by Rob Strauss
photography by Summer Herndon
If Johannes Guttenberg were alive, this would be his playhouse. Warehouse after warehouse is filled with the machines that are known, in some circles, as the most important invention of all time.
This is Z Graphics, a mecca of multi-million dollar printing presses located at Arrow Highway and San Dimas Canyon Road.
It was started in 1985, with its focus toward printing. In the past, the workers at Z Graphics printed everything from catalogues to brochures to various publications. The company in the past few years has shifted its focus to buying and selling presses; however, Z Graphics still does printing.
The person at the helm is Dick Zahniser, a man who lives his life based on themes such as success and challenge. He went back to college in 1971, attending Grace College in Indiana and earning units from La Verne College before graduating from Azusa Pacific College in 1977. In 1985, he took on the task of forming Z Graphics, when he split from his co-ownership of Folio Graphics, an El Monte-based company. Zahniser took half the workers at Folio and formed Z Graphics, which derives its name from its self-motivated owner.
Walking into Zahniser’s office, one gets a feel for the principles that guide this man in his every day operations. Hanging on his door is the Pyramid of Success, which was created by former UCLA basketball coach John Wooden. Zahniser says he likes Wooden’s ideas about success.
“You look at John Wooden and what he’s accomplished, and you think about where he’s coming from,” says Zahniser. “You see what he has said his life has been built on, and if you admire what he’s done, not only as a basketball coach, but in his personal life, you take that into consideration.”
Below the “Pyramid” is a poem by Chuck Swindell, titled, “Attitude,” which states in its last line: “I am convinced that life is 10 percent of what happens to me and 90 percent how I react to it.” This describes Zahniser’s self-motivating attitude.
“I like to surround myself with self-motivating people because I am not one to sit and pick on people,” says Zahniser.
As a result, the people who work for Zahniser are hard workers and loyal to the company. Pete Marrugi, the general manager of Z Graphics, plays the Sundance Kid to Zahniser’s Butch Cassidy role. He has been with Zahniser since the days of Folio Graphics, where he was a driver. Zahniser eventually invited him to come to Z Graphics as his sidekick. They have developed a close relationship over the years. “He’s a second father,” says Marrugi. “I’ve been working for him for 19 years.”
Marrugi’s relationship with Zahniser eventually formed into a partnership. A few years ago, the two men took on the task of changing Z Graphics into a company that buys and sells printing presses. Hence, they formed Z Enterprises as co-owners. Among their esteemed clients: the countries of China and Japan.
Immediately after its formation, Z Enterprises started doing overseas business. The two began developing contacts across the United States; one of the people they were working with had a contact in Japan. It has grown from there, but it is definitely not an easy or cheap process to bring a printing press from Asia. “The shipping in we pay for,” says Zahniser. “We bring it [the press] over. We clean, we paint, we set it up; we go all through it, and then we advertise it for sale.”
In general, running a small business can be very expensive, but with a printing business such as Z Graphics, it can be particularly hard economically. “If you end up after taxes with 5 percent profit, you’re in great shape,” says Zahniser.
Zahniser adds that the government regulations of maintaining a small business can be stifling. Recently, they have been trying to purchase the building that Z Graphics is housed in, which they have been leasing for 13 years. The list of preparations they have to make is exhausting. “You have to go through an environmental study, you have to go through an appraisal, you have to go through the bankers,” says Zahniser. “[There’s] many aspects of a business that when you start out you have no idea.”
Just within the past year, Z Graphics has begun to do the remodeling on printing presses built by Heidelberg U.S.A., which is the largest manufacturer of printing presses in the world. They are the only company on the West Coast to be involved with Heidelberg U.S.A. The account has brought back a great deal of the business that they lost when they formed Z Enterprises. Marrugi says it has an important tool for learning about their trade. “It’s tied so much in equipment that, boy, you learn a lot more a lot quicker because you see a lot more different presses and a lot of different types of equipment coming through here quicker.”
Since they started doing business with Heidelberg, they have devoted an entire warehouse toward that part of their business. Overall there are two warehouses in which, as Zahniser says, they take great care to provide a quality product for their customers. “We make sure that the press is going to be a press that’s in excellent shape so that when another printer gets it, he’s going to be happy with us so he’ll spread our praises.”
When one keeps track of three businesses — Z Graphics, Z Enterprises and Heidelberg USA — it can be a very stressful affair, but Marrugi takes Swindell’s line to heart. He keeps a positive attitude.
“There are just so many different items that you have to keep track of and have to keep on your mind that it’s very easy to get frustrated in a lot of different areas,” says Marrugi. “I keep thinking about that and say, ‘You know, I’ll get through it. I’m not going to worry about it.’ I don’t shrug it off but just take it in a calm step.”
Zahniser does not take all the credit for the great success that Z Graphics has had. He puts a lot of emphasis on teamwork and making sure that the company has a family-type atmosphere. Employee Tom Templeton has worked with Zahniser for more than 13 years and says he has “loved every minute of it.”
Many of the workers have been with Zahniser before Z Graphics. In fact, Marrugi can only think of one worker who has not been with the company at least five years.
“It’s a very close, tight family,” says Marrugi, whose brother-in-law and cousin work for the company as well. “We do our jobs during the day, and once we’re out of here, we can go out. You know it’s business during the day, and we all socialize out on the outside too.”
The workers often go fishing, and their last Christmas party was held on the Queen Mary, which was paid for by the company. This is the way Zahniser likes it.
“My idea of making a living is sharing it with the people who make it,” says Zahniser. “Without the people, there is no Z Graphics.”
Making Music Heard ‘Round the World
While the printing presses of Z Graphics pump away, a different kind of beat is heard next door — musical beat.
A to Z Studios was built in 1989 because of owner Dick Zahniser’s passion for music. Ann Thomas, manager of A to Z Studios, and Zahniser had previously sung together at church. They met and talked with each other about the idea, and Thomas decided she wanted to get into the business.
“I was kind of interested in a career change at the time, and I said I’d be very interested in learning, which was a big job because I knew nothing about what was going on,” says Thomas.
The original plan was to build a very small studio, but the noise from the nearby train tracks and the printing presses next door made them realize they would need a better facility.
“At that point, we had to start looking for an architect who could build the kind of studio with these parameters,” says Thomas. “It became a very large project instead of a small little garage studio.”
As a result of the potential disruptions, the studio includes a “free floating floor.” This protects the floor from the rumbling when a train goes by.
“When we’ve had earthquakes here, people in the studio don’t feel them,” says Thomas.
Thomas also says the studio is 95 percent soundproof. The architect who built the studio, Carl Yancher, is currently building a facility at Citrus College.
It is a professional studio which means that clients generally tend to use the studios for projects such as “film underscoring or professional albums as opposed to demo projects,” says Thomas.
Most of the bands that use A To Z Studios play Christian music. This is because the engineer who started out with A To Z Studios brought his own clientele who were geared in that musical direction. It has stayed that way through what Thomas considers the best form of advertising: “word of mouth.” “Advertising is OK but generally the people who call in here don’t have any idea what they’re asking for.”
There have been a few memorable projects that have been recorded at the studio. A German composer named Klaus Heizmann used A to Z to record a song which he wrote to commemorate the falling of the Berlin Wall in 1989. Bryan Duncan, a Christian artist who has received four Dove Award nominations, has also recorded at A To Z. The Dove Awards are Christian music’s version of the Grammy Awards.
“Bryan Duncan loves it here because it’s just very low stress; he can come out and talk, you know, take time,” says Thomas.
A to Z Studios is open seven days a week “if need be,” says Thomas, who is the only paid employee for the studio. Along with Thomas, there are two engineers under contract who put a great deal of time into their work. They are Tim Jacquette, chief engineer, and Scott Lovelis.
The life of an engineer is definitely not easy, says Lovelis, who works an average 60 to 80 hours a week. He says the job is “not for everybody.”
“Most of it is just the hours because of the business we’re in,” says Lovelis. “There are no holidays; there are not set hours. Like last week, I was here basically from Sunday morning until Monday night.”
Thomas adds that any band “that is willing to pay the money” can use the studio.