Premier Press Makes Embracing Change a Core Growth and Success Strategy
Change is hard, notes Chris Feryn, president of Premier Press, based in Portland, Oregon. But that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be embraced. Whether it’s adding high-speed inkjet printing equipment to its lineup, moving into new applications like packaging or apparel, or even offering services beyond print, Premier Press has never been content to accept the status quo. It has been the proverbial poster child for industry convergence long before that term was ever coined.
Today, Premier Press doesn’t think of itself as a “commercial printer” — rather, it is a “creative production company,” with services that touch every part of a customer’s project, from an 11-person creative team, to a professional onsite photo studio, to warehousing and fulfillment, and more.
Feryn notes that the industry has truly evolved, and while, in the end, something physical is still being printed and a physical product produced, the reality is that clients just don’t care anymore how it gets from the concept stage to the final product. The technology used to actually produce the work, he stresses, “doesn’t matter to us or our clients.”
Feryn continues, “sometimes we’re putting the work on an offset press, sometimes they want a coating [on that project], sometimes we’re using wide-format printers to do short runs, sometimes they want packaging.” Premier Press, he stresses, wants to be in a position to provide total solutions, and the technology used to get the customers to the end becomes less important than solving whatever problem they walk through the door with.
Because of that philosophy of bringing order to the chaos and solving whatever problems a customer might bring to the table, the business has also branched out into a wide range of applications that span technologies, industries, and verticals.
One of the big growth areas for the company right now is what it calls “influencer packaging,” where short runs of 50 to 150 personalized boxes are produced and sent out to influencers in the social media world, who then produce content such as blogs and videos about not only the project itself, but about the packaging.
“We help them create a cool experience,” says Feryn, who notes that beyond the product being promoted — which includes promotions for companies such as Nike, Adidas, and Red Bull, helping them build hype around shoes, clothing, beverages, and more — the packages could include anything from printed materials, to video clips, and even lighting triggered by opening the box itself. Premier Press works with a wide range of national brands, sports teams, and agencies to create these powerful experiences that help their clients stand out in an increasingly crowded marketing world.
“We were blessed to have Nike and Adidas in our backyard,” Feryn notes, with both companies also headquartered in the greater Portland metro area. “We started working with them, helping them create seeding programs to send out to these influencers [to drum up excitement over new product launches]. It started out with them providing the creative, but we have expanded and are now doing the concepting ourselves,” he adds. “And we have enough of a presence now that we are getting a lot of people coming to us, saying ‘we saw what you did here and we like it. Can you help us?’”
Another segment the shop has seen growth in recent years has been signage, with Feryn noting that personalization via data management is a big part of that application as well. For example, Premier Press has the ability to manage projects for a retail chain with hundreds of locations nationwide, keeping track of variables such as the number, size, and configuration of windows, and then designing and shipping a cohesive marketing campaign with creative elements tailored to every individual location, including signage, displays, and more to fit their unique space and needs.
A Direct Approach With High-Speed Inkjet
Direct mail is one area Premier Press has refocused on, especially with the installation of a 22˝ HP PageWide T250 HD inkjet web press, which is operating in-line with a Harris & Bruno aqua and UV post-coater, and a Standard Hunkeler cutter and stacker. Feryn says the new production line has decreased production times significantly, while at the same time allowing the shop to offer a much wider range of personalization options, as well as more programmatic-type work, where Premier Press produces and sends out batches of customized communications automatically based on a database of variables and information.
It joins a 29˝ Komori Impremia IS29 sheetfed inkjet press and an HP Indigo 7900, as well as a Konica Minolta 1052 and 754; PSI Color Laser Mail 3655; and a Xerox Phaser 7800, helping to round out the company’s digital portfolio.
The addition of the inkjet web press — the first such digital press model installed in the Pacific Northwest — has broadened the applications the company can produce. Although, he notes that getting paper for it has been a challenge with the current supply chain issues. Premier Press doesn’t have the relationships with manufacturers moving to the allotment system for priority access in the inkjet web category, so it has had to plan further ahead and try to anticipate the jobs and supplies it will need months in advance.
“It has been a challenge sourcing and ordering [rollfed inkjet paper] three months in advance,” Feryn admits. “We don’t know what the plan is that far out — we know we will be busy, but we don’t know what [those jobs] will be.”
The latest new venture for the company, however, has been in apparel — a vertical market it had no work in just a year and a half ago. “We’re creating it, sizing it to fit, sourcing the materials, and then fulfilling it to the end client,” Feryn points out. “That has been the fastest growth area in the company in the past year.” That work, he notes, has mostly been items like T-shirts, hoodies, beanies, and gloves for a customer they are doing monthly work for, but they are also preparing to roll the service out to other customers as they have gotten more confident in the work they can do in this particular segment.
A History of Change
Founded in 1974, Premier Press began with a single guiding principle: Serve customer needs and “bring order to the chaos,” Feryn says.
The company started as a commercial print shop, with founder Arnold Wheeler frustrated with the lack of service he witnessed first-hand in the print shops he had spent his career working for. “Printers were king, and they controlled the schedules,” Feryn points out. “Arnold was tired of always disappointing clients, so he decided to go off on his own.”
At first Wheeler worked out of a friend’s space, but quickly grew the business to the point where he needed to invest in his own equipment. Today, the business has grown to comprise 175,000 sq. ft. of space, 100% wind-powered, with 165 employees. And what began with a single offset press has evolved into a comprehensive production facility, which is fairly balanced between offset, digital, and wide-format printing.
In addition to the digital portfolio, on the offset side the company is operating an eight-color Komori Lithrone LS840 perfector, a six-color Komori Lithrone, two Presstek DI presses, and a two-color Halm MiniJet envelope printer.
The wide-format portfolio is impressive as well, allowing the shop to print on everything from metal, to glass, to fabric — and everything in between. That lineup includes an impressive range of sizes and ink technologies in both roll-to-roll and flatbed configurations, including the EFI VUTEk H5, HP Latex 3000, Canon Colorado, and Canon Arizona 6170 XTS, along with a range of wide-format-specific cutters, laminators, sewers, and more. And that is on top of its well-stocked bindery and finishing department.
But even with that impressive equipment list, Feryn believes that it would be nothing without the dedicated and talented staff Premier Press has running it. “We are focused on treating our vendors, customers, and employees right,” Feryn notes, stressing it’s the workers and their willingness to embrace whatever changes might come along that are the real secrets to the company’s success. “Anyone can buy equipment,” he contends, “but our employees make us different.”
And COVID-19 allowed Premier Press to demonstrate just how much it values the work every employee brings to the table, Scott Gorman, VP of manufacturing, adds. “When it came to the original beliefs about treating everyone right, we really modeled that in the pandemic. We made the decision to keep the entire team intact — there were zero layoffs. And I think that is a big part of our success coming out of the pandemic — there are still some challenges, but we are not struggling as much as some.”
Never Standing Still
“Change or be left behind,” Gorman adds, noting that although it is an older saying, it’s just as true today as it ever was — and perhaps even more so than in the past. Gorman believes that the ability of Premier Press to adapt to change is also why it has managed to still grow during two very tough years for the industry at large, with all of its staffing still in place. “Things would not have ended well for us if we had been vertical-focused going into the pandemic,” he admits.
“Change isn’t fun sometimes,” Feryn concedes, but he thinks it is the only way to remain successful long-term. And, as both executives point out, having the entire team on board with that change is just as critical — it’s not enough to just buy new technology, or decide to target a new market or application. There has to be buy-in on every level for that change to truly make a difference.
“That is a key part of our success,” according to Gorman. “If it was just Chris and I saying, ‘this is what we’re doing,’ but if our staff members don’t agree, then [nothing would change]. We have to make sure our people are aligned with us.”
What that means for the future is keeping a close eye on both what clients are requesting — the chaos and problems they are facing — and finding new ways to better serve them and help bring balance and solutions to the table. Finishing is one area Premier Press plans to invest in, bringing some of the work it is currently outsourcing — especially on the packaging side of the business — back in-house. But Feryn notes that if the direct mail business continues to grow, he could see bringing in more new finishing equipment to better serve that segment as well.
Apparel will also continue to be a major growth and investment area for the company, as it begins to branch that application out, and see what types of work customers are requesting, so it can invest in the right equipment — and people — to best grow and evolve that work.
Automation is another area Feryn notes will see more investment in the coming months, as he points out that projects such as the bigger programmatic direct mail jobs require a robust system to not only store the data, but automatically create and send the pieces themselves. “If you have hundreds of transactions, and thousands of invoice lines, you can’t do that manually,” he says. “We have to find ways to automate.”
To that end, he points out that they have a very strong IT team working to develop and integrate those solutions.
At the end of the day, Feryn says, change is inevitable, and “we decided as a company that we have to embrace it. That is what will make us successful — instead of being frustrated by challenges, we will embrace them and find solutions.”
He continues, “We are nimble in our staff, equipment, creative team, and salespeople — and all of those things put together are a great recipe for helping our clients succeed.”
“Diversity covers you,” Gorman adds. “The concept of convergence has been a key to success — we have gone through periods of time when sales sheets were big, and then catalogs, and those things go away. You have to see that happening, and transition to new offerings. Three years from now, some of what we’re doing now might not be relevant anymore. You can’t wish for the good old days.”
Serving customers and being willing to go where customers lead it has enabled Premier Press to prosper for nearly 50 years — and it has no intention of slowing down any time soon.
Convergence isn’t just a buzzword, or something to dip a proverbial toe into. At Premier Press, it is a deep-rooted philosophy that nothing stands still, and staying ahead of the curve is the only way to grow into the future.