Arna Marketing Takes Customization to a Higher Level
Anthony Mills, chief information officer at Arna Marketing Group, describes the company as “an IT solutions provider that happens to print.” The printing, however, is anything but an afterthought.
It’s almost fully digital, brimming with variable data and produced on short notice to keep pace with what one Arna Marketing manager calls the RFN (right frickin’ now) market: health care organizations and other, equally demanding, customers that don’t forgive delays in the delivery of the customized printing, mailing and fulfillment solutions they rely on.
The platforms deployed are some of the industry’s most advanced digital production presses, including a quartet of newly acquired Océ VarioPrint inkjet devices that are bringing Arna Marketing closer to its goal of specifying on-demand inkjet production for almost everything it prints.
The transition to the kind of printing Arna Marketing now does “all started with a hyperlink in a letter,” recalls president Steven Hegna, who started the Branchburg, N.J.-based company in 2005. When installing color digital equipment made it possible to produce “a dynamic letter with a little color” — URLs in blue along with black type in one pass, as opposed to overprinting a shell — customers were intrigued. “Once people saw they could have color, they wanted a lot of color,” Hegna says. “Color opens the door.”
The door opened to opportunity for Arna Marketing, but also to the need for equipment robust enough to satisfy a production environment where the answer to every customer request, no matter how unusual or last-minute, is “yes.”
Meeting the need began with upgrading Arna Marketing’s fleet of toner digital presses, which will continue to be used as the company transitions from that form of output to inkjet. Dave Plennert, director of operations, says that five former toner devices with uptimes averaging no better than 60% weren’t getting the job done. These were replaced by two Océ VarioPrint 6000 devices, later joined by Canon imagePRESS equipment.
Canon and Océ (a Canon Solutions America brand) remain the exclusive providers for the electrophotographic side of the operation, where no other makes of digital press equipment are to be found. Aiming for the same kind of standardization, Arna Marketing has chosen Bell and Howell as its sole source of finishing, inserting and mailing solutions.
There’s no question that inkjet, also exclusively sourced from Canon and Océ, represents the future of print production at Arna Marketing. Hegna and his team see it as a primary enabler of the creative, marketing, supply chain management and data analytics services that Arna offers to a customer base that includes — besides health care providers — Fortune 500 companies and others in the financial services, banking, retail, pharmaceutical, insurance and education sectors.
Hegna emphasizes that the print-supported IT solutions Arna Marketing provides to these clients are neither generic nor one-off. Everything is customized, and all projects are designed with long-term execution in mind. The reward of serving customers in this way has been a fivefold growth in revenue during the past seven years, notes Mills.
The pace of growth at Arna Marketing has been a fitting test for its Océ VarioPrint i300 sheetfed color inkjet press, which was installed in March along with a pair of Océ ColorStream 3900Z monochrome continuous-feed inkjet presses. The VarioPrint i300, a B3-format (13.9x19.7˝) sheetfed press with a monthly duty cycle of 10 million impressions, was pushed nearly to that limit (9 million impressions) by Arna Marketing in its first month of operation. Uptime exceeded 90%, leading Mills to salute it as “a box that sits there in the corner and makes us money.”
Nevertheless, Hegna admits that the decision to acquire the device was “very nerve wracking:” would there be enough volume to keep such a high-capacity press busy? The answer is implicit in the fact that the company is currently in the process of installing a second VarioPrint i300 press. Now, Hegna believes, “everything has to go inkjet” so that Arna Marketing can be sure of meeting the kinds of requirements that today’s print buyers won’t compromise on. “They want good, fast and cheap — and they don’t want to pick any two.”
Selling customers on the advantages of production inkjet output goes hand-in-hand with streamlining internal workflows as volume shifts to the new process. One such outcome is the reduced use of preprinted shells, a staple of the direct mail business before the advent of white paper-in, one-pass, full-color printing systems like the VarioPrint i300. It’s a major step in the right direction for Arna Marketing, which began life as a lettershop and continues to offer mailing and fulfillment services.
One problem with producing variable direct mail the old way — printing the static portion on an offset press and digitally imprinting the dynamic content over that — was the time-consuming nature of the method. Plennert says that some jobs might need three days for the static printing before the variable matter could be added — a time frame cut down to hours with all-in-one production on an inkjet press. There also was the unpredictability of the model. A customer might preprint and inventory more shells than the mailing ultimately used, turning the remainder into waste.
This is why, says Hegna, “everything should be POD and 2D:” printed strictly in the quantity needed, only when needed, and barcoded for trackability throughout the process. To this end, JETVision inspection technology on the Bell and Howell inserting lines checks each piece against a database to verify the accuracy of the insert.
Variable printing is another capability that Arna Marketing intends to leverage with the help of its two VarioPrint i300 presses. “We want to be in everything where people need data,” says Mills, when asked what additional vertical markets the company intends to pursue. Hegna estimates that as much as 95% of the printed output already contains variable data. “We really don’t do any static-only printing,” he points out.
Healthy Returns: Enrollment Season
What little non-digital work there is belongs to a pair of Heidelberg Speedmaster sheetfed litho presses sitting incongruously close to the VarioPrint i300 in Arna Marketing’s pressroom. The plant as a whole occupies about 65,000 sq. ft. in Branchburg, a town in northern New Jersey; a 40,000-sq.-ft. addition is planned. The 110 people who work there are busiest from September through March, the open-enrollment season for the company’s health care clients.
In March, the plant was the site of a tour for customers of Canon Solutions America, which has placed about 70 VarioPrint i300 devices since introducing the platform in 2010. The press can print 294 8.5x11˝ ppm at 600x600 dpi. A spot precoating technology called ColorGrip improves results with uncoated papers, enabling standard offset stocks to be used. Canon says that more than 200 substrates are now certified for use with the VarioPrint i300 press.
At Arna Marketing, it has proved to be a formidable machine. “Once you get it running,” Plennert advises, “it basically just runs.” But, the company isn’t staking its hoped-for success with inkjet just on the performance of the equipment.
As Hegna says, any company can buy an inkjet press — but not every company has the internal processes and the staff talent to derive full value from it. What distinguishes Arna Marketing is its operating philosophy of speed to solution: devising customer-specific marketing, mailing and data management campaigns that are executed without error or delay.
“We say ‘yes,’” Hegna promises. “And we deliver quickly.”