Serving Connecticut's Municipalities
For David Higgins, getting into print was a happy accident. In fact, his journey to the Connecticut Conference of Municipalities (CCM), where he currently serves as Office Services manager, was anything but linear.
“I was — and still am — an idiot,” he laughs. “My high school sweetheart and I got married right out of high school and I wanted to make money instead of go to college. So I was doing landscaping, and I am not someone who should be out in the sun — I’m too pasty. And we’re doing this corporate complex, and I’m outside sweating bullets, and as I get up close, I see a guy nicely dressed in a chair, and I go ‘I need to get in there.’”
That started Higgins’ journey into what would become his career. At a local job fair, he landed an opportunity as a mail and filing clerk, which gave him his first exposure to printing in the form of copiers. It also introduced him to data management, purchasing, and supporting an organization. That job gave him advancement opportunities and enabled him to learn other parts of the business. He became purchasing coordinator and eventually team leader for his department. In that role, he managed everything from mail to vehicles and got his first taste of management — hiring, firing, doing performance reviews, and managing budgets.
Higgins took that experience into a new job as a support services supervisor, which, he notes, “was similar to what I’m doing now, but instead of a print shop, I was processing insurance applications.” That led him to JP Morgan Chase, where he worked for 11 years, eventually taking over as assistant VP and distribution manager. That job had a heavy emphasis on corporate mail.
“I went from a staff of 3-5 people, to having 80 positions under me,” he recalls. “But the world changes. I started that job three weeks before 9/11. The headquarters for the company was 270 Park Ave in New York City at the time, and that was a defining moment for me. I went from wanting a career where I could make a lot of money, to money not being that important; what is really important is being close to friends and family. It changed my focus, and 14 months later, I volunteered for a package to go back to Connecticut.”
After working several other jobs and getting more experience in both the mail and print sides of the business, Higgins eventually joined CCM 18 years ago, where he has been happy to remain ever since.
‘We’re a Resource’
“CCM is a small organization,” he notes, “and I’m in a very small department where our jobs are unique. We’re a municipal association — the members are the cities and towns in Connecticut, and the best way to put it is that we’re like a chamber of commerce, but we work for those towns and cities. We’re a resource — anything they need to know, we help.”
That help includes serving as a lobbying body to bring members’ concerns and needs to the state and federal level, offering energy programs, training and education, drug testing, research, and even help with hiring when needed. The in-plant plays a vital role in the mission, sending out informational packets, bulletins, flyers, and other pieces to the cities and towns.
“When I joined in 2004, basically we were a publishing house, and very heavy on that,” Higgins notes. “And at that time, all of it was getting mailed out, so there was a lot of outbound mail. We had inserters, large copiers, and that’s what we did. All from hard copy — they brought us hard copies, and we made it up.”
Originally, Higgins notes, the New Haven, Connecticut-based in-plant only served the internal committees that make up the leadership of the organization. But that changed.
“In 2019, we were approved to start offering print services to the membership. Now, we do printing for the towns. As long as they are a member — and there are 168 of them — they can request it, and that is a big deal, a whole new world for us.
“Before that, we had a captive audience. We were the only game in town,” he continues. “Now we are a vendor competing against outside businesses. That has been really exciting for us — it’s where our growth lies. Like everyone else, print and mail volumes have fallen, so we had some excess capacity. Our executive director, instead of doing something like shrinking the department, said ‘this is a great service; lets offer it to members and bring a great value.’”
Just a few months later, the COVID-19 pandemic hit, and Higgins and his team stepped up, offering members printed signage, floor stickers, and posters advising people to stay six feet apart. The in-plant also helped distribute PPE materials, as well as “a lot of yard signs,” he notes.
As the pandemic has begun to retreat and business is shifting to the new normal, Higgins has been surprised that business cards and envelopes are two of the biggest products in demand.
“Having a digital press, we’re happy to do short runs,” he says. “In terms of pricing for members, we pretty much run at break even. We’re not looking to bring in a tremendous profit — this is a value-added service. We’re not in a position to lose money, we are just basically trying to cover costs. And we’re usually cheaper, faster, and since we only deal with members, dedicated to them. They mean a lot to us — we’re not a commercial shop taking in work from everyone.”
Still, it’s been a challenge to get the word out to members.
“We have sent mailings, but they were more from the executive director,” he says. “When I talked to a new customer, they had no idea we did this. Each one is set up a little different — some are really official with a purchasing department, and others you have to get in touch with the individual heads for each area. So it’s been difficult to get the word out. Connecticut is a small state, so you would think every employee should know about us, but they don’t, and how do you do that without beating them over the head?”
While Higgins recently turned 57, retirement is not on his mind. Rather, he is excited to stay and oversee the huge growth potential of the in-plant as it continues to expand services to more cities and towns, and add to the products being offered to members. Promotional products, in particular, is one area the shop is “really close to getting into” on a small scale — items such as t-shirts and mugs.
“We had an inquiry from a member about it, so I’m seriously looking at it with hopes of offering it in the next year or so on some level,” he says.
Higgins is proud of being a Certified Mail and Distribution Systems Manager (CMDSM) through the Mail Systems Management Association, and he is a member of the In-plant Printing and Mailing Association (IPMA), where he participates in the annual conference and other programs to both increase his knowledge and keep his credentials current.
“You have to know your stuff,” he says. “I was fairly early on with [the CMDSM certification] and have kept up every three years to recertify and keep up my education on the postal and shipping realm.”
Despite this, he laughs, one thing other in-plant managers might be surprised to learn about him is that “I don’t know that much about printing. I’ve made a lot of great friends at IPMA over the years, and I look forward to seeing them at conferences. But I always feel like a poser — they’ve all been doing this for years. I would say that I’m a mail guy; I came up on that side of the business.
“In no way will I say I’m an expert in print,” he continues. “A lot of things [I did before this] had a little print, but when it came to this job, 70% of work is the print. But I’m not one of these guys who ran a printing press — I have so much respect, and I’m jealous of those with a deep print background. I rely a lot on my team, vendor partners, and IPMA. If you said ‘make me something,’ I’d hand it off. I know the process and equipment, but I’m not an operator. The accolades should all go to my team — if I fell off the planet tomorrow, they’d be fine, but if they fell off the planet, I’d be in a lot of trouble.”
Outside of work, the Connecticut native has remained focused on his family, spending time with his three children — all grown now — and grandkids whenever he can. He also reveals that he’s a big mixed martial arts (MMA) fan: “I’m not watching baseball; I’m watching MMA,” he proclaims.
While his title might be the same as it was 18 years ago when he joined CCM, the job itself has changed dramatically and is still shifting as Higgins finds new ways to innovate and grow. He looks forward to serving the members of his organization and supporting his team for many more years to come.
Toni McQuilken is the senior editor for the printing and packaging group.