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Lake County Press -- Armed to Compete

June 2003
By Erik Cagle

Ralph Johnson doesn't need to consult the Yellow Pages to realize that Lake County Press is up to its eyes in competition around the Chicago area. Thus, the CEO of the Waukegan, IL-based sheetfed printer considers the company's motto, "Whatever it Takes," essential to its success.

"The service component is one aspect that makes us unique," notes Johnson. "Obviously the quality has to be there, and we don't take a back seat to anybody in that regard. So the defining characteristic is exceptional service, which has enabled us to do well in a down economy."

Lake County Press' executive team includes: (standing, from the left) Russell Schoenherr, President/CEO Ralph Johnson, Thomas Oberembt, (seated) Peter Douglas and Robert Hilliard.

LCP, in Waukegan, IL, is thriving in a crowded Chicago-area print market. The 200-employee company boasted over $37 million in sales for its 2002 fiscal year.
Lake County Press (LCP) has thrived under less-than-ideal economic conditions, pinched even further by stiff competition from other printers aggressively bidding on the same jobs. LCP garnered $37.6 million in sales for its 2002 fiscal year, with 90 percent of its take coming from the Windy City market. Just under 200 employees comprise its work force within two manufacturing facilities: its main building and an adjacent small-format press and Xerox DocuTech (SPD) division. A 20,000-square-foot fulfillment facility was also acquired recently, with negotiations ongoing for the addition of more space.

Lake County Press was founded in 1970 by Bill Clay and Bob Efinger largely as a printer of medical journals, partnering with a publisher. Johnson's arrival in 1976 resulted in a larger infusion of commercial work and, two years later, the three men bought out the company from its publisher partner.

While a general commercial printer, LCP has earned a sterling reputation for its work with the local ad agencies and design community as a purveyor of high-end annual reports. "Once you're perceived as an annual report printer by the design community," notes Russell Schoenherr, senior vice president and director of sales, "you have arrived. They're not going to question whether you can effectively print a job. What's really helped us is the work we do for paper mills. They put out the nicest, quality materials to show off their various paper grades."

LCP's next biggest market is brochures, both the folded and booklet varieties. Pharmaceutical concerns, medical accounts, banks and financial institutions comprise a good deal of its customer base.

A third product specialization is high-quality, distributor-oriented consumer product catalogs. They run the gamut from household appliances to toys and sporting goods, as opposed to general interest, mass-produced efforts.

Varied Client Base

The printer also counts member services/associations, publishing and computer software companies among its client base. "We print a lot of high-impact color work," Schoenherr says. "This includes marketing- and sales-oriented materials designed to evoke a response. We have a wonderful reputation in Chicago, the Midwest, even nationally."

Howard Ruhle, bindery foreman at Lake County Press, proudly stands before the company's MBO B-32S/644 Perfection buckle folder while jobs are being finished behind him.
LCP has earned that reputation due, in part, to its aggressive capital investment campaign. One area where this is evident is in the postpress area, where LCP has acquired an MBO B32-S/644 Perfection buckle folder with continuous feeder, and bolstered by the Navigator system for simple job setups and the Datamanager control system. The folder, with a 6-4-4 configuration, will be followed by an additional Perfection model (a 4-4-4) to be installed later this year.

Lake County Press is quite familiar with MBO America's handiwork, having acquired equipment such as MBO buckle folders and press delivery systems. "They called on us two years before we purchased our first MBO machine, and just kept encouraging us to try their products," states Tom Oberembt, senior vice president and director of manufacturing for LCP. "After we installed two presses with the ability to do aqueous coatings in-line, we began to have issues controlling the folds on the slick coatings during the finishing stage."

That was about the time that LCP gave MBO America a tryout. "We put them through extensive testing on several substrates, with and without coatings, various thicknesses of stock, as well as coated and uncoated covers," Oberembt remarks. "We found that the MBO folders did a tremendous job of holding tolerances. The configuration of the spiral rollers, along with the polyurethane, really gripped the problem jobs that we had been encountering before."

Loyal Customer

LCP bought its first MBO folder in 1994 and purchased two more in 1997. "We've been a fan ever since," Oberembt adds. "Part of the reason is the serviceability that this equipment provides. We try to be innovative with the latest technology that can enhance productivity. Finishing is a labor-intensive area of the printing business, especially in our company. To have up-time is very important to us. The service we receive with the MBO equipment is very good. We do a lot of intricate work and out-of-the-ordinary folds. And it calls for very high quality-type equipment."

A 12-color Heidelberg Model 102 Classic perfecting press with "Cut Star" roll sheet feeder attachment is the centerpiece of the LCP pressroom.
On the sheetfed offset press side, LCP significantly expanded its capabilities with the purchase of a Heidelberg "long perfector," a 12-color, 40˝ Speedmaster 102 with a Cut Star roll sheet feeder for automated cutoff variations. The press, installed in January 2002, has been an instant hit.

"We had studied and tested long perfecting for the past 10 years, and felt we found a perfector that could produce the high quality that our customers expect," Johnson remarks. "The press allowed us to enter a new market and to expand our market share. And it's enabled us to give good value to our customers.

"Because of the roll sheeter, we are able to vary the cutoff, something you can't do on a web press," he adds. "We've been able to compete favorably against web runs on jobs of certain dimensions. Call it somewhat of a niche. It can run sheets or rolls, but we run roll stock a majority of the time. That makes it more productive than the other presses since we don't have to stop as often. It's really been a pleasant surprise to us."

In addition, LCP recently installed a six-color, 29˝ Heidelberg Speedmaster 74CD press with extended delivery and tower coater. At its small press and DocuTech division, the company recently brought aboard a Heidelberg Quicksetter 460 platesetter with in-line processor for computer-to-plate production, as well as a Matchprint Inkjet 5542 color proofing system from KPG.

Even More Services

"We're also increasing our digital asset management capabilities, and expanding out fulfillment and kit assembly operations," notes Oberembt. "We're looking to be a one-stop shop—prepress, press, bindery, fulfillment, kit assembly and warehousing. We want that to be in our customer's vocabulary."

The printer is currently doing extensive research on online order entry and job tracking, inventory control, customer reorder notifications for fulfillment and direct billing capabilities. "And we're looking into adding digital ink-jet imaging and personalization, high-speed placement equipment, as well as short-run, full-color digital printing," he adds.

LCP forged a partnership with Toyo Ink in 2000 that saw the ink manufacturer set up a full-service, in-house ink lab at the printer. The lab is staffed with technicians 24 hours a day.

As far as what the future holds for Lake County Press, Johnson is willing to follow the "Whatever it Takes" motto.

"We have to keep our eyes open," he says. "We need to keep in close contact with customers and prospects about expanding our services, with fulfillment being one of them. We take our motto very seriously."


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