Advertisers Printing: Four Generations & Still Evolving
First founded in 1923 as a letterpress shop, Advertisers Printing has consistently embodied the spirit of convergence — long before it became an industry trend. The St. Louis-based commercial printer has evolved from its days running two-color offset presses and producing labels, to the multi-technology, multi-application powerhouse of today.
While Advertisers has invested in digital presses — including the addition of an HP Indigo 10000 — and has plans for adding more wide-format equipment to the mix — the latest acquisition actually harkens back to its roots: a new sheetfed offset press.
The shop recently installed a 10-color RMGT 9 Series perfecting press with LED-UV curing, replacing three of its older, smaller offset presses. The new press frees up floorspace for future endeavors, while increasing speed and productivity, not to mention widening the range of applications the shop can produce.
The new RMGT 920PF-10+CC is equipped to produce 5/5, plus in-line coating, and also features Insta.Color makeready automation and fully automated plate-changing. This automation package, plus the very compact press footprint, allows Advertisers Printing to efficiently operate its new machine using one press operator and part-time floor help.
“Here’s the thing,” says Bill Fechner, CEO, and the third generation to run the company, alongside his son, Alex Fechner, who is currently working in business development, “I would lay awake at night, over the past several years, and on my mind as soon as I would wake up was that our [newest] offset press was 12 years old. The technology was getting away from us.”
At the same time, he continues, more than half of the jobs the shop produces are still offset. Bill Fechner says he chose the RMGT because it is the “swiss army knife of offset presses,” allowing him to compete better with the larger-sized presses of his competitors, while still allowing him to remain nimble enough to run shorter-length jobs they wouldn’t touch.
He has even moved some of his digital work back to the press, ganging up shorter-run jobs and increasing the types of applications he can target profitably. In particular, Bill Fechner notes, the new 10-color press opened up opportunities in the packaging space, allowing Advertisers Printing to run the substrates and finishing equipment necessary for applications such as corrugated packaging and prototyping.
“Packaging is something we’re really pushing hard,” Alex Fechner adds, including more than $20,000 in new business from him alone since the installation — high-value jobs he says the shop would never have been able to win without the upgraded sheet size. Sales might be flat overall with the COVID-19 crisis still gripping the country, but making the offset investment is proving to be a winning strategy to allow the company to pivot rapidly as needed.
Positioned for the Future
Looking forward, the next major investment potential Alex Fechner notes they are looking at is wide-format. Now that there are fewer offset presses, Advertisers has the floorspace to accommodate a flatbed press, as well as a flatbed cutter/router, he says. Right now they don’t have any firm plans on what they want to purchase, or the exact time frame, but the option is now open.
One potential path is to start selling more wide-format signage work, partnering with another shop, and then making the decision as to whether to bring it in-house — or acquire a wide-format company to expand wholesale — once the business is there to support it.
Print isn’t the only expansion option the printer is focused on, either. Data and automation is another area Alex Fechner notes is a strong priority for Advertisers Printing. On jobs such as direct mail — which makes up the lion’s share of the shop’s business today, along with more specialized jobs such as annual reports, pocket folders, and marketing pieces — he notes that they don’t just want to take the job and print it. They also want to provide the metrics around the campaign, prove the ROI, and even use responses to help refine future campaigns.
“We are already doing that,” Bill Fechner adds, “by offering omnichannel services. We tie direct mail into digital marketing, and can provide dashboard results, provide a list of names of who interacted with the campaign, and have different conversations about where to go next.”
He says that being able to tie the printed direct mail to a Website, and have the technology on hand to connect unique users to IDs, which then generate another postcard outreach, is a powerful call to action that makes Advertisers Printing more than just a print service provider — it makes the shop a strategic partner for the brands and companies with which they work.
It is especially important to tie the digital aspects to print, Bill Fechner says, pointing out that direct mail campaigns get an average of a 9% response, while digital get less than 1%. And while digital advertising is there and gone in the blink of an eye, printed pieces have an average life of 17 days. But with social media and the prevalence of digital in our lives today, most consumers are exposed to it far more than print.
Pairing the two together allows a brand to get all the sticking power of print with the convenience of digital, he adds, which in turn creates more effective campaigns, and that leads to doing more business with Advertisers Printing.
A Blueprint for Success
For those shops looking to duplicate Advertisers Printing’s success over the years, Alex Fechner believes the first step is to stop thinking of themselves as printers. “Start becoming a solutions provider, instead of just an order taker,” he notes. “Provide value. I know that’s what everyone says, but you can’t be a print provider anymore. You have to be able to say ‘here is what we anticipate the results will be, and here is what we suggest based on those results.’ It is a conversation, really.”
In particular, the Fechners agree that one key to their success has been a willingness to invest in new technologies and equipment, never being content to accept the current level of success, or even the current product mix, but instead always keeping an eye out for what might come next. And it’s not just investment in new equipment either — investing in the people, and making customer service a top priority, are also key elements of their success.
It might seem like simple advice, but staying focused and inspired have taken Advertisers Printing from humble roots producing one- and two-color labels for local companies into a multimillion-dollar solutions powerhouse that shows no signs of slowing down. Convergence isn’t just a buzzword, it is a philosophy of embracing change and striving for excellence that Bill and Alex Fechner will continue to embody well into the next generation and beyond.
PRINTING United 2020, originally scheduled to take place at the Georgia World Congress Center in Atlanta, was replaced by the PRINTING United Digital Experience. Although the 14-day online event already took place Oct. 26-Nov. 12, all programming is still available for viewing on-demand. For registration information in order to gain free access, visit printingunited.com. PRINTING United 2021 will be held Oct. 6-8 at the Orange County Convention Center in Orlando, Fla.