JAX Custom Printing, Inc.
Exceptional Quality, Unbeatable Pricing, Outstanding Services
Story and interviews by Teresa Nguyen
"The most important thing is that we’re helping people."
~ Rick Mueller
Co-Owners Dennis Vindedahl and Rick Mueller
Crouser and Associates - Seven awards for Outstanding Achievement in Growth and Sales
Crouser and Associates - Exceptional Performance in Print Shop Management Award
2017 United Way Volunteer of the Year
2018 YWCA Women of Distinction Corporate Merit Award
There’s something about that corner door, how it is literally on the corner, facing both West Milwaukee Street and South Academy Street. It is welcoming. It is red and catches the eye. The building is a warm brick with yellow trim. From the outside it seems rather small, but when one tours the inside, it seems to magically expand like Hermione’s beaded handbag in Harry Potter. A variety of machines, paper types and work spaces fill the many rooms and areas not seen by the public.
When one opens that quaint, red corner door to JAX Custom Printing, Inc., the ring-a-ling of the bell harkens to an era gone by when a small business owner would come out from behind a wall to the front to greet the customers, often by name, with a handshake or a big smile and the enthusiastic question, “What can we do for you today?” Surprisingly, this is exactly what happens in 2019 at JAX Custom Printing, Inc.
JAX Custom Printing, Inc. on the corner of W. Milwaukee and S. Academy
That friendly, small town customer service hasn’t gone by the wayside with the changing times, yet JAX Custom Printing continues to keep up with the latest technologies, serving the varied needs of the community. And they truly aim to please the customer. Even before a product goes to mass production, the folks at JAX Custom Printing will go out of their way to pre-print a few copies, making sure the colors, brightness and sizes are to the customer’s liking. That’s rare to find in any larger chain printing business where you’re just another number in line and “you get what you get”, usually for a steep price.
That hometown feel combined with the professional quality of a big city business is a winning combo. Not only that, the owners truly care about this community by giving back and serving on the boards of various nonprofits. No wonder they continue to find success here in Janesville. What goes around comes around. Their friendly, genuine ways are appreciated by the customers who only want two things; a great product and to feel valued. Jax Custom Printing, Inc. delivers both.
Dennis Vindedahl, also a two time National Champion Radio Control Race Car Driver
The Early Years
I’m from Stoughton, WI, a Norwegian town and I’m 100% Norwegian. I was born and raised there.
They had a really good education in printing at Stoughton High School. I took three years of printing and in our senior year, it was a two-credit course, two hours a day. We did production and printing for the whole school district! I really liked my printing teacher a lot and the hands-on opportunity that Stoughton High School offered. I left there with some really valuable experience.
My two choices coming out of high school were either to be a machinist, working with lathes and mills and precision work, or printing. I chose printing.
I attended MATC (Madison Area Technical College) for two years for a degree in Printing and Publishing. After graduation, I took a job at Uniroyal where my dad worked as a foreman in their pressroom. They had revamped old newspaper presses to make Naugahyde. That’s what they make in Stoughton. I worked there during college, had worked there in summers, so by end of school, it was a really good fit.
My next job was at Rayovac up in Madison, an implant shop, so a printing company that only did work for Rayovac. That was a great experience to get right out of college.
Then I started doing some moonlighting, because I wanted to do four-color process work. Up at Rayovac we were just doing forms and business cards and things. I started working at Evansville Review where I learned more about the four-color process and was running their four-color work. I took another job in Madison at Reliable Reproductions up in Madison.
In 1983, I started working at Janesville Printing. That’s when I began running four-color art prints for the artists, really high technical, quality work, which was very demanding. But I enjoyed that kind of challenge, trying to get it just right. I’m more of the technical, organized production type of guy. I was there for six years.
A guy by the name of Jack Olson worked with me at Janesville Printing. I got to know him really well. Eventually, he wanted to buy a little duplicator printing press and start doing some side work. He wasn’t much of a technical/mechanical guy, so he had me help him. He bought the press, we dragged it into his basement on Rock Street, and set it up. We started printing church bulletins and business cards after hours.
It started growing and growing, so Jack quit Janesville Printing and went out on his own, moving the business into a building up on Pontiac Drive, near Marshall Middle School.
Wide Format Printer for large posters, banners, etc
I was always behind the scenes helping him, but still working at Janesville Printing. About a year later, he fell in love with a gal and wanted to move to Arizona. So, he offered the business to me!
Rick Mueller and his mother, Sue Mueller, at the 2018 YWCA Women of Distinction event
The Early Years
I grew up in Janesville and graduated from Craig High School. In High School, I was on the swim team and kind of grew up at the YMCA here in Janesville.
I really didn’t know exactly what I wanted to do post high school, and floated around a bit. I knew I wanted to help people and do something that was different every day.
In college, I tried every different school at UW/Eau Claire, except nursing. My degrees were in Business Administration and Psychology.
My first job was as a Program Director at a YMCA in Florida. I was in charge of aquatics, coaching the swim team, in charge of fitness and also senior programming and camps. I took people on scuba diving trips and fun things.
After about 10 years in Florida, I got married, had a daughter and my priorities changed…schools and safety for my family became important. So, instead of being in Florida and going to the beach, we moved back to the Midwest.
We moved to Rochester, Minnesota, and was an auto claim representative for State Farm Insurance. It was a fun job, I liked doing that and it was kind of a way to get us back.
One day, my mom called me. She had started her own business, Custom Zero Graphics. She had always wanted one of us to move back to Janesville and take over the business, but we always had said, “Oh, we couldn’t move back to Janesville or take over the business.”
When she started, she only had one great big giant Xerox machine, about 40 feet long, that could only make copies. So, if something needed to be collated or folded, stapled or cut, that’s what we did. We were the “Bindery Boys”. We would come in for hours, walking around in circles, picking up one sheet at a time, getting to the end and stapling them. It was fun, but when you do it for six or seven hours, it’s not so fun.
But things do change. And that one day when my mom called, she said she was tired, wanted to retire and if I wanted to move back to Janesville, I could take over the business. Otherwise, she was going to sell it. So, we decided to move back to Janesville.
My wife was also from Janesville, so that worked out.
Dennis: I knew Rick’s mother, Sue, first. Custom Zero Graphics was her business and they had copiers, but not printing presses, offset printing, which is what we were, old school printing. There are niches in both. So, they would use us if they had a bigger run. We had a really good relationship back and forth. Then Rick came into the scene and I got to know him. Eventually, we decided to merge together.
Extra paper area at JAX Custom Printing, Inc.
Rick: Custom Zero Graphics had been in the Helgeson Building, now Prospect 101 Building, for 39 years. Dennis and I had always collaborated on projects. We worked together well and we’d charge each other enough to make money, but it was a fair deal. One day, Dennis said, “We should do lunch.” And during that meeting he suggested we merge the businesses together.
Dennis: We moved into this building in 1988 or ’89, right in the heart of downtown. There was more room here and I own the building. We joined forces six or seven years ago. It’s been going well ever since!
A painting of JAX Custom Printing that hangs on a wall at the business.
Dennis: I’m more the technical, in house production kind of guy and Rick is more the out front, people person. So, it’s a good fit. I enjoy people, but it’s not my main thing. I’m normally more shy and Rick is outgoing. It’s a nice balance for the business.
Rick: Sometimes I make Dennis come out and shake a few hands. (laughs) But Dennis is very organized, knows how to get the job done in the most efficient way. Before we merged, I would go out in the community and meet people and bring these jobs in, but I’d go back to the shop and say, “How am I going to get this all done?” Now, it’s the perfect combination.
Evolution of the Business
Rick: We have always tried to help people do things that people can’t do themselves, to meet their needs.
Dennis: Technology wise, we started with five offset presses in the back room. Now there are none. We just sold our last printing press last year to another printer in town, Frelich Printing. At one time, we didn’t have any copiers, either.
Copy Center - with two color machines and two black and white
The switch from offset to digital was a huge thing. Another big addition was when we started doing wide-format printing, for large posters, signage and foam core mounts. We were one of the first in Rock County to have what is called a digital plate maker.
Digital was starting to merge with the offset world. Instead of shooting a negative and making a plate and bringing it to the press, it was just a machine that would hook to the computer, we could send an image and a plate would come out the end. That was really something! It would make a flat plastic that would save so much time and cost.
That was a big step for us, which was around 20 years ago already.
Rick: In the old days, people would bring in their one-page resume that they usually had typed on a typewriter. Now, everything has really changed. Our files come in digitally, and we can scan photos, creating clear, quality computer images.
Since I’ve come back into the business, which is about 22 years now, things have changed a lot. Jobs would take a month or two, and now it’s a day or two!
Dennis: We’ve always tried to keep up with new technology. It’s been our main goal. There are only three of us here in Janesville now. Minuteman is our main competition, and they, like us, try to keep up. But they’re a franchise, so they have more resources than we do. Frelich Printing is the other one, but they’re still an offset shop. And we do all the digital work.
Dennis: It’s a little of everything. If it involves putting ink or toner on paper, we do it! We do basic business printing, brochures, letters, envelopes, business cards, postcard mail and mailers, direct mail is still really popular. We’re actually partnered with the Janesville Post Office. We so a lot of non-profit printing.
Rick: We also do vinyl banners, large signs, employee manuals, booklets, calendars, playbills, and so much more.
Edgerton Boys Soccer Team posters
Rick: We do jobs for big corporations as well as small businesses, a lot of non-profits and individuals who come in. The staff really loves to do things like art print cards from local artists. Sometimes attorneys will bring in entire boxes of important items and documents to copy. We keep it all very confidential. We even ask customers for permission to put up their event posters in our front receiving room.
Dennis: We now have 635 customers who are registered on our website alone! That’s really big to us, and we have a lot of happy customers. One of the things we pride ourselves on is our customer service, going above and beyond and giving back to those organizations.
Wedding program printed by JAX Custom Printing, Inc.
We have customers mainly in this area and in surrounding towns. We’ve done business in Madison, Edgerton, Beloit and a few who have moved out of the area but still want to do business with us. We ship things to them, so that’s been great.
Rick: The most meaningful customer experience I’ve ever had was a simple copy job. It was years ago, when I was at the other place. It was a Friday afternoon, and I had worked like crazy that day. Five o’clock came around and I was about to lock the door.
A few minutes later, a woman from Agrace Hospice walked in. She said, “I know it’s late, but one of my clients has a personal journal and wants to make a copy of it so she can give the original to her daughter.” It was a couple hundred pages! She said the woman probably wouldn’t make it through the night. It was an odd-sized job, so a bit of a challenge, and I had to move fast to get it done. The lady gave me her phone number and left.
It took me almost five hours to get it done! I bound it and made it really nice. When it was ready, I called her and she came and got it in the middle of the night. She called me later that week and said she was able to give it to the woman just hours before she passed. For me, it was a moment I realized THAT is why I wanted to be in this business.
More than half of our customers are non-profit organizations.
Dennis: A lot of our community involvement is Rick’s area. He’s on a lot of boards and stays active out there. Rick has been a Noon Rotary Member for 23 years and served as President. He's also Treasurer for ECHO.
We like to stay involved because we want to help. Some of their missions are important and it’s one way we can help by giving them a discount or donations here and there, showing up at their events and such.
Rick: Everything we do here is about helping other people. It’s very important to all of us. We want to be a small part of what everybody does in the community.
Mini Lamar billboard for YWCA Woman of Distinction event
Whether it’s ECHO or Salvation Army or YWCA or YMCA, helping them with fundraisers, flyers for school children to let parents know they can get utility assistance, we feel it’s only a small part of helping them. We printed most of the materials for Docs Who Rock, which benefits HealthNet of Rock County.
Dennis is good at making sure we can also pay our bills while we’re helping other people, so that we can continue to help as many people as we can.
Awards and Recognition
Dennis: We received the 2018 YWCA Women of Distinction Corporate Award. In 2005 we joined a consulting group, Crouser and Associates. Since that year, we received seven awards for Outstanding Achievement in Growth and Sales and one for Exceptional Performance in Print Shop Management. We want to improve so we’re willing to listen to the consultants, and that pays off!
Rick: In 2017, I received the United Way Volunteer of the Year award. It reminds us that we’re here doing what they asked us to do.
“Dennis Vindedahl and Rick Mueller exemplify the spirit of the award through their own personal service, leadership, and dedication to the community.” ~ YWCA Rock County.
Dennis: In the beginning it was just me and two other people. Now we have seven or eight, a few part timers and my brother works on call, as well. We have a really, really good staff. Our workload can be crazy. Some days we need 10 people here! Thankfully, the work is more steady now.
Rick: Our employees are incredible. Most of them are here all day long. When I bring something in that is important to the community, they take my word for it and they’ll work really hard to help get it done. We’ve had times when the event is in three or four hours and they’re running around scrambling to get things done. They willingly do this every day. They’re pretty incredible.
Two of the staff, Louise Bauman and Carolyn Brummond, came from me, folks that my mom hired almost 30 years ago, and some of our staff are of retirement age and they don’t really need to work anymore. They have grandchildren and vacations to take, but they are so dedicated and still come in to do the work and continue to help out.
Design Team and Customer Service
I’ve been working at JAX for 25 years. When someone comes in, I wait on them or answer phones, but I also create their jobs and take care of anything they might need, whether simple or elaborate. We do it all!
Everything I do for everybody I enjoy. It’s always nice to see their surprise people get when they see the finished product or proof. They usually just visualize it and I put it together for them. They’re always so happy with it. I couldn’t name one particular favorite project.
I enjoy the fact that I get to do a lot of different things all day long. I’m constantly creating different items for different people. And I really like working with all of our customers. They’re all so great, so nice and always so appreciative when you do things for them. That’s always really satisfying. The variation of the artistry part of it makes the day really interesting and it flies right by!
The people I work with here are awesome, and I get to work with my uncle, Dennis Vindedahl, and with my daughter. And another uncle comes in to help out, as well. For me, because there are non-family members here, I try not to take advantage and make sure that I’m here when I’m supposed to be and work as a professional. Rick and Dennis are great bosses.
It’s a great place to work, it really is!
Design Team and Customer Service
Well, I worked with them twice. First I worked from 1992-’94. Then, when Rick and Dennis merged, Dennis contacted me and asked if I’d work a couple days a week. I started here at JAX Custom Printing in 2014.
I enjoy doing art prints, especially of local artist, Becky Driscoll. I also like doing work for Friends of Riverside and for the Lions clubs. You get to have a relationship with some of the people when they come in to order from us. I also enjoy doing work for Bower City Garden Club. Each spring they’ve had an event where I design the invitations.
There’s always something new to do for a variety of customers. I enjoy the work.
JAX Custom Printing Employee
I was originally hired by Sue Mueller and so worked with Rick at Zero Custom Graphics. I was there for a total of about 24 years, and then here at JAX Custom Printing for around 7 years.
I’m kind of the gopher. I answer phones, wait on customers, I do filing and odds and ends, inspecting the quality of the jobs coming off the machines, whatever needs to be done. I work on most of the machines, but I don’t do computer work.
My favorite thing to do is to file, like filing bills and job tickets and such.
Louis Bauman working Envy, the envelope machine
I enjoy the people here; everybody is really nice. As employees, everyone is so professional. And we all agreed that there would be no drama. We’re all friends outside of work, sometimes get together outside of work, like going to the movies or to lunch.
Tina is very smart, she’s the “go to” girl. When I came here to the new company, I used to ask Tina 100 questions about the new machines! She was so patient and always cheerfully helped me out.
I love it. I’m part time. And if I didn’t work, I’d sit home in my pajamas all day, other than walking my dog. It’s good to stay active. I don’t lift the large paper boxes anymore like I used to. But I really look forward to going to work!
Dennis: When the digital world was evolving, there were no PDF’s. Everyone was bringing in their files from their own computers and own programs. There were 50 different programs out there. It was so frustrating and we were about ready to give up! We’ve also had a few customers with interesting personalities…I usually end up sending them to Rick! He’s good at dealing with that.
Rick: For me, the challenges are in the things that Dennis does best.
Just trying to keep up with technology, to be cost effective and watch our overhead is our main challenge.
JAX Custom Printing, Inc. in downtown Janesville
Dennis: Being able to have employees and provide for their livelihood...it makes me tear up thinking about that. I’m married and have a lovely wife and kids, so to be able to support my family with my print shop over the years is very rewarding.
I’ve been with JAX for 30 years now and in the printing business since I was 16!
Rick: The most important thing for me is that we’re helping people. A lot of times it’s even better when no one knows about it except for the people that we’re helping. But, it’s always nice, too, like when I go to a BA5 event and people come up to me and say, “Rick, I really appreciate you helping us with that project.” We appreciate that.
Dennis: Recently, all that’s going downtown is extremely exciting! I’ve been on several downtown committees, trying to help move things along, get things started, but it’s been frustrating. There’s always been a lot of talk, but nothing would happen. We’re definitely in a positive place with the ARISE program and everything going on.
With the bridge out, it doesn’t seem to affect us quite as much where we are on West Milwaukee Street. We go to our customers, we service and deliver, so our walk-up business is not as important as, say, a restaurant or other businesses that are affected. We’re fortunate that we can keep the numbers going.
Dennis: We’re in the BID district and I’m the captain for our area. There’s so much more activity going on downtown, it’s more organized and there are some great key people involved.
Paper Cutter made in 1889 that was used every day at Rick’s old business. It is incredibly accurate and Karen sometimes prefers to use this machine. You can do 1,000 cuts that are exactly the same!
Even in two more years with the pedestrian bridge coming in and other projects. We’ve been to a few meetings and it’s really exciting, just amazing to witness and be a part of the downtown.
Rick: I’m very optimistic about Janesville right now. I think there are some great people moving the city forward right now, especially the downtown. I’ll admit that years ago I was feeling pretty frustrated when they’d say, “Let’s do another study.” It was like they were kind of stuck. Then this group got together and said, “Let’s make the best plan that we can and just start doing stuff”. It might not be the perfect thing to do or the best solution, but it will move us forward.
If you look back to ’07 and ’08, things were pretty dismal. It wasn’t just about General Motors and their employees, but it reached everybody. We were all affected by that. I think that we really have bounced back. I’m very optimistic about Janesville and the downtown!
Conference Room and the Master Job Book at the other end that stays on the table
Dennis: I’m really into health and wellness and try to stay healthy and fit. With that interest and passion, I also sell water machines on the side. Another one of my hobbies has been racing remote control cars.
Rick: Swimming is one of my hobbies. I swam competitively in high school and college and coached high school and age group swimming for over 30 years. I currently coach Special Olympics swimming in Janesville and officiate swim meets. I also enjoy camping, scuba diving and canoeing.
Dennis: Our goal is for Rick and I to work less, to kick back a little here and there. We’re the owners and we work pretty hard. We are able to take vacations, but when you own a small business, it’s tough. You’re thinking about work 24/7. It’s nice to have Rick now, because before I would go home and share everything with my wife!
I plan to stay with it until retirement.
Rick: I think we have to be ready to adjust. In the past a lot has changed, but it escalates and will continue to happen faster and faster now. We always have to find new things we can help people get done. With technology, people will be able to do things that we help them with right now, so we can’t be afraid of that change. We have to embrace it!
I’ve been in the business over 22 years and at JAX Custom Printing, Inc. for almost 7. Certainly, as I get older, it might be nice if I could not work quite as much as I do now. That would be a good thing. Dennis and I can cover for each other, though, so we can each take some time. I look forward to that, especially when we can see the work ahead and plan for it.
But I plan to continue working here as long as I like doing what I’m doing! Of course, there are days that things don’t work out the way you wanted them to, but that makes the good days all the better. I love doing this!
Dennis works on a project in the Copy Center