Fast-Track Firms : The Reinvented PrinterDecember 2012 By Erik Cagle, Senior Editor
When it comes to the economy and the state of the graphic arts industry, there are two safe blanket assessments that can be made. Most experts agree that recovery from the crippling 2008-2009 recession has been quite disappointing, lacking in any measurable bounce-back attributes in relation to growth.
Moreover, any printer that is able to experience modest growth, let alone to a significant degree, certainly stands out in a sea of red ink, closures, bankruptcies and liquidations that marked 2012. However, there is a small cadre of performers that were able to do more than just survive. They were able to experience explosive growth through M&A activity, new equipment, inroads to new technologies and offerings, not to mention plain-old organic growth. This was accomplished against an economic backdrop encouraging the tightening of purse strings, not loosening.
We have three examples of printing companies that bucked the trend toward pat hands and instead went all in with their bets on a successful 2012. Suffice to say, and continuing the poker analogy, these firms are betting on running the table again in 2013. It's time to see what cards they are holding.
King of Prussia, PA
Most Recent Fiscal Year Sales: $31.40 million
Previous Fiscal Year Sales: $18 million
Change: 74 Percent
Founded as a business forms manufacturer, IBS Direct subsisted on unit sets work until well into the 1980s when it transformed into a direct mail provider. Then, two years ago, CEO George Schnyder undertook a period of deep introspection. Schnyder calls it his "ah-hah" moment.
"There was no reason to believe that over the next five years, I was going to be able to do what I had not done in the past five years, which was grow the company significantly," he recalls. So Schnyder found his own replacement in Ted Sherwin, who took over the role of company president. That led to an entire management makeover that established what Schnyder calls his A-Team (minus B.A. Baracus). Instead of being soldiers of fortune, IBS Direct's A-Team became mavens of M&A.
In October of 2011, the printer acquired Mars Graphics of Westville, NJ. A few months later, IBS added Deptford, NJ-based Intek. The IBS Direct headquarters in King of Prussia, PA, swelled to 90 employees from 48, and the 71,000-square-foot facility soon bulged with the addition of two commercial web offset presses, both Harris M110s, courtesy of Mars. That deal alone added $10 million to IBS' sales coffers.
The Intek deal didn't add much gear of significance, but did net IBS a major contract with AAA to produce trip maps and TripTik travel planners for 350 AAA locations around the United States, Canada and Mexico. AAA was Intek's sole client. IBS will also use the press it picked up in this deal, a Harris M90, to generate rolls and sheets of envelopes for a manufacturer.
Other gear came aboard as part of the tuck-ins, including folders, sheeters, cutters and binders, but by far the bread-and-butter aspects of the acquisitions are the three web presses and the relationships that emerged from bringing on Intek. The company also ratcheted up its platemaking capabilities, switching from a system that produced four or five plates an hour to one that generates 40 to 50 an hour.
More excitement is in store for IBS Direct in 2013, with two acquisitions and two more press additions planned, though Schnyder didn't divulge any details. He had to lease 15,000 square feet of extra storage space for paper and finished goods, and he doesn't envision being able to accommodate anything beyond two more presses.
"My sense is that by the end of 2013, not taking into consideration any additional sales from acquisitions, we'll be close to $40 million in sales," Schnyder notes.
Most Recent Fiscal Year Sales: $82.22 million
Previous Fiscal Year Sales: $66.96 million
Change: 23 Percent
The founding fathers at Mimeo.com have always believed in improving processes via technology. While the company is generally known for being one of the first concerns to offer digital printing exclusively through the Internet (debuting in 1998) via its Printing-as-a-Service, cloud-based model, it has enjoyed international success, particularly in Europe.
Mimeo.com's offerings fall into three buckets: documents (including marketing collateral, manuals and training materials); a photo publishing (cards, calendars and books) fulfillment partner for brands such as Snapfish; and specialty publications (a boon providing school planners in the United Kingdom, Austria and Germany, yearbooks in the UK and funeral stationery).
"We're bringing some of those products to other geographies and see growth potential across the board," notes Charlie Corr, Mimeo.com's vice president of corporate strategy. "The use of digital color is growing. We've made significant investments in color, added four HP Indigos, a couple of Xeikons, upgraded many of our (Kodak) NexPresses, and increased our black-and-white capacity.
"We've invested a great deal in binding and finishing, not only to produce school planners, but also hardcover, case-bound books with jackets for our photo partners. Our company has invested aggressively in R&D and increased capacity."
Part of building upon market share is leading the way, courtesy of "a better mousetrap"—a.k.a, the customer experience. Price and ease of use may rule the Internet, but Mimeo.com has found its 24/7 customer service and support to be a difference maker. From an internal standpoint, the race will always be on to find a more efficient and effective way of translating online orders into satisfied customers.
"We're always looking at new growth opportunities," Corr says. "We're very interested in automation and improvements in binding technology—from perfect binding to case and mechanical. And, we're always looking for improvements in productivity, throughput and cost on color. Much of what we do is aggregating volume, so we can look at higher-end equipment because of that."
While 23 percent year-over-year growth is somewhat amazing, the brain trust at Mimeo.com views it as a manifestation of the company's game-plan execution. Corr sees more opportunities to be had than the company is able to engage.
"It's a balancing act between the resources that you have from development through sales through production, and your ability to engage those opportunities," he adds. "One of our biggest challenges is finding that right balance."
SG360°, A Segerdahl Co.
Most Recent Fiscal Year Sales: $178 million
Previous Fiscal Year Sales: $160 million
Change: 11 Percent
The artist formerly known as The Segerdahl Corp. may not have come full circle as their new moniker indicates, but perhaps the name change represents an about-face (or a 180°) in its strategy. The employee-owned firm, which now offers the "full arc" of empirical direct marketing solutions, reaps nearly half of its clients from the national retail space—clothing, big-box food, electronic and home/hardware stores.
The company is built on three pillars: BRANDIRECTions, a research process that lays the groundwork for success; IMPRESSions, the realization and transformation of a strategic vision; and EXPRESSions, where an impression is shaped, crafted and placed in the hands of the consumer. Completing the transformation was the acquisition of RT Associates.
"What's truly unique to SG360°, and what makes us a leader in our industry is our BRANDIRECTions pillar," notes Rick Joutras, CEO. "This is the data science pillar of our company that includes analytics to guide and optimize direct marketing solutions. One specific area allows our clients to utilize online, demographically specific panelists to test the effectiveness of their campaigns before spending a single dime on production. This method of pre-testing is called Empirical Testing and provides a scientific means to present the high probable design to ultimately test against a known control piece.
"We are giving our customers a brand new way to plan their client communications based on real and objective feedback."
In 2012, the company added a pair of new, six-color Komori Lithrone G40 sheetfed offset presses. The machines complement a press fleet that includes a Goss Sunday 4000 in-line twin web press, as well as HP Indigo and Canon digital output devices.
Moving forward, Joutras says the company is looking to integrate digital printing with the evolving software-as-a-solution (SaaS) industry. "And how can we utilize BRANDIRECTions to incorporate programs that include and rely on both direct mail printing and e-mail as integral parts of the solution," he adds. "There are a number of programs already in place where this combination has clearly proven to be very successful and positively impacting the return on marketing investment." PI