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Primary Color: Master of Its Own Destiny

April 2014 By Erik Cagle, Senior Editor
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As it prepares to celebrate its 30th anniversary, the executive leadership team at Costa Mesa, CA-based Primary Color prefers to look ahead as opposed to reflecting on where it's been. Not that the multi-faceted printing and marketing services performer needs to wash away the's the future, however, that is generating much excitement among the Hirt brothers (Dan, Ron and Mike).

And who can honestly blame them? In the last five years, when the American economy in general, and the printing industry in particular, have experienced a severe downturn, Primary Color has set the wheels in motion to elevate its sales considerably beyond the $56 million plateau that it attained in 2013. During that five-year span, the company also raised its employee base from 185 to more than 300. With an additional plant in El Segundo, CA, as well as warehousing and distribution space in Irvine, CA, Primary Color has invested an eye-popping $12 million in that bright future since 2009.

"That comes from the belief that we want to be responsible for the outcome," notes Vincent Randazzo, Primary Color's CEO, of the capex initiative.

The competition level among California printers has never been higher, yet Primary Color has developed a faithful following in the retail, restaurant, automotive, entertainment, agency and corporate spaces. Here's a sampling of tools in its arsenal:

  • Primary Color runs the gamut of print-related services (including an expanded color gamut, coincidently), from litho printing to small- and large-format digital, wide-format, dye sublimation printing, fabrication and design (metal and wood), silk screening, global fulfillment, distribution and installation.
  • Its Forklift Creative branch offers an array of photography, retouching and design support services (including graphic design and mechanical layout).
  • The PrimaryConnect division has been producing Web-to-print storefronts for nine years, making Primary Color a veteran in an area that has not been fully utilized by many printers.

And to think, the company was founded in 1984 by Walter and Elisabeth Hirt as a prepress firm. What a difference 30 years makes.

Taking Large-Format Global

One of the most recent developments at Primary Color is actually about 6,500 miles away—on the other side of the world in China. At press time, the new Primary Color facility in Shanghai was a mere three weeks old, the realization of a two-year journey that arose from a need to supply high-end retail, point-of-purchase materials and out-of-home advertising—a.k.a., the gargantuan signage that adorns modern city landscapes in the form of building wraps, billboards, bus/transit/street graphics and other outdoor attention grabbers meant to shock, impress and fascinate.

According to Dan Hirt, Primary Color president, the Shanghai expansion was simply a response to the growing needs of multinational retail clients, which are experiencing explosive growth in the Asia Pacific region.

"We decided to support our clients' growth in offering them the ability to have brand consistency and execution excellence, the same as they're experiencing here," Dan Hirt notes. "At the same time, they bypass customs delays and the cost of import duties, while allowing them to pay within the country. We're just really riding along with the expansion of our existing customer base."

The Shanghai facility houses a staff of 30, and Primary Color has sent over a "constant procession of experts in every facet of our business to train and implement our processes," Dan Hirt adds. "Everything we set up over there is a replication of what we're doing here. It is monitored on a daily basis, from a color management standpoint, to printing quality and the metrics that we collect from shop floor data. We're managing the plant as if it were right next to ours."

Back in California, the array of new equipment is dizzying. The monster of the field is clearly the 81˝, four-color KBA Rapida 205 UV sheetfed press, which was installed at Primary's sister facility in El Segundo, CA.

According to Mike Hirt, vice president of operations, the large-format press helps Primary Color respond to the needs of its national retail clients and restaurant chain accounts that are eclipsing the 600 to 700 store mark and that can no longer justify printing jobs on wide-format digital printers due to equipment speeds. Additionally, the press allows Primary Color to focus on supporting movie studios and existing agency accounts seeking larger sizes and higher quantities for the out-of-home space.

Passion for an Expanded Color Gamut

Primary Color has also developed an expanded color gamut for the press, Mike Hirt notes. "It has been a passion of ours for many years," he says. "We've developed our own iteration of expanded gamut during the past six months—with extensive R&D with proofing, ink sets and screening on different presses—to come up with an expanded gamut color set that makes the printed piece explode with color. We're able to use the expanded gamut across all offset and wide-format digital products, as well. We can also make hard and soft proofs of all our expanded gamut work, so there's no surprises on-press."

Rounding out some of the major equipment acquisitions are a 29˝ HP Indigo 10000 color digital press, an Agfa M-Press Tiger flatbed printer equipped with an in-line silkscreen unit and an EFI VUTEk TX3250r dye sublimation printer. In all, Primary Color recently added five EFI VUTEk wide-format digital printer models.

"We want to be the leader in our industry when we see products that are game changers, and we want to be an early adopter," Dan Hirt states. "The HP Indigo certainly was that, allowing us to produce variable data pieces that are high quality, but at a larger size. The agency clients liked the (Indigo) quality, but always felt constricted by the size limitations. This allows us to offer high-quality, variable data printing in whatever format they need.

"The new VUTEks were also game changers, offering quality and high-speed production. And the Agfa M-Press offers the convenience of a litho press with automatic feeding and stacking, but with the flexibility of directly printing UV onto corrugate and plastics, up to .39˝ thickness. That makes us really unique in the marketplace."

The display and fabrication department houses a full wood and metal shop to build window and retail displays, plus entire trade show booths, all under one roof. Opened in early 2013, the display and fabrication offering has served the dual purpose sought with any new offering: the ability to sell deeper within existing accounts while also gaining entry into new clientele.

Using a Bigger Toolbox

Herein lies the secret of Primary Color's success: It simply stays in tune with its customer base, understanding their evolving needs, and staying current with technology and investments. Some of the tools they use involve printing, while others are more artistic, mechanical, or come from a marketing perspective. It is difficult to wrap one's head around Primary Color's value proposition, because it cannot be pegged down into a few product and service buckets.

"We are a very creative company when it comes to elevating visibility of products in the printing and marketing worlds," notes Ron Hirt, executive vice president of sales and marketing. "We always integrate with our clients, trying to establish what they're trying to achieve from a marketing perspective and, from a manufacturing and execution perspective, how we can dovetail into what they need.

"We've been able to excite our employees, excite our customers, and stay youthful and exuberant by embracing new technologies and acquiring new pieces of equipment. The enthusiasm is contagious for anyone who comes into contact with us."

Moving forward, Primary Color sees excellent growth opportunities within the retail and restaurant spaces, as well as other corporations with a franchise base. The Shanghai facility's debut is proof that Primary Color is willing to follow its customers wherever their products and services are needed. The printer has taken great care to ensure that the ways and means of production and strict adherence to quality are uniform across the board, which is a comfort to customers in need of brand consistency.

"Whether we're printing cards or building wraps, there will always be a consistency in how we service our clients—from the quality level that we provide for the final printed piece, to the overall experience in how we manage the customer relationships," Ron Hirt remarks. "Clients trust us. We're a family-owned company, with three brothers fully engaged in all aspects of the business. The trust factor that we've built over the years propels us and enables our company to expand into different services."

In the final analysis, it's all about remaining competitive, according to Randazzo. Primary Color subscribes to a continuous process improvement initiative based on total quality management, Edwards Deming's 14 management principles and ISO standards.

"We need to continuously drive costs out of the equation," Randazzo says. "We need to be the low-cost provider—not the cheapest—to offer savings to our customers and to protect the margins that we're fighting for."

Naturally, in taking care of clients, Primary Color is taking care of itself in the process. "We have a relentless commitment and passion to satisfy our customers," Randazzo adds. "It's difficult to find a company that has the same breadth of products and services as Primary Color."

The Shanghai plant is proof that Primary Color is going places, he concludes. "We think this is the start of something big." PI


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