Creel Printing : Printing’s Future Is NowJanuary 2013 By Erik Cagle, Senior Editor
Las Vegas may be the gambling capital of the world, but Allan Creel Jr. wasn't about to wager the future of his business on the premise that a time-tested manufacturing process such as lithography was printing's raison d'être. Given that his company happens to be a phenomenal sheetfed offset and heatset/coldset web offset printer, sticking exclusively to what the company does well would've been the easy call.
Creel Printing, which celebrates its 60th anniversary this year in the glare of those casino lights, has certainly earned a reputation for high-quality print production. The firm began entering printing competitions just four years ago and, in that timeframe, has captured 30 awards for excellence, including four gold medals from the 2012 Gold Ink Awards competition, hosted by Printing Impressions. The categories encompassed fine arts lithography, consumer catalogs (sheetfed), magazine covers and softcover books.
The award plaques look nice on the wall, certainly, and make for additional marketing fodder, but ultimately being recognized for quality speaks to Creel Printing's commitment to craft and attention to detail. As Chris Evans, vice president of premedia and customer solutions, observes, "Close enough will never be the philosophy of Creel Printing."
Yet, it was just a few short years ago—around the time the $110 million performer became active in competitions—that Creel Printing President Allan Creel Jr. made the big decision to journey into digital printing and variable data. The best way printing can compete with other content distribution models, he concluded, was to evolve into a one-to-one content provider. So Creel Printing installed some digital machines and tested its customer base.
“By looking at our client base and at companies in multiple industries, we recognized that successful companies are targeting their customers in ways like never before,” Creel says. “Collecting the right data and using that data correctly have never been more important. The success of the printing industry is tied to our ability to provide clients with a high rate of response, at a reasonable cost. If we can do that, printing—as we know it—will continue to be relevant.”
Creel himself felt it was important to make a deeper commitment to digital printing via the M&A route, where his company could find a like-minded partner to help provide advanced capabilities as opposed to taking the green fields approach with a startup operation. Creel Printing looked no further than its own customer list, where a Hayden, ID-based digital printer—that also happened to emphasize quality—resided. Digital Lizard, which opened in 2005 as an in-plant for a personalized magazine, was acquired in August of 2011.
Focus on Quality
"One of the things that made Creel Printing and Digital Lizard such a good fit is the fact that Creel is in the quality space," notes Bill Wieners, vice president, digital solutions, and the president of Digital Lizard at the time of the acquisition.
“After the real estate business tanked, we went out and developed a unique offering in the digital space, and we went heavily after the print-on-demand (POD) market, specifically from a digital perspective. A lot of the POD providers focus around the gang run mentality. We wanted to focus on one-off orders with very high levels of print quality. We’re probably one of the larger POD providers today that is all-digital.”
Founded in 1953 by Eugene Creel—Allan's grandfather—Creel Printing has evolved from a five-employee letterpress shop to a network of four facilities in three states (Nevada, Idaho and California), with more than 500 employees. On the offset side, Creel Printing produces publications, catalogs, commercial work and direct mail, with Digital Lizard (a division of Creel) chipping in consumer and corporate asset/brand management (including business cards, stationery, brochures, postcards, calendars and greeting cards).
Some observers may find it interesting that one of the largest digital customers is a prominent online search engine with a thirst for direct mail. Digital Lizard's niche is the independent graphic designer market, of which it serves roughly 10,000 per year, and the firm presides over more than 200 Web-to-print storefronts reaching small-to-medium and enterprise business end users globally. In the fourth quarter, Digital Lizard does a strong amount of work for the photo specialty market.
Further proof that quality and accuracy are cornerstones to Creel Printing’s foundation: it is among only a handful of printers that’s G7 Master qualified across its prepress, sheetfed and heatset web offset operations through IDEAlliance. “Our closed-loop, proof-to-press, G7-certified process guarantees exact reproduction,” Evans notes. “Our customers can be confident they are getting the very best possible color match and the meticulous quality Creel is known for.”
He points out that the industry, as a whole, hasn't done a very good job with standards, but he is happy with the measurement methodologies utilized by IDEAlliance for grayscale balance. His company is also in the process of earning the G7 seal in digital printing, which Evans anticipates will happen at some point this year.
The advantages are obvious; for any customers who value quality and color accuracy, the qualification speaks to their needs. From an internal perspective, Evans says the company has been able to reduce its waste by two percent.
It's certainly an exciting time to be working for Creel Printing, particularly in the last three years. The Digital Lizard acquisition brought in 14 digital presses (mainly HP Indigos) and new capabilities. The company installed a Technique (now EFI) MIS system across its network and, of course, attained G7 Master qualification. While not printing centric, some of the most interactive and technologically sexy advances are enabling Creel Printing to provide more value to publishing clients.
The mobile bolt-ons from the past three years include a number of iPad and Android applications, 2D barcode (Quick Response, UPC, EZ and Datamatrix) capabilities, digital rights management content delivery utilizing Adobe Content Server for e-reader devices, mobile marketing technology and landing page design. Creel is also in the process of introducing image recognition technology as an additional marketing solution for publication, catalog and direct mail customers.
“We lead the printing industry as far as the technology services that we offer,” Evans remarks. “We’re constantly developing and embracing these processes as they elvolve. A lot of these technologies have only been around for two or three years now. So, we’re continually learning, developing new solutions for our customers, listening to client needs, and trying to incorporate them both into the print and mobile aspects of their businesses.”
Cross-Channel Service Provider
The key to maintaining relevance, according to Allan Creel, is leveraging multi-channel technologies and avoiding being pigeonholed as a dyed-in-the-wool printer. That willingness to be among the early adopters of these emerging tools has enabled his company to establish points of differentiation among the pool of providers.
“At the end of the day, yes, we still put ink on paper,” Creel notes. “But, when you can talk to a client about developments that really spark their interest and creativity—rather than just tired discussions about printing and paper—it changes the selling process completely. They’re actually happy we’re there, and we can capitalize on these relationships.”
As for new equipment, a six-color Komori sheetfed press was due to touch down in the first quarter of this year, and an HP Indigo 7600 digital press was installed in the last quarter of 2012. Other ancillary gear has been added, such as in-line trimming and gluing capabilities—as well as perforating units—on the heatset web presses. On the bindery side, Creel added automated strappers and bundle loaders.
The company has invested a tremendous amount of money on technology systems, including software, training and in developing proprietary systems. The new MIS software is another example of striving towards greater workflow automation in getting the right information out to the plant floor in a concise and accurate manner.
So, while the ways and means of producing and providing the products and services for customers has and will always continue to change, one aspect of business remains static for Creel Printing: focusing on the client. From Eugene to Allan and now Allan Jr., this credo has well-served the printer from the beginning and won't change.
“Listening to customers to find out what their needs are is key to our advancement,” Creel states. “If we have a conversation with a client that’s considering cancelling its holiday catalog for this year, we need to be able to respond and come up with a creative solution so they don’t make the same mistakes a lot of companies have already made in the quest to save a few dollars. We share our experiences with them so they can make a more informed decision. In the end, we’re successful because they’re successful.” PI