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When Mark Laniak opted to try his hand at entrepreneurship, he learned fairly quickly that despite two decades of experience in the industry, he still had a lot to learn when it came to running a business.
“When I ventured out I thought I knew everything I needed to know about running a business,” says Laniak, president and owner of Excelsus Solutions. “The biggest challenge I came across in starting the business is that the culture—what is required of the people when you’re starting a business—the book hasn’t been written yet.”
Before founding the Henrietta commercial printing company in 2005, Laniak, 52, was vice president of operations at Flower City Printing Inc. One of the biggest challenges he faced as a new business owner was finding the right people for the job.
“People who have excelled in larger environments—where the book was already written and they had to follow the book—didn’t fit well or do well or perform well in an environment where the book hadn’t been written,” he explains. “It was not so easy to hire people and make them successful when we were starting up. I learned a lot in that experience.”
In nine years Excelsus has grown from a handful of employees to 28. While Laniak declines to discuss revenues, he says the company has logged 10 to 15 percent growth annually the last couple of years.
Excelsus provides large-and small-format digital and conventional printing, primarily for retail stores, universities, transit authorities and consumer product groups. Laniak says what differentiates his company from others is that Excelsus takes the solutions approach to its clients’ needs.
“We like to think of ourselves as not just a printer. We’re not order takers,” he says. “The customers we target really value our product and what we do for them. They view what we do for them as an important component to their success.”
Excelsus strives for partnerships with its customers, Laniak says, and one area in which the company excels is color management on various materials. When a customer needs window graphics, floor graphics or hanging signs, Laniak explains, colors must match perfectly.
“Color integrity and consistency across different substrates and different technologies is incredibly important,” he says.
Some 95 percent of the firm’s products are ink on paper, or tangible products, Laniak says. He expects that to decrease to about 50 percent in the next five years as the company begins to focus more on Web design and smartphone applications.
Laniak predicts the company will double in size in five years and says he plans to increase staff in the coming year.
Situations that make him want to pull his hair out are those outside his control, such as weather delaying deliveries.
“There are lots of challenges on a daily basis,” he says. “You’re always being thrown curveballs.”
But it is worth it, he says, because the people he works with make his job exciting.
“What is fun is having a business, hiring people, providing an opportunity for them to learn and to grow and to do things they hadn’t previously done,” Laniak notes. “They are the most important component of a successful business. They have great ideas. They have lots of enthusiasm; they have lots of energy.”
While Laniak had some minor issues when he founded his company, he says what helped him was having a good business plan and surrounding himself with people who could offer advice and guidance.
“The first thing I would strongly recommend is to understand what sound business practices are. There are a lot of basic principles I see so many people not following; that gets them into trouble,” he advises. “Don’t make it more complicated than it has to be.”
Small Business is a biweekly feature focusing on entrepreneurs. Send suggestions for future Small Business stories to Associate Editor Smriti Jacob at email@example.com.
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