From creative design to full-service prepress to both traditional offset and digital printing, Kreber Enterprises has capitalized on a regional niche, serving the dominant furniture industry of High Point, NC—to the tune of $32 million a year.
It's difficult to get a handle on exactly what Kreber Enterprises is. It doesn't fit into any single category. But that doesn't keep Howard Smith, president of the High Point, NC-based company, from trying.
"We're a turnkey solution to the graphic arts industry," Smith explains nonchalantly.
Turnkey, meaning Kreber does it all—from creative design to a photographic studio that's bigger than most warehouses, to a full-service prepress department and traditional offset and digital printing. And much, much more.
The Kreber family has been involved in printing since 1905. The company originated in Columbus, OH (where Kreber Graphics continues to operate under Jack and Jim Kreber). Through the years, it has purchased engraving, printing, separation and photographic studio businesses, enroute to creating the monolith known as Kreber Enterprises.
The company operates under one roof in a building on six acres in High Point, NC, ideally located to serve the regionally dominant furniture industry. The company boasts annual sales of $32 million.
Though there's plenty of history at Kreber, the company is nothing if not cutting edge. From digital photography and proofing to its own SmartSeries database and content management system, Kreber offers clients the latest digital solutions.
In its enormous studio, the company has 45 bays (comprising 150,000 square feet) for shooting furniture for the region's numerous manufacturers. It operates 10 Leaf 4x5 digital cameras, in addition to film cameras. The digital images are routed immediately to a Kodak Approval digital proofing system for random proofing. It saves both steps and ensures color accuracy.
"In the past, even though we would shoot images digitally, to produce hard copy for review we had to output film and then a proof. This eliminates that extra step," says Brian Brown, prepress operations manager.
But more important, it produces "a very, very accurate proof. The color match is just dead on," Brown says. "With digital, you're always doing guesswork in color corrections. With the Approval system, we've found we have the reliability of a good prepress proof. We're going straight to press with it."
Actually, the company invested in direct digital color proofing both to proof its digital photography (which accounts for 30 percent of DDCP output) and to proof digitally composed pages (which accounts for the other 70 percent). Being able to proof directly from digital layouts is of growing importance, as more and more of Kreber's prepress customers are using direct-to-plate technology.
Another high-tech area is Kreber's database management solution for customers, known as the SmartSeries. SmartSeries was designed from the ground up as a central content management system for Kreber customers. It gives customers easy access to all their photography, logos and other graphics in all the file formats they need.
"Clients call in to our server, pull their images down and use them for any type of project," says Smith. "Most clients who have bought our SmartSeries are set up so that their data from our server can be replicated in their own server, and vice versa, for disaster protection."
Of course, data is just the beginning of the process. The prepress operation may just be a small piece of the Kreber puzzle, but in most towns, it would rank as the giant of the industry.
The department runs exclusively on Macintosh computers—150 of them—supporting a prepress staff of 185 between both the North Carolina and Ohio plants. The prepress operation runs 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Work shuttles seamlessly between the High Point and Columbus offices, depending on which is busier. Each facility operates two DS 747 scanners from Screen (USA).
In High Point, jobs are written to film on Scitex Dolev 450 and 800 imagesetters.
"Our philosophy is to have two of everything," Smith explains. Between a quarter and a third of all Kreber's prepress work eventually goes to computer-to-plate machines outside. Though it hasn't decided to invest in CTP platemaking equipment yet, Kreber has embraced a digital workflow, including products from CTP leaders such as Scitex and Kodak, so the transition shouldn't be difficult.
In the meantime, the company is producing excellent results using the latest analog tools. "You can go to a Dolev imagesetter with an automatic pagination system and an automatic punching system that's matched with the plotter to produce a single-burn plate that's very competitive with the best technology," contends Smith.
The company's adoption of the new Kodak Polychrome Graphics Recording 2000 graphic arts films adds to the stability of the system. "The films hold such a nice X-curve," says Operations Manager Brian Brown. "You can change from roll to roll to roll, and there's less than a 2 percent dot shift. The consistency is amazing. We tested most of the films on the market, but Kodak's consistency was the clear winner."
Variety of Presses
The final piece of the puzzle is printing. Kreber produces a wide range of direct mail, catalogs, corporate brochures and other pieces—"just about anything any other sheetfed printing company would do," says Smith. Again, furniture makers dominate the client list. Kreber's pressroom houses a four-color, 40˝ Heidelberg; a five-color, 28˝ Shinohara; and a two-color, 40˝ MAN Miehle press.
For fast turnaround and short-run jobs, the company has also added an Indigo E-Print 1000+ digital offset color press. Kreber officials claim the Indigo press produces "brilliant, magazine-quality glossy color images" produced on-demand. Printing directly from digital data, it accepts industry standard electronic formats including PostScript and Scitex, so it can network with prepress and desktop publishing systems.
The desktop publishing revolution has forced many printers into an educational role. In order to ensure that the files they received from customers were usable and compatible with their own systems, printers counsel customers.
Kreber has taken that a step further: It acts as a value-added reseller and systems integrator for desktop publishing hardware and software.
"What we offer is turnkey solutions for desktop publishing production," says Smith. "Not only do we offer guidance in selecting and integrating the right system, but we also train users on new, more efficient workflows and provide continuing support."
Now you might understand why pigeon-holing Kreber Enterprises is so difficult. From concept to finished product, and even the computer systems to produce them, Kreber can step in and pick up a project at any stage.
Where does the company go from here? Technology may provide some interesting clues.
"We've been one of the leaders in the technology arena for at least the last 10 years," notes Smith. "We're ready to invest in whatever tools will help us serve the customer better. Customers expect us to have the best, and we try not to disappoint them."