AMP Printing: Finding the Happy MediumOctober 2013 By Erik Cagle, Senior Editor
It seems Jeff Main has stumbled onto a somewhat simplistic philosophy that, quite frankly, makes one wonder why more printers haven't developed their own game plans around the mantra subscribed to by the co-owner of Dublin, CA-based AMP Printing. The philosophy? Make customers happy.
Sure, it's easier said than done. Everyone wants to satisfy their clients and keep them coming back, certainly. But how many purveyors of print-related services are willing to make the investments—be it time, money, research, testing, or trial and error—in order to make the quest a reality. And Main has definitely committed himself to playing a role in that regard.
In case you haven't noticed during the past 10 years, it's a lot more difficult to be happy in a business environment where the default setting is, at best, guarded. Which makes the 20-plus percent growth in each of the past two years at the 95,000-square-foot, Bay Area shop and its investment in major production-enhancement tools—not to mention the Beta testing of game-changing technologies—all the more impressive.
"If the customer is satisfied with our pricing, service and quality, they walk away smiling, thinking 'You did a great job,' " Main observes. "That creates positive reinforcement to our sales team. Our production employees are happy, too, because they're busy running jobs on productive, efficient equipment that doesn't break down. It creates a positive environment, and that's a measure of success. It's a very infectious feeling when you work for that type of company, because it shows pride in the product."
Located east of San Francisco, AMP Printing has reached the $24 million sales mark by producing marketing materials for a number of sectors (including retail, financial, universities, insurance and Silicon Valley), and recent investments may help the firm reach the $30 million mark within the next few years. Brochures, direct mail, signage, point-of-purchase/point-of-sale (POP/POS), packaging and variable data output are among its core offerings.
Enjoying a Grand Time
This commercial shop migrated into grand-format digital printing five years ago and augmented that offering recently with the purchase earlier this year of an eight-color (and triple white), 3.2 meter-wide EFI VUTEk HS100 Pro UV printer with roll-to-roll capabilities. It complements an existing eight-color (and double white) VUTEk GS3200 printer that can handle rigid or roll substrates.
The company's grand-format division is capable of printing on a variety of substrates, including vinyl, canvas, fabrics, board, rigid plastics and sheet metal. AMP Printing manufactures impressive pieces destined for wall graphics, vehicle wraps, trade show graphics and various signage. It also furnishes customers with portable pop-up booths with walls and sales tables.
The opportunity to move into grand-format digital printing was sparked by the suggestion of a salesperson who told Main that AMP Printing could sell deeper within existing client organizations in need of that type of output. The fact grand-format digital printing technology was moving from solvent-based printing to UV also made the decision easier for Main.
"I wasn't a big believer in solvent; I didn't like the environmental aspect of it," he says. "We were already running UV inks on our Heidelberg sheetfed presses, and it was more environmentally friendlier than solvent. We looked at the opportunity and agreed it was a good time to get into grand-format capabilities. And the new VUTEk printer is amazing, a very fast machine. We have to work hard to keep up with it."
The same is true for AMP's new Heidelberg press. Obtaining the 10-color, 41˝ Speedmaster XL 106—which boasts 5/5 perfecting, aqueous and UV double coaters, and Prinect press control—in early 2013 was a considerable coup for AMP Printing, which previously relied on a six-color, 40˝ Speedmaster CD press and a six-color, 28˝ Speedmaster perfector. Main sees both the new EFI and Heidelberg machines as creating distinct points of differentiation for his 90-employee firm. AMP is also GRAcoL 7 certified to ensure color consistency across its digital and lithographic output platform.
"The XL 106 is revolutionary, because it's so much faster than other presses when it comes to makereadies," he says. "That allows us to be way ahead of the competition when it comes to the pricing of a job, our productivity and getting more jobs done per day. The combination of our new XL 106 press and our HS100 Pro printer are second to none."
What makes the Heidelberg XL 106 revolutionary is that it offers speed increases of eight to 10 times faster than other equipment available in the market, according to Main. The next revolution may be closer than we realize, as AMP Printing is serving as a Beta site for EFI's SmartSign Analytics, a budding technology that uses Webcams to capture, collect and evaluate data in regards to signage readership.
New Analytics Era Approaches
SmartSign provides a snapshot of retail customers; figuratively, anyway, as it doesn't take or keep a picture. The system automatically detects gender, approximate age and reveals how long retail customers spend examining a given display. This, in turn, allows marketers to gauge the effectiveness and ROI of their campaigns and, ultimately, better market their products. The technology is expected to be rolled out in the coming months.
"It's about knowing who your target market is, and designing your signage to attract that demographic," notes Kathy Main, president and co-owner, along with husband, Jeff. "Sign analytics will be critical to achieving highly effective advertising and marketing campaigns. It's not difficult and it's not expensive. If you want to test three comps in a given market, for example, SmartSign tells you which promotion is more effective."
The company actually began life in 1979, when Jeff and his father, Lew, hung out the shingle as an ad agency/marketing services company that offered a small amount of printing. Disappointingly, the Mains soon discovered that quality and service were in short supply from a printing point of view, so they transformed AMP from a firm that largely purchased printing to one that manufactured it.
It wasn't long before the Mains discovered that they could build their assets via buyouts of other companies. In 34 years, AMP Printing has completed five deals that netted it equipment, new printing techniques and talented employees. When customers began asking for letterpress work, the Mains obtained an existing provider. Likewise, the Mains located a strong kitting and fulfillment business in the Bay Area a few months ago.
Little by little, AMP Printing has enhanced its position, forging a diverse and impressive prepress, small-format digital, grand-format digital, letterpress, bindery, finishing and kitting, warehousing and delivery departments. The company still produces a significant amount of litho work and the letterpress department fills the 40˝ capacity.
Dedicated Demo Space for Displays
AMP Printing also has a dedicated point-of-purchase demo area to help show clients how a display will look prior to rollout. The mock-up is produced and pictures are taken to give clients a better feel for how the piece will appear.
Jeff Main is quick to point out that he boasts a talented employee base that is without peer, but underscores the importance of putting the proper tools in the hands of those workers. When the economy is under-performing, the cost of overhead increases and profit levels decrease, he notes, causing many companies take a wait-and-see approach to making capital investments. AMP Printing, on the other hand, seeks to not only acquire the equipment necessary to better serve its clients, but to invest in only the very best gear that is available on the market.
"When we look at purchasing new equipment, it must be able to produce the very best quality available," Jeff Main says. "We don't consider any equipment that isn't the industry leader in terms of both quality and automation. To attract my attention, it has to enable our employees to be more productive. We need to be able to produce more product per day without added staffing requirements. Our new Heidelberg and EFI equipment satisfies those requirements perfectly."
The satisfaction factor also extends to Jeff Main on a personal level. He's been blessed to have spent 27 years married to Kathy, and to have worked alongside her for 28 years. Jeff continues to consult with his father, Lew, who at age 80 has been retired for 18 years. The Mains share a healthy vision for the future of the company, both from a short- and long-term perspective.
"Even though it's still difficult economically, there's going to be a turnaround and printers need to be prepared for those better times to come," he says. "We're growing our company today in anticipation of a brighter future tomorrow." PI