Envision3: Strong Vision for the Future
Gary and Kevin Franz sound almost apologetic as they discuss the merits and unique qualities of Envision3, the printing, marketing and services company they debuted in 2000. After all, the Franzes point out, they're offering many of the same ancillary products and services—including marketing, mailing and fulfillment that have become de riguer for the early 21st century printing industry.
They are, of course, correct…to a degree. Anyone can take grandmom's pot roast recipe, purchase all the ingredients and preheat the oven. But that doesn't mean they're going to match Nona's succulent success.
It's another truism of the printing industry. Anyone can own the gear, hang the shingle and claim to be a concept-to-destination provider of all the ingredients necessary to convey the client's message. However, it is the execution of a viable blueprint that truly makes a provider such as the Bloomingdale, IL-based Envision3 successful.
And while not everyone takes the same route to the end zone, it's the scoring that ultimately matters.
Backed by their Christian faith, the Franzes ask their employees to embrace three values that help build the foundation and set the stage for successful execution of their game plan. They seek people of character, look for staff members to grow in their ability to play as a team and, last but not least, perform their best as they play to win.
The co-owners certainly feel they have the employee roster to deliver on those tenets.
"The team we have genuinely cares," Gary Franz emphasizes. "They're not just out for a paycheck; they want to go the extra mile for the customer, and provide an excellent product and service. We're a high-energy company that works in a fast-paced environment because of that desire to do well on behalf of our clientele."
The company was founded in 2000, when Kevin Franz and his brother, Greg—then print brokers—bought out Bensenville, IL-based Courtesy Litho. In 2004, the business was moved to a new, 50,000-square-foot plant in Bloomingdale, its current home. In a procession of tactical moves that have proven fruitful thus far, the company migrated into digital printing, mailing, marketing services, fulfillment and online storefronts.
Bucking Economic Trends
Despite the fact that its first 10 years in business were marked by the awful 2001 recession and the monstrously-crippling 2008-2009 economic funk, Envision3 has continued on its merry growth path, from annual sales of $6.5 million in its debut campaign to a projected $18 million when the final 2014 receipts are counted. Its employee base is just shy of the century mark.
Diversity is key here, as the firm hasn't overloaded any one customer or market segment. No single customer represents more than 9 percent of Envision3's business, and the second biggest checks in at 4 percent. The company's client roster numbers 330, representing verticals such as agriculture, medical, pharmaceuticals, nonprofits, education, retail, associations and brokers. On the product side, the shop produces pocket folders, catalogs, post cards, brochures, direct mail, portfolio pieces, diecuts and UV work.
Tim Itano, director of marketing and creative services for Envision3, notes that clients in the travel and food specializations have a distinct need for high quality standards that are color-critical. "Clients come to us because they need the food to look appetizing and ready to eat," Itano exclaims. "Same for the travel side, too. The destinations pictured have to make you want to jump on a plane and go there.
"I come from the advertising agency side, and we did a lot of hospitality work. We'd buy printing from Envision3. We appreciated the way they ran their business, as well as their level of excellence. Joining the team was a natural progression for me."
One of the biggest progressions for the company occurred in 2010, when the Franzes made the decision to move into marketing/ agency services (it was also at this juncture that Gary joined his brothers). Envision3's marketing arsenal includes variable data projects, Web services, creative strategies for fundraising and copywriting.
"This gave us the opportunity to go deeper with the customer," Gary Franz states. "With marketing departments being slashed, these clients needed simplicity and efficiency, as well as guidance in how they get their projects done and accomplish their goals."
Earlier this year, Envision3 acquired the key packaging and finishing assets of Marketing4, providing the company with literally dozens of plug-and-play products ranging from inserts, tabs and expanders, to promotional packaging, pocket folders and audio/video packaging. Kevin Franz points out that the deal brought aboard a full-time engineer to quarterback the CAD (computer-aided design) cutting machine to make actual prototypes and help design boxes for customers. He also held out the possibility of adding a folder/gluer to beef up the packaging side.
Kevin Franz adds that the acquisition introduces Envision3 to a different customer base while providing instant solutions to existing clients.
The aforementioned journey into digital printing was augmented three years ago by the purchase of an HP Indigo 7500, which was a nod to the desire to capture the best response rates for clients through personalization, according to Gary Franz. Also, he points out that the press enables Envision3 to match the quality of its 40˝, six-color Mitsubishi presses, at least in the eyes of print buyers.
"We paired it with an off-line coating machine that can do aqueous or UV, and put a Cyrel plate on there that can do spot aqueous or spot UV," Kevin Franz relates. UV is vital to Envision3's value proposition, as the Franzes have converted many customers to utilize this high-end process for impact. Jobs featuring four-color UV can include gloss and dull UV varnishes to provide high levels of contrast, which formerly required a second press pass.
"We've built up quite a portfolio of jobs that our salespeople show clients," Kevin Franz says. "We might get the spec one way, but we can go back to them and show how adding techniques to their designs can really make them stand out. We're seeing this in packaging, especially. It's incredible what's being done with spot laminations and soft touch laminations on boxes. The same rule applies when you consider what you can do with UV. We expect more continued growth in that area."
Quality and detail drove the company to become a beta tester for Fuji-film's Co-Rés high-definition screening in 2003. Envision3 was the first U.S. printer to use the 250-plus line screen process. Kevin Franz points out that it is offered standard on every printing job, whereas another printer might charge a 10 percent premium for the use of stochastic printing.
It's all about the value proposition, and the rebranding from 2011 was an acknowledgement of the need for many different channels for the delivery of a client's message. The number 3, which graphically resembles the backwards E, denote three areas critical to client success at Envision3—insight, innovation and communication.
"We developed a tagline: 'We want to help you communicate your vision so you can live it,' " Gary Franz notes. "It lets our clients execute their vision without having to deal with a bunch of vendors. We believe it's a recipe for success in the future, especially with the need for greater efficiency in marketing departments."
Website development has been an area that's generated excitement for Envision3. It recently collaborated with Fairfield Custom Homes to develop, from scratch, a site to underscore the accessibility of Fairfield's custom building experience. Kevin Franz points out that being able to show other clients the content and visuals, programming and design elements helps to redirect the conversation into other areas. Printing and marketing have been catalysts for each other, driving work both ways.
"Other prospects see how our online print stores are so helpful and time-saving," Gary Franz adds. "If you can create a Website or online storefront that's cost-effective and easy to use, then they say, 'Oh, you can do our printing, too.' "
Moving forward, Envision3 will continue to align itself with employees and customers who are a good fit, to help perpetuate a partnership that will keep all sides involved moving in a positive direction. While 14 years doesn't represent a huge sampling, all signs indicate the company is certainly moving in the right direction—whatever direction the industry will take it, no less.
"We're optimistic about the future in an industry that's been beaten up," Gary Franz says. "We want to help people continue to tell their stories, whether it's through more print or less print. There will be different ways to do that as long as we're willing to fully commit ourselves to learning and growing." PI