A lesson in doing the thing you said you'd never do

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We recently purchased and moved a 2,000 lb. Heidelberg Windmill printing press. It is a beautiful 10x15 red ball press manufactured in the 1970's. For more information on Heidelberg presses, check out this APA article. I also really love this blog: The Windmill in My Garage.

I always say I'm never moving another press when we finish a big move. We've moved our studio 3 times, and have moved presses and equipment in and out more times than that. Usually we tackle moving with rented equipment and buying pizza and beer for every guy we know. This time, we decided to pay someone to do the move for us. Ballard Transfer Co. moved the Windmill and our new paper cutter with two guys, a forklift and a giant truck. One of the guys did so with a cigar in his mouth. (He was awesome.) They were professional and experienced, and made it look like moving a 2,000+ lb. press was no sweat. I'm so glad we made the decision to hire movers. I actually slept the night before and didn't have a mini panic attack on the day of the move. Hooray!

So, why a Windmill, why now?  

My maximum speed on our treadle-operated C&P is around 500 prints per hour. The minimum speed of a Windmill is 2,200 per hour. When we were a one person business, it made sense to have one press. We're now a business with six employees. We're filling larger orders than ever, and we're working on building relationships with sales reps for continued growth. This means we're printing about as much as we possibly can on the C&P. In order to keep shipping orders ASAP the way we want, something needs to change. We could have extended working hours. (Less rest time, less family time, less working on new products time.) We could have bought another C&P and put the baby in full time daycare. (Taking us to only 1,000 prints per hour, and costing a flobbidy jillion dollars.)

One morning I searched for "letterpress" on Craigslist (dangerous!) and saw the Windmill for sale. This is not the first time I've seen printing equipment for sale and changed direction drastically to make it happen. As I always say, there's no "letterpress store." You can't drive to IKEA and pick one of these bad boys up. When the opportunity to buy printing equipment presents itself, you have to move quickly. We talked the decision through at length (although quickly) and decided to buy it. 

The question you may be asking right about now is this: "Aren't you the treadle operated and handpress loving person who swore off motorized automated presses?" Yes. The answer is yes. I have said no way, no how, I'm not doing it. Never. Never ever. I'm not putting a motor on my C&P. And I've been a little snooty about the "handmadeness" of printing on a Heidelberg. I've been all about the slow, methodical, hard way. 

So what do you do when your business starts to outgrow the slow way? It's scary to invest in a new press. I have a lot to learn, and it's humbling to stand before a 2,000 lb. enigma. It's scary to admit that your business has changed. It's scary to admit that you've changed. 

Windmills are incredibly beautiful machines that take skill and practice to operate. They are certainly not a walk up and push a button kind of thing. I honestly didn't understand their complexity until I had one in front of me. Humble pie is being eaten. 

Buying this press has raised questions about who we are as a business. Is our identity connected to the exact method in which we print? Is our brand just about the slow, treadle-operated way? Is that why our customers buy our cards? I don't think so. I believe our brand identity is about what we have to say, our commitment to quality & simplicity and the real, honest people behind our company. 

Buying this press raises questions about my role in the company, too. When we started, it was just me. Literally alone in a tiny room, with just the C&P. And that's not who we are anymore. We have a beautiful team of talented, caring people who bring more to the company than I can do alone. They are the other stars in our constellation. They have supported and kept us going and growing this year as my role has changed. I'm a mom now. I don't have 60 hours a week to give. I don't print, package and mail each thing that we sell. All of this is still done with meticulous, loving care. But my role has changed. Honestly, it's been weird for me. I'm learning about who I am in my new role. I work from home often, managing scheduling and new clients, making big picture decisions and designing new products. I think about cash flow and marketing and social media and the future of our brand. I change diapers. I search for new lines to add to our retail shop. I implement CRM software. I send e-mails. 

I'm not always inky anymore. And I miss being inky.

We have been very close to maximum efficiency for the presses we have, the team we have, and the amount of hours we want to work. If we're constantly doing production printing, we can't be doing the things that make Constellation & Co. what it is. If our production printing can be faster and more efficient, we can focus on the things we love:

Writing, designing and producing new products
Printing with wood engravings and hand-set type
Sending handwritten notes and snail mail
Spending time with our customers in the shop and at events
Enjoying time with our families & friends that inspire the things we create

So the Windmill represents many things about the next era for Constellation & Co. It's about celebrating change and growth. It's about having the capability to produce awesome stuff in the quantities we need to keep growing. It's a new thing for me to learn and experiment with and a way to get inky again.  For the first time in awhile, I'm spending time alone in a small room, just me and a press. It's a beautiful, full circle kind of thing.