At about 2 a.m. on June 23, Rob Strzelczyk, the owner of Mequon-based First Priority Printing, a printing and marketing services company, was awake with one of his sick children.
Mequon printer to rebuild after fire from lighting strike
It was a stormy night. Strzelczyk decided to take a photograph of the lightning from the storm.
Ironically, he found out a few hours later that lightning from that storm struck the East Towne Square Shopping Center in Mequon, where his company is located. The blaze created by the lightning bolt destroyed the business that Stzelczyk has owned for 17 years.
With the help of friends and family, Strzelczyk is picking up the pieces and plans to come back from the disaster better and stronger than ever.
“You can never prepare for something like this,” he said. “A friend of mine called me on my cell around 4:30 a.m. that morning. When I got there, I couldn’t even see through the smoke or breathe outside of my car.”
First Priority Printing suffered more than $500,000 worth of damage in the fire. The store front was completely burned, the roof was gone and all of his computers and equipment were either destroyed by the fire or sustained irreversible smoke and water damage, Strzelczyk said.
“I have to replace my entire shop,” he said. “All of my direct mail equipment, my digital equipment, everything was destroyed.”
Other tenants in the building that were destroyed by the fire included Picardy’s Shoe Parlour, Stefan’s Soccer, 4 Seasons Nails & Spa, Gossip and The Great Frame Up. Percy’s Linens & Gifts sustained damage but still had an intact roof. The end spaces of the building, occupied by an Allen Edmonds shoe store and a Starbucks Coffee shop, sustained smoke and water damage.
Strzelczyk started his company just a few months after he graduated from college in December 1992. His father, Robert Strzelczyk, founded a physician search and recruiting firm, Strelcheck and Associates in Mequon, and had been printing direct mail pieces for his clients, Strzelczyk said.
“He used equipment he had to print direct mail pieces during off business hours for his clients who had open positions,” he said. “It got to the point where the workload became too much, and it just made sense after I graduated with a marketing degree and had some printing experience to spin off the printing capabilities and develop the first retail store.”
Strzelczyk moved into the space at East Towne Square Shopping Center in April of 1993 and remained there until the fire. Only Picardy Shoe Parlour and Percy’s Linens & Gifts were in the building longer, Strzelczyk said.
Strzelczyk said he has received a tremendous amount of support after the fire. Sheboygan-based Acuity insurance will cover the majority of the damage. Friends, family and other members of the community have reached out to help, Strzeczyk said.
“Two local universities have reached out to offer to let us use their printing equipment until we get back up and running,” he said. “People have been nothing but generous. It’s interesting, I’ve been spending a lot more time being grateful to the people around me then I have been worrying about the devastation.”
Countless numbers of people have helped Strzelczyk relocate, salvage what he can from the rubble, restore computer hard drives or have just sent kind wishes, he said.
“It’s really been amazing, and with everyone’s help we should be able to get back up and running sooner than later, which is where I want to be,” he said.
The company’s social media efforts have played a big role in its recovery efforts, Strzelczyk said.
“You never fully realize how great a resource Twitter and other social media tools are until you really need them,” he said.
First Priority Printing has temporarily relocated to office space within his father’s business, and Strzelczyk predicts that within 30 days or so, the business will be fully functioning within a new space.
“We’re trying to make the most of this forced rebuild,” he said. “I’m working with a friend of mine to create a green friendly build-out with modular walls, and LEED oriented lighting.”
Since the company’s promotional items and corporate apparel were done offsite, that portion of the business is still fully functioning, he said.
“Clients have been really understanding and patient with us,” he said. “We’re working with some strategic partners to fulfill as many orders as we can, but obviously our in-house production is limited.”
Strzelczyk plans to put a stronger feature show room for promotional items and corporate apparel in the new space because it’s been such a valuable asset to the business.
After the rebuild, Strzelczyk said he also hopes to make a stronger impression in the traditional printing and direct mail market, and become more visible as a marketing and printing resource for both internal marketing campaigns and creative firms.
“I don’t know what the future is going to hold,” Strzelczyk said. “What I do know is that we have a good business model and good people whose livelihoods depend on this business completing this rebuild. That’s what’s most important to me, taking care of my clients and taking care of my people.”