The sudden closure of SOS Printing came as a surprise to Port Townsend and Jefferson County communities when owner Dan Huntingford, after being diagnosed with a serious illness, announced his …
The sudden closure of SOS Printing came as a surprise to Port Townsend and Jefferson County communities when owner Dan Huntingford, after being diagnosed with a serious illness, announced his departure from business early November.
Huntingford leaves behind a legacy of service, not just for customers, but for the organizations and nonprofits he supported throughout the years.
The SOS Legacy
“He really built SOS up from being a small copy shop into a full-service print shop,” said Scott Wilson, who worked with Huntingford at The Leader for several years before Huntingford left to buy into SOS Printing, which at the time was known as Speedy Office Services.
“Dan left The Leader in the early or mid-90s, and he bought into SOS, which at the time wasn’t really a print shop,” Wilson said. “It just had a big copy machine and was located in the Bishop Hotel.”
Starting small, Huntingford developed a print shop throughout the years that served local businesses and customers all over the county. His family was based in Chimacum for generations, and Huntingford had a vested interest in serving the community.
“His family is one of the oldest continual line of business people in Jefferson County, if you count the farming business,” Wilson said. “They were homesteaders in Chimacum Valley. Of those succeeding generations of legacy business owners, he is the most prominent business person.”
Huntingford’s father, George Huntingford Sr., was one of the longest-running county commissioners, while his cousin, Glen, also was a county commissioner.
Meanwhile, Dan Huntingford grew his business, providing the community printing needs. His main goals were to take care of his customers and his employees.
“It was important to help customers get what they need in a timely fashion,” Huntingford said. “But that speaks to a larger goal of wanting to serve my community the best way that I could. It was extremely important to me to donate to nonprofits and support other small businesses.”
Throughout the years, Huntingford spent an immense amount of time working to support local projects, printing free fliers for nonprofts such as the Port Townsend Main Street Program, the Port Townsend Merchants Association, Port Townsend High School sports teams, and education programs.
“He donated a tremendous amount of work,” Wilson said. “He seemed to say yes to everything.”
Beyond supporting the community, Huntingford also worked to provide a great place to work for his employees.
“It was also important to me to be the best boss I could to my loyal and talented staff,” Huntingford said. “This included not laying off any staff during the Great Recession and providing health insurance to my employees.”
Competitors turned friends
The only printing competitor in town for Huntingford was Mike Kenna, owner of Printery Communications, located uptown.
Kenna and Huntingford both were in the printing business but came from different backgrounds.
While Huntingford’s family had been a staple in Jefferson County since the homesteaders, Kenna moved in Port Townsend with no money in his pocket and no local connections.
About 20 years before Huntingford bought SOS Printing, Kenna started his printing business and quickly became a well-known name in Port Townsend and beyond.
“Mike’s legacy is showing up with almost nothing,” Wilson said. “He and Pat Kenna literally started their business in a garage and built it into this regional and national powerhouse.”
Two printing businesses in a small town made for some friendly competition.
“While running two similar businesses in such a small town, there is going to be a bit of inherent competition, but it was never antagonistic,” Huntingford said.
Kenna said the two businesses shared customers, employees and some of the same challenges throughout the years.
“A lot of industries like ours, they’re very challenging,” Kenna said. “It’s been the nature of business since the Great Recession in 2008. Life hasn’t been the same. It’s challenging for our employees, it’s challenging for us as business owners to keep growing.”
The two businesses thrived in their own ways.
“I think we had slightly different focuses,” Huntingford said. “Mike also has an operation and lots of clients in Seattle, while I focused more on local business.”
Meanwhile, Huntingford and Kenna shared more than just a business relationship.
“In Port Townsend, it’s a little hard not to know someone beforehand,” Huntingford said. “I was the advertising manager of The Leader when Mike started his print shop, so that’s how we first met. Later, Mike bought a cabin next door to our house, and our kids played together in the summers. It was actually at their cabin that my children found and took in a stray cat that became our family pet for 15 years.”
A time of need
Within a month of finding out he was ill, Huntingford closed the doors to SOS Printing for the last time. He held a closing sale on Nov. 24 and reached out to Kenna about buying SOS’s customer list.
“I wanted to make sure that my customers were taken care of when I had to say goodbye,” Huntingford said. “I needed to guarantee they got the jobs done that they needed, and that their history and files were preserved. I was also concerned for my employees, who are all long-term and very loyal.”
While Huntingford approached Kenna first about buying his assets, it wasn’t the first time that the prospect had been suggested.
“I’d been after him for years, asking multiple times to sell,” Kenna said. “He’d say, ‘Well, I’ll wait until Johnny graduates from college.’ And then after that, ‘Well, I’m going to wait until Emily graduates from college.’ And then after that, I’d say, ‘Well, they’re graduated.’”
But it wasn’t until he found out that he was too ill to continue working that Huntingford took him up on the offer.
“When I became ill and realized it was not possible to keep SOS going, I reached out to Mike,” Huntingford said. “Being in such a small town, Mike was in a unique position to be interested in purchasing some of the larger equipment and the customer list.”
And while it was a business opportunity for Kenna, it was more about helping out a friend in need.
“This is not the kind of way I wanted to do it,” Kenna said, explaining the process of transferring over the customers has been difficult while Huntingford and his family are dealing with his illness.
“The whole thing has been extremely difficult, and we’ve been trying very hard to do whatever we could do to help Dan and Louise get through it.”
Purchasing some of Huntingford’s printing equipment and taking on his customers has made for a busy month for Kenna.
“It was sudden when it happened,” Kenna said. “I didn’t realize he was going to close so quickly.
We just did what we can to help as much as we could. … The most important thing is to take care of the customers, and that was very important that we felt we could do.”
Although they may have been competitors in the past, it is their dedication to supporting their customers and community that might make the transition a bit more smooth.
“Port Townsend is a very special community that really emphasizes supporting small businesses, sometimes even against large retail chains,” Huntingford said.
“In the end, we all have the same goal of serving our customers and community as well as we can while staying afloat, and it just makes sense to come to each other in times of need.”