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Spotlight: Karen Hueston, vice-president of the Aylmer Express


June 25, 2021
By PrintAction Staff

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Karen Hueston is the vice-president of the Aylmer Express. A 40-year veteran of the printing industry, Karen offers a unique perspective on the industry based on her experience of running a successful print shop in a small town in Ontario.

What is the state of the print industry today, in your opinion?
KH: Pre-COVID, we had steady growth for 10 years, with every year being our best. We had over 100 employees spread across four locations. The pandemic has impacted the industry, and this is related to your customer base. We seem to be rebounding, and I think we will become stronger. The past year allowed us to organize, work on MIS systems and update things we previously never had time for. Printers who modernize and diversify should be fine.

The industry failed greatly years ago by not responding quickly and strongly to the “don’t print this e-mail” campaign, which painted us like oil producers. We have been struggling with that image since then. We were afraid to look like luddites and remained silent instead of promoting print. Paper is eco-friendly; the massive use of energy for computers is not. Their plastic waste, toxic byproducts and designed obsolescence are filling landfills by the tonne.

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What attracted you to the print industry?
KH: My husband! I moved to Aylmer, Ont., when our marriage plans were finalized. My husband asked me to help out for a few weeks before our wedding. After our motorcycle honeymoon to the West Coast, I was waiting to start a new contract in the new year, and again I went in to “help out a bit” and was hooked. I love the business, the fast pace, challenges and all the variables; there is never a dull moment.

Print is an honourable profession. The invention of print—a perfect communication medium—changed the world and helped create a more egalitarian society. Widespread communication became possible and education was brought to the masses, including women.

How can the industry attract more young people?
KH: It is important to increase awareness of the industry and the history behind it. Honestly, for the six years I dated my husband, I never really knew what he did.

It is an ever changing, fast-paced, detail-oriented business. Many printers want to hire people with working knowledge of the printing industry. However, in our experience, partly from being located in a small town, it is often better to train an inexperienced person—no matter the age—with a good attitude and a willingness to learn. We have a good mix of long-term and new staff.

In such a competitive landscape, how can printers win more sales?
KH: This is a question everybody would like the answer to. I believe strong sales people know how to sell. You need to add value, and not just be the lowest price. What would be the future of the industry if it is a race to the bottom price? We need to be innovative in tough times.

What are some of the biggest opportunities you see in the print industry?
KH: We have modern equipment that makes things easier and faster. I think a fair number of people in the traditional printing space are looking to retire, so there will be some degree of vertical integration and industry consolidation.

What do you think is the most exciting thing about print today?
KH: After 40 years in the business, it is just as exciting and rewarding now as it was when I started. Working with different sectors offers a glimpse into worlds you wouldn’t normally see. Book printing will always be special, thanks to the authors we meet and the relationships we build. Our business philosophy is simple; we treat others the way we want to be treated—keep your customers and staff happy, have a strong supply chain, and life is wonderful. The other exciting thing is that my children want to continue in the business.

Karen’s responses were edited for length. For more Q&A Spotlight interviews, please visit www.printaction.com/profile.

This article originally appeared in the May 2021 issue of PrintAction.