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Tri-State--Reinvent and Refocus

September 2000
Tri-State may have grown with technology, but Frank Campagna remains at eye level with his customers.


Since you are reading this, it can be assumed that you are, in one form or another, a partner in the large chain of worldwide communications. You are a communications provider, directly or indirectly, through the printed or electronic word. Your livelihood depends upon the need for people to relay information, and the ways and means of communication are evolving, changing, taking shape and, in some cases, vanishing quicker than the time it takes to burn a CD.

Consider Tri-State Associated Services of Kingston, NY, currently operating three divisions: Tri-State Copy Land, Tri-State Litho and Tri-State Services. All three are branches of the second-generation, family owned business led by Frank Campagna, the company president.

Tri-State is more than a survivor, for that would indicate it has escaped the clutches of obsolescence. No, Tri-State is a classical example of the modern communications provider—a national trade printer, which specializes in work for commercial printers and print brokers, but much, much more. Now the company that started out making copies with Xerox reproduction machines is a printer of books for commercial accounts, independent publishers and self-publishers; a commercial printer and copy center for the trade; a Website designer; and a trade show coordinator, promoter and marketer. Tri-State bridged the communications gulf by introducing commercial printers, brokers and direct clients to its related services and zipping up all its needs as a single-source supplier.

"What we realized," stresses Campagna, who seems to make it his challenge to ease the burden of the overwhelmed customer, "is printing is a means of communication. And whether we're providing copying services or producing a book, it's a way of helping our clients communicate. It made us realize that we needed to set up separate divisions. That allowed us to market to individual, niche markets and establish a team of people internally on the customer service end that understood these individual markets and the problems with which these customers are faced."

Tri-State has made a name for itself on several fronts, led by its Litho division, which caters to the oft-overlooked independent and self-publisher niches. This clientele may find the larger, public book printing conglomerates, the heavily bankrolled consolidators and worldwide superpowers, somewhat intimidating and inaccessible. Tri-State's chairman, however, is not tied up in a president's conference in Prague—he's the man ready to answer the phone or show a nervous, first-time author a printed proof of his/her lifelong labor. A finished book rather than a costly set of bluelines. He's preaching patience rather than stressing volume. The client's ability to satisfy an unknown quality, rather than a sizeable quantity, is his goal. Campagna even wrote a book on, well, printing books.

"We looked at what the big printers were doing and realized there wasn't a place for the independent author. This is because large book printers are looking for volume and steady customers—a publisher that will provide them with multiple titles," Campagna explains. "We asked: 'Who's taking care of the author who will write two books in his lifetime? Who's showing him the steps and making it affordable for him?' We put together a guide book that walks them through the process, and nobody else does that. This way, they can see what their finished product is going to look like, and it actually walks them through the entire process."

Frank Campagna hails from a family of entrepreneurs, which isn't surprising (his immigrant grandfather manufactured spaghetti). Tri-State Copy Land was started by his mother, Loretta, in 1976 as she partnered with Xerox and introduced its first line of high-speed copiers to the Hudson Valley. It was a hot commodity in the late 1970s, and Loretta went after commercial accounts to give them fast turnaround on black-and-white booklets that took considerably longer to produce in commercial shops. Tri-State was turning out millions of copies each month, but the market would quickly change as the larger accounts began installing their own copiers in-house.

After Frank completed college and joined the fold, Tri-State began to target print brokers who didn't possess their level of capability and invested in high-speed Xerox duplicators, which were expensive to operate. He set up a distributorship and sought out distributors at various trade shows such as the Printing Northeast Expo. Those distributors resold Tri-State's copy work to their clients and Tri-State packaged and labeled the work under the distributor's name. It was the beginning of niche marketing as they targeted their brokered work throughout the Northeast.

"The brokers needed very fast turnaround time or needed to know more information about their project, how to sell their project, and they needed some tools," Campagna states. "In our brochures we help teach them how to sell high-speed copying. In doing so, it developed a strong, bonding relationship between us and our clients. It helped build that market for us."

It was around this time that Campagna spotted the need for a printing operation that could address the independent and self-publishing book market. Tri-State greeted this audience with open arms and instructed these fledgling authors on how to acquire ISBN numbers and bar codes, as well as how to market their books. Campagna educated himself through seminars and became a student and, eventually, teacher of the industry. It became yet another tier in Tri-State's host of products and services.

This ushered in a line of modern sheetfed offset printing equipment and capabilities: Sakurai presses equipped with automated plate changers, digitally controlled ink/water balance and perfecting capabilities. Automating the various book binding lines—perfect, comb and saddle stitching—shortly followed. An imagesetter was also installed to allow fully imposed film.

The automation allowed Tri-State workers to do the jobs of multiple people, thus maintaining costs and a competitive edge. Soon, Tri-State kept the entire package in-house by adding book covering capabilities.

Tri-State Services continues Campagna's quest to stay one step ahead in the printing business by addressing the Internet and the digital world with Website design, trade show management, marketing and promotion. Tri-State is involved in managing the Art Book Fair, including developing its Website, producing the promotional printing and marketing. The company also became a Skyline dealer, marketing and selling that company's pop-up display business for trade shows.

Tri-State is also putting the finishing touches on a new Website that will feature all of its products and services under the company umbrella. For example, Litho customers will now be able to upload book manuscripts/cover designs and track their jobs. A pricing calculator, Calculator Wizard, can produce quotes on book pricing as the client can learn adjusted costs as specs are changed. The Wizard is offered also to brokers who can use it on their own Websites.

"What we've done is identify a market that we're interested in, that can utilize our services and then built a customer base around that," Campagna says.

"Whether we're printing a book for a broker or printing one directly for a customer, it doesn't change what's happening on the production end. The knowledge really has to be on the customer service end, and that's what we've been addressing."

It is the investment in an Océ digital system that enables Tri-State to work its finished-book proofing magic. Working in a PDF, PostScript, PageMaker or QuarkXPress format, the files are delivered to the Océ system and the proof produced is also the finished product, complete with cover. It's the actual pages and a cover, without the hassle of negatives, bluelines and the pesky $20 to $100 author's alteration fees for the mistakes that invariably crop up.

"Now, if you want to make a change, it's no big deal," he says. "You're looking at a finished product, not a blueline. My response when I see it, even to this day, is 'wow.' " Imagine how his customers feel.

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