Learning together in the family business

Steve Shelton, founder and president of Solution Printing, started learned about printing during his time in the U.S. Army, where he was tasked with printing reports and various projects. After his time in the military, Shelton was living in Indiana and working in sales but wanted to get closer to his hometown of Pittsfield, where his family lived. He ended up in Springfield, and worked for Horace Mann managing the company's print shop until it closed. Shelton decided it was time to do his own thing, and in 2003 he founded Solution Printing, 3135 S. 14th St.

click to enlarge Learning together in the family business
Three generations of Sheltons: Madeline, Greg and Steve in the Solution Printing shop.

"I worked many 24-hour days getting it built up," said Shelton of being a one-man shop and building his printing business from the ground up. He said those long days were tiring but very much worth it. Just five years later, Shelton received a cancer diagnosis that would change his life and that of his family. His son, Greg Shelton, was in college at the time and came home to help his dad run the business.

"I came back to Springfield in 2008 and finished my degree at Benedictine while working in the print shop with my dad," said Greg Shelton. He said he was shocked to learn there were so many printing companies in Springfield at that time, and he wondered what he was getting himself into.

"I could not imagine how it was possible for so many printing businesses to thrive in a city the size of Springfield," Greg said. "I wondered how we were going to compete?"

Steve was well-versed in offset printing, which for decades was the standard method of printing large orders on a variety of media. Greg recognized his father's wisdom and experience and learned all he could from him. In order to remain competitive, however, Greg Shelton knew the company would need to incorporate digital printing in order to do large-format jobs such as banners and signs.

Greg said he had to drag his dad into the digital-printing era, and in retrospect Steve is thankful that his son had a foothold on the next generation of printing and the patience to help him adapt and keep the business current. "He took it to the next level with digital and large-format projects," said Steve.

Steve described working together in a family-owned business as an ongoing learning curve. "It's kind of like a marriage. We have our ups and downs, and after disagreeing on something, a few minutes can go by, and we're on our way again. We've grown to work well together," he said.

For his part, Greg said he's learned a great deal from his dad. "The family bond creates a space where we're both invested, so it is in our best interest to work together and reach a common goal." He said, "We can bounce ideas off of each other, and we listen because we are invested. There's no reason to not find a way to work together."

Solution Printing has six employees, with Greg serving as the delivery person and the sales force. He said, "It works out well for me to do the deliveries because I get to see the customers, and that builds relationships. I enjoy working with our customers and getting to know the community and making those important connections with people and our printing projects."

Steve gives Greg credit for understanding how to give to the community in ways that really matter, and he said the community always brings it back around. The company has donated signs and printing services for a variety of nonprofits and special events.

The family business involves more than just father and son. Steve's wife does some of the bookkeeping, Steve's other son, who lives in Texas, works on the website, and Winnie the dog keeps everyone relaxed and entertained. However, one boundary is that there is no talking about business at family gatherings. Greg said, "My mom would get really mad when we talked about business at family gatherings, so we stopped."

Steve said that although it can be challenging to work with family, everything has a tendency to work itself out over time. "We work well together. We each have strengths in different areas so we complement one another," said Steve. "We both want the business to be successful so we work it out."

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