New Services Open New Doors
When Plum Grove Inc. was established in 1980, owner Peter Lineal envisioned a traditional commercial printing establishment. He wanted a business that was somewhat recession-proof and that would provide stable income for his growing family — his daughter was born the same day he received the keys to the building.
An entrepreneur at heart, Lineal has evolved from there, changing to reflect the demands of the world around him.
Today, Hoffman Estates, Ill.-based Plum Grove prides itself on being a marketing partner to its clients, with services that span a broad spectrum, including mailing, promotional products, signs, trade show displays and Web-to-print sites. Never content to rest, the business is constantly looking for new ways to serve the brands and print buyers who come through its doors.
“Over time, there have been new tools, technologies, desktop publishing and the advent of digital,” says Kara Lineal, Peter’s daughter who recently joined the company full-time as its chief marketing officer. “All of these different things have impacted marketing, and our product and service offerings have had to evolve to meet those needs.”
Kara Lineal notes that much of Plum Grove’s expansion has happened in response to customer requests. When someone comes in and says, “We like working with you; can you do this too?” Plum Grove finds a way to get it done.
“Our growth has been a little bit of both [organic and deliberate],” she adds. “Some of it has been based on opportunistic business, while other add-ons and expansions were based on customer-requested services.”
New Services Result in New Customers
Adding new services, in turn, opens up the doors to even more customers and industries. Brands are no longer just focused on the print elements of a campaign, and Plum Grove being able to help businesses brainstorm new ideas that span different media has been a winning strategy.
“As we’ve grown our portfolio of services into trade show displays, signage and graphics, mailing services and promotional products, we can ask clients how we can help them grow their businesses,” Peter Lineal points out. “We have an entire tool box, not just a hammer. A lot of printing companies have a successful strategy to just sell print — great. But that’s not what clients that are looking to grow are seeking.”
The newest piece of Plum Grove’s puzzle has been the beefing up of its digital and internet department. Before joining her father’s company, Kara Lineal spent 16 years working in the digital marketing and e-commerce space, which is experience her father is now capitalizing on. “It adds another dimension to our portfolio of offerings,” Peter Lineal notes.
Beyond making the right investments at the right time and listening to customers when they request new services, Peter Lineal has grown his business to where it is today because he has been willing to take risks.
“One of the things I’ve always done — being a typical, restless entrepreneur — is push our own business to exploit new technology and services as a way to learn about innovative products and services, before offering them to clients,” he says.
One example is when the company jumped into the online portal business in 1999. Plum Grove launched several consumer websites, which Peter Lineal admits weren’t all successful, but the experience Plum Grove gained deploying and using the platform was something none of its competitors could match at the time.
“That is pretty typical of our process of learning what is new, getting it and using it ourselves, and being willing to lose money pioneering new technology,” Peter Lineal adds. “Getting arrows in the back is not fun, but we’ve got to be able to shed a few dollars in the process of investing.”
Another secret to Plum Grove’s success, Kara Lineal notes, is that it doesn’t wait for the orders to come. Rather, the business makes an effort to find industries and customers it isn’t currently serving, and present ideas that can be used and expanded on.
One of the benefits to this approach is the ability to bring marketing teams new and innovative ideas they might not have considered on their own. It also means Plum Grove doesn’t see other printers as being its competition, since they are building solid partnerships built on mutual respect and great ideas.
“One of the things I’ve noticed coming into this industry from in-house marketing teams,” Kara Lineal explains, “is that folks have their go-to marketing tactics that are comfortable and familiar. They’re the solutions they always use and have expertise at. But knowing and tapping into the full marketing toolbox is almost impossible. It can be an overwhelming number of choices to people marketing their business.
“But breaking that down, and making it feasible for marketers to open their minds to new ideas, merging print and digital marketing, what we can bring to market is really quite phenomenal. In a consultant role — not as order takers, but partners — it opens up that toolbox of ideas to marketers.”
Stacking the Deck
The toolbox of this once-commercial printer is truly impressive. The shop offers almost 100 different services that span six different categories, including printing, trade shows and displays, signs and banners, promotional products, mailing and Web-to-print portals.
But they don’t intend to stop there. Plum Grove recently expanded its footprint, adding another 3,000 sq. ft. of space in an adjacent building, where the company is relocating its Trade Shows & Displays division to give it more showroom space, as well as to enable space for additional equipment. Plans are to add a new wide-format printer and a flatbed cutter in the short-term, as well as new ways to automate more of the business.
“We’re a little guy compared to the big guys in the online space,” Peter Lineal admits. But customers still want nearly instant service, quotes and turnaround times. “We live in the Amazon world, where everyone expects it to ship today and arrive in two days. As a result, we need to keep investing in both automation and production infrastructure.”
What’s next for Plum Grove after that? Peter Lineal is optimistic about his company’s future, and is enjoying the dynamic, especially now that Kara has joined him — and brings her own daughter to the shop, just as she came with her dad as an infant.
“There is a lot of consolidation going on in the industry. The merger and acquisition frenzy is continuing as baby boomers keep aging,” he concludes. “But, as someone who has been in the industry almost 38 years, it’s a whole other level of fun to have a second and third generation being involved in the business.”
Toni McQuilken has been writing and editing for more than a decade. Her work includes B2B publications – both in print and online – in a range of industries, such as print and graphics, technology, hospitality and automotive; as well as behind the scenes writing and editing for multiple companies, helping them craft marketing materials, write press releases and more. She is a self-proclaimed "tech geek" who loves all things technology, and she knows that she is one of a select group of people who get to do what they love for a living.