President of the Press: Harold Kyle's Small Business Journey
SYRACUSE, N.Y. – Nestled in the back of the Delavan Building in downtown Syracuse is one of the city’s most unique businesses. Hidden in the back of its front office in a small cubicle sits its President. Harold Kyle is leading Boxcar Press, one of the largest and busiest letterpress companies in the industry, into its 20th year of business. He oversees a staff of almost 80 people and recently expanded his company into two new retail locations in New York City. Seeing him walk quietly through the print shop, coffee mug in hand, Kyle’s calm demeanor and humble attitude are not those of a classic businessman.
Harold Kyle graduated from Carleton College in Minnesota after studying the studio arts. “When I graduated with a printmaking degree there really wasn’t a clear path ahead of me,” he said. Kyle soon became involved with the Minnesota Center for Book Arts, in Minneapolis, where he “fell in love with the paper crafts.” He began doing random jobs making wedding invitations, concert posters and other paper goods. “That’s really where the press started,” Kyle said.
In 1998 Kyle decided to commit himself full time to his printing business and remained its sole owner and employee until 2001 when his wife Debbie joined as a partner. The two moved to Syracuse the same year and found a space in the Delavan Building, where they have remained since. The affordability of the Syracuse area allowed them a chance to truly start the business, according to Kyle. The business grew quickly and so did their family – their first child, Jasper, was born in 2006 and their second, Stella, in 2009. “It was like my hair was on fire for the first 10 years of the company,” Kyle said.
In recent years Kyle has been able to step back a bit. “Harold is more of the ship’s captain,” said Carrie Valenzuela, an 11-year veteran of the press department. As digital printing became a concern, he went back to school for business at MIT to better understand its effects. He spends his day in meetings and working through emails and spreadsheets. His hair is no longer on fire, and his hands not stained with ink. “When I started in the late ‘90s it was clear there was a future for letterpress at all,” Kyle said, but today his business is stable and successful.
Through the years though, there is one thing that has stayed constant – Kyle’s commitment to letterpress. Today, Boxcar Press not only prints wedding invitations and other stationary, but they are the biggest supplier of letterpress materials and parts in North America. While this only accounts for around 25 percent of their business, according to Kyle, it is an important part of his mission. “Our mission statement is to print beautifully, use the best materials and to support and inspire the letterpress community. So it’s like a third of the mission statement is just for supporting letterpress. For us – for me – that’s why I got started. I love the materials, I love the presses, the print quality, the craftsmanship, the heritage, all that stuff,” Kyle said. His support of letterpress is present within Boxcar as well, according to Valenzuela. “It’s really wonderful to have the support of Harold and the managers with my occasional fun print projects,” she said.
Staying afloat in the printing industry is not an easy thing to do, but Kyle’s calm attitude shows in his thoughts about the near future: “As opportunities come up, I mean, in this crazy market, I’ll certainly try to take advantage of them,” he said, “but I don’t even pretend to know what they are.” Seeing new opportunities as they come up might be what Kyle and Boxcar do best – and it’s a strong reason why he’s been able to keep his niche brand relevant in a market where paper is disappearing fast.