Concord Litho : Sweet Smell Of SuccessOctober 2009 By Erik Cagle
PART OF the challenge that confronts printers in 2009—economy aside—is not only selling potential clients on the quality of their production, but also the value of print itself as opposed to its electronic alternatives. What ultimately brings buyers back to the printed piece is its versatility and the tactile experience that triggers an emotional response.
Well, at least one printer has figured out a way to leverage more of the senses in order to take its game to another level. Concord Litho, the pride of the New Hampshire town that bears its name, has captured more than 50 awards in the past three years from entries in various worldwide printing contests.
Augmenting the powerful designs and superior printing jobs from this independent web and sheetfed printer, in some cases, is a breath of fresh air in the form of chocolate, fresh-cut grass, popcorn, Oreo cookies and pickles. Yes, pickles.
While scratch-n-sniff technology has been available for quite some time—and recipients of fashion magazines have long been hit with a ton of bricks from the excessive aromas emanating from perfume zip strips—Concord Litho has built the better mousetrap with the use of Scentisphere scented varnishes. The advertisements produced with these varnishes have generated superior response rates, likely because they add a new element to the enjoyment of print.
"Scented inks let the customer bring a different dimension into their marketing," notes Peter Cook, CEO of Concord Litho. "Studies show that people can retain and respond to scent differently from other aspects of a marketing campaign. It's an inexpensive way to apply scent to a piece; since you have to rub it to activate and reactivate, it adds an interactive element and lets the consumer control the experience."
The scents have been a runaway hit—the company offers clients an "idea kit" to flesh out their own possibilities. Some of Concord Litho's award-winning ideas include dill pickle-scented Shrek Valentine's Day cards, a chocolatey burst for a "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory" DVD insert, as well as a Laugh-n-Sniff interactive scent card in TV Guide tied to a television episode of "My Name is Earl."
The beauty of scents is that they are not relegated to any one subsection of print customers. Tom Cook, president of Concord Litho and leader of its fundraising division, says the successes that their commercial customers are having with scent marketing led the company to suggest it as an option for its nonprofit clients.
One prominent nonprofit organization achieved a 24 percent response rate by adding peppermint-scented greeting cards to its fundraising package, and Concord Litho is constantly testing new inks, formats, equipment and ideas in its quest to provide the best possible response rates for all its customers.
"We go across our entire customer base; if we have success with one, then we look at clients in similar markets," he states. "We have customers who are adventurous and like to try new things."
In that sense, Concord and its customers are birds of a feather. This is a printer that is innovative in its own right, having patented the CoverSleeve, which essentially allows for magazine advertising in a typically taboo place: the front cover. Cover one contains a paper pocket with a small perforated thumb-tab that allows ads to be housed, literally, by the front page. One of Concord Litho's clients conducted its own study, which revealed that 70 percent of readers interact with and remember the format.
The Concord Litho CoverSleeve has appeared on the covers or inside the pages of many national publications, including Prevention, Entertainment Weekly, Reader's Digest and National Geographic. Its patent also covers using this invention as an advertising insert.
The company recently added additional in-line contour diecutting capabilities to its web presses. Peter Cook notes that shaped and pop-up pieces have been boosting response in recent tests.
"Some existing customers or prospects might be intrigued by a CoverSleeve with a scent," he says. "Or perhaps it's a special diecut that they can use. There are lots of products in our bag of tricks that we can offer our clientele."
Concord Litho has been rolling out its bag of tricks for 50 years, and the contents of said bag are constantly evolving. In its early years, the company focused its efforts on strictly long-run, sheetfed greeting card production. As that market segment gradually shifted overseas, Concord Litho found other ways to address the needs of its nonprofit donors in search of fundraising campaigns (though greeting cards are still a primary premium) and invested in new equipment to serve its growing commercial base.
Today, Concord Litho—powered by 170 full-time employees, who help churn out $42 million in annual sales—assists large charities with their direct mail fundraising efforts, from strategic consulting to content development (greeting cards, calendars, gift wrap, etc.). The printer even hired an in-house strategist to help charities better analyze their direct mail results.
"This also enables us to grade ourselves on the types of packages that we develop for clients. That analyst will gauge the results of our own packages, and show us where we can get a lift over previous mailings," Peter Cook remarks.
Overall, the company's commercial division supports the commercial heatset web printing needs of its national clients, providing direct mail, magazine inserts, brochures, posters and point-of-purchase (POP) signage for retailers, publishers, marketers and advertising agencies. It operates four Harris M-110 webs (two of which are configured as double webs) capable of up to 10 colors perfecting, and a six-color Harris M-1000 perfector.
Retail direct mail is a prominent space for Concord, which has concentrated recent capital expenditures on enhancing its in-line personalization capabilities. A new Kodak Versamark DS6240 ink-jet printing system is the centerpiece of a $2 million initiative completed in late 2008 for the in-line imaging of direct mail. The personalization and segmentation of client campaigns, combined with response tracking tools such as barcodes and coupons, help measure the effectiveness of the mailings.
"Our Versamark system is capable of 240 dpi resolution, so we're running a high resolution in a pressroom environment at press speeds up to 1,000 fpm," Peter Cook adds. "We don't experience any slowdown on our web press because the imaging end can keep up with the press speeds. The ability to address a piece in-line, which is then ready to enter the mail stream after coming off the press, takes a lot of time out of the equation."
Over the course of this decade, Concord Litho has invested $20 million in the facility and its equipment. The biggest change in that time is probably the addition of a bindery and kitting operation, including two Polar cutters, Heidelberg folders, and McCain and Heidelberg saddle–stitchers. A seven-color, 64˝ KBA Rapida 162 sheetfed press was also added to better serve POP clients, and the customer lounges and prepress areas were rebuilt and modernized in 2008.
"Historically, we didn't have our own bindery because there were always trade binderies nearby; we actually rent space in our facility to a trade bindery and mail shop," he adds. "But, as turn times got tighter and customers needed campaigns to get done quicker, we acquired our own equipment to have more control over quality and the need to get projects out the door a lot sooner."
Concord Litho's quest for accuracy, if not perfection, has also led it to become a G7 Master Printer, the ultimate passing grade for color consistency. The printer bills itself as one of only 30 firms in the United States with sheetfed and web certification. For those customers whose need for dead-on color replication, and especially those who rely on multiple print suppliers, G7 status provides that peace of mind.
In the age of green initiatives, Concord has managed to stay ahead of the curve, as well. Earlier this year, it was one of the first organizations to sign the Direct Marketing Association's (DMA) Green 15 Supplier Pledge, which supports the association's efforts to eliminate one million metric tons of carbon emissions by 2013. A Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) and Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI) certified facility, Concord Litho also boasts several in-house recycling and energy-reduction programs aimed at stemming its impact on the environment, according to Peter Cook.
"Small Printer" Feel
Going forward, Tom Cook notes that the company will be ushering in new lettershop and mailing capabilities. It all comes back to Concord Litho's desire to increase response rates and simplify its workflow, in the same vein as the addition of bindery services. The fundraising division will continue to be a big part of the printer's future, and the on-site strategist lets Concord take a more consultative tact with its client base.
The company takes great pride in its small-printer accessibility/large printer capability. "We focus on doing everything we can to offer our customers the best possible experience," Tom Cook concludes. "It sounds cliché, but I think we truly live by that standard." PI