ROHNERT PARK -- GPM of Rohnert Park and Impress Northwestern of Santa Rosa have merged, creating the third-largest commercial printer in the North Bay.

They started combining equipment and employees into GPM's 77,000-square-foot plant at 655 Park Ct. after the Nov. 1 merger.  Soon, the two brands are set to be combined under a yet-to-be-determined name, according to Michael Sanabria, formerly owner of Impress Northwestern and now chief executive officer and part owner of the merged company. 

GPM founder Bill Goode remains majority owner but has stepped back from day-to-day management.

The two company owners had been talking off and on for three years about joining forces.

[caption id="attachment_47899" align="alignright" width="160" caption="Michael Sanabria"][/caption]

"Since we had known each other for a long time, we decided to acknowledge the industry is consolidating, and we did not want to wait until we were desperate," Mr. Sanabria said.

The number of commercial printers nationwide fell by 11.1 percent to 27,285 last year from 2007 and by 27.6 percent, or 10,388, since 1998, according to New Jersey-based trade group National Association for Printing Leadership.

Most are small operations, according to association research. More than four-fifths -- 82.2 percent -- have fewer than 20 employees, and almost 70 percent employ up to 10.

A big reason for the industry consolidation is the high capital costs of equipment and increasingly tighter margins, according to Mr. Sanabria. In the GPM-Impress merger, only one position was lost in the combination of the two workforces, which now total 44 people.

Profitability for U.S. commercial printers has been steadily improving for the past three years, according to the NAPL's Printing Business Panel, a periodic survey of industry health. Thirty-one percent of the respondents reported increasing profitability last year, while 32.9 percent saw theirs decreasing. That gap has narrowed from 2010, with 29.1 percent increasing and 37.9 percent decreasing, and 2009, with profitability rising for 11.4 percent and falling for 64.1 percent. 

"To bolster the bottom line, printers are reducing costs, and many of these efforts have centered on staffing," wrote NAPL economists Monday.

Combined 2011 revenues of $7.5 million were about the same as the year before. But giving up Impress Northwest's 11,000-square-foot plant at 1314 Petaluma Hill Rd. in southeast Santa Rosa turned what would have been a combined loss for the year into a slight profit.

The GPM-Impress merger brings needed scale and market diversification, Mr. Sanabria said. GPM (www.printing-mailing.com, 707-588-8028) has gained a reputation over its five-decade history as a bulk printer and mailer for government agencies and law firms, and that remains a major source of business. But in recent years, the company acquired a number of digital printing machines to attract business in personalized marketing.