Two years ago, Shannon and Paul Heffington faced
a daily tsunami of doubt and denial as their printing company hurtled
toward eventual bankruptcy. Paul remembers the day when the numbness
gave way to raw emotion: He collapsed and cried.
It was a rocky period, but the Heffingtons still had their family and
health — and a marriage they describe as unshakable. Everything else in
their lives was up for grabs.
If tears are being shed at Allen Printing Inc. in 2012, they are tears of joy.
The 77-year-old family-owned business is racking up record sales.
Last year’s revenue of $5.7 million marked an approximately 25 percent
growth rate compared to 2010’s revenue of $4.3 million. The first two
months of 2012 are the best in the company’s history.
“We haven’t spent a dime on marketing,” said Paul Heffington. “We
focus on making sure we are better and quicker [than competitors].”
When it comes to Allen Printing’s 180-degree transformation, the
Heffingtons are clear about one thing. It would not have happened
without the guidance of turnaround professional Steve Curnutte of
Curnutte coached the couple through every detail of the
reorganization. That meant coming up with negotiated payment terms with
more than 60 creditors and implementing financial diagnostic tools that
closely track cash flow and profit margins. Before the restructuring,
some of the company’s accounts were more than 90 days in arrears. That’s
not likely to happen now because there are tight reins on billings and
collections. Payments are now entirely COD.
Allen Printing, which is located on Spence Lane east of downtown, now
holds weekly “dashboard” meetings, disciplined gatherings where the
company’s vital signs — from accounts receivable to cash on hand — are
monitored and analyzed.
“I think we have always done a good job with customer service,”
Shannon said.” But before the Chapter 11, we didn’t use this very
“We would not wish this on anyone, but we are incredibly grateful we
bit the bullet, rolled up our sleeves and got through it with Steve and
Tortola Partners,” Shannon added. “There are a million traps to run, and
you must stay focused and be informed every day. There are no sacred
cows. You must be willing to look at all options, even if you later
disregard some of them as unrealistic. You have to scrutinize and audit
As a result of their voluntary Chapter 11, the Heffingtons were
required to auction the family farm in Rutherford County, the only home
the couple’s two children had ever known. It was a drastic measure, but
one that reflected the Heffingtons’ deep commitment to the success and
legacy of Allen Printing.
“We knew if we kept the business, we could always buy another house,”
Paul said. “We wanted to try to retain our employees. Once we
understood what was happening, we were at peace with it. We never had
one family fight about it.”
The Heffingtons also knew that every step they took during the restructuring was eliminating debt and freeing up cash.
“They have essentially become their own bank,” said Curnutte, who now
has a small minority stake in the company. “This is the new economic
world order. Credit is restricted and underwriting is difficult. Cash is
king, and it’s OK to hoard it.”
The company has beefed up its sales force and has bought two small
printing businesses. Digital printing services have been upgraded,
ensuring quick turnaround times for printing.
“Shannon and Paul were willing to be very courageous,” Curnutte said.
“They made enormous sacrifices in order to save this business.”
With Curnutte on board, the Heffingtons also felt freed up to focus on the company’s core strength — sales and service.
“Sales were never our problem,” Paul said. “But we were overextended, and the bank called in our loan.”
Allen Printing may be on the forefront of a Chapter 11 trend.
Katie Stenberg, a partner at Nashville law firm Waller Lansden
Dortch & Davis, said she is seeing an uptick in business-related
bankruptcies. (Stenberg works in the finance and restructuring group of
Waller Lansden and did not work on the Allen Printing Chapter 11
“During the recession, the banks just kind of froze up,” Stenberg
said. “Many took an ‘extend and pretend’ approach by granting extensions
or other modifications” to financially troubled companies.
“Towards the end of 2011, we started to see more [business]
bankruptcies and foreclosures,” she added. “I fully expect to see more
activity this year.”
Turnaround expert Gary Murphey said some businesses wait too long
before considering a Chapter 11 because of misunderstandings about what
“The most common misperception is that bankruptcy means liquidation,
that creditors will not get paid or that the company can cancel all
contracts and/or leases without consequences,” said Murphey, who is
managing director at Atlanta-based Resurgence Financial Services and was
recently named trustee in the high-profile Chapter 11 bankruptcy of
Franklin-based Citizens Corp. (He did not work on the Allen Printing
Murphey agrees that lenders are showing a new willingness to work with business bankruptcies.
“More times than not, it makes sense for the company to continue to
operate and stay in control — even if it is an orderly liquidation,” he
Allen Printing has been in the family since the mid-1970s when
Shannon’s father, who worked at the business for many years, purchased
it from the original owner. Shannon bought the company in 2006.
Being family-owned and family-centered is a critical part of the brand, Shannon said.
“Family-run businesses have a heart that customers feel, vendors feel
and employees feel,” she said. “That heart is consistent through the
years. This business is our lives — it’s everything to us.”