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Jeff Blow begaan >>

Jet Age?


Jeff Blow has worked all his life to become a jet setter of the central Vermont printing community

by Craig Bailey

(Originally published in Business People, April 1999. Photos: Jeff Clarke)

How Modern Entered the Jet Age

The promise he made to his grandfather that the move would yield a return seems safely met: The added breathing space has allowed Jet Service to gross $2 million a year. The company’s single envelope press has become four; its staff has grown from one to 14. The 14,000-square-foot facility houses an inventory of 15 million envelopes, and the two-color presses crank out product all day Monday through Friday. Occasionally they come to life during the weekend, too.

“I think it’s worked out pretty well,” Blow understates.

Modern Printing got its start in 1915.

The business was founded by V. Lafargo at 1071/2 N. Main St., Barre, as El Corriere del Vermont, an Italian language newspaper. Changing times meant an end to the paper 25 years later when English replaced Italian as the language of choice. Lafargo began to transition the business into a print shop.

Garth Blow, Jeff’s grandfather, moved from Montpelier to Barre to work for Lafargo before purchasing the business Jan. 1, 1945, and renaming it Modern Printing Co. The eldest Blow incorporated the business in 1956, moved it to the Flanders Repair Shop building next door, and acquired and consolidated the Granite City Press the following year.

In 1960, the business added its first offset press to complement its letterpress service. By 1967 Modern relocated to 14-20 Jefferson St. It shared the building next to the Elks Club with Montgomery Ward until the retailer relocated, giving Modern even more space.

Jeff Blow arrived on the floor in 1972. A freshman at Spaulding High School, he swung a vocational deal that allowed him to work at the shop from 31/2 to nearly seven hours a day before becoming a full-time employee following graduation in ’75. “It was kind of odd that I was able to get out of school as much as I was,” Blow ponders — odder still that many years later he can effortlessly recall his exact work hours for each year of high school.

Blow’s full-time employment at Modern coincided with the arrival of the company’s first jet envelope press — so-called for its speed. After watching an employee operate the device for the better part of a month, Blow concluded the company was realizing 20 percent of the machine’s potential. “I saw it as a challenging piece of equipment that wasn’t being challenged,” he muses.

So Blow approached the employee. “I recall going into his office one day and saying, ‘You know, you’re not getting your money’s worth out of that press.’ He very nicely looked over the rim of his glasses and said, ‘You know, do you think you can do better?’”

It turned out that Blow did and wasn’t afraid to say so. From that day on, Blow handled the envelope side of the business.

Printing has always been the business’s forte, and Blow remains content to let someone else manufacture the envelopes. “To buy one machine, you’re looking at millions of dollars,” he explains, “and it only makes one type of envelope. To be considered competitive, I’d have to have a building that is 10 or 15 times bigger than this one, and I’d have to have at least $20-to-$25 million to spend on machinery.”

There are no envelope manufacturers in the Green Mountains. Consequently, all of Blow’s suppliers are large, out-of-state firms — a fact that leaves him somewhat sullen. “If there was a good quality, competitive envelope manufacturer in the state, I’d buy from within the state. Vermonters supporting Vermonters is the only way Vermont’s ever going to grow,” he offers. “I listen to all these politicians on TV: ‘Buy Vermont! Buy Vermont!’ The state of Vermont is probably the one largest entity within the state that buys most of its product outside the state. To me it doesn’t make sense.”

Janet Silman cites the fact that Jet Service is a Vermont company as just one reason Country Home Products Inc. in Vergennes does business with it. “I think they give us a very reasonable price, a good product, and good service,” she says. “And if you top all that with being a Vermont company, that’s the final reason to stick with them.”

“We try to do business with other customers of our bank,” says Sheila Bartel, purchasing agent for Vermont National Bank. Jet Service is the main supplier to the Brattleboro bank, which uses about a half million envelopes a year. “Of course quality and service is most important to us,” she adds, “and they’ve always met those expectations.”

 Jet Service prints 85 million envelopes a year, which means the business serves clients outside the immediate area. “There’s probably not 80 million envelopes mailed through the Barre post office in a year’s time,” speculates Jeff Blow. Pictured: post press manager Rick Choquette.

To remain competitive, Blow learned early that access to certain suppliers was significant. “Some (envelope) manufacturers don’t want to be bothered dealing with somebody who only does a small volume,” he explains. “They lay out the rules: ‘If you’re a commercial print shop, we won’t sell to you. However, if you have an envelope business, and that’s all you do, we’ll sell to you.’”

Establishing the subsidiary name Jet Service Envelope Co. in the late 1970s granted Blow that access. Eventually the name started creeping off purchase orders and onto the sides of the company’s delivery trucks until it grew into a recognizable brand with clients.

The growth the division experienced over the following years taxed its 4,500-square-foot space. Raw materials and finished product collided in transit to and from the cramped, second-floor facility, so Blow started looking to relocate the division. The proximity to the interstate of the 19- acre parcel at the junction of Vermont 63 and East Road in Berlin

 Robert Blow (left) and Woody Woodworth unwrap a new Heidelberg press in 1966. Blow retired to Florida a few years ago; Woodworth died in 1995. Inset: The company’s Main Street location in the early ’50s. It’s now a parking lot. (Courtesy: Jet Service Envelope Co.)