A Joint Venture

Husband-and-wife team builds thriving printing business

Bob Nicholas, Houston’s first African American anchorperson, spent 30 years reporting the news. But now, with his three-year-old company BNE Fine Printing, Nicholas is making the news.
Launched in October 1999, BNE Fine Printing is a 14-employee, commercial printing company. With clients such as Major League Baseball’s Houston Astros, Continental Airlines, Shell Oil, Paramount Pictures, Bank of America, Minute Maid, Enterprise Rent-A-Car, and Pennzoil; 2002 company revenues totaled some $2.5 million.

Growing up, Nicholas, 59, always had a burning desire to own a business. After three decades anchoring and reporting the news, he decided it was time to give it a shot and chose a printing business since he had several contacts within that industry. He also noticed that few African Americans were competing in this sector. “As part of our research, we found that of the 10,000 printing companies operating at volume level in America, only half a dozen were owned by minorities, and half of those were owned by Hispanics,” says Nicholas.

The Nicholases took all of their savings, including Bob’s retirement fund, totaling about $3 million, and sank it into the business. Much of the money was used to purchase industrial printing equipment. To bring in additional money, Nicholas kept his job as an early-morning anchorperson while his wife, Arita, who is the company’s president and CEO, ran the business. With so much invested into the venture, Nicholas needed to get clients quickly. He initially went to people he’d met during his career as a broadcaster, one of whom was Drayton McLane, owner of the Houston Astros. “He said he wanted us to design and print the Astros’ 2001 season calendar. We did just that, and we even got an industry award for the printing,” boasts Nicholas.

Looking ahead, the Nicholases plan to grow their business by targeting more Fortune 500 companies and continuing to market to corporate America, so as not to be viewed as a firm too small to handle big jobs. “They still set aside the small jobs for us. For the most part, they seem afraid to give us an opportunity for the big work,” says Arita. “It takes persistence, persistence, persistence.”

One of the Nicholases’ goals is to build a company that will rank among the BE 100S. “We want to build a national printing company with satellite operations around the country,” says Bob. “And eventually phase out the commercial printing operation and focus on packaging.”

BNE Fine Printing; 3558 East T.C. Jester Blvd., Houston, Texas, 77018; 713-682-0682.

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