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June 2006
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KIRKWOOD PRINTING is a prime example of the good things that can happen when a printing company with a tradition of high-quality work is purchased by printing industry sales professionals focused on providing superior customer service.

The Wilmington, MA-based commercial printer specializes in high-end direct mail pieces, catalogs, brochures and annual reports. Its diverse customer group includes Volkswagen of America, Reebok, General Motors, Courier Corp., Harvard Law School and the Bermuda Department of Tourism.

Founded by Kirk Krikorian in 1973, the business was purchased in 2004 by three experienced Boston-area printing sales veterans: Bob Coppinger, Will Winship and Eddie Kelley. When the three partners bought Kirkwood, they felt they had bought a diamond in the rough that would be a solid base on which to grow their business. As the three top salespeople from another printing company—formerly the highest end commercial printer in the area—they saw an opportunity to invest and to do it their way.

Experience Is Everything

“We wanted to have a place that could handle the $17 million worth of high-end printing we already sold,” says Eddie Kelley, owner and COO. “We found it hard to service our customers the way we wanted to. So many high-end printers were being bought by larger companies and losing track of the importance of the customer experience.”

The partners acquired the company—a 65,000-square-foot building and all of the equipment—and immediately started investing in value-added extras. Additions included a $50,000 water system and one of the newest and fastest Heidelberg sheetfed presses on the market, an eight-color, 41˝ Speedmaster XL 105 with in-line aqueous coating capable of printing at speeds to 18,000 sph.

“We consider ourselves as contrarians to a degree,” notes Kelley. “While the bottom line is important, we think the client experience is the way to get there. Quality is huge here.

“It is our intent to provide the highest quality in everything we do.”

Kirkwood’s quest for the best didn’t stop with building systems and equipment. The new owners were also determined to use what they consider the best sheetfed ink on the market.

“There are a lot of different inks, and the main differentiator is stability,” he adds. “That’s critical. After intensive testing, we found Van Son’s Quickson PRO inks to be the most stable products on the market. Today, all five of our presses, including the Heidelberg Speedmaster XL 105; a six-color, 40˝ Speedmaster; a four-color, 40˝ Speedmaster perfector; and a pair of 40˝ Mitsubishi presses with in-line aqueous coaters (one eight-color and one seven-color), run on Quickson PRO.”

Choosing to use Quickson PRO as the sole ink in-house was not a subjective decision. Kirkwood went through an extensive evaluation period, testing a number of inks “blind” and allowing its press operators to be the final decision makers. Kirkwood used the GATF target sheet to help in the blind testing.

“With every ink we tested, Quickson PRO outperformed the other,” according to Kelley. “When the press starts up and shuts down, you run the risk of losing color. A good ink comes back to where you left off on the GATF target sheet. We tested how each ink held highlights, mid-tones, etc. We run a lot of stochastic work, so we needed an ink that could handle a small, fine dot. Our goal is to always come as close as possible to a continuous tone—the original image.

“We are a classic job shop running different jobs daily, so we need to be able to move from project to project, press form to press form,” he adds. “With Quickson PRO we can roll up to a press ‘ok’ very quickly.”

Kelley feels the ink’s attributes helped contribute to Kirkwood winning a 2005 Sappi North American Printer of the Year Award, as well as a Sappi International Printer of the Year Award for annual reports (the only U.S. company to win in an international category).

“We have had wonderful success—and this ink contributes,” he says. “It is top of the line and works beautifully with the latest Heidelberg technology. A lot of inks couldn’t sustain 18,000 impressions an hour—but it is easy to connect the dots between the Heidelberg press and Van Son’s ink. Both are efficient, capable and work together phenomenally well for us.”

Wide Reaching Base

With its productivity and print quality well in hand due to well-researched investments in equipment and consumables, Kirkwood has been marketing extensively nationally and even internationally. The company is currently doing business with customers all across North America and Bermuda.

In pursuing growth and expanding beyond New England, Kirkwood has developed high-end marketing pieces that demonstrate its expertise in metallic inks, varnishes and aqueous coatings. The marketing pieces, including specialized calendars and posters, are sent to key customers and prospects to demonstrate the kind of sophisticated, high-end work they can do. The printer selects a different graphic designer every month to create these showcase pieces, a program that highlights “fresh faces” within the graphic design field who, in turn, appreciate the opportunity for exposure.

True to the partners’ original intent, Kirkwood’s emphasis on quality printing, clever marketing and expansion beyond the Boston area market has not diminished their focus on the total customer experience.

“Our clients like the flexibility they experience here, the accountability,” says Kelley.

Taking care of customers has also meant success for the revitalized company. “We feel we are unique,” proclaims Kelley. “While others might be stringently driven, we think it is important not to fall into the trap of being penny-wise and pound-foolish. We are consultative and completely customer-centric in our culture.”

The result, as Kelley explains, is impressive: “We have experienced a 52 percent growth rate since opening the business.”

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