Small business owner keeps 86-year-old company in the family.
Name: Gail Lindley
Business: Denver Bookbinding Company
Location: Denver, Colorado
Ask Gail Lindley about her family’s traditions, and she’ll joke: “The tradition really is to die out of the business. We don’t retire.”
Lindley was 12 years old when she began working at her grandparents’ bookbinding company. As the years passed and new generations took over, she began to understand that the business does more than put books back together. It also binds the pages of her own family’s story.
Lindley, now owner of the 86-year-old business, talks about changing with the times and being a woman-owned business.
Your family started the business in 1929. How has it adapted to the move toward digital?
Since the advent of digital print in 2007, everyone suffered a 70 percent loss in their traditional workload. If you’re not strong in your market or if you don’t own your own building or if you have heavy debt, you didn’t survive.
As a family-owned business, we can adjust almost immediately. You don’t have layers of meetings and market studies. You see a problem, and you can jump on it.
What other adjustments have you had to make?
We have a restoration department, and there are a lot of people who want to do old-world binding. We’ve also kept up with technology. We purchased a polyurethane binder that enables us to work with different sizes of pages and thicknesses, because a lot of the things we do here are one-of-a-kind.
Some of the equipment that was used a lot in the 1900s is failing now. You can’t get parts. The parts that you get, the steel’s not good. That’s the challenge, to keep this real traditional equipment going and alive.
How has being a woman-owned business affected Denver Bookbinding?
My grandfather died in 1972, and we became a woman-owned business. One of the major universities’ purchasing agents came down and [offered us an] $80,000-a-year bookbinding contract.
[But then the agent] said a woman-owned business would never make it, and he pulled the contract. So, in 1972, we were not a litigious society, and we just put our big girl panties back on and continued with the business. That’s changed. You see a lot more females in business. It just wasn’t common [at the time].
You’ve been a member of NFIB for 35 years. What do you most appreciate about it?
Colorado has a very strong state director, and when we have problems with our government or our state government, I give Tony Gagliardi a call, and I’ll say, “I’m really having a problem with” whatever—Department of Revenue was probably the last one. With their system, you should be able to pay your taxes online, and it should be just “1, 2, 3,” you’re done. Well, you couldn’t access that department. Tony cut through all that red tape and got me to the right person, and it was so nice to have that problem off my plate.
How does the state of Colorado treat small businesses?
It’s been my experience that what our elected officials say and what they do are two separate things. Government entities are a silent partner, whether that is the city, the state or the feds. And they get a part of your business, even though they don’t contribute to make it stronger.
What do you like most about being a small business owner?
I really like the flexibility and the creative license to come up with a new product or a new way to reach the community. In fact, I had a customer who wanted to build new portfolios made out of felt and leather. It’s looking at that and saying, “How in the world are we going to make this happen?” And actually, we can make it happen.
What are the most important lessons you’ve learned over the years?
Measure twice, cut once. It’s the little things that create problems. Make sure everybody is on the same page. Have clear communication, whether that is with your customers, whether that is with your staff or whether that is with your family. That’s something that never changes.