Winchester Printers: Old School, New Profit TricksMarch 2013 By Erik Cagle, senior editor
There's no mistaking that, despite being just 38 years of age, Chris Hottle is an old soul when it comes to printing. He loves the clamor of heavy iron rattling the shop at Winchester Printers, a commercial business located in the town of Winchester, tucked virtually into the northernmost point of Virginia.
The "ink in his veins" adage applies to Hottle; it's certainly in the lineage. His grandfather, Irving, joined the company in the late 1940s and, to this day, the 87-year-old drops in on occasion to run the Heidelberg Windmill letterpress. "He comes into the office to make sure we're doing enough business to pay his rent," Winchester Vice President Chris Hottle laughs.
Hottle's father, Ron, is president of the company, which has existed since 1892, when it debuted as a newspaper and bindery operation. The staff of 25 full-time and six part-time employees love their work. They could operate the all-Heidelberg shop in their sleep, with many workers boasting 20-plus years on the job. It's a by-the-bootstrap, working man's shop, but not drudgery.
"We try to keep print enjoyable," Chris Hottle explains, "so that it's not a miserable 10 hours every day.
Norman Rockwell would've enjoyed painting Winchester Printers, a slice of Americana that is representative of the traditional, family-owned segment of the commercial printing industry. A $4.4 million-a-year, regional printer, Winchester reaches into Washington, DC, Maryland and Pennsylvania, but is more known in the Shenandoah Valley and Northern Virginia.
Before we throw them on the cover of The Saturday Evening Post, it is interesting to note that the firm has been growing at a brisk pace in recent years, due largely in part to a series of investments in digital technology—a far cry from the furniture and office supplies Winchester Printers offered during the 1950s. In the past three years alone, the company has acquired (or is in the process of adding) a Heidelberg (Ricoh) Linoprint C901 digital color production press; a 65˝ EFI Rastek H652 UV hybrid wide-format inkjet printer from Heidelberg; Pressero Web-to-print capabilities; and the Heidelberg Prinect Color Toolbox for precise color management of both its traditional offset and digital output.
Also, touching down in about a month is a refurbished (2000-era) four-color, 40˝ Heidelberg Speedmaster SM 102 sheetfed press. It is a first of sorts for Winchester Printers: a full-size, four-color press. The shop had boasted a two-color, 40˝ and a number of half-sized Speedmasters.
So, while the company has changed with the times—and what 120-year-old firm could survive without adapting—there is still an allegiance to sheetfed offset because, as Chris Hottle will attest, it still pays grandfather's rent. Saddlestitched books lead the way in terms of dollar volume at Winchester, followed by brochures and mailers. Pocket folders are popular among clients, and much of what the company prints is marketing materials that end up in the mailstream. To a lesser extent, Winchester still fires up its two-color Heidelberg Printmaster 46 half-size presses to churn out envelopes and letterhead.
No No-Trade Clause
Winchester Printers serves a number of verticals, including health care, higher education and home improvement. A significant amount of work is provided to mailing houses, as well; while Hottle does not fancy his company a trade printer, these types of relationships seem to be an avenue toward growth.
The growth path can also be echoed for the Linoprint C901, which was package ordered with a scanner, an in-line saddlestitcher and the Prinect Color Toolbox; along with Prinect workflow upgrades Prepress Manager, Signa Station, MetaDimension and MetaShooter. "The upgrades give us more automation throughout the shop. We no longer have to go through multiple programs to preflight jobs, or to check color or fonts," Hottle remarks.
The need for the Linoprint C901 press was simple. Winchester had been operating on another digital platform for four years, and found the click charges and service contracts to be eroding profitability. And, while Winchester gave up some esoteric capabilities in the switch, the move seems to be more in line with what the printer wants to accomplish.
"We're able to produce about 90 percent of what we could before. The only difference is we can't do substrates more than 12 pt. and can no longer print vinyls," notes Bill Casella, the company's digital, signage and small offset guru. "We've been very happy with the Linoprint."
While the Linoprint is manufactured by Ricoh, having Heidelberg backing the product in all aspects was a pot sweetener for Winchester Printers. "If there are issues with RIPs or functionality of the machine, Heidelberg is there to take care of it," Hottle remarks. "When Heidelberg backs a product, it makes it more legitimate."
The Linoprint has synched well with Winchester's workflow to provide a hybrid digital/offset system. The option to "go digital" has been helpful in adding flexibility to job scheduling. The two formats are virtually interchangeable for Winchester Printers. Certainly, some longer run lengths will dictate that offset is the more cost-effective method, while short-run and variable work will call for digital output. But the sweet spot between those two extremes offers a tremendous opportunity to offer strong turnaround times.
"Recently, someone needed a 24-page booklet the next day," Hottle remarks. "We tend to be the guy called when no one else can get the job turned. We can trust the color match between the (Speedmasters) and the (Linoprint). We haven't had any customers complain about switching over to digital when we've had to, and that's coming from an old offset guy."
The four-color Speedmaster SM 102 is due to touch down at Winchester Printers next month. A customer had sought saddlestitched books with higher page counts and greater quantities, making it inefficient to use a half-size press. Since there were already accommodations for the two-color, 40˝—such as a Heidelberg Suprasetter thermal CTP device with Autoloader, large-format folders, a 45˝ Polar cutter and an eight-pocket Stitchmaster ST100 with stacker—it didn't require significant ancillary investments to bring the SM 102 aboard.
Wide-Format: A Game Changer
Speaking of hybrids, the EFI Rastek H652 UV wide-format inkjet printer has the potential to be a significant game changer for Winchester Printers. It can drive more large-format signage, including banners, signs, and wall and window graphics. Best of all, Winchester Printers can sell through their direct mail customers, as well as copy shops and other small printers—firms that wanted to offer large-format signage, but could not commit to the investment.
The substrate spectrum on the Rastek is pretty wild, according to Casella, with capabilities ranging from ceramic to tile, metal and glass. "The hybrid large-format printers allow you to go from roll-to-roll to rigid substrates. It gives us a more diverse portfolio of what we're able to print for clients."
Web-to-print capabilities is another area where Winchester Printers has a high potential ceiling. After doing research for a couple of years, Hottle and Casella happened upon the Aleyant Systems booth at Graph Expo, where the pair were duly impressed with the Pressero system they saw. Two days after returning from Chicago, a curious call came from a customer.
"One of our clients called and said, 'Hey, that Web-to-print storefront you were talking about the other day…I just sold it to one of my customers,' " Casella recalls. "We basically had two days to create a demo site for a presentation we had to give at a corporate headquarters the following Monday. But, with only two days' experience and a graphic arts background, I was able to design a basic site for them. Because of that meeting, our customer was able to land the account."
Online Storefronts Build Loyalty
Within two years, Winchester posted 200 variable products on the site that serves a company with 1,400 users. A second client was obtained shortly after, and Casella notes the experience was much simpler and, to date, even more profitable than the original site.
Online storefronts is one area in particular where the potential for growth is unlimited. Winchester has also purchased around 10 URLs with the express purpose of putting together targeted business-to-consumer sites.
"The days of printing contracts are long gone," Casella remarks. "These sites help lock in a customer a little deeper as opposed to using a conventional printing procurement site. When you have someone locked in to a busines-to-business site, you basically are guaranteeing the quality of the print output, the turnaround factor, and the ease of ordering and personalization. That customer becomes comfortable with what you're producing, which in turn allows you to build on that relationship."
Of all the things Winchester Printers does well, the curious note is that marketing its own capabilities is not on that list. Chris Hottle's hope is that his shop can take some notes from P.T. Barnum and deliver its message to the potential customer base. Again, given its growth into areas such as variable data/digital printing, wide-format digital output and Web-to-print offerings, leveraging the needs of other printers is one path toward growth that the company is eyeing.
Ron Hottle points out that even though his printing plant is filled with employees who boast 20-year employment service pins—including some who began their careers there as teenagers—they are unfazed by the onslaught of new technology offerings. In fact, the workers embrace the challenge.
"We're in a customer-driven industry," Ron Hottle concludes. "You can have a customer walk in today with a job request you've not seen before and ask you if you can produce it. We kind of lie to 'em and say 'yeah', then go out and quickly buy the equipment to do it." PI