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McClain Printing Celebrating 50th Anniversary

September 15, 2008
By WAYNE SHEETS, Contributing Business Writer

The third generation is at the helm as McClain Printing Co. of Parsons celebrates its 50th anniversary this year.

Mariwyn McClain Smith said her parents, R. Kenneth and Faith McClain, started the company as an outgrowth of Tucker County's newspaper, The Parsons Advocate.

"Dad was working for The Morgantown Post when he heard the newspaper in Parsons was for sale. They bought the paper and we moved into the apartment upstairs on Jan. 1, 1943. McClain Printing is still located in that same building," Smith said.

Article Photos

(The Inter-Mountain/WayneSheets)
PREPARING?— Lead Press Operator Elma Slaubaugh, prepares work for McClain Printing Company’s largest computer operated printer at the printer’s control center. Slaubaugh has been driving from Preston County for the more than 26 years she has been an employee of the company.

"In 1958, three professors from West Virginia University knew that Dad was here and they brought him four history books that were out of print. They asked if he would reprint them. It was a big gamble, but Dad agreed. He started with 'Withers' Chronicles of Border Warfare.' It was so successful that it has been reprinted eight times. The three other books were huge successes as well, resulting in the incorporation of McClain Printing Co. in November of that year," Smith said.

In 1970, Smith's father developed medical problems. At the time, she and her husband, George, were the editors and publishers of The Preston County News in Terra Alta. The couple decided to return to Parsons in 1971.

"George took over the printing company and I became editor/co-publisher of The Advocate, a job I held for 33 years," Smith said. "Mom and Dad retired to Florida in 1973."

Ken Smith, Ken McClain's grandson and namesake, became president and CEO of the company in 2002 when his father, George, retired. His parents sold The Advocate two years later to the current owners, Chris and Kelly Stadelman, whose office is now on Second Street.

The original newspaper building, which stood next to the temporary courthouse, has been expanded six or eight times since the McClains first purchased it 50 years ago. In 1893, a "mob" of Parsons men stole the courthouse records from St. George and brought them and the courthouse bell to Parsons and stored them in the building next to the original MPC building while the current courthouse was being constructed. The Smiths owned that building also until 2007 when it was razed to make room for an expansion.

McClain Printing Co., according to Ken Smith, was a printing company of books from 1958 until about 1980.

"We were primarily book publishers and a small job shop doing commercial printing jobs such as envelopes, business cards, that kind of work," he said. "In 1980, Dad went to a trade show in Chicago and came home with a lot of new equipment that he needed to pay for. That's when we really got into the commercial market. I was in the Air Force at the time. I was very surprised when I came home on vacation from Germany and found that the building had a new pressroom and there was more equipment in it than I'd ever seen."

Ken Smith was discharged from military service in January 1984 and spent the next two years working as a press operator. After the 1985 flood, he moved into the office and started helping his Dad.

"About that time was when we started marketing the northern Virginia area - Leesburg, Tyson's Corner - that area," Ken Smith said. "That morphed into the entire metropolitan D.C. area. Over the next couple of years we expanded that market to include the Hagerstown and Fredrick, Md. area, and the region inside the Beltway. Today, that is still my primary market for commercial work and we have a truck making deliveries in that area about four days a week.

As a trade printer, Ken Smith said the company markets small printers and brokers by asking them to send work that is either too difficult for them to print, the format is too large for their presses or they have a run-length that is too long.

"We made the transformation to doing primarily trade work in the late 1980s," he said. "That's what we still do today. The publishing part of the business still exists, but it represents only about 15 percent of what we do.

"Most of the people in our community believe that McClain Printing Co. exists solely to print The Parsons Advocate. We don't and we haven't since the early 1970s."

In addition, McClain prints pamphlets, flyers, post cards, posters, pocket folders, calendars, etc.

"I go for help to people who print business cards, envelopes, etc.," Ken Smith said. "I can't even print my own envelopes. I have to get somebody else to print them because I don't have a press small enough to do it. I have what is known as half-size equipment. I can print four 8 l/2 -by-11 sheets at a time. Full- sheet size equipment of that type can print eight."

"We are not a vanity press," he stressed. "We are a private book publisher. There are times that we have acted as a publisher but mostly, we do not publish. The publisher is the one who pays for the project."

An example, Mariwyn Smith cited a book by former Davis & Elkins College professor Dr. T.R. Ross.

"He was George's favorite professor at Davis & Elkins College, where we met," she said. "When Dr. Ross was ready to do his first book, we did it for him. We do that sort of thing occasionally, but only for very special authors like Dr. Ross."

"If someone brings us a publication that we feel very certain will sell, we will act as a publisher, but most of the books we print are self-published," Ken Smith said. "The author publishes the book. They pay me to print the book. In turn, we help them market their book. We have ties with Taylor Books, Barnes and Noble, Amazon, etc., and we do help the author. We produce a catalog every year. If we print a book for someone we include that title in our catalog. The new catalog is in production right now.

Most of the books McClain publishes are history and genealogies, but the company has also published poetry and cookbooks.

"I have some advantages over my competitors - and some disadvantages," Ken McClain said. "A disadvantage is that I can't put an ad in a newspaper for a press operator and find one locally. Creating a press operator to run four- or five-color presses is usually a four- or five-year ordeal. This is very highly skilled labor. You can't bring someone in off the street and show them how to do this stuff overnight - it doesn't happen. While finding and training just the right individual is difficult, our employee turnover rate is very low. Over half of our workforce has been with us for 20 years or more. We have about 20 employees; a third of them have been here most of their working careers."

The Smith family also boasts about employee morale. An elected Social Committee arranges for monthly birthday parties, an annual summer picnic and Christmas parties. They have a very active part in the county's Relay For Life to raise money for the American Cancer Society, and have won prizes for floats in local parades.

"They know each others' spouses and children and have watched them grow. They really like each other and we like that," Mariwyn Smith said.

Through the years, that same family spirit has carried on with the McClains and Smiths. Mariwyn Smith said people would often ask her father why he worked six or seven days a week. "He always told them, 'For my grandchildren, I believe he'd be really pleased to know that one of his grandchildren - and his namesake - is now head of the company."



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