Finding a place to do business is often as important as finding a way to do business. Often, the two go hand in hand.

Lake Lithograph, a 15-year-old printing company, has found the right place, and because of that, company President Howard Lake says, business is picking up.

After Lake Lithograph, the largest commercial printer in the Prince William area, moved to its current location in Manassas about five months ago, the operation has become much more streamlined, equipment has been upgraded and the business has become just plain easier with everything under one roof.

In the past five years, Lake Lithograph's sales have grown 40 percent, Lake said. But in the past year, the growth spurt tapered off because of "work space" problems. The company had two warehouses and two offices scattered throughout Prince William County, making it impossible to grow past a certain point because moving paper, making sales and producing the projects were all done in different buildings.

The company is finally under one big roof, and because of that, Lake said, "now we have lots of capacity here."

The company has $5.5 million in annual revenue, according to Pam Lake, vice president and Howard Lake's daughter. Projections for 1999 are estimated at $6 million, she said.

The Lake Lithograph sales team attracts clients from all around the Beltway, including some from Bethesda, Rockville and Gaithersburg in Maryland and Fredericksburg and Manassas in Virginia. Its main focus is on commercial printing for large corporations, advertising agencies and technology companies, as well as on smaller jobs, such as printing literary journals for some area high schools. The office also has a high-capacity copy center for photocopy requests and often does work for smaller print companies that are unable to print larger jobs.

A typical job for Lake Lithograph is a company newsletter, press packet or brochure that already is designed and sent to Lake as an electronic file. Employees at Lake convert that file into film and engrave the image onto a print plate, from which the color prints are made. The company then folds and ships the material.

Lake even has its own mailing center for clients who would rather have the products sent out directly from Lake via its own delivery trucks and drivers. "There is lots of Beltway travel going on," Lake said.

He estimates the company does about 2,500 print jobs each year, with more to come now that the company is centrally located.

Lake Lithograph started in late December 1984, and until the company moved this summer, the business was run out of leased space in areas of Manassas and Manassas Park. The print division was on I Beam Lane, the document center was on Signal Hill Road, and two different warehouses were on Euclid Avenue. "We had one person who spent 75 percent of his day" running from one site to another, acting as a sort of courier, Pam Lake said.

Every time the company grew, it expanded into more leased space, Howard Lake explained. And none of those locations were contiguous. Eventually, Lake said, coordination between the different spaces became a problem, and "we decided we had to move because of illogical work flow."

Not only were the multiple sites inconvenient, they were expensive.

Because Lake Lithograph had so many different locations to take care of the workload, most of the sites had redundant machinery and supplies. Lake realized that he had "three times as much equipment as I should have had," he said. "And coordinating and scheduling was an issue."

Lake decided to consolidate his business, which he runs with his wife Millie Lake, and three of their five children--Pam Lake, vice president; Penni Lake-Gill, estimator; and Eric Lake, account representative. ("When we leave here and get together as a family, we don't talk about work," Pam said.)

Lake looked around the area at real estate, including an existing building in Woodbridge. But he decided it would cost almost as much to move into and fix an older building as it would to construct one of his own. And frankly, he said, "I was just trying to justify [building] my own building."

He finally found available land in Manassas, negotiated a price in 1997 and applied for an Industrial Development Authority bond to help him develop the site. He received $5.2 million from the development authority, part of which was used to finance the land and building, Lake said. Construction started in November 1998, was completed in June, and the company moved to the site in July.

Today the pristine office includes a warehouse, printing plant and sales office, staffed with 48 employees and some part-time help when needed. The new site is "helping all the employees learn the process, and now we can see what each other does and have a higher regard for it," Pam Lake said.

The move has "truly helped improve communication between divisions," she said. "Now we refer to [the divisions] as different departments. We've bridged the gaps there."

Business is looking busier and better, Pam Smith said. The new site really "improves efficiency."