Rhonda Kohler: Making Customers Happy
These days, Rhonda Kohler thinks about Japan a lot. Fresh from hosting nine Japanese students in her central Michigan town, she’s just days away from her second trip to the Land of the Rising Sun, and she’s excited.
“Our sister city, Okaya, looks like the Swiss Alps,” she enthuses. “It is up in the mountains and is just beautiful and very refreshing.”
Though she may not be fluent in the language
yet, that’s unlikely to stop her from befriending everyone she meets in Japan. Indeed, after just one visit in 2013, “We now have friends all over that country,” she says.
Kohler’s bubbly, outgoing personality has made her very popular at Central Michigan University, where she serves as director of Printing Services, as well as throughout the printing industry, where she’s made countless friends at in-plant conferences over the years.
After watching many of those friends retire, though, Kohler is finally eyeing her own departure from CMU in a couple years, which will coincide with the 80th anniversary of CMU Printing Services in 2017.
Wolverine State Native
A lifelong Michigander, Kohler grew up in Midland and attended nearby CMU. She married her husband Gordie when she was a sophomore—a marriage now in its 41st year—and continued her studies in journalism and English. Her entry into the printing business came by chance.
“I saw an opening for a typesetter,” she explains. Her husband worked four-day weeks at the time and, as a junior, she was looking for a similar schedule. Not knowing anything about typesetting, though, she sought help.
“I asked one of my professors to teach me a few things about typesetting,” she laughs.
Armed with some buzz words, she interviewed and got the job at Pendell Printing. She worked the night shift four days a week, and her print education began.
“It was a great place to work,” she says.
Meanwhile, she and her husband put their three-day weekends to good use.
“We would pack up our camper and take off and go camping every weekend with our bikes and our canoe,” she reflects. “That worked great for us.” Her love of the outdoors continues to this day. She keeps a kayak on her backyard dock and routinely goes paddling down the Chippewa River after a long day at work.
After four years at Pendell, during which she was promoted to supervisor, Kohler left and started her own typesetting company called Typeline with a friend.
“We did big journals and manuals for Dow Chemical and Dow Corning, and they kept us very busy,” she says—so busy that after two years of working nights and weekends, they sold their client list and closed the business.
One of her clients had been CMU, and the manager there, Tom Fox, told her he was planning to relocate to Vanderbilt University within a year. Thinking ahead, Kohler took a job as his assistant in 1985.
“When he left, I applied and got the manager’s position,” she says.
Kohler came at the new job with a customer service attitude. She talked to customers and gathered information on the needs of the campus. Then she held an open house and highlighted the services people needed most. Over the next year, the in-plant grew 33 percent, and Kohler was promoted to director.
“That was a crazy time,” she recalls. “I was working till almost 11 at night.”
As a result, the in-plant quickly outgrew its facility.
“We were running a press in a hall,” she recalls. “We made an office in a bathroom.”
Kohler talked with her boss and then with a vice president, convincing them that the in-plant needed a new facility. They sent her to a week-long GATF class on designing a print shop, where she learned about innovations like color-correct lighting and sound-absorbent paint, which she incorporated into the plans. The in-plant moved into its new 8,500-square-foot facility in 1990 (during an ice storm, she recalls).
“One of my biggest accomplishments was being able to sell a new building to CMU and then have the opportunity to design it and bring it to fruition,” she says.
This wasn’t her only accomplishment, though. Among other things, she implemented a print MIS, changed the shop’s name from University Press to CMU Printing Services and introduced free pickup and delivery. She also managed to get a right-of-first-refusal policy in place, and hire a customer service representative for the in-plant.
“That’s an essential position to have,” she says. That person has brought the in-plant new business, including work from outside organizations and schools.
Always customer-focused, Kohler has long enjoyed inviting customers into the shop to watch their jobs being printed.
“The most enjoyable part of it is watching the customer’s face go, ‘wow, this is cool,’ ” she reveals. “That’s always been the most fun for me, to be able to give them a beautiful finished product and have them be so happy.”
This has helped her build great relationships with customers over the years.
Likewise, the customer training sessions she initiated to teach customers InDesign and PDF basics, have won the in-plant many fans. And Printing Services’ open houses, each one with a fun theme, continue to be popular on campus.
“Everybody really looks forward to our open houses, and we have a great turnout,” she remarks.
Kohler is proud that the in-plant has earned more than a dozen printing awards, and she credits her staff for their dedication to quality.
“They take pride in what they do, and that makes me very proud of them,” she says.
She also appreciates the contributions of her student employees, whom she says have taught her many things.
“You listen to them and it helps you stay current,” she says.
But most of all, she’s glad to have had a very supportive boss, John Fisher, for the past 25 years.
“He believes in what you do and supports you,” she lauds. Thanks to him, she says, she was allowed to be creative and make suggestions to improve CMU’s recruitment and promotion efforts, which has given her a strong sense of accomplishment.
When she’s not in the in-plant (or in Japan), Kohler loves spending time with her husband and son, a junior at CMU, in their lake house, where they still enjoy kayaking, hiking and biking, like in the early days of their marriage.
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Bob has served as editor of In-plant Impressions since October of 1994. Prior to that he served for three years as managing editor of Printing Impressions, a commercial printing publication. Mr. Neubauer is very active in the U.S. in-plant industry. He attends all the major in-plant conferences and has visited nearly 170 in-plant operations around the world. He has given presentations to numerous in-plant groups in the U.S., Canada and Australia, including the Association of College and University Printers and the In-plant Printing and Mailing Association. He also coordinates the annual In-Print contest, co-sponsored by IPMA and In-plant Impressions.