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BFC Printing -- Treating Clients Like Family

February 2005
by Kristen E. Monte

Associate Editor

The adage, "The customer is always right," may seem a bit outdated, but the core of this mantra is still relevant. At BFC Printing, the philosophy of a customer-driven company proves that this business tactic can still be successful.

Joe Novak Sr. founded BFC Printing in 1974. Novak and his partners began as print brokers, concentrating mainly on financial institutions as their key business. As the banking industry began to feel a squeeze, which coincided with the promotion of Novak Sr.'s sons, BFC Printing began to re-evaluate the focus of its business in the late 1980s.

The Novak family, from the left, includes Matt Novak, general manager; Karen Novak, human resources/accounting manager; Brad Novak, vice president; Joe Novak Sr. (seated), founder; his wife, Pat Novak; and Joe Novak Jr., president.
Joe Novak Jr. filled his father's shoes as president, and his brothers Brad and Matt took over as vice president and general manager, respectively. Their sister Karen filled the role of human resources/ accounting manager. Once the siblings came into power, the first order of business was to immediately assess their client mix.

With a sales focus on the insurance, educational, association and consumer services industries, BFC Printing went to its customers to see where they were headed, and how their needs could be best served.

"Since then, our clients have steered us into integrating a variety of services, including commercial and digital printing, variable data imaging, direct mail services, inventory management, fulfillment and distribution, and online systems management," says Novak Jr. "Over the past 10 years, our clients have made it pretty obvious to us that we needed to incorporate a variety of integrated services if we wanted to stay competitive. We listened and thus our tag line: Integrated print management."

The 100-employee company has been located in the western suburbs of Chicago during its 28-year existence, first in Addison, IL, then in Batavia, IL. With its recent move to another location in Batavia, the company was consolidated into one building, boasting a 120,000-square-foot facility. Included is 15,000 square feet for general offices, a 45,000-square-foot production area, a 50,000-square-foot distribution center and 12 interior docks occupying 10,000 square feet.

When Novak Jr. and his brothers took over, BFC Printing acquired a printing company, Dupage Dupli-Print, and started offering integrated services, which got the company into manufacturing. Although this went against trends in the industry at the time, it was a better way to serve their clients, the brothers felt.

BFC Printing is not market-specific, but Novak Jr. says it's had the greatest success with companies related to the insurance industry. It seeks out companies that have problems with the printing and distribution of their marketing collateral, and tries to solve their issues through integrated services.

From a manufacturing viewpoint, BFC Printing produces commercial sheetfed printing, with equipment options varying from 40˝, multi-color sheetfed presses to a one-color unit.

The company has found a delicate balance between what its clients want and need and where the technology can take them. Novak says that he likes to wait until new technology is proven in the industry and the price has dropped, so it is more economically wise to invest.

"Printing has always been printing; technology has advanced," notes Novak. "Our philosophy is to blend cutting-edge technology with proven technology." It is dangerous to automatically jump into new technology, he adds, because new technology will eventually become a proven technology. There is a right time and a wrong time to do it, according to Novak.

"For example, computer-to-plate technology is a must in our industry," Novak explains. "Once it became proven, we got into a PDF workflow using Agfa Apogee. We've embraced the technology and now we are the Midwestern demo site for Agfa products."

Another hot topic in the industry is color digital printing, and BFC Printing has kept its finger on the pulse. Even so, the customer demand is not yet there, and Novak says that the technology of digital printing equipment is more advanced than the data sophistication of BFC's clients.

He is hoping this will eventually change, once companies begin to realize that customer data needs to be an integral part of their organizations. He adds that there have been some initial inquiries for the new technology. In response, BFC recently purchased its first color digital printing unit—a Canon 5100.

The first half of 2004 was a critical time for BFC Printing. After its move into the new facility in March, new equipment was the next priority. The company purchased a six-color, 40˝ Heidelberg Speedmaster 102 CD+L offset press with coater and extended delivery (shown at left); an Agfa Palladio platesetter to complement its Galileo CTP device; and a variety of bindery and mailing equipment, including folders, stitchers and inserters.

BFC Printing is also bucking the trend of a weak economy and slow industry growth. It has enjoyed a 20-30 percent increase in sales in the past five years and, last year, boasted revenues of $18 million. Novak claims this growth is a result of its larger clients not being effected by the economy. With most of its customers being in the insurance industry, policy and procedure write-ups and forms are always needed as a part of their business.

With the consumer and insurance industry, most of BFC's program sales are generated from products that are integral parts of a company's daily business activity. "They typically need our products and services regardless of market conditions. We don't get into job lot printing, therefore we don't expose ourselves to pricing wars," he explains.

"Our philosophy of integrated print management is what sets us apart from your traditional printer," says Novak. "We listened to our customers and let them determine the direction of our company."

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