The Next 'Big Thing' for Printers Is Still Wide-format Work
Truth be known, the “next big thing” existed as a smaller thing for a number of years at Multi-Craft Litho. That is certainly no longer the case.
Just ask Tom Gibbs, the VP and part-owner of the Newport, Ky.-based firm. Gibbs and Co. have long sought out product and service enhancements that could enable Multi-Craft to better service their existing accounts. They soon realized wide-format printing — which Multi-Craft produced on a limited basis via proofing equipment — held the key.
The “next big thing” has arrived in the form of a new Anapurna M2500i, obtained from Agfa Graphics, as well as a Kongsberg XN24 cutter from Esko.
“It’s a perfect fit for us,” Gibbs observes. “We’re already working with the ad agencies and corporate marketing departments, and they were buying their wide-format products elsewhere. Our current clients trust us with their print, mailing and online projects, so they are very willing to trust us with their wide-format needs. Our goal is to help our clients sell more of their products and services through offline and online technologies, and wide-format is just another way we can add value to our relationships.”
Thus far, Multi-Craft Litho has produced a wide range of projects, including a pair of grocery store remodels that incorporated wallpaper, aisle markers, banners, floor graphics and dimensional letters, to name a few. One of the keys behind Multi-Craft getting off to such a great start with the technology was hiring experienced personnel, including a seasoned wide-format salesperson and a CSR/estimator.
As opposed to buying simple print, Gibbs points out that wide-format can be beyond the knowledge base of some customers. So, it behooves the provider to have someone on staff who can provide the expertise a customer may need.
“Rather than training current personnel, we made the decision to hire the expertise,” Gibbs says. “Rather than trying to invent the wheel, we bought the wheel.”
Smooth Ramping-Up Process
The company is continually researching and testing new substrates, such as brushed aluminums, acrylics and wallpaper. Absent the experienced wide-format talent, Gibbs thinks the ramping-up process would have been much more arduous. And since Gibbs handles all internal operations at the company and is trained on every piece of equipment, he can speak from first-hand experience. He loves what he’s seen so far.
“In a year, we’ll be looking for new space because wide-format does take up a lot of room,” Gibbs says. “Our clients have high quality and service expectations, and our goal is to exceed them. Wide-format goes hand-in-hand with our other services.”
Down in Atlanta, Bennett Graphics was looking to stick its toe in the water three years ago with the acquisition of an HP Scitex FB700 hybrid wide-format output device, believing they could garner point-of-purchase (POP) jobs from customers. The printer then followed suit earlier this year by obtaining an HP Latex 370 printer. The machines are supported by a Esko Kongsberg XN Multicut digital cutter.
The 50-year-old firm has enjoyed a resurgence in work backed by investments in the wide-format digital printing equipment. Fundraising work is a high yield area for Bennett Graphics, serving the needs of nonprofits, colleges, ministries and charities. The business pitch is a growth area, as the printer will be hired to prepare all of the meeting documents for an ad agency, consulting firm, financial services or benefits management company that itself is in the process of pitching a client.
With the wide-format gear, Bennett Graphics does a bevy of POP work, including retail setups for casual dining, fashion and convenience stores. Preparing an ad agency’s office to look like an outdoor gear retailer or a fast food franchise, however, has become a niche specialty for Bennett Graphics.
“When we create that environment for customers, it turns on all those wide-format machines,” points out Bill Gillespie, VP of sales for Bennett Graphics. “It also turns on the design aspect of our business, which is really important to making those sales. The output device is invisible to that client; they don’t know or care what it is. They just got their problem solved.”
The printer recently redesigned the headquarters for a global company that specializes in paper-based consumer products. Gillespie points out that the clients Bennett Graphics depended on for work when the company first started down the wide-format path pales in comparison to the rich, varied customer base that the capabilities have delivered thus far.
“It’s all about imagination. It’s not about specification,” Gillespie admonishes.
The ways and means of selling wide-format output has taken on a more conceptual approach; gone are the quote-and-hope days, and Gillespie is encouraged by the younger sales reps who see the possibilities that the technology offers. Any printer worth his salt can print signs, but to be a problem solver and devise a way to do a folding carton … that’s where the real learning came in for Bennett Graphics.
Making the Conversion
Another printer celebrating a milestone anniversary is Blanks Printing & Imaging of Dallas. The business started as a supplier and prepress house when it opened 75 years ago. The company was doing $24 million in prepress business in 1994 and, in 2008 — when Blanks registered $24 million in sales — it converted completely over to printing. In recent years, the production menu expanded to include wide-format printing.
Blanks currently employs an EFI VUTEk GS3250LX Pro and a GS3250LXR Pro printer, both with LED capabilities. These machines (a hybrid and a roll-to-roll, respectively), which have been in place for about the last three years, replaced a QS2000 and added significant speed in the process. The EFI printers have positively impacted not only wide-format revenue but offset as well.
Leron Blanks, CEO of the company, points out that a vast majority of his wide-format clients are in the retail space, though Blanks does work with print procurement entities. Signage, printed on a wide array of vinyls, plastics, boards and glass, are popular, but Blanks also uses the GS3250s to print high counts multiple-up on a sheet (such as shelf strips) that are then cut out with a Zünd cutter. For example, a pizzeria client needs 4˝- wide strips and Blanks will do 1,000 of them up on a sheet.
For Blanks, the decision to get into wide-format printing was fairly easy to make. “We had customers we were servicing, including large retail customers that we were doing department store designs for,” he says. “So, we started selling to retailers. But as the equipment got faster, we lost our competitive edge. We were the first full-service printer in Dallas to offer wide-format, then it seemed like all commercial printers started putting in some type of wide-format equipment. We would’ve probably lost $4 million in sales if we hadn’t moved to the EFI VUTEk gear.”
Blanks added complementary equipment to build the wide-format business, including a Fotoba XL320 slitter and laminating machinery. And with LED capabilities, the company can print on thinner plastic substrates that would traditionally curl under normal drying circumstances. As a result, the printer has reaped $2.5 million in new work — $1.1 million in wide-format jobs and $1.5 million in offset work, including kitting — because it was able to bid on jobs it could not have handled previously.
“Our sales contacts at EFI told us that the installations would also benefit our existing offset business,” Blanks notes. “We brought aboard some new salespeople and they’re out there aggressively selling it. It’s a lot easier to sell when you have a wider variety of products to offer. The wide-format presses have opened a lot of doors.” PI