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RPL Graphics--The New Breed of Printing Company

October 1998
In the commercial printing market, one technology no longer fits all. Methods for putting ink on paper have multiplied like rabbits. Today's print buyers can choose the method that precisely matches their needs for volume, quality and turnaround.

That leaves printers looking for new business strategies. RPL Graphics believes it has found one. This Northern California printer, with annual sales topping $4.6 million, has transformed itself in the last few years and now offers a mix of services aimed at filling every need a customer might have.

Company Profile
Name: RPL Graphics
Location: Dublin, CA
Employees: 31
Annual Sales: $4.6 million
Family-owned RPL has 31 employees in three plants along the Interstate-680 corridor, where full-to-bursting Silicon Valley overflows into a 50-mile stretch east of San Francisco Bay. The high-tech companies established here need a wide range of print services.

With these customers in mind, RPL built a new 11,500-square-foot facility in Dublin, CA. This state-of-the-art plant is high-tech from top to bottom. Surmounting the entrance, a sign bearing the letters RPL, made of special photosensitive material, is black during the day but turns a reflective white under floodlights at night.

"The sign, only the second of its kind in the Bay Area, symbolizes our commitment to technology," says RPL President and CEO Ron Linden. "We have a complete digital prepress department, with both Mac and PC workstations, a high-end Heidelberg Prepress Topaz scanner, a 54˝ wide Hewlett-Packard ink-jet printer and T-1 phone lines for fast remote file exchange."

The front-end also boasts a new 18x25˝ Agfa Avantra 25 imagesetter, a six-color Epson ink-jet digital proofer and an in-house Pressmatch system for analog proofs.

"Eighty-five to 90 percent of our accounts are electronic," says Ken Karimi, prepress manager. "We're almost out of the hard-copy era."

RPL was an AlphaGraphics franchise until late 1997, when Linden took it independent. Linden, a veteran of over 40 years in the industry, recognized that he could grow his business by offering the broadest possible range of services, including commercial color printing, technical documentation, data management services and on-demand black-and-white output.

With that range of output at its disposal, RPL can produce any kind of job its customers want. Its work includes full-color projects such as brochures, product sheets, newsletters, posters, presentation materials, sales leave-behinds and even postcards. Black-and-white work includes technical documentation and white papers, which are output digitally or by offset, depending on volume. The company also produces mailing inserts, large-format full-color banners and overhead transparencies. In addition, customers come to RPL for stationery, business cards, invitations and announcements.

Regardless of product, RPL turns all work around quickly, a strategically important capability to RPL's customers. Speed is critical to software companies, whose products change frequently. These customers do not want to throw out old manuals—some close to 1,000 pages long—every time they introduce a new version or add a feature. They print in low volumes, on an on-demand basis—the perfect application for RPL's digital printers. These include two black-and-white DocuTechs, a model 135 and a model 6180, and a DocuColor 40 for inserts, sleeves and covers.

RPL typically produces on-demand manuals with color covers, inserted tabs and Wire-O binding, all in-house. "Software companies can change something every day," says Ron Linden Jr., director of production and son of the president and CEO, "and they want the change printed immediately. So they need quick turns and all-digital output, and it has to look good, too. That's what we specialize in. We can turn around four-over-four print jobs in less than 24 hours, cut and bound."

Efficient production is not limited to RPL's digital output. The company's new five-color, 14x20˝ Ryobi 525 HX press features an in-line aqueous coater, to cut drying time. RPL also houses a two-color Heidelberg Quickmaster and three A.B. Dick presses. Jobs are split about 50-50 between digital and offset output. Both kinds of output are augmented by a complete finishing department, including a hot/cold laminator that mounts almost any material, an automated punch for high-volume manuals and other conventional bindery equipment.

Value-added services are another element of RPL's strategy. "We perform version control to make sure that technical documentation goes out with the correct version," says Doreen Linden, managing director and sales manager. "For direct marketing companies who need to personalize mailings or catalogs, we also provide variable-data printing."

Other value-added services include digital archiving, custom index tabbing and kit assembly. RPL consults with customers on production and design, finding ways to refresh an old design, implement a new one or identify production and layout changes to stay within budget. It repurposes information from a print project to a customer's Web site, CD-ROM or direct mail campaign.

It also offers technical consulting, for assistance with anything from preparing and saving files correctly to multi-level data conversion. RPL covers the final stage of a job by providing complete fulfillment and shipping services. "We ship around the world," adds the senior Ron Linden. "Sometimes we ship a ton of documentation in a day."

In several key accounts, RPL has installed a system for ordering printing via the Internet. A customer in, say, Dallas may use the system to order a manual by its part number. RPL then posts the cover of that manual on its Web site as verification that the correct one has been ordered. The customer then enters the number of items to be printed and shipping locations. While the job is in progress, the customer can track its status.

The online ordering system has helped jobs move quicker. It has relieved RPL's customer service reps of routine tracking chores. Most importantly, it gives customers central accountability for all print orders, even those entered from locations around the world.

RPL exemplifies a trend seen today in manufacturing operations of all kinds. As the actual manufacture of goods (in this case, putting ink on paper) becomes more automated, and as markets become more global and competitive, profits depend increasingly on the service side of the business. Value-added services and online ordering systems can simultaneously increase revenue and make the manufacturing operation more efficient.

RPL Graphics has taken that lesson to heart, and has the results to show for it. For example, RPL Graphics won the Supplier Recognition and Supplier Extra Effort Awards from Varian Associates for the years 1993 through 1996.

Recognition like that does not come accidentally. In the case of RPL, it comes from recognizing that customers have a variety of needs, and from satisfying them.
 

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