Think Patented : Leading a RevolutionAugust 2011 By Erik Cagle
One of the primary elements of any successful revolution is the ability to change how people think. In the case of the printing industry, the revolution afoot is one of survival, of technology and redefining and reinvention. This revolution emanates from the corner office, and it protects those who are brave and humble enough to admit that some time-tested traditions are highly prone to failure tomorrow.
It's really about keeping one's feet moving, and that has certainly been the case with Dayton, OH-based Think Patented. The firm had been happily doing business as a sheetfed business—Patented Printing—through the turn of the millennium. The world of commercial printing was changing all around the 80-employee operation and, like most small- to medium-sized firms, it was in danger of following a path to irrelevance, if not obsolescence. But once the paths of two industry veterans crossed in 2005, the crystal ball became less cloudy.
Ken McNerney had joined the company in 2003, having logged 32 years in the graphic arts industry. Niels Winther had been a well-known executive on the supply side of the industry for many years, and aspired to garner a seat in the captain's chair of a printing company. They met in late 2005 and, by the following March 31, an acquisition deal was in place for the new co-owners that would continue to reshape, and grow, the southwestern Ohio printer.
Wait...printer? Not exactly.
"We always strive to be different, to stay ahead of the curve," observes Ken McNerney, company CEO. "We don't believe that print is dying, but solely ink-on-paper companies are dying. When I came on board, we were a commercial printer. Then, we became a graphic communications company, then a solutions provider, then a marketing services provider. I'm not sure we even know what that is, but we became one. Today, we've become a cross-media services provider.
"Our goal is to help our customers communicate, to touch their clients—whether that be customer acquisition or account retention. We look at how we can touch them via the printed piece, the highly targeted personal piece, e-mail blasts and mobile marketing. We're into helping our clientele communicate in multiple ways, with print being a big part of it."
Expanded Service Menu
Just a few short years later, the rechristened Think Patented boasts digital static and variable data printing, mailing, fulfillment, promotional products and other Web-based solutions to go with its sheetfed offset printing arsenal, which is led by a pair of six-color, 40˝ Komori Lithrone presses with double aqueous and UV coaters.
The employee ranks have billowed to 100 working out of two Dayton facilities totaling 70,000 square feet. And, once its lease is up, Think Patented will almost certainly relocate to a locale that can accommodate its substantial growth, perhaps under a single roof. The company, which has been recognized with NAPL Management Plus gold awards the past two years, is tracking $17 million in revenues for the current year.
Think Patented plays well in the retail world, serving consumer package goods companies, as well as health care, educational and manufacturing clients. The common denominator for many customers is the need for distribution; Think Patented is strategically located just blocks away from the pivotal I-70 east/west and I-75 north/south corridors. Winther, Think Patented's chairman, points out that his firm is in the largest 90-minute market in the country—75 percent of the U.S. population can be reached within a 90-minute flight.
"We can go to a consumer package goods company and talk to them about a point-of-sale program that can drop-ship to 15,000 grocery stores in the country and help them improve their response rates at point-of-sale," remarks Winther. "Distribution is what really drives us. Any client with a regional or national footprint that we can work with on a B2C or B2B type relationship is an ideal candidate for us."
The changes at Think Patented since Y2K have been monumental. The company moved out of the half-size press market and into the 40˝ arena. Mailing services were ushered in shortly after, followed by digital printing (though back "in those days" digital amounted to static, short-run production).
And when a client's fulfillment provider went out of business, Think Patented stepped up to the plate and offered to purchase the software and data warehouse needed to serve those fulfillment needs. The customer accepted.
Changes in recent years have been less dramatic, but effective: highly targeted and personalized direct mail campaigns, personalized URLs, Web-to-print, QR codes and (now) mobile-to-print. An integrated solutions group at Think Patented is hard at work creating online storefronts and variable template design programs. Selling promotional products was ushered in as an exclamation point to clients' marketing campaigns.
"That was the transition for us; back in the early 2000s, we printed something and tried to figure out what else we could do to it," McNerney remarks. "Now, we develop totally integrated marketing solutions for a client and print becomes a by-product. We'll always be a printer, but we're not leading with it.
"That transition from Patented Printing to Think Patented was so that people didn't pigeon-hole us into that print world," Winther adds. "While Think Patented became our name, it also became a call to action. We did some cool marketing jaunts off of that."
Today, Think Patented's marketing services/cross-media provider portfolio (with a dollop of ink on paper) continues to grow in the nebulous realm of mind share. This year the company launched and has published three issue of The Noodle, a marketing-centric magazine that does not masquerade as a thinly-veiled sales tool. It features third-party content, including charts and studies, along with bylined articles. As its title suggests, The Noodle is all about pushing ideas.
"We talk about being a go-to resource for clients and The Noodle is just one way of bringing resources to them," states Dave McNerney, director of sales and marketing. "The Noodle is not a magazine based on selling advertisements; there's not a call to action. Noodle is really about Think Patented elevating its brand and being looked to as a thought leader. The publication is targeted directly to marketing people, not procurement or print buyers. It's a way to show off a little and display some really cool printing techniques. It showcases our quality printing capabilities, as well as value-added techniques that creatives and marketers might consider."
Think Patented also hosted an event in tandem with The Print Council, called Print Delivers, which drew 200 area clients and prospects. Backed by solid resources and a sound roster of guest speakers, Print Delivers served as an educational platform, an opportunity for print clients to learn more about the technologies available and how they can augment their products.
"The feedback has been positive and clients appreciate being able to stay on top of the market," notes Dave McNerney. "We're not going to know the immediate return on investment but, based on conversations and phone calls we've received, it's been a huge success for us."
Another example of Think Patented zigging while its competitors zag is the firm's willingness to lay out capital expenditures during a down economy. In the last two years alone—two of the most challenging, no less—the business has acquired a pair of Kodak Digimaster EX150 black-and-white presses, a NexPress S2500 digital color production device equipped with a fifth imaging unit, and Kodak's InSite storefront software. The addition of a glosser led to a trio of trademarked offerings: DigiShine (for a UV finish look), DigiTouch (raised dimensional printing) and DigiSoft (soft coat). Much of Think Patented's future capex attention will be aimed at software and the IT world over the next two years. Winther adds that the company will need to budget for the anticipated move to larger accommodations in 2013.
"We had the oomph and the wherewithal to do what we needed to expand," Winther says. "We have two elements in our strategic plan—innovation and automation. We don't buy anything that cannot be integrated into our existing workflow. We're always looking to automate our processes, and pretty soon we will have a lights-out workflow. Innovation is fostered through quarterly off-site Innovation Team meetings, always in search of innovative ideas and products we can take to our clients."
Ken McNerney contends that predicting the largest growth area over the next three to five years is akin to peering into a crystal ball. He believes the solutions fostering that growth are probably not currently in use. One thing's for sure, the company CEO adds, the solutions will be derived from working closely with customers.
"We can't lose focus of what we've done," Ken McNerney concludes. "We have to remain focused and true to our word. A lot of what has gotten us to where we are today is the internal sell. It's trying to convince a pressman why we're hiring Web developers, and him not worrying about 'where's my job going tomorrow,' and it's tough. We used to be a printer and now we don't tell anybody that we're a printer...it's been a big internal sell.
"We need to continue to sell these programs and ideas, internally. And make sure we're nimble, customer centric and continuing to evolve," Winther adds. "The future is bright as we continue to grow, through organic growth with more integrated services to existing clients, through hiring of typically untraditional talent for new markets, and through tuck-ins and acquisitions." PI