In 2018, Michael Hothi had come to a crossroads.
He had started his first business at twenty and had helmed three others by the time he reached twenty-seven. That’s a lot of ownership in a small amount of time. Switching tack, he worked in a variety of industries for other successful entrepreneurs, taking him to Burlington, Louisville, Kansas City, Brampton, Mississauga, and Niagara, among other places.
That’s when providence interfered—or rather, an HR specialist from Ottawa. Trico, a family-owned printing business, found itself in need of a proven, hard-working sales manager with general manager aspirations. Having spent some time in the printing business, Hothi instantly recognized the opportunity to relocate to a vibrant mid-sized city and to put his can-do spirit to constructive, career-making use, with plans to expand the company’s capabilities and client base. It would also allow him to be more present for his children.
A mere four years later, with the dramatic disruption of the pandemic no less, Trico Packaging and Print Solutions, as it’s known today (but not for long; more on that development later), is the fastest-growing commercial printer in Eastern Ontario. It recently acquired So-Tek Graphics and Marquardt Printing, has converted its packaging arm into an environmentally minded separate interest, Iron Bull Industrial Packaging and Sanitation, and continues to actively entertain partnership and acquisition opportunities.
The big push was put into motion after Hothi became principal owner in February of 2020…we all know what happened the following month. “It was pretty scary,” the normally undaunted Hothi reflects. “Almost instantly, you had everybody press pause. There was an aggressive growth model that I had been planning, but that needed to change because now, there were no doors open.”
Never one to shirk from a challenge, Hothi, sharing Canadians’ frustration over the unreliability of early offshore mask production, recognized a way to buoy his company while accommodating the greater good. “A week later,” he explains, “we were a buyer-seller in the mask business. We began by supplying local hospitals and businesses. Then, we installed a cleanroom right here in our own facility and obtained the necessary medical device licensing from Health Canada. By July, we were rolling masks off of our own production line. By September, we had a second machine and were running two shifts on each, 24-7.”
Local supply of much-needed healthcare devices remains a viable part of Trico’s business. The company has even expanded into a successful line of Health and Safety products. “We’re very proud of the path we’ve taken,” beams Hothi about Trico’s exemplary pivot. “We were fortunate too that over that time, the printing business started to revive. Today, business has returned to normal.”
That normality includes the reclamation of Trico’s top-dog status in Ottawa’s commercial printing space and the continuation of Hothi’s expansionist vision. As was announced as this year’s FACES-sponsored National Capital Charity Classic golf tournament, Trico Packaging and Print Solutions will soon rebrand as Trico Communications (told ya we’d get there). Under this banner, Trico will offer full media campaign development solutions, from print and digital requirements, like the direct mail services that have been a mainstay of their business, to data collection capabilities.
“It’s something that makes us unique,”
“Ottawa has a number of agencies who do those things very well but on a limited basis; they have outsource partners. Plus, it will allow us to sit with a customer and get to know them intimately.”
The latter is a matter of reputation at Trico. As one satisfied online reviewer put it, Trico is a “big operation with a small shop heart.” Vows Hothi, “That’s something I want to maintain as an owner. Coming to the Ottawa market from the Toronto area, my definition of the place was a ‘big little city’—so I want us to be a ‘big little company.’ We want to be the one that can always say, ‘Hey, sure, we can do that’ or ‘No problem.’ We want to remove the burden so that they can run their business and allow us to support them any way we can.”
While Trico’s heart remains in Ottawa, its eye is on greater geographic territory—something that for now, the ever-driven but smartly cautious Hothi can only hint at. “We can’t name names right now,” he offers with delicate excitement, “but we’re looking at an acquisition that will help us expand into the Toronto market by the start of next year.”
If his propensity for grandiosity and the hard work that comes with it makes Hothi sound like someone who always needs to have something going, you’ve got him properly pegged.
“I’m a businessman. I enjoy the game of business,” he declares with a winning mix of matter-of-factness and palpable enthusiasm.
“Whether that’s widgets or gadgets or whatever, it doesn’t really matter. It’s the thrill of playing I enjoy.”
By Dan Lalande
Photography by Sean Sisk