HM Graphics -- Eight Is (Not) Enough
WHEN JOHN Sandstrom passed away in 1990, his eight children were suddenly left in charge of his printing operation. Having grown up in the graphic arts business, the Sandstrom siblings took the reins of their family’s Milwaukee-based business, HM Graphics.
Relying on each other and the sum of their sibling experience, the Sandstrom children set out to follow in their father’s footsteps, carrying on a proud tradition of quality printing.
In 1969, John Sandstrom bought the small print shop and slowly grew it from a $250,000, one- and two-color operation into a four-color sheetfed business, which was generating more than $12 million at the time of his passing.
Determined to maintain the standard of excellence set by their father, his children made it their mission to continue that tradition.
During the 1990s, HM Graphics added a total of 79,000 square feet to its facility. New equipment followed each expansion. At the turn of the millennium, it galvanized its niche in three-dimensional (mechanical insert) printing. Despite the weak economy in 2001-2002, the company continued to expand its prepress, press, fulfillment and hand assembly departments.
In the past five years, HM has significantly enhanced its capabilities, including remodeling the facility to improve workflow and logistics, and investing in new printing presses, as well as finishing, mailing and fulfillment equipment.
In 2009, as the company celebrates its 40th anniversary, six of the founder’s eight children still own and manage the company: James, president and CEO; Kevin, executive vice president; KathyAnn, vice president of marketing; Jay, vice president of sales; Mary Pat (Sandstrom) Plonske, vice president of purchasing; and David, vice president and senior account executive. Additionally, Jon Sandstrom, the first member of the third generation (and John Sandstrom’s namesake), will celebrate his first anniversary with the company this year.
Rated E for Excellent
HM Graphics outperformed its own expectations, generating $28 million in revenues in 2008. Services have evolved and expanded to include everything from general commercial printing and three-dimensional/mechanical product manufacturing to direct mail, fulfillment and a complete bindery—all provided within a 120,000-square-foot facility.
Despite the economic downturn, the Sandstroms believe that 2009 will be a “monumental” year, as HM commemorates its anniversary. The year kicked off with the installation of a new six-color, 40? Heidelberg UV press. It is the printer’s eighth Heidelberg; there are three six-color presses, three two-color models, as well as a Heidelberg/Kodak Nexpress digital press equipped with a glossing unit.
HM Graphics also boasts several ink-jet imaging systems, including a 36?, double-sided Canon wide- format printer. The printer also maintains an in-house ink mixing lab for custom ink production and has implemented color management practices that meet GRACoL standards. Its bindery houses a variety of highly automated stitchers, diecutters, folders, folder/gluers, ink-jet systems, tabbers, shrink wrappers and tipping units.
James Sandstrom acknowledges that investment in state-of-the-art technology is one of the main elements that differentiates HM Graphics from other printers. However, he stresses that there are many reasons the company shines.
“A good moral compass, the desire to tackle tough challenges and a high degree of technical ability are all important ways that we stand out,” Sandstrom says. “When you genuinely care about the client’s overall satisfaction and want to deliver something you’re proud of, you will always seek out the best way to get the job done right—even if it’s more complicated or takes longer.”
Because many of HM Graphics’ clients comprise Fortune 100 and Fortune 500 companies, the quality of its printing is paramount. “We’re annually ranked No. 1 by the Printing Industries of Wisconsin at its Graphic Excellence Awards,” notes Kevin Sandstrom. “And, we’re consistently among the top five in the nation for overall quality, as evidenced by the PIA Premier Print Awards that we’ve won.”
Citing quick turnaround times, competitive pricing, mailing savvy and attentive customer service as critical traits that have enhanced HM’s leadership role, he adds that 95 percent of its customers gave the printer the highest rating of “excellent” for service in the company’s most recent anonymous client survey. “Considering the clout carried by many of our clients, we consider this a tremendous honor and achievement,” he says.
Jay Sandstrom believes the printer’s problem-solving consultants deserve a lot of the credit for those “excellent” ratings. “Each job has a battery of consultants and professionals reviewing it from every angle before it ever hits the pressroom,” he explains. “This strategic production cycle eliminates errors, increases quality and troubleshoots unforeseen issues. It also helps us solve the seemingly impossible. HM routinely takes on jobs declined by other printers who have deemed the designer’s ideas incapable of being produced, or too risky.”
He emphasizes the point, claiming that HM is known as a “master of dimension and the unique” and has earned a national reputation for creating difficult three-dimensional pieces, many of which contain mechanical component inserts. “HM is highly seasoned in this area. We like to tell designers not to design something that seems possible to actually produce, but to create what they want and let us analyze how to bring the idea to life.”
Going the Extra Mile
HM Graphics is also continually mastering sustainable printing practices. The printer is both FSC and SFI chain-of-custody certified, but its dedication to a greener environment doesn’t stop there. “Long before any environmental organizations were around and certifications became available, we consciously enacted environmentally sound business and manufacturing processes like recycling of paper and aluminum press plates, in-house filtration of fountain solutions and a 60 percent reduction in VOC emissions,” explains James Sandstrom.
Perhaps the most noteworthy element of HM Graphics is its results-oriented obsession. “An award-winning print piece that is done on time and budget is of little value if it does not achieve the goal for which it was designed,” adds Kevin Sandstrom. “We have client testimonials and documented cases where our consulting and capabilities brought an ROI that surpassed conventional reason and expectations.”
Going the extra mile is the standard that company founder John Sandstrom started, and it’s the standard that the Sandstrom siblings continue to meet and exceed.
“Our work, as well as our list of Fortune 500 clients, speaks for itself,” concludes KathyAnn Sandstrom. “We need to perform consistently at a level at which the world’s most savvy print buyers take notice and respect.” PI