PDQ Printing's owners see American dreams disrupted
URBANA – Leon Odendaal saw PDQ Printing Services as an opportunity to move to the United States from his native South Africa.
He bought the Urbana-based business in 2007 and moved his family to Champaign County.
But three years later, unable to get a green card for permanent U.S. residency, he is selling the firm's assets and planning to return to South Africa – with eventual hopes of coming back.
Last week, Odendaal arranged to sell PDQ's customer list and equipment to Peter Schmidt of UpClose Marketing and Printing in Champaign. Schmidt said he plans to move the equipment to Champaign and hire some employees.
Meanwhile, the PDQ building, at 1802 N. Lincoln Ave., U, is being sold to Scott, Jon and Nathan Reichard.
Nathan Reichard said they have multiple uses in mind for the building, including a U-Haul dealership, secure self-storage units and a base for HomeLink Ads magazine.
Odendaal, 51, who lived in Pretoria, South Africa, said he bought PDQ as a way of coming to this country.
"I ran a printing business and security company in South Africa. I actually had four companies running over there at that stage," he said.
Besides the printing and security-guard firms, he had a first-aid supply business and a cash loan company, and his wife, Hester, had a copy shop, he said.
But Odendaal became concerned about conditions in his homeland.
"Things in South Africa got extremely bad. We had three burglaries in two weeks," he said.
He and his family didn't feel secure there.
"We were targets," he said. "The harder you work, the more of a target you become."
Plus, Odendaal didn't see a future for his children in South Africa.
"They couldn't get jobs. They needed to live their lives," he said.
Odendaal's brother, Victor, had moved to Chicago in 1997 and last year became a U.S. citizen. The Odendaals wanted to be close to him since he "knew the culture," so they looked for a printing business in the Chicago area to buy.
They found one on the Internet, but when the deal went sour, they continued to search and found PDQ was for sale.
PDQ was founded in 1958 by Walter Shore and later operated by his children. After sons Glen and Jerald passed away, one of their widows took over the business and ran it seven years, Odendaal said.
"She put it on the market, and the broker put it on the Internet," Odendaal said. "I was canvassing the Internet for a business and contacted the broker."
That was in October 2006. Two months later, Leon Odendaal came to the United States, took a firsthand look at PDQ, met with the owners and flew back to South Africa.
In January 2007, he applied for an O-1 visa – "a business manager visa," as Odendaal described it – and listed PDQ as the company he was buying.
The visa application was approved by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, and he closed on the deal March 26, 2007.
After Odendaal acquired PDQ, he added four-color printing capabilities and upgraded computer printing. He said he tried to acquire equipment exclusive to PDQ.
"We didn't want to step on others' toes," he said. "We wanted to offer customers different service."
He also joined a local chapter of Business Network International and became its vice president.
But most of his time was devoted to the business. He said he built PDQ's revenues by 40 to 45 percent over the three years he owned it. Lately, he said, he's been operating the business with five employees – "about four employees short" – but family has jumped in to fill the void.
Meanwhile, Odendaal took a step toward getting a green card – filing a Form I-140, the so-called "immigrant petition for alien worker."
"About a year later, they turned it down," he said. "One of the reasons they gave ... was they considered PDQ a one-man business that would, on occasion, acquire part-time help."
Odendaal said he provided documentation that he had 13 employees at the time and that the business occupied 16,000 square feet.
He appealed the finding in July 2008. But on Jan. 4 of this year, he was informed the appeal was unsuccessful.
The reason? He was told he applied for the green card three months too soon. He was supposed to have owned the company 12 months at the time of application.
But Aloe Holdings, the company Odendaal used to acquire PDQ, was registered in April 2006 – only nine months before he applied for the green card. It didn't matter the company he acquired was nearly 50 years old.
When Odendaal's O-1 visa expired in January, his immigration attorney in Champaign, Jeffery Hays, applied for a six-month extension.
"I don't intend to stay here that long," Odendaal said, noting that he has sold the PDQ building and business. He still needs to sell the family home near Homer Lake, transfer vehicles to his children and divide up furniture among them.
Odendaal said his two oldest children should be able to remain in the United States.
The older son, 24-year-old Lenhardt, married an American, and his green card is in process. The Odendaals' 21-year-old daughter, Samantha, is attending Parkland College and plans to transfer to the University of Illinois.
But their younger son, 20-year-old Travis – like his sister, a St. Joseph-Ogden High School graduate – may not be able to enroll in Universal Technical Institute in Chicago if he doesn't get a green card.
Odendaal figures he put about a half-million dollars into PDQ and sold it for more than he paid for it. But he has to pay $150,000 in capital gains tax.
He said it wouldn't have been his choice to sell PDQ when he did.
"It's not my fault. I'm not the one who wants to leave," he said.
As for how he came out of the whole deal, he said, "We came in with about a half-million, and we're leaving with about half that."
What's next for the Odendaals?
"We'll head back to South Africa and go through the whole process again," Leon Odendaal said. "The kids are here. There's nothing for me in South Africa."
He said he doesn't know precisely what he'll do next.
"I'll be buying a business. I have options over here already. Some have offered me partnerships. Some have offered me products to market (in South Africa) for that period," he said.
"I love this country, and I will try to get back to this area," Odendaal said. "We've made some extremely good friends. Some people say they want to hide me in their basement."
UpClose owner also a South Africa native
CHAMPAIGN – The person buying PDQ Printing's equipment is, like Leon Odendaal, a native of South Africa.
Peter Schmidt, the owner of UpClose Marketing and Printing in Champaign, was born in South Africa, but his family moved to Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) when Peter was a year old so his father, Kurt, could run department stores there.
Kurt Schmidt later became general manager of Lincoln Square Mall in Urbana, and his family moved to this community in 1966, when Peter was 9 years old.
Odendaal, who decided to sell PDQ Printing this year after his visa expired, said he met Peter Schmidt shortly after buying PDQ and moving to the area three years ago.
"It was a good relationship right from the start," Odendaal said.
Schmidt said he's sorry things didn't work out for Odendaal.
"From Leon's side, it's really unfortunate," Schmdt said. "I'm sorry it has to happen, but it will be a nice opportunity for us. He and I have done work together and become friends."
Schmidt said he's acquiring a four-color digital press from PDQ that will add to his firm's capabilities.
UpClose got its start March 1, 1987, when Schmidt bought two Campustown businesses, the Clean Machine Copy Shop on Wright Street and the Quick Copy shop on Sixth Street.
"We stayed in those locations for a while," then moved to space in the 100 block of South Walnut Street in Champaign, where Curly's Pawn Shop had been, Schmidt said. UpClose had a print operation on one side of the space and a blueprint operation on the other.
Schmidt then bought the Maxi Print copy shop at 217 S. Neil St., C, and moved the print operation there. In 1996, he acquired the current UpClose building at 120 W. White St., C. Today the business employs about 15.
Schmidt said the name of his business has its roots in Rhodesia. He grew up on a street in Salisbury called Upland Close, and when he needed a name for his business, he chose UpClose.