Kodiak Print Master continues operating under new ownership

Tyson Haag puts the finishing touches on a work van's vinyl lettering Monday, Sept. 19, 2011 at Printmasters in Kodiak. The store avoided closure after it was sold to new owners. (Wes Hanna photo)

KODIAK — The offset printing presses at Kodiak Print Master have not gone silent and the neon “open” signs continue to beckon to customers, despite the announcement the shop would close in mid-August.

The business will remain open because of a financial partnership between Kim Piper and Chelsea Lau, who bought and now run the print and copy shop.

Piper said they continue to get the occasional phone call or person who pops their head in the front door and asks if the print shop really is still open.

“We wanted a couple of weeks to get our feet wet, as it were, before we made the big announcement,” she said. “We’re here. We’re open. Bring it on.”

And there is a lot at the print shop to get up to speed on. The services offered at Kodiak Print Master run the gamut from placing vinyl lettering on boats and automobiles to taking passport photos and fingerprints — along with the better-known services like custom T-shirts, large-format photo printing, business cards and posters.

Piper credits previous owner Mike Haffeman’s employees and the business’s new staff for making the transition easier. Haffeman sold the business for a move off-island.

How did the women become business partners and come to own the print shop? Lau laughs and points to Piper, saying she’s the one who started it.

But Piper is happy to point the finger elsewhere.

“I should blame Ben (Millstein) from the brewery — it really started off with him,” she said. “I heard that (Print Master was) closing and he was worried about where he was going to get his T-shirts printed.”

Piper’s husband has worked with Millstein, and Piper has also taken brewery product photographs for the Kodiak Island Brewery website.

However, a plan to buy the printing machine and have Piper make the T-shirts turned out not to be logistically feasible, Piper said.

“So in passing, Ben just said, ‘Well why don’t you just buy it?’” Piper said. “I kept thinking, ‘Well, why don’t I?’”

Piper said she called Lau and asked her to be a business partner because they have the same work ethic and Lau is business-minded and knows the importance of customer service.

“I just knew that she would be a good person to go into business with,” Piper said.

The women came to know each other working at the Old Powerhouse restaurant.

Lau said she’s known Piper from the time she came to Kodiak.

“We just clicked and we get along very well.”

She said she saw the business as a good investment and new learning experience.

“I plan to stay,” Lau said, “so why not just go for it?”

The new owners have divided the responsibilities of running the business along their individual strengths. Lau runs the front office, tackling the finances, bookkeeping and assisting the front counter, while Piper uses her skills in photography and graphic design to assist with the production in the back of the shop.

But each woman has developed a different strategy for dealing with the pressure of becoming a business owner.

“I just think of myself as an employee, almost,” Lau said. “I don’t see myself as a boss. I’m just, OK, I have to go to work at this time. OK, I get off at this time and sometimes come in to catch up if I’m behind.”

Piper said she remains too busy and focused on her work to stop and get stressed out.

Looking toward the next few months, Piper said she hopes Kodiak Print Master will also be able to offer website development and design as well, becoming a place where a business concentrates all of its branding efforts.

The new owners don’t plan to have a grand opening, instead preferring to concentrate on the work they have right now.

“Word seems to get out in Kodiak pretty fast,” Piper said. Also, there is an established base of customers familiar with the print shop who already know the shop will stay open.

The owners, however, do plan to host a Kodiak Chamber of Commerce Business After Hours reception soon.

Mirror writer Wes Hanna can be reached via email at whanna@kodiakdailymirror.com.

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