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Beechmont Press--The Ink Inquisition

October 1999
You say your shop wants to improve reproduction quality to land more high-end work, but you're not sure you can afford it? Well, the people at Beechmont Press, a mid-sized, Louisville, KY-based printer, say you probably can't afford not to.

After making a firm commitment to quality improvement, Beechmont put its production methods and materials under the microscope, and managed, quite profitably, to capture its own high-end slice of the market.

Beginning with the obvious, Beechmont management focused on equipment. They installed a five-color, 40˝ Speedmaster, and they gave their conventional prepress an electronic makeover. But along with high-performance equipment purchases, they developed a simple theory: No matter how great a machine was supposed to be, the management team reasoned, if it wasn't running with top-notch materials, then reproduction quality would still be compromised.

Well, what else to do with a theory, but test it? That's exactly what Beechmont did.

Instead of buying consumables on reputation or price alone, the company spent some time and money performing tests on them. Methods varied—some tests were tightly controlled, all-day affairs, others simply involved occasional switches between competing products.

The results? Beechmont not only improved reproduction quality and attracted work it never could before, but the company decreased operating costs, too.

Here's how Beechmont's management team discovered that testing can really pay...and why other printers should, too.

Owners Dennis and David Watkins recount Beechmont's early, less quality-obsessed days, describing how their father Dale founded the company as a supplemental hobby—one that supplemented the family's kitchen table, that is.

In 1961, Dale Watkins bought a 73-year-old letterpress and operated it in his garage, producing grocery store handbills in exchange for—what else?—groceries! With the help of his wife and sons, the operation grew steadily and soon began receiving cash for its services.

Today, Beechmont is a thriving, three-shift operation boasting $16 million in annual sales, 140 employees and several Heidelbergs—a pair of two-color 40˝ units; two four-color units, one 25˝ and one 28˝; and two five-color units, a 29˝ and a 40˝.

In the last eight years, Beechmont's appetite for high-quality work has grown, along with increasing offers for exactly those kinds of jobs. One commercial broker, in particular, kept tempting the printer with such higher quality projects, but try as they may, the Beechmont team couldn't produce them.

What printing gremlin lurked within the production line? Plant Manager Steve Stahl summarizes the problem: "We got a lot of grief over dot gain—we couldn't get it any better than 30 percent, so we couldn't match color proofs."
 

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