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Selling Digital Printing--Making Money, Digitally

May 1998
For SPG Graphics, the signs couldn't be any clearer. Customers wanted quicker turnarounds, but they weren't about to sacrifice quality—or cash—for speed. Their expectations pointed SPG to one sole destination: digital printing.

"It was inevitable," explains Beth Coleman-Stout, marketing and digital business manager for the Indianapolis-based company. "Customers were going to continue to expect jobs faster, but they weren't going to change their expectations from a color or quality standpoint."

SPG found that color digital printing could meet these demanding expectations for small-quantity runs better than conventional offset. "We felt strongly that we had to get into digital in some way, shape and form," Coleman-Stout says.

Some companies with equally strong feelings created departments crammed with all of the latest and greatest digital printing systems, only to find that the digital highway is not paved with gold. SPG chose a decidedly more subtle approach, installing a Xerox Docu-Tech and a Heidelberg Quickmaster DI. The company decided to add equipment that fit its existing, not potential, business.

"We didn't want to just get into digital to get into digital," Coleman-Stout says.

Apparently, this is a wise stance to take. Some printing companies and prepress houses that have jumped headfirst into the digital pool have received a nasty shock. In spite of "expert" predictions, print buyers have not barged down doors to order customized, short-run jobs on color digital printing systems.

Still, there are bucks to be made. This may sound redundant, but it's a point worth repeating: Digital doesn't sell itself. A wise marketing plan mixed with a modest digital printing department is a recipe for success.

Tour de Force

As part of its promotional campaign, SPG ran tours to build client interest in the Quickmaster DI. "When [customers] see a hands-on demonstration, the little light bulb goes off and they say, 'Oh, I know what job I can put on that press,' " Coleman-Stout says. "They have to see it to understand it."

And they have to appreciate its potential. That's why Winston Printing—a company with an Agfa Chromapress, Heidelberg GTO-DI and Xerox DocuTech in its digital department—decided to bypass the normal contacts when marketing its digital services.

"We've not been going to your normal print buyers," says Vice President Mical W. Fowler. "We've been targeting people in marketing.

"Most print buyers are only interested in unit cost," he continues. "You get up to the marketing people, the financial people, the officers of the company, they are more interested in cost per exposure in trying to target their efforts."

So how can digital printing help print buyers target their efforts? Three words: variable data imaging.

"We think advanced variable data with the ability to swop out images and type on the fly will be very important in the future," Fowler says.

Bill Marrale, vice president of marketing and sales support at KAR Printing, agrees. This Miami Lakes, FL-based printing company recently installed an Indigo E-Print 1000+, complete with Yours Truly, Indigo's software package for personalization.

What makes personalization so powerful? Suppose a car dealer has a list of key clients whose leases are about to expire. Variable data imaging can help this dealer create direct marketing pieces almost impossible to ignore.

"Let's say...John Smith came in and leased a red Firebird with black leather interior and a convertible top in 1995," Marrale says. "In 1998, he has to turn the car in, buy a new car or whatever. And in 1995, he qualified for 9.6-percent financing.

"The dealership can send a letter, saying, 'Dear John: We know you enjoyed purchasing through us a red Firebird with black leather interior and a convertible top, and we understand at that time you qualified for 9.6-percent financing. Your lease is now expiring. Please come in and accept this token as a personal gift for doing business with us. And, incidentally, because you're such a valued customer, we are willing to give you a three-year lease for this brand-new 1998 red Firebird with black leather interior and a convertible top, pictured below. And we'll give it to you at 3.9-percent financing.' "

This type of highly personalized direct marketing can really improve response rates. That's why KAR moved into digital printing: To give clients a bigger bang for the promotional buck.

"A lot of companies are gathering so much data, but they don't know how to use it," Marrale says. "Indigo provides a good way to take the raw data and convert it into a mailing program. That's a lot better than just going out blindly and buying 5,000 names off a mailing list."

Making Printing Personal

ProColor in Minneapolis is doing personalization with a pair of Xerox DocuColor 40s, both equipped with Scitex 3000 RIPs with variable data capabilities. Applications include personalized training materials, and tickets and coupons featuring sequential numbering. The company also uses variable data to print limited editions of fine art.

"An artist will do a run of 500," explains Brian J. Malam, ProColor's digital printing specialist, "and we'll number them one of 500, two of 500..."

Although ProColor has found markets for variable data imaging, Malam believes that this service is in its infancy. In his opinion, the industry recognizes the potential of variable data, but still hasn't explored it completely.

"There are people that have an intellectual feeling for it," he notes, "but really haven't bought into the program yet."

Craig Barber, for one, appreciates the possibilities of variable data imaging. And, as president of the Printing Center in Great Falls, MN, he plans to take advantage of these possibilities courtesy of his company's T/R MicroPress cluster printing system. "We intend to get into variable data printing," he announces. "The market is going in that direction."

The Printing Center has equipped its MicroPress with five monochrome printers and a Minolta color copier. In addition to printing typical short-run digital work, the MicroPress has given the Printing Center an efficient, cost-effective proofing method—something Barber never envisioned when he initially installed the system.

"Before, we were charging our customers $50 or $75 for a color proof, or we were eating the charge," Barber says. "Now, we're running the proofs out on this copy machine, and you're looking at a $2 copy. And [customers] are more than happy with that for a proofing system."

Digital Short Orders

In Pasadena, CA, Castle Press is using its Xeikon 32D as a proofing system of sorts. Customers can see samples printed from the Xeikon before sending a job to one of Castle's conventional offset presses.

"It's a way for them to preview a job," notes Susan Kinney, co-owner and vice president.

It's also a way to print extremely short runs quickly. Let's say a customer needs 20 copies of an annual report for a board meeting—immediately. Castle can output the 20 on the Xeikon, then print a full order on an offset press.

This type of on-demand, short-run printing has proven especially beneficial for Castle's greeting card business. "Before, to put out a new piece, I had to run 5,000 cards—just to get samples for my salespeople," Kinney explains. "So you're investing a lot in inventory, and you don't know if it's going to sell well."

With the Xeikon, that's no longer an issue. The company can print as many cards as needed.

"The Xeikon has decreased inventory by quite a lot—by a couple hundred-thousand dollars," Kinney says. "It got rid of my bad sellers."

Print buyers and printers alike have discovered that on-demand digital printing eliminates wasted product and wasted warehousing. And data archiving makes it possible to print exact quantities as required, right away. No need to store excess printing that may grow obsolete before the buyer has use for it.

"Nobody wants to throw printing away," says Fowler, of Winston Printing.

And nobody wants to turn printing away. With digital systems, you generally don't have to. Easy to set up and quick on delivery, digital printing is ideal for short-run, quick-turnaround work.

Barber notes that the Printing Center's MicroPress has multiple units, so it can handle a number of jobs. And accommodating new work is no problem.

"[The operator] had all five units going on a big job the other day, and then a rush job came in for 500 copies," Barber says. "She just turned one unit off and ran that rush job on it."

ProColor also enjoys quick turnarounds with digital printing. In fact, the company added two DocuColors for the sake of redundancy. Since ProColor pushes the on-demand concept with customers, it needs to deliver.

"The service that we offer and the turnaround we commit to don't allow us to be down for even a few hours at a time," Malam says.

"By having two machines, we always have one running."

And as long as the systems keep running, the market for digital printing shouldn't run out of steam. "This technology is here to stay," Kinney says. "I love the fact that I can walk over there and give them a CD or a disk, and in 15 minutes, I can look at a four-color, two-side-printed piece. It really is instantaneous."

—Jerry Janda
 

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