IL-Based Bloomington Offset Process (bopi) Does Much More Than Produce Pocket Folders
There isn't a printer alive who hasn't received an e-mail with the following admonishment: "Please be mindful of the environment when considering printing this e-mail." It's akin to sending tofu recipes to the local butcher. The knee-jerk reaction is to write a note back to the effect of, "Please be mindful of your audience when sending ridiculous suggestions about not printing."
It is maddening that, in an age of Internet-addled enlightenment, there are still those who can't see the forest for the recycling buckets filled with second-hand A4. But perception's sidekick is ignorance, and no matter how much you incredulously stammer, "more trees now than 100 years ago...the most recovered of all recyclables...try throwing away a computer," the greater the resistance. It's enough to make you want to beat The Lorax senseless.
Fortunately, the printing community has its share of patience and an unending supply of intelligent, rational people willing to explain the benefits of the printed word and, indeed, illustrate its ability to happily commingle with the same electronic alternatives that (so the perception goes) have pushed it to the brink of the endangered species list.
One such print evangelist is Bloomington Offset Process Inc., known in the commercial printing world as bopi (bah-pee). Its tagline is "A leading provider of print, mail, fulfillment, ecommerce and digital business solutions," but stopping there sells this $8 million-a-year performer short. The company may have been founded in 1947 (and owned exclusively by the Mercier family since 1985), but its mission is to look out for the best interests of its customers and provide them with the resources that will most effectively produce success—through a rich mixture of modern marketing tools that includes, but is not limited to, ink-on-paper.
"There is a need to promote print as an important part of the media mix," notes Jeff Fritzen, executive vice president for the firm, which serves national clients, but routinely caters to the Chicago/Indianapolis/St. Louis trifecta thanks to its Bloomington, IL, location. "There are things you can do with print that you can't do with other media—you can pick it up, feel it, smell it. You don't have to be prompted by an e-mail or Twitter feed to pick up a printed piece and look at it. There's things about print that gives it a life."
While a cornerstone of bopi is its production of pocket folders, to the tune of roughly three million per year, the shop churns out a bevy of saddlestitched products, point-of-purchase (POP), advertising and sales literature collateral materials. A sub-niche for bopi may well be postcards, which incorporate a strong balance of variable data and static content. Its customer bases touches vertical markets ranging from insurance and education to healthcare, financial and agriculture—a popular sector in bopi's back yard.
The pocket folder specialty grew legs in the mid-1990s, according to bopi President and CEO Tom Mercier. The company was farming out a great deal of diecut work, and since there weren't any other providers in bopi's market, Mercier opted to bring the capability in-house. That period, from 1995-2000, saw the printer wear out its check book with the acquisition of two six-color Manroland sheetfed presses, including a perfector; a four-color, half-web press; the diecutter; and a folder/gluer. Color took bopi into a newer, more profitable world, one that provided 15 percent annual growth.
As critical as that capex initiative proved to be from a historical perspective, it was equally important for the executive team to recognize a subsequent crossroad. As the six-color presses grew older, repairs and general maintenance costs began to intensify. Highly reactive UV inks also proved to be a technology that was coming of age, according to Mercier.
"We wanted to leap ahead of the competition and, to do that, we determined that the perfect piece of equipment would be a four-over-four press with coater which best utilizes that HR-UV technology," Mercier says. "We spent 18 months investigating the pros and cons of each piece of equipment from all of the manufacturers."
Camera System Ensures Quality Output
The ideal fit for bopi proved to be an eight-color, 40˝ KBA Rapida 106 sheetfed HR-UV perfector. Among its most desirable features, notes Jeff Mercier, director of operations, is a strong perfecting unit with a quality sheet transfer. "Its camera system also provided some significant ROI based on what we had previously done in the past, as well as the ability to run at 18,000 sheets per hour," he says, referencing the video system, which monitors ink density plus sheet travel below the perfecting drum and in the delivery.
Having the cameras shoot a full picture of a sheet that the operator can visually inspect while the press is running creates a process that leans more toward press management as opposed to problem solving the entire run.
The elder Mercier notes another advantage offered by bopi's Rapida 106 is its capability to perfect HR-UV inks on dull or gloss coated stock, without marking, for an appearance he feels is superior to conventional inks.
The state of Illinois offered a graphic arts sales tax exemption that expired at the end of August 2014, which meant the new machine had to be unloaded and completely installed in order for bopi to reap the savings. While Illinois has been in the news recently for the business migration out of the state, the capital-intensive nature of the printing industry has bopi entrenched in its current locale. Thus, Tom Mercier points out that key variables such as the Rapida 106 are going to enable his company to maintain a point of differentiation in a shrinking business landscape.
A Kluge pocket folder/gluer and an MBO B30-S 644 Perfection automated continuous-feed, high-speed folder bolstered the bindery and provided the kind of computer-controlled operation to the back end that bopi had been enjoying in the pressroom. A second die-cutter and EFI Monarch MIS software also highlight the major acquisitions of the past few years.
Another high-impact piece in the current capex generation is an HP Indigo 5600, a digital press very familiar to the folks at bopi, who previously leased an Indigo 5500 and 3050. The 5600 brings white ink capabilities to the table, along with substrate thicknesses up to 18-pt. stock, the latter of which makes it friendlier for printing on plastics. The press does a heavy amount of variable data postcards, as well as POP work.
"If you're going to maximize a piece of equipment like that, you have to be able to handle data," Fritzen maintains. "As much as we use data today, it's amazing just how unsophisticated the collection of customer data can be. We employ people on our staff to manage, manipulate and cleanse their data, to help our clients overcome the problems that their own data actually presents."
To help sell the concept of variable data printing and cross-media marketing, bopi showed customers that it wasn't afraid to drink its own Kool-Aid.
"Along the way, we decided to promote it ourselves by using it ourselves. We did a PURL-driven campaign, 'Pie to Dough,' with a dimensional delivery at the end where we actually delivered a fresh pie to customers," Fritzen continues.
"What it did was enable our sales staff to introduce the concepts to their customers. Traditional commercial printing salespeople weren't ready from day one to sell variable data, direct mail or marketing-oriented products and services. It allowed our customers—and even our own salespeople—to see us in a different light."
Tom Mercier adds that the Pie to Dough campaign was an effective tool in proving to customers that bopi can be not only an effective printer, but an executer of cross-media marketing campaigns. While bopi has had some level of involvement in the creative end during its five years of cultivating campaigns, he underscores the importance of including one's print provider in the marketing mix early on.
"We want to help steer customers in the right direction, to make sure they stay out of trouble with what can and can't be accomplished," he remarks. "They need to make sure the personalized URL address stands out, for example…little things that people who are starting out might not realize."
While not overly active in the M&A theater, bopi did tuck in a competitor in 2010. Tom Mercier notes that he's always on the lookout for a potential fit that would mesh with the company's product and service menu, but also widen its scope on a geographic basis. The exec currently sees a wealth of opportunities within the Chicago/Indianapolis/St. Louis cluster.
What can really make or break a smaller company like bopi is the type of crew working on its shop floor. Tom Mercier is particularly proud of the skill sets that his 46-employee operation boasts. Keeping staff members loose and happy—bopi had an employee "fun week" back in December—translates into a more dedicated group working toward the same goals, without the divisiveness and in-fighting that sinks lesser operations.
The results speak for themselves. Fritzen was recently visiting a customer when another business associate of the print buyer popped his head into the office. The print buyer waved the associate in and said, "Let me introduce you to our printer."
"The best compliment someone can pay you as a vendor is to be referred to as 'our printer,' " Fritzen notes. "Even though we weren't their only print provider, it meant a lot. When you achieve that recognition from a client, to me that's the ultimate success." PI