This article was originally published in the July 2017 Trenton Downtowner.
Here’s something to keep in perspective when thinking about the Hibbert Group: The city of Trenton was founded in 1719, which is 298 years ago. And Hibbert has been around almost half that time.
So to say that Hibbert has a history in the city is no stretch. That’s why it was considered bad news when the company considered pulling up stakes it put down in Trenton in 1881 and moving to Langhorne, PA. It wasn’t a new business that opened and closed, it was an employer of about 260 people with roots in the Vroom administration (that’s Garrett Dorsett Wall Vroom, incidentally, who was the mayor of Trenton in 1881).
The reason Hibbert, a printing and marketing campaign management firm, was planning to move was simple logistics. The company’s headquarters building at 400 Pennington Avenue was getting long in the tooth. Operations space needed to be larger, windows needed to be replaced, the boiler was about shot … the list went on.
The options were few and direct — either refurbish the building Hibbert had or find or build another one elsewhere. What Hibbert did not want was to leave Trenton, said CEO Tim Moonan.
“Our identity is tied to Trenton,” he said. “This is where our heritage is, where our roots are.”
It’s noteworthy to mention that while Hibbert is tied to Trenton through its founding and corporate/distribution headquarters, the company has several locations around the country. Hibbert has sales offices in Chicago, Indianapolis, San Diego, Philadelphia, and Danbury Connecticut. It also has production and distribution centers in Robbinsville, New Castle, Delaware; and Aurora, Colorado, near Denver.
So a relocation would not have been a stretch. It just wasn’t particularly wanted, Moonan said. By anybody.
Still, logistics are logistics. And aging is aging. So Hibbert strongly considered a site in Langhorne that offered newer amenities, high ceilings, and room to grow, Moonan said. Plus, Langhorne isn’t that far, which he said would not be too onerous a journey for most employees from Trenton and beyond. Whether a move was likely or just contemplated, it was on the proverbial table.
So what kept Hibbert from going? Specifically, it was $33.6 million. A year ago the state Economic Development Authority awarded Hibbert that money in tax credits over 10 years, if it stayed in Trenton. Part of the reason that award happened, Moonan said, was Trenton mayor Eric Jackson, who worked to keep Hibbert in the city.
One of Jackson’s most common rallying cries is his wish to grow Trenton as a business hub. In his 2016 State of the City address, he said he had visited with about 100 Trenton businesses “to learn about their needs.” And he, unsurprisingly, touted the successful effort to keep Hibbert in Trenton as a major victory.
A year after the award, which is doled out in $3.37 million annual increments, Hibbert is already at work renovating its Pennington Avenue site.
“We wanted to make the building more energy-efficient,” Moonan said. “Most important, we wanted to improve our working conditions for our employees.”
Besides the obvious benefit of staying with its roots and keeping 260 jobs in the city, Moonan said, nobody likes to move anyway. It’s just disruptive.
Overall, Moonan said, the grant will pay for a total renovation of the 240,000-square-foot site. Hibbert expects to expand its production area and its office space, via floor expansion and increased square footage for the offices.
So far EDA money has paid for solar panel installation and a new, more efficient boiler. Currently, Hibbert is replacing 200 12-by-9-foot windows that Moonan said desperately needed an upgrade. Hibbert has also bought some new equipment for its offices.
‘Our identity is tied to Trenton. This is where our heritage is, where our roots are. Most important, we wanted to improve our working conditions for our employees.’
The building is about one-third office space, the remainder is warehousing and production space. Though Moonan would not comment on volume or output numbers, he did say production volume has increased since last year. However, he added that the uptick is more due to “service line enhancements” than the EDA award.
Part of those service line enhancements stem from the acquisition of the Red Shark Group last September. Red Shark, according to Bloomberg, provides cloud-based document services catalog, access, print, and distributing company information and documents. It’s a natural complement to Hibbert, which allows the latter to expand its suite of services. Terms of the acquisition were not made public.
Moonan said that while Hibbert has no specific acquisitions lined up at the moment, “our eyes are always open for them.”
Hibbert has never been shy about expanding its capacities. The company was founded by newspaperman William Hibbert as a printing operation in 1881. Moonan’s grandfather, J.J., was an orphan the Hibberts took in, Moonan says. J.J. came aboard in the 1920s and bought into the business in the 1930s. As the manager of the company Moonan moved to open the New York marketplace with new accounts such as Allied Chemical, McCann-Erickson, CertainTeed Products, and Esso. He also expanded the company’s service capabilities by acquiring warehouse and distribution centers. He formally purchased Hibbert Company in 1937.
In the 1960s Bob Moonan Sr. took over the company and ran it until his death in 1991. During his tenure the company expanded into Denver and Houston and added major accounts like the National Football League. In the 1990s Hibbert took on pharmaceutical clients.
Tim Moonan wasn’t always in the company like his father and grandfather. For about five years he worked in construction, before he “joined at the bottom and worked my way up.” Moonan’s two brothers, Tom and Bob have been with the company for decades. Tom heads sales and Bob handles accounts.
And just for good measure, Moonan has two sons in the business as well, one a business analyst and the other an inventory specialist.
Over these 136 years, Moonan said, Hibbert has gone through “periodic transformative sprints” to stay competitive. But in his own time at the helm, he has seen the service model of his business change dramatically. As the company’s paper-based products decline, its digital products are rapidly filling in the gap. This goes hand-in-hand with a growth in the company’s back-end and E-commerce support for clients and products, which is always becoming more refined. The physical infrastructure of the company has changed a lot too, moving from all paper to ever-less paper.
Moonan said the nature of the owner’s role in the company has also become more involved. It’s less management-by-decree and more hands-on these days.
The nature of the regulatory environment has changed too. The scrutiny paid to pharmaceutical marketing and promotions and products is a lot tighter than it used to be. There are licensing requirements, for example, that need to be in place in all states if anyone wants to give out samples of any kind. Plus, there are all the agencies pharma companies — and by default, the companies that help them with their messages — answer to. It’s a web of federal agencies and laws, like the DEA, the FDA, and the Prescription Drug Marketing Act.
While Hibbert’s location in Trenton is ideal, given the close access to central New Jersey’s pharma hub, the customer base in northern New Jersey, and the access to corporate epicenters in Philadelphia, Washington, Boston, and New York, Moonan said that he would indeed like to see a bigger investment in Trenton’s business and industry. He’s happy with the direction the mayor and council are taking to achieve just that, but hopes Jackson continues his engagement with the city through its civic organizations like the YMCA (which, incidentally, is directly across the street from Hibbert).
“That would be a great benefit to everyone in the city of Trenton,” he said.
The Hibbert Group, 400 Pennington Avenue, Box 8116, Trenton 08650. 609-394-7500. Tim Moonan, CEO/co-chairman.