Pictorial Offset: Putting the Sun to WorkNovember 2013 By Erik Cagle, Senior Editor
What's on your roof? Pose that question to the managing partners of Carlstadt, NJ-based Pictorial Offset, and the answer is quite simple.
Dollar signs and a better environment.
Well, technically the correct answer is solar panels. But make no mistake about it, the leadership trio of brothers Donald, Gary and Lester Samuels are not content just to leverage the strength of their "Design to Destination" prowess as a commercial printer. Their outside-the-box thinking didn't stray very far. Call it an atop-the-box philosophy.
"We had been studying solar panels for almost five years," notes Donald Samuels. "It makes for good business sense. In late 2011, we decided to start implementing the project. It entailed a combination of re-roofing the two buildings—including a white roof because it reflects heat in the summer—and the engineering of panels."
Pictorial Offset turned to Solis Partners, of Manasquan, NJ, to orchestrate the project. Solis designed, engineered and constructed the 2,968-panel system that, so far, has reduced Pictorial's electric bill by 40 percent. Touted as the largest solar panel installation by any commercial printing company in the United States, the installation has (at press time) generated 1.15 million kWh since the installation, enough to power 1,255 houses for a month.
In all, the solar panel system's output will match the reduction of more than 1.189 million pounds of carbon dioxide emissions during the life of the system. Thus, if one's motivation is environmental responsibility, the financial bottom line or both, the solar photovoltaic route has something for everyone.
The system cost about $4 million in all, though the return on investment (ROI) is somewhat complex to compute, according to Donald Samuels. It was financed, in part, by Public Service Electric and Gas (PSE&G) and will be repaid through Solar Renewable Energy Credits (SRECs), which is New Jersey's state subsidy for green power. Additionally, Pictorial took advantage of the Section 1603 cash grants in lieu of tax credits for renewable energy offered through 2012 under the American Recovery & Reinvestment Act.
"Basically, we believe that the amortization of the loan will be paid off in about 11 years," he says.
An Era of Change
The previous 11 or so years were also marked by change at Pictorial Offset. The company has evolved significantly since the 21st century got under way, broadening the solution set it offers clients. One of the strongest examples of this was the 2001 debut of Pictorial Mailworks, which handles data processing, mailing and fulfillment.
"We were able to offer our clients full-service solutions to problems or inefficiencies in their businesses by being able to process their products, mail them and get them to market faster than anybody else could," Donald Samuels remarks. "For example, when a large automotive client started offering zero percent financing, we were able to start mailing their campaign within 24 hours of receiving the artwork."
Pictorial Offset certainly has come a long way since it was taken over in 1938 by Harry Samuels in lieu of a debt payment. Today, two buildings, totaling 200,000 square feet, play host to its 150-plus employees. The firm's sales were skewed in 2012 due to Hurricane Sandy (see sidebar)—a storm that tested the mettle of Pictorial Offset's leadership and employee ranks.
Although the company serves a number of market verticals, some of Pictorial's larger market sets include pharmaceutical (it manufactured roughly 185 million package inserts in 2012), telecommunications, health and beauty, cosmetics and insurance. Pictorial provides specialized products for most of the sectors. On the telecom end, the printer produces B2C materials ranging from free-standing inserts to mailers and personalized post cards. For cosmetics and the health/beauty space, Pictorial runs a large-scale sampling program. It also provides tip-on product samples that can be delivered to magazines for product inserts or given out as samples in retail stores.
Pictorial Offset is not only a poster child for printing industry environmental sustainability, it has the certifications to back it up. The company was reportedly the first printer in the world to receive dual ISO certifications for 9001 (quality) and 14001 (environmental) in 1998. It is also chain-of-custody certified by both the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) and Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI), and was among the earliest printers to garner those distinctions, as well.
Keeping Data Safe
Lester Samuels believes ISO certifications go a long way toward providing peace of mind for customers. "In addition to our long-standing quality and environmental certifications, the ISO 27001 certification we received last year provides our clients with the knowledge that we have a formal program with concrete procedures to protect their data. Pictorial is cognizant of the issues that would be created if their data was used in unauthorized ways. Pictorial will do whatever it takes to protect our clients' intellectual property."
In 2010, Pictorial Offset was honored by the IDEAlliance for its 25 years of sustainable practices with the Luminaire Award for Innovation in Environmental Stewardship. It was named a Green Power Partner by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and was also lauded for being carbon neutral through the Go Zero program of The Conservation Fund. Pictorial has been honored by other organizations for its earth-friendly initiatives, and its leadership speaks on the subject of sustainability at various industry events. After all, this is also the company that sponsored the planting of more than 5,000 trees in southern New Jersey several years back to offset the carbon footprint of its operations.
Donald Samuels recalls that when Pictorial headed down the ISO certification road in the 1990s, part of the motivation was provided by "push back" from some of the printer's biggest clients. "Consequently, we started using our third-party certifications to help differentiate ourselves and help prove that we do what we say. Today, every RFI and RFQ that we receive from large corporations asks about certifications. It's become almost a given that you will be certified, in some degree, to even be considered."
From an equipment standpoint, Pictorial Offset—which operates a mixture of manroland and Mitsubishi sheetfed offset presses, and Goss and Harris half- and full-web iron—has focused its capex investments in recent years on postpress and digital printing equipment, including a Xerox iGen4 color digital press. Some money was also dedicated toward computers, servers and other gear to process specialized offerings, products like sample mailings.
According to Gary Samuels, the company has dedicated itself to multi-purpose automatic assembly lines that tip, glue and fold, integrated with mailing equipment that allows it to place finished product directly into the mail stream.
"We bought a Heidelberg stitcher with inspection cameras for cGMP (current Good Manufacturing Practices), as well as additional mailing and inkjet equipment," Lester Samuels notes.
Hurricane Sandy cost Pictorial Offset several million dollars in facility and equipment repairs—"It turns my stomach thinking about it," Donald Samuels admits—and has stymied more significant expenditures in the short-term.
Once the company's situation gets back to normal, or something closely resembling its pre-storm state, Pictorial Offset will be targeting the addition of sophisticated digital web presses in order to facilitate one-to-one marketing. By getting more targeted printed materials into the hands of the right consumer, Pictorial will enable clients to reap a stronger marketing ROI.
"Building upon our existing data collection and analysis capabilities will improve our ability to measure campaign results and provide tools for our clients to track the ROI of their projects on a more granular basis," Gary Samuels notes.
Speaking of strength, Samuels notes that the employee base truly stepped to the plate in the days, weeks and months following Hurricane Sandy. Most of the mainstream media focused on following the fortunes of small boardwalk businesses like pizzerias and other staples of the shore. After all, you don't need a Bruce Spring-steen album to appreciate how much the beach and boardwalk mean to the state of New Jersey.
Meanwhile, larger businesses like Pictorial Offset, which employ about 50 times as many people as the run-of-the-mill cheese-steak/sub shop, got no love and no help from the state. Fortunately, the employees at Pictorial rose to the occasion and worked around-the-clock to help get their company back on its feet. Some did so even with their own disasters waiting for them at home. One mechanic saw his Staten Island property severely damaged, and he would log 12-hour days at Pictorial, then return home to spend more hours trying to get his own living space back in order. Sleep, suffice to say, took a back seat for quite a while.
"The key was our employees' attitudes. They would come up to me on the shop floor and tell me, 'It's our company, too,' " Gary Samuels concludes. "There have been a lot of heroes at Pictorial during our rebuilding process."PI