Best-in-Class Innovator Spotlight: Hatteras Challenges the Status Quo to Create Change
What a year. No one in the industry could have foretold it. Now we’re all doing our best just to come to the end of it in safety.
2020 will be remembered for many things. One of them should be that it was the year in which innovation often came to mean the same thing as business survival.
Everything that has happened to printing firms as a result of the pandemic is unprecedented. This means everything they have done in response to it has obliged them to improvise. To rethink. To come up with new ways of protecting their employees. To pivot to completely different methods of interacting with customers. In short, to innovate.
As we've done the past several years in Printing Impressions, we profiled six companies that remain alive and well in the printing industry. This year, we’re presenting these portraits of Innovators in tribute, not just to the companies themselves, but to every printing business that has survived the trials of 2020 by being innovative. Here is a profile of one of our Best-in-Class Innovators.
“Innovate,” in the opinion of Bill Duerr, president of Hatteras, “is a word that gets bastardized.” By that he means robbed of its meaning by diluting its true intent. That isn’t where innovation comes from at Hatteras, which takes a rigorous and systematic approach to doing things better for its customers.
Presented with a request for help, Duerr says, “we ask four questions: What are you trying to accomplish? What kind of experience do you want to create? How quickly do you want it? What is your budget?” With the answers in hand, the company prototypes a solution and progresses through as many variations of the concept as it takes to get it right.
“We don’t look at innovation as a major breakthrough,” Duerr explains. “We look at innovation as changing and challenging the status quo repeatedly to create incremental change, which over a long term period leads to major improvements.”
Growth Nonetheless, Due to New Offerings
The methodology has served the Tinton Falls, N.J.-based company well throughout its 38 years in business, and never more so than during the ongoing siege of the COVID-19 pandemic. In fact, Duerr reports experiencing growth throughout the period thanks to a successful move into products for which the outbreak has created a steady demand. This work has generated more than $3 million worth of new revenue so far, he reveals.
Face shields, partitions, and social-distancing floor graphics make up the bulk of the output. Hatteras has also partnered with a company that makes structural materials for field hospitals and pop-up medical facilities, diecutting one of its styrene foam board products into sections of hospital bed frames.
Developing each of these items meant starting with “a minimum viable product” and then iterating it to a final version, according to Duerr. He notes that Hatteras is well-equipped for the task, thanks to its complete in-house capability for hand assembly, kitting, and fulfillment, as well as printing and finishing.
With more than 1 million face shields shipped, floor graphics delivered to 100 schools, and 1,000 partitions installed in various establishments, the pandemic-related work has become “a sustainable line of business for us,” Duerr says. “It has definitely softened the blow.” He expects the extra volume to continue to add revenue and protect jobs “until it isn’t relevant anymore.”
Then, Hatteras can fully refocus on its pre-pandemic specialties, which include direct mail, retail signage and graphics, marketing collateral, promotional packaging, outdoor and event graphics, and Web portals for print management. Duerr foresees a strong rise in demand for targeted, personalized direct mail, which he sees as an antidote to the torrent of digital and mobile messaging people have to put up with in the attention economy they belong to. In the midst of that avalanche, Duerr observes, “print gives you a little bit of stillness.”
Offset lithography remains the mainstay printing process at Hatteras, and Duerr projects that the output from his Heidelberg offset presses will still account for about 50% of the company’s business by 2025. But he’s also bracing for what he thinks could be a “huge uptick” in demand for variable print from his digital equipment (three HP Indigo 12000s and one HP Indigo 7900).
Hatteras has also made a major commitment to wide-format production with a complement of devices, including an EFI VUTEk HS125, an EFI VUTEk GS5500LXr, an EFI VUTEk GS3250 LX Pro, a 104˝ HP L28500, a 60˝ HP L25500 Latex, a 60˝ HP Z6200, and two 60˝ HP Z6100 printers.
‘One System to Rule Them All’
Managing the company’s diversified production workflows called for another kind of innovation: tying all the pieces together within the framework of a management information system (MIS) that could handle them all. Duerr says that although he eventually found an MIS that came close to being able to do this, something else was needed — something the company relied on its tried-and-true iterative method to develop.
This was Navigator, a Web-based portal designed to let Hatteras customers automate the production, storage, and distribution of their marketing materials from a central, online location. Because it overlays the plant’s MIS, Hatteras staff can use it internally to access the production and business information they need from all of the databases the company maintains.
Duerr describes Navigator as “one system to rule them all — a homegrown system that integrates with our MIS and allows us to serve up and pass relevant information in a more user-friendly experience.” He adds that the solution came in especially handy for Hatteras employees working from home, where they could tap into Navigator, either from desktop computers or via a mobile app.
Preserving staff cohesion and alignment is a key ingredient of innovation, according to Duerr. To be truly innovative, he points out, “you need a team that’s also willing to change. If you don’t have that, your ideas are just conversations without any actual results.”