Owner and founder of Valti Graphics in Oswego says business is still thriving — 40 years after it was started. Business employs six people
By Steve Yablonski
Q: How’d you come to be interested in this work?
A: I took some printing courses in college. It was the big thing going back in the 1980s and 1990s. A lot of ball teams getting shirts, Greek organizations and people wanting “Oswego” shirts.
Q: What were you doing prior to this?
A: City traffic department — I worked for the city for more than 33 years, did this on the side. Started at home, it kind of grew the first three or four years. I ended up hiring somebody to help printing in the cellar. It outgrew that space. I realized I had to move. I opened Jimmy B’s Valti Graphics at the forks of the road in 1989, between Buckland’s and Broadwell’s; moved here [Bridge and Liberty streets] in 1997. All that time, I worked for the city days; went to the store at night to print. I had people run the store for me during the day. It just grew, I never expected it to, but it did.
Q: What’s the cost of doing all this?
A: We began on a shoestring budget, slowly purchasing equipment (used and new) as sales grew.
Q: What’s your business philosophy?
A: To provide a quality product at a reasonable cost in a timely manner. Placing your customer needs and deadlines first, is powerful advertising; builds your reputation and is a formula for successful growth.
Q: What’s the best advice you’ve received?
A: Several local business and community leaders advised me. One of the best pieces of advice was to watch your cash flow, without capital you cannot pay for labor and materials no matter how many orders you receive.
Q: Has the business changed?
A: It’s changed immensely. When we started, we were using dye inks – didn’t dry, you had to hang them up and let them dry. Or, we’d put them through a dryer and kind of force dry them.
Q: It was quite the hands-on job?
A: Back then, all your stencils were made by hand. You’d stick on letters and everything. There were no computers back in 1981. Bought our first computers in 1986. We bought two, one for bookkeeping, one for artwork. The one for bookkeeping cost $4,000. It wasn’t a hard drive. It was two dual floppys. The first artwork computer was part of a $13,000 system; bought on a lease. I bought it out and in the end it cost me $18,000 or $19,000 to buy it out five years later.
Q: Who are your customers?
A: The college, high schools, the community, from all over. We get customers from all different directions. We do a lot of things for the college, sports teams, Greeks and others.
Q: Did the pandemic hurt business?
A: It was a rough year for everybody! It wasn’t just me.
Q: Are things looking up?
A: Actually, we’re quite busy right now. This summer it started picking up. This spring was slow. We did OK. It dried up in June and all of a sudden, when the governor lifted a lot of the restrictions, people who were just not going to do things decided they would. This fall has picked up quite nicely.
We’re still suffering somewhat. Supply chains have been impacted due to the pandemic. Some of our products come from overseas. It’s not always easy keeping things in stock. We’re pushed right to the limit right now in here. We have six employees plus a few contract workers, doing sewing and stuff like that. I’ve some people who’ve been with me a number of years. They do a great job.
Q: Do you ever feel like stepping away?
A: Last year, when things got tough, at my age, I could’ve just said ‘the heck with it.’ But I didn’t. I think I’m good for a few more years. I’ll keep doing this for two or three more years; maybe longer. I enjoy it. It’s a rewarding business. We make it a point to meet deadlines, ensure the customer’s satisfied. If you miss deadlines, you’re not in business long. We try to do quality work at a reasonable price and on time. I’ve actually kept the prices lower than I should have. But, you know, it’s not a question of trying to make a fortune here. It’s really rewarding when people come in and say, ‘I really like what you did.’ That’s the part that’s important. I enjoy that part.
Q: Are you ever going to slow down?
A: This is fun. I’m still in it, even at my age. I retired from the city 16 years ago. I expanded the business; I put the addition on the storefront here in 2005. I like the business. I like the creativity. Each job seems to be different. I don’t do as much of it as I use to, but I still enjoy doing it.
Q: What will you do after you retire?
A: I’d be doing something. I can’t sit around! I’m not the kind of guy to sit around and do nothing. I’ll find something else to do. I won’t be playing golf and fishing all the time, either. That’s not me. That’s one reason why I’m still in business at this age. I just enjoy working. That doesn’t mean I don’t fish and golf, I do (he added with a smile).