They say print is dying, but don’t tell Robin Cook.
Together with his partner, Edwin Jarvis, the operators of Rob-Win Press in Allentown’s East Side have made a healthy living for more than 35 years by providing the funeral industry with custom stationery such as prayer and acknowledgment cards, register books and service folders.
Two years ago the partners sold the business to Aurora Casket Co., which runs the stationery division as Aurora Essentials — a move that keeps the classic print shop alive by offering an expanded sales staff and investment potential. Jarvis has since retired but Cook remains on the job for another three years to lead a staff of 15 to 25 people including some who have been with them since Cook bought the former J. R. Fuehrer Advertising Co. in 1977.
“It’s nothing real complicated,” says Cook, a tall, thin perpetual motion machine with ink and grease on his hands from fixing presses that are, in some cases, a century old. “We had a niche and it’s still working.”
A one-time music major at Haverford College, Cook ended up in the printing business after graduation when he was looking for work. His father, a career paper salesman, suggested he reach out to Fuehrer who opened his business in Coopersburg in 1938.
“I met him and I had to prove to him for several years that I could do the job,” Cook remembers.
Jarvis joined the business in 1978 and in 1984 they moved to their current location on Trump Street in the Rittersville section of Allentown, purchasing a 38,000-square-foot building with assistance from the Allentown Economic Development Corp (AEDC) and Allentown Commercial and Industrial Authority (ACIDA).
ACIDA also helped them purchase a press, but the most unique attractions of the business are a pair of genuine steel die engraving presses customized by Fuehrer and Cook – one is 100 years old and the other is 98 years old – that will feed, score, print and count acknowledgment cards while adding gold embossing.
“We are still the only foiler in the Lehigh Valley,” Cook says.
The move to Allentown allowed the partners to focus on growth as well as maintaining the high-quality standards set by Fuehrer and both men learned to operate all of the equipment as well as run an in-house machine shop that is used to produce components for the printing and bookbinding operations that Jarvis created in 1988 to produce the register books.
In 1997 they established an exclusive relationship with artist Lena Liu to use her designs for the register books, and they also produce custom-made register books for veterans and emergency responders that are made from the same materials as military, police and firefighter uniforms of the deceased.
By 2011, when Aurora expressed interest in the business, Cook and Jarvis were considering the future for themselves and the company. “I’m 61, Edwin is the same,” Cook said. “It gets to the point in any business, but especially printing, where you start to think that it would be good if the business can continue after you.”
“I could have sold to a competitor but they probably would have shut it down here,” he said. “We have a family here and at least four of our people have been with us since the Coopersburg days. This gave us a chance to be something bigger and better. They kept all our employees, their seniority and their health care benefits at no cost (to the employees).”
Aurora rents the building from Cook and Jarvis, and Cook has remained on board to support the operation and keep his hands-on approach, something he truly enjoys, especially when it means getting down and dirty to fix a balky press.
“It’s been a good little shop,” he says. “We obviously did well enough to interest a bigger company to purchase us.”