Lindenmeyr Munroe Paper Co., who has supplied Repro virtually from the start. In this environment, he describes Chuck Siegel as a “survivor.”

“He’s made the right moves. He’s downsized when he’s needed to downsize; maintains the equipment necessary to go after the market that’s available; and done a very good job of hiring the right people. He’s done well at keeping diverse, staying on top of the market, staying competitive.”

Kim Moulton, clerk and treasurer for the town and village of Hyde Park, attests vigorously to Repro’s dedication. When she assumed office 10 years ago, the project of publishing a town report was unexpectedly “dropped in [her] lap” three weeks before its mandated deadline. She put the project out to bid, received a timely and affordable quote from Repro, and has stuck with the Winooski company ever since.

“They’re wonderful,” she swears. “Contracting with them is the easiest decision I make all year.”

She values Repro’s responsiveness, and commends her contact at the company, Mary Dearborn, for helping her master online communication technologies — facilitated by a highly interactive website — to make ordering and reviewing processes more efficient. “The cost, the people they are, and the high level of service we get … any other decision,” Moulton concludes, “would just be dumb!”

Marilyn Siegel, who works three days a week, mostly managing finances and human resources as Repro’s executive vice president and secretary, puts the company’s philosophy succinctly. “Our customers always come first. We do whatever is necessary to satisfy them and make sure the business is running at the optimum level.”

Siegel, the first member of his family to go to college, met Marilyn, also a New Yorker, on a blind date the summer after his freshman year at Fairleigh Dickinson University. She was in high school.

“I drove up to her house in a 1958 Chevy convertible, flamingo red, and she fell madly in love,” he quips ... “with the car.”

They have been married for 53 years. He credits her for raising their son, Evan, and daughter, Alix, while his business obligations took him around the country and the globe. Following the AT&T “palace revolt,” they came to Vermont because Alix, a University of Vermont graduate, was living and working in Burlington.

Upon purchasing RNE they hired her as an assistant, but after three months she flew the coop, returning to New York City to attend the Fashion Institute of Technology. She’s now 44 and employed as a handbag designer. Evan, 51, lives in Chicago and is an assistant attorney general with the State of Illinois.

Adding to his duties, Siegel has taken on the presidency of their condominium owners’ association in South Burlington, “learning all the things,” he says, “that go into maintaining a community.” Both are avid readers, and while he maintains an exercise regimen — he is tall and trim at 75 — Marilyn, he says, has a motto: “The outdoors is overrated.” Her gifts, he adds, are her intellect and wit.

What they most enjoy together is travel, particularly educational and cultural experiences. In 2017 they visited Israel, exploring the region’s history, and took a Danube River cruise that passed through five countries. In April they’ll be circling Japan on a cruise ship.

At home, Siegel spends most weekends studying his company’s spreadsheets and devising strategies to survive in a world rife with “disruptive technologies.” Yet, surveying a professional journey that began when he tagged along with his father to the plant on Saturdays, then took him around the world, and has now plopped him down, unexpectedly, in Vermont, he feels lucky. “Through it all,” he says, “I’ve had a great career.” •