The Miner Group International History

3430 Winnetka Avenue
Minneapolis, Minnesota 55427-2021

Telephone: (612) 504-6200
Fax: (612) 542-8122

Private Company
Incorporated: 1980 as Mello Smello
Employees: 700
Sales: $136.5 million (1996)
SICs: 5199 Nondurable Goods, Not Elsewhere Classified; 2752 Commercial Printing, Lithographic; 7336 Commercial Art & Graphic Design

Company Perspectives:

The success of The Miner Group International is based on our commitment to building strategic partnerships with our customers, helping them to meet their objectives. We provide a seamless, one-stop production resource.

Company History:

Calling The Miner Group International a printing business really fails to capture the essence of this company. It is true that most of the operations that make up The Miner Group are engaged primarily in printing, from the multicolor web heatset presses of its NorthPrint International subsidiary to the high-tech sheet-fed equipment at another subsidiary, Olympic, just to name a couple. Add to that, however, the company's ability to develop marketing strategies, produce state-of-the-art graphics, publish nationwide magazines, and make sophisticated plastic packages, and you have a much clearer picture of the Miner empire's scope, and the sophisticated way in which its various elements are integrated. The Miner Group is a collection of 15 separate companies, employing 700 workers at 28 locations, primarily in Minnesota. Through strategic acquisitions and startups, The Miner Group has positioned itself as a one-stop, fully integrated marketing/printing/graphics concern capable of seeing complex projects through from start to finish. All of the Miner companies are linked together by a sophisticated voice/data communications network, enabling each company to tap into the resources of the others as necessary.

The Miner Group was launched in 1980 by the husband and wife team of John and Leah Miner. After a brief banking career at First National Bank, where the Miners met, Jon Miner bought into a printing company called Impressions Inc. in 1968. Over the next dozen years, he became an expert in the printing industry, before a disagreement with his business partner led Miner to sell out his share. In the aftermath of that falling out, the Miners bought a small gift and novelty manufacturing company in 1980. Among the company's products at the time they acquired it--along with the inevitable candles and wind chimes--was a modest line of children's stickers that featured the "scratch-and-smell" concept developed by 3M Corporation. Scratch-and-smell involves coating a surface with an odor that is released when it is scratched.

Scratched (and Sniffed) Way to Rapid Growth

The line of scratch-and-smell stickers proved to be so popular that the Miners decided to buy the license for the scratch-and-smell technology, known as microencapsulation, from 3M and make it the cornerstone of their business. Dubbing their new company Mello Smello, they began applying a wide array of smells to a huge assortment of new products for kids. The Miners stoked demand for their aromatic products with a successful marketing strategy that turned wacky stickers into sought-after collectible items.

As Mello Smello's scratch-and-smell products grew in popularity, the company sought to expand the ways in which the technology could be applied. From simple stickers, the products began taking on more complex forms, such as puzzles, games, Holiday theme items, and the like. The early success of Mello Smello created a need for greater printing and marketing capabilities. The Miners met these needs both by building new facilities and by going on a shopping spree. The company began gobbling up smaller operations that supported its core business.

According to Jon Miner, there was no master plan to the way the company grew over the next several years. "One thing led to another ... we're evolving, we move forward," he was quoted as saying in the Minnesota business journal Format. Most of that evolution was in the direction of printing, the industry of which The Miner Group is generally considered a part. As the company built up and acquired new printing capabilities, new business opportunities that relied on that capability soon presented themselves. Soon Miner was printing children-oriented products for a number of large corporations. Among the company's first customers for this type of work were several national fast-food chains, for whom Miner began printing animated kid's meal boxes, bags, placemats, tray liners, and other related items.

Broadened Focus Through the 1980s

The next step in the evolution of The Miner Group again involved licensing agreements. The company began licensing such child-friendly images as Batman, Disney characters, and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles for use on its products. Some of them were scented with the company's licensed scratch-and-smell coating, while others were left to sell on their own merits. Meanwhile the list of big companies for whom Miner provided specialty products continued to grow, as the company added products such as cereal box prizes for Kellogg Company and General Mills to the work it was already doing for the likes of McDonald's and Taco Bell.

Once it was well established as a diverse force in the printing business, Miner went on to expand into fields that came into contact with printing on several different sides. Rather than merely print marketing materials that have been conceived by a second firm, to be used by yet another company, Miner saw an opportunity to cut out the extraneous middle man by providing its own marketing services. This notion led to the creation of InterNatural Designs Inc. (IDI), a marketing strategy subsidiary closely tied to the company's flagship Mello Smello operation. Now Miner was able to see many projects through from start to finish. For example, the company could help a fast-food chain develop a promotional project for a particular target market; conceive a set of products--game cards, bags, tray liners, etc.&mdashø support the promotional effort; and print all of those products at one of its growing list of printing facilities.

At the other end of the spectrum, Miner added binding and sophisticated graphics and prepress support facilities, and soon the company was in the contract publishing business. From its modest beginnings putting out small puzzle and game magazines aimed at children, the company evolved into a full-blown publisher of all sorts of materials. In particular, Miner became heavily involved in sports magazines, churning out several national and regional hockey and golf journals. Among the successful magazines produced by Miner's publishing subsidiary, The Publishing Group (TPG), were USA Hockey InLine, American Hockey Magazine, Minnesota Golfer, and Virginia Golfer. So successful were the company's sports magazines, that in 1997 the division that produced them was spun off as TPG Sports, a new subsidiary specializing in sports publishing and marketing. Other Miner publications have included a national children's magazine and in-flight magazines for Delta Airlines.

Throughout, however, Mello Smello, the seed from which the Miner empire sprouted, remained the company's biggest money generator. By the middle of the 1990s, Mello Smello was operating through different divisions on several distinct fronts. The Retail division continued to churn out a wide range of children's products featuring licensed images from the most popular family movies of the day. The Schools division specialized in products for fundraising programs and special events at schools.

Late 1980s Bring New Plants

In 1989 Jon Miner was informed that NorthPrint Company, a nearly century-old printing firm in his home town of Grand Rapids, Minnesota, was filing for chapter 11 bankruptcy and was close to folding. Always active in community affairs around Grand Rapids--he already owned the nearby resort that his parents used to run--Miner bought the plant and saved the 25 jobs that it provided. Rather than make NorthPrint a charity case, however, Miner invested several million dollars in the facility, turning it into an important and productive part of the Miner system. Although the original intention was to use NorthPrint primarily for jobs within the Group, it soon began printing for outside clients as well, and within five years its employee roster had quadrupled to nearly 100 workers. NorthPrint's specialties included catalogs and direct-mail inserts, as well as such Miner standbys as food tray liners and printed bags. NorthPrint was not the only crumbling Grand Rapids institution bailed out by Jon Miner. He also restored and opened to the public the Grand Rapids home in which entertainer Judy Garland was born. An adjacent Judy Garland Children's Museum was planned for the site as well.

While most of the Miner operations remained based in the Twin Cities area, the company expanded its geographic scope by adding the Tempe, Arizona-based SouthPrint International as a sister printing company to NorthPrint. This southwestern presence enabled Miner to serve customers in that region with the same quick turnaround times it was able to offer its clients in the North. Other printing companies added along the way included Advanced Web Technologies, a flexographic printer; Print Technologies, Inc., specialists in one- and two-color demand printing; and Olympic, a high-tech prepress and sheet fed printer. As the printing industry continued to incorporate advances in computer graphics, Miner sought out ways to keep toward the front of the pack. Digital Marketing, Inc., a state-of-the-art company specializing in customized printing using the latest digital and electronic equipment, was added in the 1990s, allowing Miner to compete effectively in the market for short-run projects requiring frequent changes. Another subsidiary, the Photography Group, put Miner among the leaders in digital photographic processing.

With so many printing facilities doing work for each other, it eventually became apparent that having its own internal trucking company would save the company the expense and headaches associated with contracting transportation services from an outsider. With the creation of Miner Group Express, the company had the means for a smooth flow of materials between its various subsidiary printers and processors.

Although most of the building blocks that have gone into the building of The Miner Group have connected directly to the company's core printing business, there are exceptions. The most obvious was the company's 1988 investment in EZ Gard, developer of a line of athletic mouth guards. Created by 21-year-old wunderkind Jon Kittleson, the EZ Gard mouthpiece provided better mouth and jaw protection than older models. It was quickly embraced by many professional athletes, and became popular in both the National Football League and National Hockey League. EZ Gard later came up with the "Shock Doctor," a customized mouthpiece that keeps the jaw fixed in what the company calls the "power position," a slight separation between upper and lower jaws. Research suggests, according to company claims, that by keeping the jaw from clenching tightly shut the Shock Doctor can actually increase strength and improve sports performance dramatically. Major boosters of EZ Gard have included Olympic wrestler Dennis Koslowski and former Minnesota Viking star Chris Doleman. Always on the lookout for potential links between its subsidiaries, Miner has embarked on many sports safety programs for children, combining the resources of EZ Gard, Mello Smello, and other members of team Miner.

New Directions for the High-Tech 1990s

By 1994 The Miner Group had well in excess of $100 in revenue. In June 1996, Leah Miner, who had been serving as president of the company's Mello Smello division, died of cancer. Cofounder Jon Miner continued to run the Group as a solo act--albeit with a supporting cast of hundreds--after his wife's death. By that year, the company's annual revenue had grown to $136.5 million. During the summer of 1997, it appeared as if Miner would be purchased by the Minnesota-based Taylor Corp., one of the nation's largest printers of wedding cards. The transaction was never completed, however, and Miner forged ahead with its own plans.

The second half of the 1990s has seen Miner working to remain at the technological forefront of the printing industry. Toward that end, the company began to devote substantial energy to internet/intranet operations. In particular, its Epic Media, Digital Marketing, and Landscape subsidiaries worked to develop interactive, on-line programs that allowed businesses to create sales materials delivered over the internet, customized for each recipient. Epic Media also designed an image databasing system securable by employee passwords. With these sorts of products in hand, and more of them in various stages of development, The Miner Group prepared to enter the 21st century with a firm handle on the present and future printing--and marketing, and publishing, and graphics, and mouth protection--needs of the clients it serves.

Principal Subsidiaries: Advanced Web Technologies; Print Technologies, Inc.; Corporate Images Worldwide, Inc.; The Photography Group; Digital Marketing Inc.; NorthPrint International; Mello Smello; Pro Plastics; SouthPrint International; Olympic; Miner Group Express; Package Technology International; TPG Graphics International; Internatural Designs Strategy Group; EZ Gard; Epic Media.

Further Reading:

  • Bremer, Karl D., America's North Coast Gateway, Minneapolis: Josten's Publishing Group, Inc., 1993.
  • Brissett, Jane E., and Jill P. Burcum, "Entrepreneur Sees Printing Investment As Giving Back to Grand Rapids," Corporate Report Minnesota, December 1994, p. 17.
  • Davis, Riccardo A., "Minnesota's Taylor Corp. to Purchase Miner Group of Minneapolis," St. Paul Pioneer Press, July 13, 1997.
  • Ehrlich, Jennifer, "Mergers and Acquisitions Talk Heats Up As Industry Competition Intensified," Minneapolis/St. Paul CityBusiness, September 8, 1997.
    Miner Update, vols. 28--29, Minneapolis: Miner Group International, 1996, 1997.
  • O'Meara, Sheri, "The Miner Touch," Format, August 1996, p. 1.
  • Youngblood, Dick, "Entrepreneurs Sniff Out $100 Million Business Using 3M Technology," Star Tribune (Minneapolis).

Source: International Directory of Company Histories, Vol. 22. St. James Press, 1998.