Stark Printing Co. Makes Its Mark at Point of Purchase

Article excerpt

About 100 years ago, what is now the John Stark Printing Co. got its start by publishing "The Maple Leaf Rag" and other songs by ragtime musician Scott Joplin.

Today, the company's repertoire of printed products runs from cutouts of Clydesdales for Anheuser-Busch ads to promotions on plastic film that Hallmark sticks to the windows of its greeting card stores.

The Des Peres company is among the largest printers in the country of POP - point-of-purchase - advertisements, says owner Cliff Kelley. Examples of these are the posters, banners, mobiles and countertop signs in stores and bars that persuade you to buy alcohol, cigarettes, batteries, shoes - even diamonds. Among Stark's other capabilities is printing on "translites," those backlit signs often seen atop refrigerated cases in convenience stores. It also prints on plastic that is vacuum-formed into 3-D ads. A sample hanging on the wall at Stark shows a miniature racing car emblazoned with the Miller beer logo. "It's not like putting a man on the moon," Kelley said, "but it's still demanding work." Kelley expects that his company's revenue will top $25 million this year. The sole printing plant is here, but the company also has sales offices in Kansas City, Cleveland and Tampa and uses sales reps in Sacramento and Dallas. From that last office, Kelley is beginning to reach out to customers in Mexico. That's a long way from Sedalia, Mo., where John Stark ran a music store before the turn of the century. At the time, Joplin was living in Sedalia, attending college, writing songs and playing the piano at the Maple Leaf Club. One day, Stark stopped at the club for a cold beer. He heard the rag tune that Joplin had composed and named for the club. Stark liked it, bought the rights to it and published it in 1899. The two men soon moved to St. Louis and developed a business relationship that lasted for years. Such cooperation between black and white businessmen was unusual in those days, says Billye Crumpton, assistant director of the Scott Joplin State Historic Site here. Stark was the first publisher to give Joplin a contract and royalties, she said. In those days, black composers usually received $25 or $50 for a song and no royalties. But Stark recognized that Joplin was no flash in the pan. Stark ended up publishing 23 of the more than 70 songs of Joplin's that saw print, said Kelley. Stark's first printing plant was at Second and Olive streets downtown, Kelley said. Later, the company moved to the Midtown area. Today, Stark occ upies 65,000 square feet at 12969 Manchester Road, just west of Interstate 270. Stark has about 90 employees, including 65 craftsmen, who are unionized. The company, with four presses, operates two shifts a day, five days a week and often on Saturdays. Kelley hopes to soon see it in operation nonstop. Stark specializes in large-format printing, up to 43 inches by 60 inches. Kelley recently spent $5 million on a new 38-by-51-inch press from Germany, believed to be the only one of its kind in this country. The KBA Planeta Rapida press - all 117 tons of it - arrived in January. With it came three Germans, who spent several months here setting up and testing the press, which is almost half as long as a football field, and training crews to operate it. …