When James Gordon presided over Winston Printing Co. Inc.'s 75th anniversary, he set a goal — on his watch, the family business would reach its 100th anniversary.
Last month, the company did just that.
"Now, my challenge is, 'What do you do for an encore,'" said Gordon, the company's president and chief executive.
The owners of the company have used innovation, loyal employees and the willingness to embrace change to help their company survive for a century.
The fourth-generation, family-owned business started in downtown Winston-Salem in 1911 and now has its headquarters and production operations on North Point Boulevard.
"Whoever is in my role . has to have a passion for the business," Gordon said. "If you have that and you can attract good workers, then you've got a good chance."
Gordon said that the company has had staying power partly because its owners repositioned the company to take advantage of local and regional opportunities with the changes in market conditions.
Over the years, Winston Printing shifted its operation from commercial printing to printed-paperboard packaging. Since 1999, the company has done business as Winston Packaging. The company designs and makes paperboard packages for consumer products ranging from cigarettes to photo envelopes for a wide range of industries nationally and in Canada.
Gordon's grandfather, Alexander G. Gordon founded the company in 1911, operating a commercial printing shop at Third and Liberty streets in downtown Winston-Salem. He was a journeyman bookbinder and entrepreneur who promoted the use of color in the printing industry. R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. was one of the company's largest customers back then and remained so for 82 years.
John R. Gordon succeeded his father as the company president in 1953. His experience as an industrial engineer and his electronics and military experience in the Air Force during World War II and Korea helped bring new technologies to the company. He added offset printing presses and improved the workflow processes and management techniques.
"My father believed in getting new equipment, whereas my grandfather said, 'Hey, used is good enough. We can get by,' " James Gordon said.
In 1979, the company moved to its present location on North Point Boulevard, where it now has a building with 80,000 square feet.
James Gordon took the helm of the company in 1984. He had worked there, starting with the summer months, since he was 15.
"He made a conscious effort back then as a teenager that he really wanted to be part of this business," said his wife, Susan, who is the company's marketing services manager.
She said her husband is known for saying to employees, "Are you here by default, or are you here by design?"
Like his father, James Gordon focused on technology. It was under his leadership that the company became a packaging operation in the mid-1990s.
The Gordon family's fourth generation is represented by James Gordon's son, Russell, who is an account executive in sales.
Changes have also occurred over the years with the company's customer base and markets. R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. is still a customer, just not one of Winston Packaging's largest clients. When the tobacco company announced it would pull its packaging business in-house in late 1993, Winston Packaging expanded into new areas.
The company has moved into industries such as healthcare and Internet retail. Its customers include companies in the photo, healthcare, food products and tobacco marketing fields, primarily along the East Coast. It is certified in sustainable "green" packaging standards and recycles its waste paper to reduce its carbon footprint. Customers include CVS/Caremark, Industries for the Blind, Joyce Foods, Kodak and Target.
Gordon declined to give Winston Packaging's actual numbers but said that the company's sales for its fiscal year, ended June 30, were up 5 percent this year compared with 2010.
James Blakley of Advance has been with the company for nearly 44 years and has worked in all of its plant departments, starting out in prepress as a camera operator and plate maker.
As Winston Packaging's senior employee, he has seen a lot of technological changes in the industry. He recalled how film used to be developed in a tray.
"Now we just go from computer to plate," said Blakley, who today is a computer-aided design technician. "Everything is done by computer."
He described the company as home, saying that management has always been good to him.
"They keep up with modern technology here and believe in training people," he said.
James Gordon's mother, Doris, never worked at the company but has always been impressed with the visionary insights of its management and is proud of the company's longevity.
"My grandson is there — the fourth generation," she said. "I'm just hoping that it keeps going."
Customers also had good things to say about the company.
Reviva Labs, a skincare company in Haddonfield, N.J., has done business with Winston Packaging for more than five years.
Mellisa Baylis, the vice president of Reviva Labs, said that Winston Packaging is one of 10 companies that can supply the packaging that Reviva needs for the "natural" industry.
"Winston Packaging is on the cutting-edge of ecopackaging," she said.
Peter Rast, the vice president of X Did It, a graphic design company in Todd, said he likes the fact that Winston Packaging is a service-driven company.
"Anybody can print these days," he said. "It's just a matter of whatever they do to make the client feel comfortable. When I place a job in a printing company, I want to have a good night's sleep."
Today, Winston Packaging's survival relies on strong customer relationships and establishing partnerships to help them with a variety of services, including sustainable package design, FDA quality guidelines and shipping, James Gordon said.
"From what my grandfather started in 1911 through today, we are certainly proud of our 100 years," he said.
Information from: Winston-Salem Journal, http://www.journalnow.com