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November 2006 BY ERIK CAGLE
Senior Editor
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THERE’S NO truth to the rumor that Washington, DC-based McArdle Printing is changing its name to Clairvoyant Press. But the sheetfed and coldset web shop does pride itself on knowing its customer’s needs better than the customer does.

It takes some advanced perception to survive in the highly competitive DC-Baltimore region, but McArdle will be celebrating its 60th anniversary in 2007, coming on the heels of consecutive double-digit growth campaigns the past two years. The employee-owned company, headquartered in Upper Marlboro, MD, took strides to ensure future success and new growth potential with the October 2005 acquisition of a Xerox iGen3 digital press with bookletmaker and, this December, the printer will welcome a new 10-color MAN Roland 700 with roll sheeter.

Having a firm grasp on what the customer needs, notes company president Lisa Arsenault, is woven into McArdle’s penchant for delivering high-end service.

“Our niche is service at a high level. We don’t have any local competitors that can turn jobs as quickly as we do,” Arsenault says of McArdle, which registered $40 million in sales for 2005. “From our inception, we’ve been doing tight turnaround work; it’s become the climate and culture at McArdle.”

While McArdle is not the area’s low-cost provider, according to Tricia Reyda, sales manager, clients can appreciate the complete breadth of the company’s services. “Most of our customers know they’re not getting a bargain-basement price,” she says. “But when it comes to a complicated job, it’s the fast turnaround, service and reliability factors that they’ve come to expect from us.”

McArdle essentially dates back to 1946, when the company—then known as Business Printing, a subsidiary of U.S. News and World Report and The Bureau of National Affairs (BNA)—was spun off and acquired by its general manager, Walter McArdle. Business Printing was basically an in-plant for the publishers, and continued printing for the two entities after the split, including magazines such as U.S. News and Newsweek. When the McArdle family decided to exit the business in 1985, the printer again became a wholly owned subsidiary of BNA.

Dedicated Employees

As an employee-owned company, McArdle’s workers not only have a stake in the business, but a sense of leadership. McArdle’s steering committee is comprised entirely of employees—no managers—giving them more accountability. In addition to a competitive profit sharing plan, the employee contribution for McArdle’s health insurance plan is modest.

The combination of sheetfed and coldset web capabilities makes the printer popular for daily and weekly publications that are delivered on Capitol Hill. Its digital gear is an ideal fit for McArdle clients in need of annual reports, books and fund-raising materials.

The company produces variable data products for mutual fund companies to target their high net worth clients. Variable data printing has also proved to be optimal for customers in the collegiate and political spectrums. Variable data has endless applications; one McArdle client, which builds assisted living communities, relies on the printer to provide variable material for its 20 nationwide locations.

Some of McArdle’s corporate publishing clients have high page count needs. One job is a series of 10 books—including a massive 1,500-page tome—done four-color on 40-lb. stock, plastic coil bound and shipped. The project consumed 44 carloads of paper, according to Reyda.

McArdle also produces high page count, short-run magazines for some of the same publishing clients who deliver to Capitol Hill.

The company, which employs 219 and has 150,000 square feet of manufacturing space, is on track to post $42 million in revenues for 2006. Arsenault feels it is McArdle’s customer-driven approach that has enabled consecutive double-digit annual growth campaigns.

“We know our customers intimately well. We constantly look at their businesses and try to figure out what types of technology are out there that can improve their workflow and get them to market faster,” Arsenault says. “We’ve been saying for a long time that it’s not about ink on paper anymore. It’s really that equation of customers driving what they need and then McArdle delivering on it, religiously.”

McArdle has found ways to add value for its clients that doesn’t clearly pay dividends in the credit ledger for the printer. If a customer brings in specs for a job that doesn’t quite mesh with McArdle’s capabilities or equipment, the printer will find a home for the job at another printing house, deliver specs and get pricing, then turn it over to the client at no charge above the third-party quote. McArdle doesn’t see a dime.

When another client was having issues with inconsistent output from their laser printers and needed help managing color, McArdle sent in a team to teach color management and gain more predictability. Again, a no charge service.

“People would say we’re crazy for doing that,” Arsenault says. “But it’s a service we provide to our clientele. That has also helped us grow with them and increase our revenues.”

Digital Direction

The move to digital printing was also aimed at providing a more comprehensive list of services for customers who, in turn, could tap into their customer base deeper and more effectively. The next step, according to Arsenault, is templating so that clients may order online. Digital storefront capabilities and the recent installation of Webway Printflow for electronic job proofing have enabled the company to add more tools and become less of a commodity target.

“Making yourself unique in a commoditized world is difficult to do,” Arsenault remarks. “It’s the experience that you create for your customers.”

When it came time to shop for a new sheetfed press, McArdle assembled a team to study each of the manufacturers and determine which offering was most relevant to its needs. McArdle devised a print test that, according to Arsenault, was found to be one of the most comprehensive by the participating manufacturers.

“We wanted to keep emotion out of the process and make it a scientific approach,” she notes. “The 10-unit is going to open up new opportunities for us. With the roll sheeter we can enter the short-run magazine market and offer more there. The idea is to wrap everything around being able to do the digital marketing campaign for them, the e-campaign, as well as the printing and fulfillment.”

In addition to the Roland 700 press and the iGen3, McArdle’s other recent acquisitions include EFI’s PrinterSite Fulfillment, a Fuji Saber computer-to-plate system and Artwork’s Nexus RIPping solution.

One of McArdle’s future plans include the startup of a marketing services company. Since the company currently offers in-house design—and ad agencies/marketing firms are acquiring digital presses—Arsenault figures her company can be even more competitive in creating end-to-end solutions.

“We want to offer marketing services to our customers at the same level an agency does it,” she says. “We’d run the whole program for them: design it, lay it out and manage the data; do everything from start to finish. That’s the next stage for growing the company.”

Latching onto customers deeper with digital printing, and providing them a sense of partnership, are the enabling factors that will allow McArdle to continue on the path of double-digital growth. But there is room for improvement, areas where the company can be refined.

“If you drop the ball, what separates us from everyone else is how we pick it up,” Arsenault contends. “If you sign off on the proof and you missed something, most people will argue about who pays for it to be reprinted. Never, ever does that happen here. We reprint at the snap of a finger and never send a bill. That’s what partnerships are all about.” PI

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