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JAPS-OLSON -- Service With a Smile

June 2002

Want a free lesson in time management? Swipe Robert E. Murphy's appointment book. Most people in the commercial printing industry know the chairman of Japs-Olson Co. as Bob Murphy. Make that a multitude of people. Anyone who is involved, at any level, in organizations supporting the print communications industry is familiar with the longtime leader of the St. Louis Park, MN-based printer.

His resume reads like a Who's Who of industry organizations: Murphy serves on the boards of the Printing Industries of America (PIA), as well as its Minnesota affiliate; the Graphic Arts Show Co.; the Graphic Arts Education & Research Foundation (GAERF); and the Print & Graphics Association International. He's also chairing the search committee to find a CEO for the PIA/GATF and is chairing the PIA's PrintPac legislative efforts this year. His company is a member of the aforementioned Graphic Arts Technical Foundation, along with the Direct Mail Association and the National Association for Printing Leadership.

Industry Leadership

Counting sub-duties within these organizations, Murphy is or has been involved with more than 20 committees. Clearly one of commercial printing's best friends, he can be counted on to share his time and wisdom when asked.

"I believe strongly in the involvement of industry associations," Murphy says. "We can accomplish more working together than we could ever do individually. The ability to share ideas, problems and solutions eliminates the necessity for each of us to reinvent the wheel. This provides the opportunity to communicate with people you normally wouldn't if you didn't have a medium to do it through."

Aside from his industry service, Murphy also keeps a finger on the pulse of what is going on in the industry through his 700-employee company—a force in both direct mail and advertising niches that registered in excess of $120 million in sales in 2001. It has been a long road for Japs-Olson, one that has witnessed the company in three Minneapolis locales before setting up shop in this Twin Cities suburb.

Founded by Barney Japs and Gus Olson in 1907, the company began its life manufacturing business forms, though not the traditional multi-part forms that come to mind. The company, an early innovator in the lithography field, created ledgers which went with a patented binder that allowed for additional sheets.

Growth was slow but continuous in the '40s and '50s before finding the direct mail niche in the mid-1960s. Japs-Olson found a wealth in clientele, producing for industries such as insurance, financial, fundraising and retail markets.

Commercial printing grew as an equal strength, and the company quickly saw the value in color. Lots and lots of color: Japs-Olson added capabilities that boast up to 16-color webs with in-line capabilities, along with 8-, 10- and 12-color, 40˝ sheetfed perfecting presses that play into the strengths and requirements of advertising markets. Its 512,000-square-foot facility covers the full-service needs of clients under one roof, including the data processing and dissemination of as many as four million pieces of direct mail on any given day. Twenty-two laser printers churn out 100-percent personalized direct mail, and the company features a postal substation to process the sheer volume of pieces.

"We specialize in high-quality, multicolor advertising pieces," Murphy says of the commercial side of his business. "We realized long ago that color, particularly with the advent of digital capabilities, is very affordable and highly desirable."

Japs-Olson executives (from left) include: Mike Murphy, president; Bob Murphy, chairman; and Mike Beddor, CEO.
Japs-Olson has recently been investing in new equipment that further underscores the quality of color performance, according to Michael Murphy, company president. Closed-loop color control systems by Heidelberg are installed on the company's sheetfed presses and closed-loop color control systems by Graphics Microsystems are in the process of being added to all of Japs-Olson's web presses, a task that is due to be completed by the end of the year.

"The focus for us in the past 18 months has not been on capacity—we have plenty of that," Michael Murphy notes. "The focus has been on workflow and efficiencies. One enhancement that is important to us is the integration of the CIP4 standard to integrate all of our prepress operations with our pressroom. And now we're beginning to roll it out to our bindery operations.

"MBO's Datamanager software for remote fold setup and monitoring is assisting in this development," he adds. "We can use the Datamanager as a direct, online link to the Navigator machines, and its open architecture allows full integration into our MIS system for job ticketing, automatic tracking and job allocation to the machines."

In Control of Color

In adding the closed-loop color control, according to CEO Michael Beddor, Japs-Olson is also meeting the demand for higher quality and increased color consistency. And given the highly competitive print arena, influenced by a plodding economy, cost-effectiveness is another variable on which the company is focusing its energies. The value in added color makes Japs-Olson an attractive option for current and potential clientele.

"More color is a critical aspect in our market, whether it's for an end-user client or an advertising company," Beddor remarks. "We also distinguish ourselves via sheer equipment diversity. We're offering clients the option of sheetfed printing, forms printing, half-web, three-quarter-web, and full-heatset web printing along with flexography. When the client is making the buying decision, he or she knows that we're trying to match the appropriate job to the appropriate piece of equipment. We have the ability with our equipment diversity to be able to do that.

"In the direct mail niche, we're also promoting the concept of being able to put everything under one roof. That includes all types of printing techniques, as well as being able to do the client's data processing and personalization for them, along with the inserting and the mailing," he adds. "We combine everything under one roof—with one production schedule and directed by one management team. This allows the client's program to hit the market faster, and with less bumps along the road. These are the areas where we distinguish ourselves, day after day."

New Finishing Equipment

Another variable that allows Japs-Olson to distinguish itself from the pack is in the form of the MBO Perfection series folder with Navigator and touchscreen control. The company recently acquired four of these newest models with the Navigator option to augment its four existing Perfection folders equipped with Rapidset, according to Terry Pavek, bindery superintendent.

"The Navigator computer system provides a faster setup time; you can quickly enter in any information you want the folder to know," Pavek states. "Then, the folder automatically makereadies itself. For instance, the plates set automatically, and it also reads the sheet from feed to fold to delivery. So, if you do get a bad sheet coming through, it will automatically tell the machine that a bad sheet exists and it will automatically stop the machine."

Pavek also notes that the Navigator-controlled Perfection folder is a faster machine with tighter tolerances, which prevents folds from bouncing around, as can be the case on older folders. In addition, its batching guide system boasts vacuum air that holds the sheet in the guide, as opposed to folders that use "marbles" to hold the sheet in the guide. Adjustments are virtually nonexistent, he notes.

"There are more adjustments in the feeder to facilitate feeding of the sheet," Pavek states. "There's a feeder pad where you can lift the sheet up or down to place it into closer proximity to the feeder wheel, or farther away, to facilitate different curls (up or down). You have more options in order to slope the sheet in the feeder, as far as air jets or blowing air into the sheet.

"The plates on the Perfection folder are heavy-duty," he adds. "Compared to the last folder we bought 10 years ago, we had to replace a lot of parts in those plates. I don't see that happening; they're very heavy-duty and more accurate. You have more adjustments on the plates to accommodate the different folds. Users can open and close the plate gap on the plate to accommodate heavier or lighter stocks. It helps to eliminate dog ears, which has been a folding problem over the years."

A problem many printers and their clients have experienced, in light of the September 11 terrorist attacks on the United States, is the question of data and document security. Japs-Olson is in the process of installing an elaborate security system, an expense the company will absorb to provide peace of mind to current and prospective clients.

The Anthrax scares also provided a considerable challenge for a company that derives a great deal of business through the U.S. mail. While it was short-lived, the fiscal impact on the USPS is evidenced by two recent rate increases and a third due shortly. Through it all, the company needed to see past its own challenges and provide the same level of product and service that has earned Japs-Olson its longstanding reputation as an industry leader.

Rock Solid

The way we've tried to position ourselves is by being a rock of Gibraltar, being a solid employer and by following the day-to-day business requirements that haven't changed since I came aboard some 26 years ago," Beddor states.

"We're continually pushing to improve the quality of the product, always striving to improve on the productivity of our work force with reinvestment in new equipment and new technology. For products or projects that used to take two or three weeks, we're now being asked to turn around in four to six days. We have to respond on a daily basis to the needs of our clients and to the demands of the market.

"Our goals are no different than they've always been," he adds. "We want to grow in a reasonable and profitable manner so that we can continually reinvest in our work force and in our equipment—all to better serve our customers. The best yardstick of success is if, at the end of the day, you have more clients and if you're doing more work for them, day in and day out."

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