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The Bureau : (Grand)Mother of Diversity

February 2011 By Erik Cagle
Senior Editor
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In late 2010, Minneapolis-based commercial printer The Bureau was officially recognized with Women's Business Enterprise Certification (WBENC) as a woman-owned, operated and controlled business. For anyone familiar with the back story of The Bureau—and its century-plus span of female involvement—it hardly comes as news.

That's not a knock against the leadership of Chairwoman and CEO Lynne Alexander, who presided over a 15 percent growth spurt last year, at a time when many companies were declaring victory with flat year-over-year growth. On the contrary, Alexander has positioned the 113-year-old firm well for the future, backed by a $7 million capital expenditure initiative that includes a six-color, 73˝ manroland 900 XXL large-format sheetfed press with in-line aqueous coater as its centerpiece.

Truth be known, The Bureau is The Forerunner in diversity. Alexander's great-grandmother, Henrietta Buckbee, loaned money to the company (The Bureau of Engraving) at the turn of the 20th century. In fact, she sold her jewels to provide capital for the firm at the time of its incorporation. Thus, Mrs. Buckbee was one of the largest shareholders in the company nearly 20 years before women had even gained the right to vote.

No Hiring Quotas

According to Alexander, incorporating a progressive workforce with females and minorities was never a contrived or trendy decision. The majority of board members are female, and a majority of the seven new management positions and nine new employee hires are females/minorities. Even so, the progressive staff is naturally occurring as opposed to a targeted quota.

"We're fortunate to hire the best talent and then hang on to them," she says. "We foster an environment that The Bureau is a good place to work, so we attract top candidates, male or female, regardless of race."

Patrick Stuart, vice president of marketing, notes that he has had mostly female managers throughout his career. "Our company has always had a strong, diverse presence in the workplace and really bucked the trend of the printing industry as a heavily male-dominated environment," he says.

That the company is now in its sixth generation of ownership, and still thriving as a printing concern, is a major coup on two counts. It has long been said that any company that has been able to endure decades of sometimes tumultuous fiscal and technological upheaval has earned that right by not clinging tightly to tradition. What's tried and true is a moving target, and The Bureau is no exception as it has carefully mapped out and diagnosed the evolving needs of its customers and the means used to effectively reach that end-user base.

Tucked along the banks of the mighty Mississippi River, the 125-employee printing aspect of The Bureau (which has a second well-known division, the Art Instruction Schools) approaches $25 million in annual revenues by providing marketing and large-format, point-of-purchase collateral for the retail and label/packaging markets.

Its retail clients include many of the big-box chain stores, automotive, liquor and banking markets. The Bureau also prides itself with the ability to manufacture displays and signage on a wide variety of substrates.

While Alexander's direct involvement in daily operations dates back to her being named to her current roles in early 2010 (she has been a board member for 25 years), her 20-plus years of experience in the retail sector provide the company with unique perspective in that highly-competitive market. Still, she contends that market savvy has long enabled The Bureau to enjoy a leading position.

Responding to Retailers

"Quality and competitive pricing were basically our mantras," Alexander says. "We determined it was vital to keep production in-house. It provides control over schedules and quality, and it helps us to ensure on-time deliveries.

"Retailers, more than other markets, work on short lead times as to what types of displays and promotions they're going to use. It's a fast-changing industry, and many customers come to us with the impossible job—impossible from a delivery or production standpoint. We love those jobs and we're positioned to help solve the impossible."

One of the keys to solving that 'impossible job,' according to Stuart, is a lack of the traditional obstacles that can muddle the process. "There aren't the typical layers you see in a manufacturing process to slow things down," he says. "Once that ball starts rolling, there's nothing to stand in the way of us moving mountains to get a customer's job out the door."

The newest member of the mountain movers is The Bureau's sparkling new Roland 900 XXL, which complements a six-color, 64˝ KBA Rapida 162 press with coater in the large-format division (an eight-color Komori Lithrone with coater handles the shop's 40˝ work). The Bureau's board studied the prospect of adding another large-format press and, despite the less-than-ideal economic climate, felt the increased capacity and larger format would enable the company to hit the optimum size for in-store signage.

"In the retail space, 48˝ is the magic number," Stuart notes. "Almost every sign we do is somewhere in that neighborhood. The Roland 900 XXL's 51˝ throat and 73˝ side gave us far more sheet to work with to print signs multiple-up."

Alexander adds that the press enabled The Bureau to become the first Twin Cities printer to have in-line color control for that format size. She also claims the 900 XXL is the first of its kind in Minneapolis-St. Paul. In the end, press speeds, faster makereadies and high quality—the desired press hallmarks—made Alexander a big fan of the 900 XXL.

Other gear included in the $7 million project were a Kodak Magnus platesetter and a Young Shin diecutter. Additional investments are still being explored, according to both Alexander and Stuart.

Large-format printing is not the only growth area for The Bureau. It is focusing a lot of attention on its marketing and digital services—campaign analytics, database management, marketing automation, personalized URLs (PURLs), Quick Response (QR) codes, tiny URL services, variable data printing on two Kodak NexPress S3000 digital presses and more. Bringing more measurement tools to clients for their marketing endeavors allows The Bureau to paint an accurate end-user portrait.

Measuring Campaign ROI

"Print is under assault. Every single day, we're struggling to justify why someone should print something," Stuart maintains. "The essence of marketing services is measuring the success of our clients' efforts. A lot of printers are afraid to ask their customers, 'Did that piece work for you? What kind of results did you get?'

"There's a fundamental change in technology that's allowed the playing field to be slightly leveled when it comes to the Internet," he adds. "Technologies like PURLs, QR codes and tiny URLs help us to gather information and calculate the return on investment of various marketing campaigns."

QR codes, in particular, seem to be garnering a lot of buzz. In leveraging this technology, The Bureau can provide "actionable" information to customers about which signage is attracting the most eyeballs, according to Stuart. In this regard, it's the signs—as opposed to the individuals—that are being tracked. It is advertising effectiveness or ineffectiveness, not individual preferences, that can aid in a client's decision-making process. In a nutshell, it's measuring for success.

"One of the biggest challenges in looking at the marketing services side of things is the willingness to agree that print might not be the best option, and letting the statistics and data drive us to the best results," he says.

Looking ahead, Alexander is more than a little optimistic about the future of The Bureau, especially its ability to continue attracting the best and brightest talent, which will appreciate the WBENC status and overall progressive agenda. This includes continuous improvement, solidifying The Bureau's role in the retail community, and advancing its marketing and digital services platform.

And, while six generations is far beyond the normal lifespan of a family-owned company, Alexander doesn't see The Bureau going away anytime soon. Nor is her retirement in the offing.

"We're very proud of what we've achieved so far," she concludes. "We also measure success via the continuity with satisfied customers and shareholders, not to mention our employees and suppliers. We work to balance the demands of all of them." PI


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