Graphic Arts Center -- The Quality Quotient
by Caroline Miller
There is a simple, yet elegant, black brochure that greets every potential Graphic Arts Center (GAC) customer. On the cover it proudly proclaims, "Better Living Through Printing."
It's a concept that packs a powerful punch for this $85 million company based in Portland, OR.
GAC believes that it can improve the lives of its customers through a winning combination of superior equipment, employee know-how, cutting-edge technology, impressive service, delivery and value.
It's proven to be the company's key to success. GAC plans to celebrate its centennial later this year.
Over the past 100 years the firm's attention to detail has earned it a reputation in the Northwest and across the nation as a printing operation that is dedicated to quality and its customers, according to Dave Webber, president of GAC.
"We do a lot of tough projects," he notes. "That's why our customers come to us." GAC's ability to handle the complex has garnered a customer list that includes Mercedes Benz, 3M, Microsoft, Chrysler, Nike and American Express, among others. Along the way, GAC has become the largest commercial printer in the Northwest.
|From left to right: David Marshall, VP of finance; David Webber, president; Steve Plattner, VP of sales and marketing; and Lynn McAndrew, VP of operations.|
The company began its life in 1903 as the family owned firm of Andersen & Duniway. It grew over the years through a series of mergers and acquisitions. Then, in 1995, the company—now known as Graphic Arts Center—was acquired by Mail-Well.
It was Mail-Well's first commercial print acquisition. "They were looking to expand beyond their envelope operations, and we were owned by an investment firm at the time. The timing was right for both companies," explains Lynn McAndrew, vice president of operations.
The Right Direction
The acquisition by Mail-Well also proved to be a technological renaissance for Graphic Arts Center. "They have been a big supporter of upgrading technology," adds McAndrew. "Since our purchase by Mail-Well, we've completely overhauled our prepress department, added new sheetfed and web printing equipment, and upgraded our bindery. Without Mail-Well, it would have been much more of a challenge to get the capital we needed for the upgrades."
|David Webber, president of Graphic Arts Center (GAC), stands outside the company's Portland, OR, headquarters. The company churns out up to four million mailing pieces per month.|
Today, GAC offers its clients two production facilities—its headquarters in Portland and Graphic Arts Center Seattle. GAC Portland is a Heidelberg shop with three six-color web presses; four eight-color, 40˝ presses with aqueous coaters; and one two-color, 40˝ press with coater. It also runs a Heidelberg Digimaster 9110 to meet the growing demand for variable data printing.
The prepress department, which is 100 percent digital, served as the leading North America beta site for Creo's Staccato 10 screening technology. The Staccato process produces high fidelity, artifact-free images that exhibit fine detail without halftone rosettes, screening moiré, gray level limitations or abrupt jumps in tone. It reduces variations in dot gain, wet trap and color contamination from paper. The random nature of the Staccato halftone patterns also means that misregistration does not degrade the look of the halftone, nor doesit cause overall color shifts in presswork.
GAC now uses Staccato 10 on its sheetfed presses and Staccato 20 on its webs. "The Staccato process makes us pretty unique among our competitors," notes Webber.
Serving as a beta site for the Staccato process characterizes GAC's commitment to technology, contends Steve Plattner, vice president of sales and marketing. "We did our own research and development and worked very closely in partnership with Creo," he says. "We didn't wait for them to roll it out. We did our own testing."
"We're really proud of our Staccato 10 car books," interjects McAndrew, referring to one recent Staccato 10 car brochure that was full of four-color neutral grays and tough color balances. "It turned out just fantastic."
In addition to adopting cutting-edge printing techniques, GAC also offers a full array of postpress capabilities. "We are a full-service mailer," adds McAndrew. "We offer list preparation, in-line and off-line ink-jetting, as well as destination entry transportation for postal discounts. We are the largest cataloger on the West Coast. We do three to four million mailing pieces a month."
While the company's technological capabilities are impressive, its human capabilities are where GAC really stands out, says Webber. "There are many technologies out there that people can purchase, but the one thing you can't purchase is the culture that you find at GAC. The employees really look out for and service our customers. I hear that feedback from clients on a regular basis. They're just amazed at how cooperative and friendly our staff is."
Quality Worn on Sleeve
The quest for excellence has been ingrained in them, according to McAndrew. Each pressroom employee wears a patch on his or her uniform that reads 'GAC quality.' "They know their job is not to let the customer walk out of the pressroom with a job that is not 100 percent," she states.
"We have a term 'mobilization' that we use," adds Webber. "It empowers our employees. They know that they have input into what needs to be done on a project and how it needs to be done. They are empowered to make decisions. If something is not right, they shut the press or the stitcher down. They go back to prepress and do whatever it takes to get the job right."
Keeping customers happy extends beyond the company's pressroom. "We recognize that our customers have lives outside of what they do with us," says Plattner. "We want them to come here, be comfortable, and have a fun and productive experience."
As such, GAC provides lounges and client areas for customers to design their projects, as well as three apartments where they can stay while doing press checks. "They are welcome to stay at a hotel if they want," he states, "but here in our apartments they have all the comforts of home around the clock."
The company's geographic location in Portland also helps GAC to better serve its clientele. "The culture of the city really ties into our company," praises Plattner. "Portland is a very livable and friendly city. It's compact with lots of natural geographic interests like Mount St. Helens. It's a great experience for our clients to come and visit."
After 100 years, GAC is not resting on its laurels. "This company has always been about quality," states McAndrew. "We've never changed direction, and we've always been about high-quality work. We've built a solid reputation in the market. As we celebrate our centennial this year, our goal is to impart to our customers and employees a sense of the pride, longevity and stability that we've enjoyed as a company over the past century."