California Printers — West Coast Melting Pot
ON THE heels of naming Wisconsin the “Printing Capital of the USA,” the publishers of this fine magazine decided it was high time to take a glimpse at another one of our nation’s great printing states. Given a choice from the remaining 49, there was no doubt that in order to visit America’s other great printing mecca, we would need to take the Ventura Highway...in the sunshine.
The Golden State, California, is a study in extravagance. It is the third-largest state in square miles behind Alaska and Texas, and has the biggest population with 36 million folks. From a printer’s perspective, it is not surprisingly the nation’s leader in printing plants (4,845) and employees (102,000), registering $15.3 billion in sales during 2006, according to statistics provided by the PIA/GATF.
And, as everyone is well aware, California has made a name for itself as the state that raises the most turkeys. If you want another piece of arcane trivia (courtesy of 50states.com), Pacific Grove has a law on the books that calls for a $500 fine for those found molesting butterflies. Certainly, these insects must be glad that they don’t have to go through the trouble of pressing charges.
We digress. Of the many advantages there are to doing business out here (and the accompanying articles mention a few), there is an equal number of hazards that come with the Cali territory.
Bob Lindgren, president of the Printing Industries Association of Southern California (PIASC), points to many issues that put the state’s printers at a disadvantage—taxation, the labor code, overtime rules, minimum wage and air quality are just some.
“The negatives aren’t getting any worse; they’ve been with us for some time,” Lindgren says. “But this is an enormously large market. Printers generally cluster around existing and potential clients. The economy and the nature of the California printer class is rather different than, say, the nature of the Midwest or Chicago classes, many of which tend to be web (printing) oriented, for the most part larger and attuned to nationally distributed products. We’re much more sheetfed, more localized, more short runs.”
On the Flip Side
Among the benefits for printers here, Lindgren notes, is the nature of industry in the Golden State. It boasts an enormous cache of print buyers. California is also not a “smoke stack” industry, as it once was with steel mills and auto plants. Present industry is more geared toward print consumption.
But, just because there are many print buyers in the market, that doesn’t necessarily mean printers here can make a killing just selling on price alone. Brandon Gabriel, of LAgraphico, sees the need for successful printers to diversify their product and service base.
“When you pigeon-hole yourself as just a commodity-type printer, you’ll encounter some real challenges,” he says. “The success we’ve found is mingling other diversified products—display creation and structure, as well as large-format and digital printing. When we supply our clients options, we provide a one source, one solution approach.”
Tim Poole, president of Dome Printing in Sacramento, also strives to build relationships with clients that go beyond the bottom line. “If the client doesn’t have the ability to enjoy a direct relationship with us, there’s not a lot of value from our standpoint. We think the universe for print is large enough that we can continue finding customers who desire a relationship. We’re able to get the prices that we need, given the value proposition that we bring to the table.”
The caliber of print buyers encourages California printers to remain on the bleeding edge of technology in order to remain viable. Peter Offermann, president of Cellotape in Fremont, recalls sitting with a client who showed him a salesman’s display case. Sixty percent of the items were new additions to the customer’s product line.
“That’s a dynamic business,” he says. “These are high-energy industries. They’re industries that have to exist in a high cost environment because of the concentration of resources. Silicon Valley is a combination of intellectual and financial resources that has done magic.”
Jeff Sweetman, principal of Trend Offset Printing in Los Alamitos, points out that issues such as energy consumption and environmental regulations are significant and can’t be overcome, though it can pass along the cost of doing business in the state. Trend has a unique perspective by operating in two other sizeable markets—Texas and Florida. The printer reports to about 26 regulatory agencies in California, but only about seven agencies in Texas.
Diversity has been a differentiator and an “out pitch” for Trend Offset. “Our diversity in press and bindery capabilities makes us different and viable,” Sweetman notes. “What other printer can print the highest quality enamel publications in the world at the same plant as weekly newspapers? We can print, bind and mail digest, tabloids and quarter books under one roof the same day, and serve many print demand markets at one time.”
Dan Hirt, CEO of Primary Color in Costa Mesa, views the stringent environmental regulations in his state as a plus, protecting the quality of life. Green initiatives are actively promoted in all aspects of business, and not because it is the du jour corporate cause.
Pioneers in Green
“We understand that we have a solemn responsibility to be good stewards of our planet’s resources,” Hirt says. “It’s the right thing to do, for many reasons.”
On the printing end, it is high-end clients, especially in the automotive and entertainment industries, that bring out the best in Primary Color’s arsenal. “Their historic expectations of impeccable quality have raised the bar in our region,” he adds. “If a printer expects to compete in this arena, quality must be flawless and it must be repeatable.
“Client expectations drive our quest for excellence. As such, we investigate and implement state-of-the-art technologies throughout our operation in order to exceed the ever-increasing quality expectations of our clientele.”
The ability to diversify has been a critical edge to a company like Lithographix in Hawthorne. Jeff Young, executive vice president of sales, points out how his company made a key investment in grand-format printing, which Lithographix’s brain trust saw as its future.
“With our existing client base, and what we felt Lithographix could capture, we exploded into the large-format digital printing arena,” he says. “We are currently expanding again, opening up a retail division, where we’ll be able to offer a broader product base, inevitably allowing us to service our clients even better.
“Commercial printing, large format and retail—from a marketing position—support each other. More importantly for our clients is the fact that we can color manage all of these different products. In the past, they were forced to use two, three and sometimes even four different vendors.”
Clearly, the road to excess in California doesn’t lead to a palace of multiple vendors.PI
Only in the Golden State
HOW NICE must it be to live in the same town as Zarik Megerdichian? The president of 4Over Inc., based in sunny Glendale, CA, probably doesn’t long to be elsewhere very often. The choices for activities in this part of Southern California are more than a little varied, and intriguing.
“Southern California is a very interesting place, especially if you live around Glendale,” he says. “I call it the ‘one hour or less’ rule.”
So with Zarik providing directions, hop in your Mercedes and let’s go for a spin to see what there is to do in Southern Cal.
• It’s a 10-minute ride to Hollywood and the chance to see Jessica Alba walking her dog.
• It takes just 15 minutes to arrive at Universal Studios.
• Beverly Hills and all the high-end shopping your Visa can handle is but a half-hour away.
• Tack on an extra five minutes, and Mickey, Minnie, Goofy and the rest of your Disneyland pals are at your disposal.
• In just 45 minutes, you can be catching rays on the world famous Venice or Malibu beaches.
• An hour’s drive can mean dirt biking in the high desert or snow skiing.
“The entertainment world becomes very small when you live in Southern California,” Megerdichian remarks. “I was at a gas station in Burbank and, across from my car, Jay Leno was pumping gas. Or eating at a restaurant, and seeing Kevin Costner or Sidney Portier sitting next to you.”
This part of the state is definitely a bit off center, but is among the most favorite destinations in the world. The care-free attitude is sometimes mistaken for a lack of intensity. But make no mistake about it, there’s hardly a boring day in the life out west.
“I have hundreds of stories about flakes and dreamers who have come through our plant in the last 30 years,” notes Jeff Sweetman, principal of Trend offset Printing in Los Alamitos. “We had a lady back in the 1990s who put up her jet skis as collateral for a print job. Unfortunately, we had to keep them.”
During the fabulous 1980s, Mediterranean fruit flies were everywhere and malathion was being used to wipe them out, Sweetman notes. One enterprising comedian thought it would be a riot to publish a book of recipies on how to prepare fruit fly dishes. The jokester found a publisher, but not a home with readers.
“Needless to say, it was a disgusting book and a lousy idea with bad timing as airplanes flew over our houses at night spraying malathion,” Sweetman remarks. “We ended up with 40,000 med fly cook books for about four years in our warehouse. Nobody wanted to read them.”
The dreamers are the transplants, those who head west looking to fulfill their so-called destinies. “Some of them work out, many don’t,” he adds. “We have printed for both.”
Those who have found success in California spend more time doing and less time dreaming, but the payout from success is almost always more work. Dan Hirt, CEO of Primary Color, recalls one customer who was saddled with a home full of out-of-town relatives looking to be entertained. Unfortunately, the customer was in the middle of an image-intensive project that was on the clock.
How could the client do the usual rounds with relatives—Disneyland, Hollywood, skiing—while still taking care of business?
It was technology to the rescue. “We responded by setting him up with a log-in to our PrimaryEproof (PEP) remote proofing and approval management system,” Hirt explains. “We’d send him proofs and he’d log on via wireless from the Disneyland parking lot, from Starbucks—wherever he could find a connection. He was able to get his work done while, at the same time, chauffeur his relatives around Southern California.
Who says work and play don’t mix?”
Peter Offermann, president of Fremont-based Cellotape, has the unique perspective of being a former New Yorker now doing business in California. The biggest difference between the two major markets, he says, can be seen in their levels of optimism.
“When I was in New York, someone would ask me, ‘What would it take to have a $500 million business in three years?’ and my answer would be, “Well, you have to start with a $250 million business,’ ” Offermann quips. “Out here, people would say, ‘You need venture capital and a really good idea.’ ”
Offermann also disputes the characterization of the California work ethic as being soft. “I’ve spent a lot of time hearing about laid back Californians, but there’s nothing laid back about the way they do business. They are very aggressive without being personally aggressive.”