Hopes high after struggling conference print shop breaks even

By Jessica Connor

Thanks to gains in customers, turnaround time and cost savings, the S.C. Conference's Print Media Center is still hanging on. And its managers are praying for a little more time to prove themselves.

We re still talking to people who don t know we re here, and people who don t know we might not be here, said Rhonda Foupht, who runs the nonprofit United Methodist print shop and mail center with Melanie Dotson. They offer services to the conference, as well as private individuals and other nonprofits.

A year ago, faced with years of rising costs and dwindling numbers, the print shop “ which operates downstairs in the United Methodist Conference Center “ announced a new business plan to help it stay afloat. It had been operating at a deficit, losing $31,455 in 2011 and $15,858 in 2010. Conference Treasurer Tony Prestipino told the Advocate last year that success would be breaking even, and so far this year, the print shop has done just that.

They have broken even most every month, and they even earned about $9,500 in August and in September, Prestipino said.

The question is whether the print shop is sustainable long-term, Prestipino said.

It s a means to communicate ministry on a platform where we ve seen demand for that change, Prestipino said, noting that many projects the print shop used to produce, such as the conference journal and pre-conference materials, are now nearly all digital. But people still want letterhead and business cards; churches still produce bulletins.

Foupht and Dotson feel the print shop can be sustainable if given a definite time frame to acquire better equipment at lower financing rates and be able to compete with local print shops on longer runs.

By having the support of our conference and given the OK to do our jobs for two more years, we could bring in better machines and possibly other conferences projects to print and mail, Dotson said. We could handle the larger traffic with efficiency and ease.

For now, the print shop remains in a holding pattern. The Conference Council on Finance and Administration meets quarterly, and every meeting, the CF&A considers whether to continue support for the print shop.

We need people to realize we re on the chopping block, Foupht said. We ve gone from $120,000 in debt to $80,000 in one year, and that s considerable, but we didn t get (in a deficit) in a year.

Dotson said the print shop is a true service to the conference; it saves the conference and local church travel, administrative and higher out-of-network printing costs.

We understand with falling apportionments that monies need to be cut, and printing seems to be the first to go, Dotson said. However, we feel that, given time, the Print Media Center could be an independent asset to the conference.

Foupht and Dotson began running the print shop Jan. 1, and they said they have achieved every one of their four major goals: they have lowered their debt, improved turnaround time on projects, gotten their billing under control and grown their customer base “ all while doing quality work.

We take pride in our work, Dotson said, noting the print shop does everything from designing and printing flyers, brochures and business cards to managing mailings “ at the Advocate s press time, they had seven mailings to do within a two-week time span.

Our cash intake from outside sources is more than it s been in five years, Foupht said. We just need time.

Meanwhile, they are doing all they can to spread the word about their services to churches, pastors and other ministries. Foupht and Dotson are exploring a possible name change, or perhaps just better branding of their offerings, so people understand they offer print and design services “ they fear the print media name is confusing to people.

There s got to be a reason people don t know we re here after 30-some-odd years of being here, Foupht said.

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