LCP Helps Brand Owners to Achieve Multi-Channel Goals
Having undergone a rebranding of its own, LCP (formerly Lake County Press) of Waukegan, Ill., is sensitive to brand identity and to the care and feeding that brands need in order to remain strong.
Positioning itself as a “brand guardian” under the slogan “Brand Meets World,” LCP pledges to support its brand-owning customers across print and non-print channels alike. It is a promise that a business engagement with LCP will always be a relationship, not merely a transaction.
LCP’s rebranding, which retired the company’s full name in favor of the initials, was also a commitment to remaining relevant in an industry where customers’ expectations have changed. “A brand is a promise,” says Robert Hilliard, executive VP and CFO. “We rebranded to continue to deliver to our clients our promise to meet their demands in all facets of our business.”
LCP’s senior executive team believes that as far as brands are concerned, the single most important qualification for a print services provider is to have consistency of performance.
Staying consistent, says president and COO Tom Johnson, comes from “being embedded with the client” and gaining a true understanding of what swift time-to-market, scrupulous color management and other fundamentals of branding can mean to the client’s success.
Pete Douglas, senior VP and director of sales and marketing, says that the key to persuading brands to keep print among the media in their multichannel marketing campaigns is making sure that the campaigns are measurable.
The conversation has to be about metrics and ROI: how many cars, for example, that print and other elements of a campaign induced people to buy. “The printing is still there,” Douglas says, “but the story is being told differently.”
Founded in 1970, LCP employs 172 people in two plants comprising 138,000 sq. ft. The larger of the two is a 90,000-sq.-ft. facility where production takes place. The production center, with a full-service bindery supporting the pressroom, is almost entirely vertically integrated. Only specialty work such as foil stamping and embossing goes to trade shops.
Housed separately is LCP Complete, the 50,000-sq.-ft. division for mailing, fulfillment, kitting and related services.
About two-thirds of LCP’s print volume is offset lithography; the remainder is digital. The offset capability includes two eight-color UV presses, one of which prints UV all the time. The other alternates between UV and non-UV jobs.
Hilliard says the legacy offset business is “somewhere between diminishing and stable” as LCP tries to help its customers be more cost-efficient with digital production. He expects to add cut-sheet digital equipment in a larger sheet format than the company presently has. Additional grand-format devices may also be added as LCP continues to grow.
For the last five years, cut-sheet digital printing for print-on- demand has been the fastest growing application. Also developing rapidly is LCP’s e-commerce activity, carried out by four full-time programmers who build and maintain B2B portals for a lengthening list of customers.
LCP’s principal vertical markets are education, financial services, graphic design, advertising, pharmaceuticals, transportation and retail. Pharma and education are growing the fastest, and each in its own way is a mainstay of the company’s business model: pharma, by providing the bulk of the work that feeds LCP’s conventional presses and bindery; education, by utilizing the broadest selection of the company’s services.
Educational institutions, notes Douglas, print for many different reasons: for example, to notify prospective, accepted and denied students in admissions-related mailings; and to reach out to alumni in fundraising appeals. Schools also are good customers for signage, banners and other items that LCP produces on its grand-format equipment.
It’s often said that customers are “agnostic” when it comes to printing processes; they don’t care what press the job is printed on as long as the color and registration look good. This is as true at LCP as it is elsewhere, but only up to a point. As Douglas points out, “They don’t care as long as it doesn’t cost more money. They do care when we can save them money.”
Dan Murphy, senior VP and director of manufacturing, notes that regardless of process or price point, LCP’s customers are always highly specific about what they want their color to look like. This, he believes, is what sets the company apart from the competition — its ability to manage color to its clients’ complete satisfaction across multiple applications and platforms.
One such satisfied customer is a top national fashion brand that works with a number of different G7-qualified Master Printers. However, the only G7 Master Printer that the customer approves for all of the printing processes it uses is LCP.
The special nature of LCP’s color credentials doesn’t end there. Murphy points out that the G7 hierarchy includes about 500 first-tier Master Printers; 43 carrying the “targeted” designation as occupants of the more exclusive second tier; and, in the elite third tier, just five that are “color space” certified.
LCP is one of the five and the only third-tier Master Printer to be found in the Chicagoland area. It entered the top rank last year by demonstrating its ability to match 1,617 colors on the IT8 reference target. That’s a far more demanding requirement than the color matching cutoffs for first-tier Master Printers (53 colors) and those in the targeted group (57 colors).
Finding the industry-standard IT8.7-4 color characterization target not up to its rigorous color matching requirements, LCP has developed a proprietary one that it calls TC-1617-XIA. Murphy says that this target, a modification of IT8.7-4, yields more reliable data for color characterization and is easier to use for getting good results on-press.
A printing company can’t climb through the tiers “unless you’re living G7” the way LCP does, Johnson adds. He credits color expert Bob Hallam, director of LCP’s color management group, with being the company’s “secret weapon” for world-class excellence in color reproduction.
That excellence is evident in LCP’s grand-format capability, which LCP acquired about a year ago by installing an eight-color EFI VUTEk 3250 flatbed printer. Murphy says that adding the process “really helped to close the loop for us” by enabling the company to provide a form of printed output that it knew its customers were buying, but from sources other than LCP.
Supporting the EFI VUTEk device are a robotic cutter from MCT Digital and equipment for sewing, grommeting and laminating indoor and outdoor signage and banners. As a result, says Johnson, “if the client can think it, we can make it” in the grand-format department.
The VUTEk flatbed printer is also used for prototyping packaging layouts on a rigid plastic substrate that is printed in large quantities on the UV offset presses. All in all, reveals Johnson, grand-format printing is a growth opportunity that now accounts for about 9% of LCP’s volume and could represent as much as 15% in a few more years.
An important part of being a brand guardian is giving customers easy and efficient access to the full range of the guardian’s brand-supporting services. LCP accomplishes this with the help of a self-developed Web-to-print (W2P) capability currently used by about 100 of its clients.
The company’s staff programmers have created an open-architecture solution that integrates commercially available W2P software within branded portals that look, according to Douglas, as if they could be the customers’ own Websites.
Logged into them, clients can carry out a full range of W2P tasks, such as creating and proofing layouts, ordering print-on-demand, uploading lists for direct mail campaigns, and so on. The portals also give shipping notifications and inventory reports.
The advantage of W2P with open-architecture software, says Douglas, is that it permits molding and fitting the solution to individual requirements. One of LCP’s pharmaceutical customers, for example, uses its portal to customize and order a sales training kit it calls “Meeting in a Box”: a collection of literature and leave-behind items such as pens and stress balls that can be custom-printed on-demand for the doctor’s office that the rep is calling on.
Brand marketing now takes place in channels that most printers aren’t experts in, but ones that brand guardians must be prepared to offer if their brand-owning customers want to use them.
Fulfilling this part of the mission has led LCP to experiment with app development and augmented reality (AR) — not because it necessarily sees these technologies as profit sources, but because having them helps the company avoid being unable to provide something that a customer has asked for.
LCP’s programmers have built apps as sales promotion tools and as catalogs of customers’ digital assets. AR, according to Douglas, serves mainly as a “teaser conversation with clients” who want to explore the possibilities of interactive print. It’s an intriguing technology, but complex and costly to execute. “You need the right client and the right product” for AR to make sense as a business proposition, he says.
LCP’s conversations with customers don’t always involve print, and as Hilliard observes, a printing company doesn’t want to be in a position of promoting things it doesn’t provide. But, he says that LCP’s designers, programmers, salespeople and CSRs all understand the value of getting in on the ground floor of discussions that, regardless of what they’re about, encourage clients to make maximum use of the services the company has to offer them.
LCP has many capabilities besides printing — some home grown, some gained in acquisitions of other companies. Hilliard says that the present economic climate favors acquisitions and that LCP is open to more of them as a part of its strategy for growth.
Sales representation on the East Coast, the West Coast and in Indiana assures coverage of national accounts, while the company’s Midwestern manufacturing location enables it to service customers wherever they are located.
As long as brands continue to require the guardianship that LCP provides, further growth for the guardian seems assured.