A Quantum Leap--From Foresight to Fortune...a Gamble Pays
BY CHERYL A. ADAMS
Suicide. That's what industry experts said Norm Friedman was committing by investing in a startup printing operation back in 1992.
The economy was depressed, the commercial printing market was overly saturated and competition was so fierce, several local printers had already gone out of business. Opening new doors when others were closing theirs would surely be death by design.
Fortunately for Quantum Color, the bank didn't see it that way.
Name: Quantum Color
Location: Morton Grove, IL
Annual Sales: $28 million
Key Markets: Advertising agencies, design firms, corporations
The new company's loan was approved and, a year later, the gamble paid off to the tune of nearly $6 million in sales. In 1994, revenues soared to $17.5 million and, by year-end 1997, Quantum had exceeded its own expectations, generating an astounding $28 million in business.
Because of an ailing economy, not despite it, 1992 was the perfect time to open a state-of-the-art sheetfed printing facility. The economic stall allowed company founder Friedman (who recently retired) to take advantage of below-market prices on the best printing equipment available. Since other printing companies had closed their doors, he was also able to hire a handful of eager sales reps, who might have otherwise been unemployed.
With talented employees and highly productive equipment in place, Quantum opened its doors in July 1992 and, from day one, started growing its business until the walls of the 18,000-square-foot facility were bursting at the seams. The young company had literally outgrown itself after only five years in business.
That was no surprise to Quantum executives—President and CEO Bill White and Vice President Al Cudahy—who had always envisioned the booming business. When sales skyrocketed in 1995—with customers including Anheuser-Busch, Fuji Color, H.J. Heinz, Kimberly Clark, Kraft General Foods, McDonald's, Mitsubishi and Montgomery Wards—Quantum started preparing for future expansion. The company moved last fall.
Quantum's new 75,000-square-foot facility, located in Morton Grove, IL, is reportedly one of the most modern anywhere.
In the "hospital-clean" pressroom, high- and low-voltage power supplies, air handling systems, and chilled water and fountain solution run in tunnels under the floor. (The only thing overhead is exhaust.)
The pressroom and bindery, which are sealed off from the rest of the building and automatically opened and closed upon entry or exit, are maintained at 45-percent humidity. Ceiling baffles cut down on pressroom noise.
An internal, cellular phone system has been installed throughout the facility, keeping production and project managers connected with customers, while a centralized print management system keeps them connected with every phase of a customer's job.
Quantum designed the perfect facility for what it considers the perfect technology: direct digital platemaking (coming soon) supporting five Heidelberg presses, including a new six-color, 40˝ Speedmaster 640 CD LYL equipped with multiple coating technology, which allows UV and aqueous coating over conventional inks, curing and drying—all in one pass. Plus, Quantum's analog and digital color proofing systems reportedly provide 98-percent color match. Quantum's average customer color approval takes just 15 minutes. (See sidebar for more on Quantum's prepress and pressroom technology.)
"We conducted an in-depth, two-year study of our electronic workflow to make sure it fully supported direct digital platemaking," says Cudahy. "Under the direction of our plant manager, Jim Lewandowski, we involved every employee in the design of the new plant. Every department worked on its own design, and we incorporated that information into our new facility."
"Also, we went through the complete ISO 9002 process with each person writing the standard operating procedures of his or her job," adds White. "Then, through committees, we made sure workflow was documented by SOP and supported the digital platemaking technology planned for mid-1998. We took painstaking efforts each step of the way." (White notes that Quantum should achieve ISO 9002 certification by year-end.)
Imagine a startup business incorporating the ISO certification process into its digital workflow from day one. Cudahy contends it's better to start sound manufacturing practices from the beginning than to incorporate changes later.
White agrees and says learning is an important part of Quantum's business philosophy. He believes Quantum is a "learning organization" from front-end to back, and he emphasizes that the most valuable lessons involve customer service.
"We maintain a database profile on all customers, with critical information about the type of business they're in, the type of materials they print, their special requirements, points of contact, and so on," says White. "Each time we do work for a customer, new information is added. We're constantly building the database. This results in extremely personalized service and quality products."
Back to the Basics
Quality means doing the job right and not taking any shortcuts, adds Cudahy. Attention to detail and being absolutely thorough are traits the company strives to instill in each employee. This back-to-the- basics philosophy is something Cudahy says permeates through every level of the company, from janitor to sales rep to CEO.
"We've grown our business by producing a quality product and providing value to our customers and the market we serve. Providing value is something we do as a matter of course."
And as a matter of course, a top-quality product will earn customer loyalty as well as industry recognition. Quantum recently received that recognition by winning 19 excellence awards (one in each category) for its entries in the Chicago-area Printing House Craftsmen's competition, including Best of Show, which was the Rolling Stones' Bridges to Babylon concert program.
While Quantum takes satisfaction in winning these awards, the company realizes that, first and foremost, its products must win the respect of customers. That's why, from day one, the company's written goal has been to meet and exceed customer expectations. Quantum believes it accomplishes this through top-notch management, state-of-the-art equipment and dedicated, hardworking employees. The key is having synergy between the three.
For Quantum, that synergy was taking place before the company even opened its doors. Company executives sought out skilled craftspeople and trained them the Quantum way—encouraging a sense of teamwork, pride and personal responsibility for their work, to produce the highest-quality product.
"If you don't have good employees, you don't have a good business," says Cudahy. "Good salespeople, prepress technicians and press operators are difficult to find. Once you've found them, you don't want to lose them. Employees are the backbone of the company. You have to take care of them. We're always looking for ways to help our people. We keep an ear to the wall, observe carefully and incorporate what we see."
"If you use cutting-edge technology, you need cutting-edge human resource efforts," says White, noting several innovative examples. Quantum's Employee Suggestion Program, which pays up to $100 per suggestion, has led to several improvements. Two recent examples: equipping in-plant vehicles with backup beepers and placing half-moon mirrors in the bindery, paper warehouse and shipping departments.
"Catch of the Month," another extremely popular program, financially rewards employees who "catch" mistakes. Best catch earns $100, while $50 and $25 rewards are paid for second- and third-place catches, respectively.
While most of Quantum's programs benefit employees and employer, the Employee Sales Incentive Program provides the biggest "return on investment" for both. The program is designed to reward any non-sales employee for referring Quantum and for bringing in new business.
"The standard commission for each new job resulting from this program is split 50/50 between the employee and the designated salesperson for six months," explains Cudahy.
Cudahy says Quantum is seeing great results from the program and notes a significant increase in sales from the recent contributions of two employees.
Monetary awards are not the only benefits that Quantum's innovative HR programs offer. Employee health and well-being are others.
For example, Quantum has developed a quit-smoking program, wherein the company picks up the tab for a non-smoking clinic or any other program that assists an employee in breaking the habit.
Last, but not least, is the company's quarterly newsletter. It features news from each department; a "Strictly Personnel" section that includes a brief bio and photo of each new employee, as well as those newly promoted; company events; and employee family happenings, such as engagements, marriages, births, vacations and athletic events.
"The philosophy of our company—that employees are the backbone of our business—attracts people who take pride in the product they produce," enthuses Assistant Marketing Director Barbara Bejna, who is also Quantum's newsletter editor. "Workers are happy to work in a place where their pride and efforts are important and incorporated into the business."
In a day and age where businesses seem to focus on employee expendability, rather than longevity, Quantum Color might be considered a loose cannon. However, Quantum's insightful executives would probably consider "loose cannon" a compliment.
Dinosaurs & Anchors
"We had two of the first Macintosh Quadra 950s in use in the country. Now they're boat anchors—completely obsolete," quips Quantum Color President and CEO Bill White.
While not speculating as to whose boats these "anchors" might secure, White does say Quantum has replaced the antiquated equipment with new Macs: the 9600/200. With these units, Quantum is now in the multi-processing mode, correcting color and retouching photos at "demon speed."
At press time, Quantum had not yet chosen which computer-to-plate system to install. However, executives there have narrowed it down between Creo and Scitex, and will probably use Kodak Polychrome Graphics digital plates.
With a CTP workflow coming soon, the company has also replaced its presses. Although White doesn't call them "dinosaurs," he does say four of the original five presses are now "extinct" at Quantum's new facility. In conjunction with the move, Quantum replaced its presses, even though they were only a few years old.
A dedicated Heidelberg user, Quantum operates two six-color, 40˝ Speedmaster CD waterless presses equipped with aqueous coaters and extended deliveries; one five-color, 40˝ Speedmaster 102 with aqueous coater and extended delivery; and one two-color, 40˝ Speedmaster 102.
While these four sheetfed presses might have starring roles in other printing operations, they take supporting roles at Quantum. Its new superstar is a six-color, 40˝ Heidelberg Speedmaster CD LYL featuring multiple coating technology.
The CD LYL integrates UV and aqueous coaters with curing and drying units, which allows a first coating material to be dried prior to application of a second coating, according to Vice President Alan Cudahy. In a single pass, Cudahy says, a UV coating can be applied on top of conventional inks or two different coatings (or two hits of the same coating) can be combined.
In addition, Quantum has two Heidelberg online CPC-2S spectrophotometers, which measure color as well as density, to ensure color quality. Cudahy says the technology provides a 98-percent color match.
Investing in quality equipment—and constantly updating its investment—White says Quantum is "striving to become the standard against which fine graphic arts products may be measured."