Gans, the Man
The North American printing industry was nurtured by a variety of 20th-century cultural cues. Two World Wars, industrialization and the rise of suburban living contributed significantly to modern print manufacturing. During this experimental time, Robert Gans went from Chicago coal baby to war hero to chairman of the ink company that bears his name: Gans Ink & Supply. After much success within the industry, Gans looks back in his new limited edition memoir, This is It, a chronicle of his career written with Noel Jeffrey. The book examines not only Gans' personal life, but also an era in which print was the most dominate mode of communication in the world.
"In the late 1940s and early 1950s, the printing industry that reached its apex in the 1980s and 1990s—powerful, privately owned companies with sales as large as $100 million—was just getting its start," Jeffrey reports. "It was a series of small shops typically founded by an individual or a few partners and they were determined to grow. Now as we reach the millennium, the wave of consolidation among printers has changed L.A.'s industry again and very large, privately owned companies are becoming rare." According to Jeffrey, this is the climate in which Gans would mature as an entrepreneur. Not only would Gans have to carve out an industry niche, but he would sometimes do so controversially.
"No one had ever heard of me," admits Gans. "I didn't have much money. The competing ink companies had been in business for 100, 200 years, so I wondered, how do I break through? One way was good service … But, I wanted to get the attention of the market. Let the printers talk about me a little bit."
Gans launched several marketing campaigns designed to not only get printers talking, but also to court trade consumers at large. Within the pages of the now-defunct industry paper, Pacific Printers' Pilot, Gans ran ads that fused personal lives with professional prerogatives. A staple of 1950s idealism, the company used domesticity to sell its industrial-strength inks. Reprinted within the memoir, the ads boasted slogans such as, "Is your wife cheating? Then buy Gans Ink because she probably is sick and tired of you coming home late," as well as, "My Hy-Jinks with Inks," featuring a voluptuous model pouring over a printing press. Long before political correctness stretched its influence over ads, Gans was stretching the limit between what was acceptable and what would become the bane for womens' issues approaching the 1960s. By then, Gans was no stranger to protest—nor printing.