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Integracolor Group--Growing a Bountiful Business

September 1998

"We project that our POP operation will grow at a rate of 50 percent per year and will most likely be one of the biggest growth-acquisition decisions we've ever made," King says. "POPCO had direct-to-screen capabilities and will soon be installing a 65x80˝, five-color, in-line screen press. Its vision of focusing on technology, and the importance of that technology in the success of the business, matched our own."


"ASLEEP" isn't the typical description of a 42-year-old, $50 million printing operation. But that's how Larry C. King, president and COO of the IntegraColor Group (formerly Horticultural Printers), fondly described his business...until two years ago, that is.

"We've been referred to as a sleeping giant—but we're not sleeping anymore," says King, comparing the company's steady growth over the past decade (from $15 million in 1988 to $30 million in 1996) to its explosive 57-percent growth over the past two years.

IntegraColor's self-imposed wake-up call came in the form of a "dedicated decision," which was made by the company's management team to expand business at a rate of 16 percent per year beginning in 1996.

The success of meeting—and greatly exceeding—that goal was the jolt IntegraColor needed. Robert Grooms, IntegraColor's vice president of sales, projects that 1999 sales could grow more than 30 percent, adding another $15 million in revenues by the turn of the century.

In the race to grow its business, IntegraColor is setting its own pace with each step it takes. The first step was to update its image in a way that would reflect "the progressive, innovative and high-tech company we are today," says King.

So after 42 years, the company changed its beloved name. In June, Horticultural Printers (HPI) was "recommissioned" the IntegraColor Group.

"One of the ways we decided to grow the business was by growing beyond the HPI name," notes King, emphasizing that the company still uses the name, which is retained as a division under the IntegraColor Group banner. "We believed we had grown on our name as much as we could, and we wanted to dispell the stigma that horticultural printing is all we do. Our other services—commercial printing, Christian schoolbook publishing and point-of-purchase work—make up 60 percent of our business."

To balance out its horticultural business, which is seasonal and lasts only five months, IntegraColor keeps its presses running the other seven months with non-horticultural products.

Through various acquisitions in the '60s and '70s, and technology decisions in the '80s and '90s, the company has expanded its business to include a sheetfed, UV and web offset printing division (company headquarters) in Mesquite, TX; an agricultural and marketing products operation, Horticultural Printers Ltd., with facilities in Mesquite and Daytona Beach, FL; a flexographic tag, label and packaging products division, IntegraColor Label (formerly Phoenix Label), located in Mesquite; and the newest member, POPCO, a point-of-purchase (POP) screen printing and digital imaging operation located in Dallas.

"We project that our POP operation will grow at a rate of 50 percent per year and will most likely be one of the biggest growth-acquisition decisions we've ever made," King says. "POPCO had direct-to-screen capabilities and will soon be installing a 65x80˝, five-color, in-line screen press. Its vision of focusing on technology, and the importance of that technology in the success of the business, matched our own."

With a focus on technology, IntegraColor has some of the most sophisticated and diversified equipment in the world, including two Gerber (now BARCO Graphics) computer-to-plate systems that support Mitsubishi, Komori and Heidelberg presses. IntegraColor's extensive capabilities include direct-to-metal plate and direct-to-screen output, digital imaging and scanning, UV printing, plastics printing, lenticular (3D-motion) printing, up to eight-color printing, in-line booklet and label printing/laminating, etc. It also offers graphic arts design, marketing, professional photography services (including a 50,000-image library) and a full-service bindery.

"Whether it's customer relationships, technology or the services we offer," contends King, "our diversity allows us many strengths off of which to play."

One of the strengths King admires most is the IntegraColor management team's ability to "rise to the challenges"—a quality the company's late founder, Harold Vanberg, tried to instill in his managers all along.

The need for top-quality management skills became essential in 1996, when business expansion was required (rather than simply desired) in order to finance debt from the company's second internal-management buyout.

The first buyout took place in 1988 when Vanberg retired and handpicked seven managers to take over the business. The second occurred in 1996, when all but two partners wanted to retire from the business after "successfully reaching their goals," explains 36-year-old King, who joined the company in 1980 as a pressman, before rising through the ranks to become president and COO. (Henry Skrabanek, who was previously president, was named chairman of the board after the buyout.)

Rising to the expansion challenge, IntegraColor kicked into high gear, further cultivating its niche-rich horticultural field.

"Horticultural work is 40 percent of our business. It's the foundation of our operation and a huge contributor to our success," says Grooms. "It's been a huge niche market for us, and we've never let go of the importance of that niche."

That horticultural niche grew in leaps and bounds when CTP equipment was installed in 1992. "Due to the press-run configurations, we never printed exact reprints. Once you print, you throw the film away," explains King, noting that film is an expensive proposition in any high-volume printing operation.

Company executives knew direct-to-plate technology would be an expensive proposition, too. But it was one the company immediately turned around.

"In the early 1990s, a sales rep tried to sell us a Heidelberg GTO-DI direct-to-press system, one of the first digital presses to come out," King says. "At that time it was extremely expensive, plus it was dedicated to digital, so we couldn't use it for conventional printing.

"We looked at it as a press with an imagesetter on it," he continues. "We already had a conventional four-color GTO press and three imagesetters, along with a typesetting system, which we used in the '80s to do small one-color jobs direct-to-plate. Since we already had the pieces [equipment], all we needed to do was put the pieces together."

And that's exactly what IntegraColor did.

"We took one-color polyester plates and imaged four-color process on them. The very first test was a success," exclaims King. "It was a live job, and we ran it. From that moment on, we've been direct-to-plate. It's been an amazing success for us."

Equally amazing is IntegraColor's success with niche-related markets—an important element of seasonal printing needed to grow business year-round.

"When we expanded into the commercial market in the late '80s and early '90s, we wanted to use the knowledge and technology that we already had to develop new niches," King explains. "For instance, newspaper rack cards. They're printed on plastic and are used outdoors, similar to horticultural products."

Another cross-niche product is POP translights—the plastic signs used on soda fountain dispensers, where non-plastic signs might be ruined from the beverages being dispensed or faded by the lights that illuminate them.

IntegraColor has even developed a new niche with its direct-to-plate technology. Primarily used for sheetfed offset to produce horticultural work, CTP is also being used to produce full-color catalogs for the heatset web offset presses.

This dual use of technology—wherein non-horticultural customers benefit from the technology the horticultural business brings to the table—is a key advantage

IntegraColor has over its competition, King claims.

"Whether its direct-to-plate workflows, UV printing, diecutting or blanking, our non-horticultural customers are using and benefitting from the equipment we utilize for our horticultural business."

With the equipment running year-round, King says his return on investment (ROI) is "more than justified." And each justified ROI enables King to continue investing in the state-of-the-art technology that helps his business grow.

But growing as quickly as it has, the company has experienced a few growing pains. King admits it has been a challenge trying to keep the close-knit environment of a small business, when his company keeps getting bigger and bigger.

Those challenges will most likely resurface again in 1999, when the company plans to hire 100 or so new employees in all areas of operations.

"Our employees are a big part of our success," King affirms. "They're the backbone of the business. We still have our first employee, and she recently completed her 42nd year with the company. We're up to 450 employees now, yet in every department we have people with 15 to 25 years of service, which is pretty amazing in this day and age."

Balancing the small-company feeling with his large-company reality is one of the biggest obstacles King says he faces.

"The two words we use here most often are balance and reality," he says. "We're constantly struggling to integrate the two."

Fortunately for King, integration—be it systems, services or striking a balance with reality—has always been a challenge IntegraColor has been able to meet, allowing the company to grow from a one-room, one-press shop to a four-facility, 22-press operation.

"At IntegraColor, we know where we've been, how we got where we are today, and we have some definite plans for the future," King says.

None of which include sleeping.

IntegraColor Group: In God They Trust

"I believe that we are where we are today partly because of our founder, Harold Vanberg, and his mission and vision," says Larry C. King, president and COO of the IntegraColor Group. "Our mission—to be a company of integrity with trust in God—and our vision—to advance as the world advances, with the only constant to be recognized as a successful company with integrity—have been unspoken, but understood, a long time. And part of our success has come from staying true to that vision and mission all these years."

Recently, the IntegraColor management team decided to put that vision and mission in print...for all the world to see. It's now printed on the back of all IntegraColor corporate business cards and on 3x4-foot posters at the entrance of all four facilities.

"We discussed whether or not in today's business world the mention of God would be controversial," King says, noting that there hasn't been any controversy. In fact, he claims that many customers (and applicants) say they relate to the statements, and even respect and admire them.

"We're very proud of our vision and mission. It's part of our tradition and our success," he says. "We've always been known as a company with integrity, which is one reason we incorporated that word into our name: IntegraColor.

"Integrity means trying to always do the right thing."

And that's exactly what IntegraColor does—for customers and for its employees.

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