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Non-print Diversification: Supplemental Insurance

August 2013 By Erik Cagle, senior editor
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Roll the clock back 15 years ago to 1998. These were the (relatively) early days of the Internet, from a business standpoint, and especially for the printing industry. A story appeared in this magazine commenting on the importance of having an online presence, though most firms took a "me, too" approach of constructing what were some of the laziest and uninspiring online brochures.

Don't laugh too hard. The calendar may read 2013, but not everyone has adapted their online presence to reflect generally accepted practices. You probably wouldn't be surprised to find out that those printers with George W. Bush-era Websites have not bothered to make a substantial foray into Web-to-print (W2P) offerings.

Firms that diversify into non-printing disciplines understand that opportunities abound for those companies that are quick to react to changes in the marketplace. Fifteen years may seem like an eternity, but considering the drastic changes in online commerce, it only seems like yesterday.

The door to diversification isn't closed shut, but for printers that have hemmed and hawed during the "wait and see" era of 2008-2012 without having made any significant investments in equipment or capabilities, there is a bit of ground to make up. Take notes from a sampling of companies that have plunged into new territory.

Want to talk diversification? It's reflected in the name of Bolger Vision Beyond Print, a haven of creativity based in Minneapolis. dik Bolger is a fan of the cutting edge, so it comes as no surprise that his company was an early adopter of W2P. But, after going through several off-the-shelf software experiences, he found the products did not fully address the needs of his customers. So Bolger reached for a packet of seeds and grew his own product.

The result is Bolger's SmartQ print management system—branded about two years ago, but really a labor of love for a number of years. It's also a bit inaccurate to use the term "result" as it is (and likely always will be) a work in progress: tinkered, tweaked and updated as the needs of customers and markets evolve. It has been a learning experience along the way.

"One of the mistakes we made early on was promising the moon (to clients) and not being able to deliver it in a seamless fashion," Bolger notes. "When you get into application development, and you've got a bunch of salespeople who have no idea how it works, sometimes we found ourselves promising more than we could deliver. In almost every case, we were able to figure out how to deliver, but it was not profitable. Today, we run this area as a profit center. We don't give away technology to gain print. We charge for technology, even if it will generate print (jobs)."



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