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Pictorial Offset -- Family Values Never Change

January 2004
By Erik Cagle

Senior Editor

You might say that only the equipment is new at Pictorial Offset, as the company's philosophy hasn't changed a bit as it celebrates its 65th anniversary. But there's just an old-fashioned charm to the Carlstadt, NJ, sheetfed and web printer's mantra that is both simple and all encompassing: deliver quality product that exceeds client expectations, on time every time.

"That's a phrase known by every employee under this roof," states Gary Samuels, who heads the manufacturing component at Pictorial Offset. "Some of our customers have seen other shops, where corners are cut in the wrong places. When client work is given to the low-cost producer rather than the low-cost, competitive producer, the service level drops. We are a privately owned organization that is dedicated to service and quality."

Being the "low-cost producer" has been in the news frequently of late. Pricing pressure has turned into a high-stakes battle that has led some printing facilities to either lay off employees or close their doors all together. According to Lester Samuels, head of finance and administration for Pictorial Offset, there seems to be little limit as to how low printers can go with pricing.

How Low Will They Go?

"Companies that have excess capacity or are on the verge of closing their doors—especially ones on the verge of going under—are basically being financed by their outside suppliers providing cash flow, so no price is too low," he says.

So how does a printer survive in a hotbed market such as New York under these conditions? It is a matter of superior customer service and paying attention to customer needs, according to Don Samuels, who spearheads Pictorial's sales and marketing efforts.

"We're the first printer in the world to receive dual ISO Quality 9000 series and Environmental 14000 series certification in 1998," he claims. "This differentiates our thought process. We're a world-class manufacturing facility, not only a good printer."

The Pictorial Offset management team of the Samuels brothers, pictured from the left, includes Donald R., Gary B. and Lester F. Samuels.
Gary, Lester and Don Samuels make up the third generation of ownership at Pictorial Offset, founded in 1938 by their grand-father, Harry Samuels. The trio took the helm in 1980 following the passing of their father, Jay, and have grown the company every year since then.

Pictorial boasted but 28 employees and annual sales of about $1 million in 1980; figures that have ballooned to $65 million in revenues with 275 employees. An expansion in 2003 connected two neighboring buildings, bolstering the facility to 200,000 square feet.

A general commercial printer, Pictorial Offset offers full- and half-web production and sheetfed capabilities. Its "design to destination" offerings feature creative support, online preflighting, digital file transfer, electronic prepress and proofing, a computer-to-plate (CTP) workflow, a full array of finishing options and mailing/fulfillment via Pictorial Mailworks. A Creo Lotem platesetter, Pictorial's second Lotem, was delivered last month to enhance its stochastic printing capabilities.

Pictorial serves the needs of the automotive, pharmaceutical, advertising and financial markets, among others, with products such as annual reports, brochures, catalogs, inserts, newsletters and point-of-purchase advertising materials.

The addition of Pictorial Mailworks has been a major coup for the company, helping close the design to destination loop with quality postal penetration.

"We're able to place product into the post office stream two to three days ahead of any competitor in the country, which gives us a distinct competitive advantage," Don Samuels says. "In some cases, we've done mailers for large Detroit automotive companies where we've printed them in the morning and they were in the mail that afternoon."

Perhaps most impressive is Pictorial's unwavering track record of sales growth, a luxury the company has enjoyed since 1980 despite economic recessions. In order to do that, Pictorial has strictly adhered to its motto of exceeding client expectations through continuous process improvement, notes Lester Samuels.

"Much of our growth has come through world class service and world class manufacturing," he says. "We were one of the first printers in the world to install a seven-color Heidelberg Sunday 2000 web press. We continue to try to exceed our customers' expectations. If it's not broke, we still try to fix it. We execute these goals by hiring, training and maintaining the best people in the industry."

The physical bridging of Pictorial's two facilities into one has enabled the printer to better serve its clientele, as well. According to Gary Samuels, overcrowding formerly led to inefficiencies with the material handling process—both raw materials and finished goods. Within the new plant, the bindery has tripled in size, leading to a 50 percent increase in productivity.

Pictorial Offset has adjusted to pricing pressures via increased monitoring of its raw materials, along with investments that yield higher productivity, according to Gary Samuels. Similarly, the printer adjusted its labor monitoring process to a feedback system that limits managers to authorize overtime only in mission-critical situations as opposed to working with a comfort zone of extra staff.

By making itself leaner internally, Pictorial Offset better enables itself to be more accommodating to its customer base. That means never having to say no, according to Lester Samuels.

"We have the ability to fully integrate digital asset management off-line," he says. "We have several online products for clients to obtain information, plus a very trained and knowledgeable work force to solve problems before they happen. We never deliver late and we've developed a high level of trust with our clients.

"Anybody can buy a printing press, a Macintosh or a platesetter. What's critical is how you network the digital workflow together to make it seamless to a client. We reduce their stress levels. That's our goal—to get their jobs through the plant, correctly the first time."

School is also in session twice a year for current and prospective clients at Pictorial University. The printer secures a local Marriott hotel for day-long seminars on a number of educational topics, attracting more than 100 print buyers. The most recent edition of Pictorial University featured guest speakers from Adobe, Pantone and Sappi Fine Paper.

Training Time

About eight years ago, Pictorial Offset embarked on educational seminars to help keep its sales force apprised of emerging technologies, according to Don Samuels. The sessions were so well received that the printer decided to spread the educational wealth to both existing clients and prospects.

"We introduce new technology to clients, information that we feel is both visionary and practical, to make them aware of coming trends in the industry," Don Samuels adds. "In the afternoon, we delve into subjects about personal improvement, topics like positive thinking, how to become a more valuable employee and how to hold an effective meeting. This is a very effective tool.

"Approximately 40 percent of every session features attendees with whom we've never done business. It's helped us establish customer loyalty and differentiate our brand in the marketplace. As a result, our growth has been fueled by new clients, as well as existing ones."

Education and process improvement is an ongoing quest for Pictorial Offset. Along with the ISO certifications is a venture into the world of Six Sigma and improving business processes. It makes Pictorial Offset a printer that teaches and learns simultaneously.

"There's always room to improve," Gary Samuels notes. "There hasn't been a year since the third generation of the family took over the business that there hasn't been capital investment. Where publicly owned companies closely monitor the bottom line—short-term earnings—and the rate of return, we look to invest for a better long-term outlook. We don't have to satisfy public stockholders.

"Keeping focused on driving this business has really been the key to our success. Part of our magic formula for growth has been our partners' (brothers') involvement in all areas, every day. Lester and I also sell. As partners, we measure ourselves against our entire sales force, and what percentage of the sales that we control is a motivating factor for the three of us. As such, it's both a business and a contest."

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