You know what they say about old dogs and new tricks. But Gray Dog Press, started in 2006 as a subsidiary of Ditto’s Digital Solutions, has had to learn new ways of staying in the front of the pack. “If you go back six years, Gray Dog wasn’t even a blip on the radar,” says Russ Davis, who owns the business with his wife, Julie. “But in terms of book production, in the last four years, Gray Dog has grown about 15 to 20 percent a year.”
Three years ago, the business moved from Lincoln Heights to a renovated building at 2515 E. Sprague. Everything Davis needs to print a book is housed under one roof. Grey Dog’s high tech tools means that Davis’s design work is in high demand. “As of today, I have a dozen books I’m doing layout work on. A couple of years ago, it might have been two or three.”
Gray Dog publishes work by local writers under its own imprint. “We have about 20 titles,” Davis says, “mostly local and regional trail guides and topical books. We’ve published a guide to Spokane cemeteries, and a book about Lake Chelan that’s sold well.”
Grey Dog dabbled early on in fiction, poetry and memoirs and found out quickly that “We didn’t appreciate the difficulty of selling those things.” Now, they stay with the nonfiction books that won’t go out of style.
About 15 percent of the books Gray Dog Press prints are for local self-published authors and books for small presses nationwide. “In the last six months, I’ve picked up four new publishers: two in Southern California, one in Florida, and one in Brooklyn.” Gray Dog has found itself referred by word of mouth. “They see each other at trade shows, at conferences, and they say, hey, that book looks good. Who does your printing?”
For the majority of the local authors he works with, Davis designs the book, including the cover and the interior layout. “To a large degree, they know what they want–they just don’t know how to get there.
“The strength of any company is based on their ability to fill a niche. Just about any printer still in business has one thing they do especially well. Ours is book production.” It took eight or so years to get everything dialed in but Davis has configured his machines to most efficiently accomplish the task.
Davis himself is no stranger to change. He started out in the oil business, became a computer programmer, and eventually opened the print shop on the South Hill.
Because of the recession, Davis says, the number of printers in the region dropped from “about 100 to 20.” His business was not immune from the decline. “In a six-month period, a number of small business print customers went away. When you lose 30 to 40 accounts just like that, you have to figure something else out.”
That “something else” included the move. “We were coming to the end of our lease,” Davis says, “and we were looking at getting out of self-service printing. So we moved to this location. It took about a year to get caught up with our moving expenses. We spent three years going down and three years digging back out, so overall the move has been a very good thing.”
Davis says the combined businesses employ six people full-time. “We’re growing, and I’m training Julie to help with book design. It’s hard to keep up with the demand.” That’s a problem any old dog would be glad to have.