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Allied Printing Services: Success Is Always in Style

May 2013 By Erik Cagle, senior editor
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Like wood grain paneling, leg warmers and pagers, the family-owned commercial printing business appears to be a treasured trend from another generation. Or, perhaps that is just the perception. Another popular belief among industry followers is that printers aren't investing in new technology.

For your consideration, we offer Allied Printing Services of Manchester, CT, a thriving, family-owned establishment that has experienced sufficient growth to sustain a remarkable capital expenditure initiative during the past few years. With more than 60 years under its belt, the firm appears poised to tackle the next 60 head on, according to John Sommers, company CEO.

"I feel fortunate that I can pass my business on to my son, as my father did with my brother, sister and I," he says. "It's highly rewarding."

This second- and third-generation commercial and financial printing specialist has a different approach to the modern printing business "wait and see" capital equipment investment strategy, because it has embarked on a rather impressive campaign to bolster its printing and finishing divisions. Suffice to say, growth will never go out of style.

The additions are staggering, led by an eight-color, 41˝ KBA Rapida 106 sheetfed offset press equipped with a revolver coater and SIS (no side guide). A five-color HP Indigo 5600 with white ink kit joined the fold this past January. Four new Canon ImagePRESS C7010VP color digital presses grace an overhauled digital division, along with an HP Scitex grand-format inkjet printer and an HP latex wide-format machine.

Allied's Grande Bindery

In the postpress area—where Allied boasts one of New England's largest binderies at 85,000 square feet—the company has obtained a DC-745 slitter/cutter/creaser from Duplo USA and a Bobst folder/gluer. It pays to be competitive here, according to Sommers, not to mention versatile and buoyed by redundancies.

"There are so many different ways that jobs finish today, from diecutting to folding, gluing, film lamination, spiral binding—an enormous offering," he says. "You have to do a little bit of each and be good at it. It seems like all our customers have a different thought in mind when they're looking to make their product unique."

As for its clients, Allied Printing addresses banking and financial, along with the needs of retail, pharmaceutical, manufacturing, educational, not-for-profit and direct mail marketers. Its products range from point-of-purchase (POP) displays to envelopes, brochures, magazines, catalogs, annual reports, financial printing and SCC filings. Its pharmaceutical clientele have guided Allied in the direction of dimensional printing, according to President John Sommers Jr. That has opened the door to packaging pieces that could house a CD, credit cards and other inserts.

"We're doing a lot of value-added finishing services from lamination, diecutting, insertion, folding/gluing, construction, kitting and distribution," Sommers Jr. says. "It's important for us to fulfill our customers' needs."

The firm's horizontal growth has been sparked by branching out into fulfillment, pick-and-pack distribution, mailing, Web-to-print digital storefronts and digital integration. Print is the primary driver, but it is still only part of the overall mix. And it is not in danger of shrinking in share at Allied Printing.

Arguably the biggest fish that Allied Printing netted from its trip to drupa one year ago was the KBA Rapida 106 press with onboard register and color control. It was a simple case of needing more capacity to support the sheetfed offset department, according to Sommers Jr. The Rapida had really stepped up to the plate with marked improvements in speed (20,000 sph), efficiencies and makeready. Like the printer itself, the press spoke to the need of addressing a variety of needs.

"A press that could run substrates anywhere from 40-lb. text to 48-pt. board was really critical to us because of the nature of our business," Sommers Jr. remarks. "The versatility was very important to us."

One of the mechanical selling points on the Rapida (which went live last December) is its revolver coater, which strikes a balance between the amount of coating used relative to the weight of the sheet on a given job. It helps to eliminate waste, while providing the optimal degree of coating.

The lack of a mechanical side guide is what enables the press to reach the 20,000 sph rated mark, as the press was re-engineered on how it receives paper. The makeready time and speed factors, the elder Sommers points out, won out in the end, though the chief exec does value the family aspect of KBA and sees many similarities between the core values of the two companies.

"When you buy a press," he notes, "it's like you're marrying that company."

The ImagePRESS units represented one of the few replacement scenarios for Allied Printing, primarily because the tires were destined to fall off the incumbent ImagePRESS machines. According to Sommers Jr., two of their three 7000s had more clicks than any other Canon, nationwide. Overwhelming growth has marked the past five years, backed by customers leveraging their data and the proliferation of direct mail campaigns.

"The Indigo is opening up a whole new market for short-run, boutique, offset-quality printing," Sommers Jr. says. "The Indigo 5600 complements our extensive digital offerings."

Addressing the Big Picture

The move into wide- and grand-format printing took place six years ago, after Allied Printing was approached by some of its core customers who expressed an interest in such work. It was a total paradigm shift for a printer that was used to examining work under a loupe. The challenge was that clients wanted the printer to match colors across multiple production platforms, not an easy task when one's being asked to print on a variety of substrates. Both of the HP printers were scouted at drupa and installed late last summer.

If that weren't enough, the company is also in the process of fully implementing its EFI Monarch MIS system. The plethora of capex outlays comes with risks, as do most expenditures that require major commitments. Sommers points out that while there really aren't any economic conditions that can tolerate a "mistake purchase," today's financial environment is perhaps less forgiving of all. That is why Sommers & Son frequent major shows including drupa and Graph Expo/Print, spend countless hours poring over information and Websites, and soak up as much knowledge as possible—to become that one-stop source for customers.

"We like to offer our customers the ability to one-stop shop for all their printing needs," Sommers Jr. relates.

The company boasts an environmental accountability program that rises above most in the printing industry. Its Allied Green Earth Printing is a registered trademark, and its logo signifies a number of environmental measuring sticks, from FSC certification to its use of certified soy inks and the fact that Allied Printing uses 50 percent wind-generated energy, which it buys off the electric grid at a premium.

Sommers Jr. notes that a Fortune 50 customer did an analysis of the printer's carbon footprint impact on the environment. Allied was found to have a negative carbon footprint; impressive in any industry, but particularly for one that—given its use of paper, plates, ink and press chemistry—is not generally synonymous with green manufacturing.

The company is well-positioned for future success. Its employee ranks offer that can-do attitude that is generally identified with family-owned businesses. Not many shops can boast having a pair of 87-year-old workers, including John Sommers' mother, Betina (co-founder of Allied) and Robert McCann, executive vice president/treasurer, who started with Allied in 1970. John's daughter, Rachel, is also in the fold after having worked in the advertising industry.

Allied Printing is bullish on the future, given its recent hiring of 10 new sales positions in a period when many firms are contracting. Following the customer-centric mantra and choosing like-minded partners will go a long way toward determining its success down the road.

"We'll stand by our product every day of the week," Sommers concludes. "My father, John F. Sommers, founded the company in 1949 with the philosophy of service and a can-do attitude. Our tagline is 'You can relax because Allied doesn't.' We continue that philosophy today." PI


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