Arita Nicholas: Turning Setback into Opportunity

How the search for a strategic partner gave the Houston-based owner of Nicholas Earth Printing a new lease on entrepreneurial life.


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Arita Nicholas – CEO – Nicholas Earth Printing

SOT Arita Nicholas (AN): So this is how you do that huh, okay, alright.

AN: I’m the CEO. I make sure that everything is the way it’s supposed to be and I go out and get as much business as I can. But being a woman sometimes is a hindrance. And then being a black woman, too, in the printing industry. It takes a bit getting used to. Yeah.

CARD: Arita Nicholas CEO – Nicholas Earth Printing Houston, Texas USA

AN: Nicholas Earth is a woman-owned minority commercial printing company, which means we do everything from posters, to annual reports, to booklets, uh, folders. It doesn’t matter how large your order is. We can handle it.

CARD: Arita became an entrepreneur later in life. The first decades of her career were spent at TWA.

CARD: In 1985 she met Bob Nichols, a local news anchor, at a charity event.

CARD: They married the next year.

SOT BOB: The next thing we’re doing right now is the catalog for them.
SOT Arita: Mhmm.
- Which will go out to all of their stores.
- Okay, great. That’s a nice national account.

AN: Bob and I were doing quite well and we have this family member who had a printing company. But it was a, it was a pretty small one and with all of Bob’s contacts he knew everybody. He says, “I can help them take this, this, this to the next level.” And I said, “Sure.”

CARD: The arrangement didn’t work out.

CARD: But Arita and Bob saw an opportunity to build a profitable, minority-owned company.

AN: We envisioned a, a bigger company that would handle corporate America ’cause we knew that, that was where the money is. And he says, “Really, Arita, all you need to do is just hire the best people. So you don’t need to know about printing. You just need to hire the best in the industry and you oversee it all.”

CARD: In 2000, with $3 million in savings and loans, Arita launched her company.

AN: We put the word out that we were looking for a pressman and producers, everything. And the printing industry is a small one. We just made sure that the people that were hired usually were were recommended by somebody else. I put together the best people that, that came to us and it was wonderful.

AN: My job was to, go out and get new customers. And I’d go out and make a presentation. It was a really, it was a real growing experience for me because I hadn’t made presentations to large boardrooms or anything like that. But, uh, I grew a lot.

CARD: Arita and Bob had not realized how capital intensive the printing business is.

AN: We were doing a job for a big oil company and the oil company said, “Well, we really like your work and we were gonna give you, give you this big job. We said, “Thank you so much,” but only to find out that the paper was $850,000, the paper, the paper. And we said, “Oh, oh my God. We don’t have that. Don’t have that.” Luckily they, they, they wrote a check and paid for the paper. But that is when we truly knew that there’s not enough money in our pockets.

CARD: To make matters worse, by 2002, digital technology was decimating the industry.

AN: We had no money to buy more equipment. We were barely holding onto what we had. And because we still had payroll to meet we went and mortgaged our house three times. One time they were going to cut my water off at my house. I had to call my daughter, who’s a nurse, uh, and say, “Honey, can you, can you get our, our water turned on?” I said, “We can’t go on like, like this.”

CARD: On a Friday in 2002, Arita closed the company.

CARD: The next Monday, Robert Kashan of Earth Color, a much larger printer, contacted her.

AN: Mr. Kashan had been looking for another company to partner with that was minority or woman because he said, “I have access to everything else but I don’t have access to the woman-owned minority market.” So we were perfect. Mr. Kashan says. “I know you need to run your own company.” I said, “Yes, I do.” and he says, “’I’ve got it, I understand totally.”

CARD: In just two days they formed Nicholas Earth Printing, with Arita as the majority owner.

AN: It was agreed that I would not go after his clients and vice versa. So uh, we, we worked out a, a great schedule. Anything that was too big for me was… perfect for him. So that, this gave me the freedom to go the, the Sprints and say “It doesn’t matter how large your order is. We can handle it. The last year, for instance, there was a big snowstorm on the East Coast and they simply sent the file down here, we got the job done, nobody knew the difference. People don’t wanna hear about your problems. They want their product, you know. I don’t care if it’s snowing, hailing or whatever.

CARD: Arita’s clients are among the biggest in corporate America.

CARD: She has 18 employees. Her 2015 revenues were $21 million.

AN: I think once you get clients and they see the quality of your work, at that point, color has nothing to do with it.

SOT AN: It’s really nice when they know they can send it to us and they know it’ll be done right.

Posted: October 6, 2016

Nusha Balyan at The Story ExchangeArita Nicholas: Turning Setback into Opportunity