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Gilson Graphics : Living on the Cutting Edge

January 2012 By Erik Cagle, Senior Editor
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Dave Gilson has been down this road before, many times, in fact. The president and CEO of Grand Rapids, MI-based Gilson Graphics comes off as a laid-back, easy-going, "everyday man's" executive, but don't be fooled: Gilson boasts a ravenous appetite for new technology.

This road Gilson travels often finds the intersection of Leading Edge Lane and Bleeding Edge Boulevard. Prepress and press manufacturers keep Gilson's phone number on speed dial, because if they have a quality, game-changing piece of equipment rolling off the line for the first time, they know Gilson is willing to listen. For example:

• In the 1970s, Gilson Graphics was among the first companies to communicate text from dedicated word processors to its composition system.

• During the '80s, the commercial printer installed the second full graphics Xyvision composition system.

• Early in the 1990s, Gilson Graphics was near the front of the line for one of the first Scitex Dolev 800 imagesetters. By mid-decade, Gilson grabbed Scitex's second computer-to-plate system, a Doplate 800.

And, in early December, Gilson Graphics proudly output the first job off its sparkling new Fujifilm J Press 720 sheetfed inkjet press, marking the first J Press 720 customer installation in the United States. Having trust in technology and confidence in its provider goes a long way.

"When working with new technology, we know that things are not always going to go perfectly," Gilson relates. "But, as long as you have a commitment from the supplier to work through the issues that are identified, that's the most important step to us. And, Fujifilm certainly has shown us that commitment."

The printing business has certainly come a long way since his father, Lars Gilson, founded the company in 1948 as a small letterpress shop. He literally pounded the pavement in search of business, going door to door to solicit orders for letterhead, envelopes and business cards, among other items.

Today, Gilson Graphics offers a wide range of products, from retail signage and collateral pieces to direct mail, incorporating both static and variable data printing. With a trio of 40˝ manroland sheetfed offset presses and a Heidelberg Speedmaster SM 52, Gilson Graphics serves the retail, higher education, gaming, manufacturing, medical, book publishing and agency verticals, to name a few.

Besides offset, digital (HP Indigo, Xerox Nuvera) and wide-format printing (HP, Océ, Mimaki), the company offers binding and finishing, fulfillment, kit packaging, specialty printing, marketing services, Website development, diecutting, folding and gluing. What has enabled Gilson Graphics to augment its service offerings and pump annual sales from $6 million to $23 million is the acquisition of seven firms during the last nine years.



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