Fine Print

'Stop the presses'
is not something
Garin Frost
considers doing

by Rosalyn Graham

Folks who know him sometimes wonder how many Garin Frosts there are. They see Frost the entrepreneur who bought Vermont Print and Mail in Hinesburg four years ago; Frost the technology fanatic who couldn't wait to convert the newly purchased company to all digital the guy with printer's ink in his veins who puts on his coveralls and runs the press on occasion. There's the Frost who set up the print and mail department at IDX and still works there; Frost who enjoys surfing, mountain biking, skiing and snowboarding; and Frost the dad who loves to spend time with his "amazing kids," his daughter, Cassidy, 3, and son, Caden, 5.

Garin Frost has owned Vermont Print and Mail in Hinesburg for four years, but he's been working in the printing business since the 1980s, when he worked for his dad after high school.

He says he always knew he would be an entrepreneur, and the printing business seems to be perfect place for him to realize his dream. In 1984 and '85, between graduating from high school and entering Franklin Pierce College where he studied business, the New Hampshire native worked for his dad's printing company in Florida, and continued to work for printers in New Hampshire and Bellows Falls while he was at Franklin Pierce.

After college, Frost headed to California with a friend, and was hired by a prepress company in San Francisco. Six years later, he launched his own prepress business there, which he ran for three years, working for clients with a specialty need: short-run, four-color jobs.

After buying the company, Garin quickly transformed the operation to fully digital. In the prepress office are, from left, Lisa Gorham, sales and customer service; Dan Shea, prepress technician; and Mike Kavanaugh, the in-house sales person.

By then, he had met and married Christina Ridge. In 1999, the couple decided, like so many young couples starting a family, to sell the business and head east, toward home and a better quality of life. They landed in Vermont.

Frost spent part of 2000 working for Jager Di Paola Kemp Design while talking to Vermont Business Brokers about business opportunities. "I always thought I would end up owning my own company, but never thought it would be a printing business," he says, but David Eddy, who had owned Valley Print and Mail in Hinesburg for about 15 years, was ready to sell, and Frost's experience and his hands-on knowledge seemed to make it a perfect fit.

In January 2001, Frost bought Valley Print and Mail and began a dramatic revamping of the prepress department as a first step toward his long-term vision of operating the business as a modern computer-to-plate printing operation, replacing the tradition of paste-up, shooting negatives and burning plates with an entirely digital operation. The paste-up boards, the waxer and stripping table went out the door. Within 18 months, the conversion to a system wherein work from clients comes in by e-mail, is manipulated on the computer, and goes directly to the plate for the press was complete.

"It was also important to me to put in a lot of storage, new servers, an upgraded network and a strong infrastructure so that we could be better prepared for faster throughput, new technology, and a bigger multicolor press," Frost says. The transition involved buying a four-color press and other machines, such as a large-format image-setter big enough to create film positives for ski- and snowboards, and a huge, free-standing drum scanner that takes up much of the space in Frost's small office.

Doug Frost (right), who now works for his son, Garin, runs the bindery with Robert Baker.

Another important change during that first year was the purchase of a larger print management system: a fully integrated package, known as the Hagen System, that handles estimating, billing, scheduling and vendor management. "Everyone has access to information, and it is very well integrated into the work flow," Frost says.

"We can pull up any job we ever did and see all the details. When a customer calls and needs something, we can go right in and tell them exactly." The company never throws customers' files away, archiving everything to be able to grab files from several years back. "It eliminates potential mistakes in a business that has too many opportunities for mistakes," he says.

The mailing component of Vermont Print and Mail the equipment, systems and people was already in place, thanks to David Eddy, Frost says, and his role has been to ensure that software is kept up to date. "It's very stable; we have a substantial and loyal customer base and a lot of repeat business. We do have a lot of experience and an amazing, wonderful staff who've been doing this for years and who know all the ins and outs of the system."

Also in that first year, he says, "it seemed obvious to me that we needed a name that would be recognized more widely, since I thought that over time I would be able to do business with some of my former customers in California. It would be easier if people knew we were in Vermont."

The transition to the new name was very smooth, he recalls, especially since the VPM initials were unchanged. One lucky stroke the old Valley Print and Mail truck died, and the new one arrived just in time to sport the new corporate name. The Jager Di Paolo Kemp-designed logo with its dot pattern makes a connection to the dots on which the printing industry is based.

Looking back to the beginning of his time at Vermont Print and Mail, in light of continued growth and development Frost expresses amazement at what was accomplished. "We changed the type of work we do and our image within the first year . It was a pretty intense year."

As if all this weren't enough, Frost dove into another project. In March 2002, he was hired as a consultant for the printing and mailing services at IDX. "It was part time for two months, filling an immediate need for some intense assistance in their print and mail operation," he says. He so enjoyed what he was doing that in May of that year, he went on board full time, and in December became director of mailing services.

"It was a great opportunity to make a lot of change and affect the department as a whole," he says. Because of implementing the new technology at VPM, for the last year, he has worked in a systems and mailing services development position at IDX two days a week, while working full time at his Hinesburg plant. "I make up the two days by working weekends," he says. "I would like to be two people."

His work for IDX earned him plaudits from Jim Chase, business mail supervisor with the U.S. Postal Service, which handles both IDX and Vermont Print and Mail bulk mailings. "Technology is advancing so quickly, and Frost has tremendous experience," says Chase. "He was able to improve the mail flow at IDX, putting a lot of their mailing on the manifest system that he helped to create."

The system consolidates the array of information being sent to clients by various departments, took 30 percent to 40 percent of the load off the post office, and earned discounts for the mailer.

Essential to Frost's ability to be "two people" is the staff of Vermont Print and Mail, whom he praises for their willingness to be so committed and forward-thinking. The team leaders in the operation, which employs 10 people full time and three part time, are Dan Shea, whom Frost calls "the main prepress guy"; Mike Kavanaugh, the in-house sales person; Lisa Gorham, the sales and customer service staffer; Kevin Curley, the lead press operator; Mary Fortin, in charge of the mailing department; and a new hire, Doug Frost, Frost's father, who moved to VPM from a company in southern Vermont. "The guy I learned the bindery from is now running the bindery," the younger Frost says with pride.

Catherine McIntyre of Stride Creative in Burlington, a two-person graphic design and ad agency, has been impressed with Vermont Print and Mail's commitment to pricing that is attractive to its budget-sensitive clients, and to making sure that every detail is completed in a way that makes the client happy. She sees Frost as the "invisible influence that makes things run smoothly."

Kurt Gruendling, vice president of business development and marketing at Waitsfield and Champlain Valley Telecom, has a relationship with the company that goes back many years. The telecommunications company's Hinesburg office is right across the road from VPM, and Gruendling has seen the increasing sophistication of the operation benefit his company in terms of timing and quality.

Kevin Curley, the lead press operator (and part-time Burlington city councilor), works at the Sakurai offset press.

"We send them a PDF of a file we've created, e-mail our mailing list, and they handle the rest," Gruendling says.

The business goes both ways. Vermont Print subscribes to broadband service through Waitsfield Telecom, a level of telecommunications support that allows a smooth interaction of client, printer and mailer. "It's great to work with a local business that has kept up with the times, and it helps us to keep the business local," says Gruendling. "It's mutually beneficial."

Gruendling, who teaches business courses at Community College of Vermont, has also seen another side of Frost. "I teach a course in advertising," he says, "and Garin has brought in plates and proofs to give a real-world perspective to my classes. He's always ready to help."

Sounds like there's another Garin Frost: Garin Frost the teacher.

Originally published in January 2005 Business People-Vermont