Graphic Chemical & Ink Company is a world leader in the fine art field of printmaking. We manufacture our own time-tested inks for etching, litho and relief printing, as well as sell screen print inks, papers, tools, chemistry, plates and supplies for all of a printmaker's needs

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Location: Villa Park, Illinois, United States

I have worked for Graphic Chemical & Ink Company since 1968 - with a brief hiatus(almost 4 years) to travel the World courtesy of my uncle. Sadly it turns out it was my Uncle Sam, and I wasn't too thrilled about the places that he chose to send me. My wife and I have run Graphic Chemical for many years, and have enjoyed the travel that comes with the position. We get to meet our customers (and the occasional vendor) from all over the World

Tuesday, October 04, 2005


When I write these things in the middle of the night, I tend to be much more philosophical than I do in the light of day.

This year has been a challenge for manufacturers around the country, and it's been a particular challenge for small manufacturers. This has never been more true than in the art materials business.

I am very involved in the National Art Materials Trade Association (NAMTA), and have been for years. I currently chair the committee on Art Educators. I believe that Art Supply stores need to do a better job in educating their customers - particularly art educators - about what's available in the marketplace, and how it's used. Manufacturers, including Graphic, need to do a better job of reaching those consumers with new product offerings. And consumers, including art educators, need to do a better job of supporting those in the supply chain for art materials.

I read various printmaking related bulletin boards on a regular basis. Those of you who do likewise know that I am a frequent poster on these sites. While I am not shy about making people aware of products from Graphic Chemical, it isn't my intent to use these forums as an overt advertising tool. I am very concerned, however, that artists in general, and printmakers specifically are doing themselves a disservice in their buying habits.

You can and should look for the best product at the best price available, but you need to be aware of the unseen price that you pay for some items. Anytime a supplier offers you a product at or below the manufacturer's list price, you feel like you've hit the jackpot, right? Well, the manufacturer - someone like Graphic Chemical - has had to discount that product to your supplier in order for that to happen. That discount is a direct reduction of profit.

No big deal, you say! They'll make up for it with a high list price. Well, think about that for a minute. You could still end up paying more for the product in that scenario, but would feel better about it because you got it for less than list. In our case, we don't inflate list prices because the majority of what we sell is going directly to the end user.

The bottom line is that for the sake of convenience in the short run, your purchasing habits will (and already have) affect the long term viability of small manufacturers. Oh, we forget about them shortly after they disappear, but when I look back at our competitors that have left the market in the past 35 years, it's staggering and scary.

No small manufacturer can survive for long without the full support of the customer base it has developed. Our job in the supply chain is to offer quality products at affordable prices. Using Graphic Chemical as an example, reluctantly, we could and should, vastly curtail the number of items that we offer - focusing only on the most profitable items. Maybe that means only one or two offerings of each color of etching inks, perhaps only 3-4 sizes of zinc plates and 10 or fewer varieties of paper. It shouldn't make that big a difference to you. You could get by with the reduced product line - but would you want to?

My point is that it costs money to inventory all these items. Overhead is incredible The cost of state and federal regulation is staggering, and, of course, health insurance is off the charts. Think about these things the next time you purchase online. Many of the online outlets are not manufacturers, some have no overhead, pay no taxes, no payroll to meet, and contribute nothing to the community. Is saving a few cents worth the risk of losing a Graphic Chemical, a Charbonnel, Lyons or Speedball?

I hope the answer is "no"!


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11:19 AM  
Anonymous Vladimir said...

Dear Mr. Clark,

I fully agree with you about the necessity to support smaller manufacturers vital to someone's trade (and I do, and have been doing this, all the time, at a considerable extra expense - among other things, as an example, I absolutely refuse to buy anything made in PRC, and do not allow my employees to buy these goods for my company).

But it is absolutely necessary for small manufacturers to catch up with the technology. You mention the expenses of inventory, storage, regulations, etc. - of course, it is obvious, that it is considerably harder to support the overhead in a smaller company... but these expenses can be very easily overridden by the key factor in today's business environment - REAL automation. This is the only factor that will level the field.

And in case of a company like yours (BTW, I have been, happily, using your products for the last 15 years or so), it starts with a truly convenient, easy-to-use, commercial Web site, where all components of your marketing process - both the front office and the back office parts of it - product presentation, customer relations and service, inventory, sales, etc. etc. - come together. Having something like this, would let you maintain your differential competitive advantage - your company reputation, quality of your products, and your knowledge - for years to come.
I know that I am rambling about your post which is 3 years old... but I needed to get a lot of printmaking stuff today, and, unfortunately, today, three years later, when I try to get something from your Web site (and I buy online thousands of dollars worth of various goods EVERY month), it is very frustrating - descriptions are very small or mostly, non-existent (as a result, your knowledge, which could have been helpful, right there, does not even enter into the equation...); the site structure and presentation is outdated, and your products - which should have been shining bright - do not get what they deserve.

Strangely enough, even the largest art suppliers in the country - Pearl, NYCentral etc., with possible exception of Utrecht, Dick Blick (and to a significantly lesser degree, Dan Smith) - do not have the online commerce set up right. I truly believe that if you could bring your site up to the standard, set by the flagships of online business - Amazon, eBay, etc. - you could multiply returns from your business manyfold...

Wishing you all the best, and getting ready to call your office on Monday (to order the stuff I need - over the phone...),

5:17 PM  

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