PrintKEG, Beaufort, SC
WHILE WE'RE on the subject of names, here's an interesting twist on why a printing business felt compelled to change its moniker. It wasn't because the company was named for an outdated or no longer relevant technology. And it wasn't because the company wanted to stretch its marketing services provider wings and fly. The reason: It wasn't who "we" were.
Chris Mullen and Tony Devlin started down the road of Web development, and began their business by leasing the back office of a print shop called IDM Print, which specialized in blueprint plans. IDM actually provided Mullen and Devlin with a lot of business so, after a year—and despite having little knowledge about printing—they bought the company.
After a couple of years of generating $15,000 a month in business, it was time to make some changes. The company redirected its energies to becoming an online printer and began to phase out the blueprint aspect. Online sales bumped up to $50,000 a month, and the enterprise now generates $1 million in annual sales—not bad for a bunch of computer programmers with no real previous printing expertise.
As for the name, it had to go. "It felt like we were trying to be something that we weren't," Mullen explains. "We were trying to be ultra-professional (as IDM Print). So, when we started the online shop, we wanted more of our personality to shine through."
In the process, the Web developers came up with a mascot to match the name change to PrintKEG. He's a snazzy little fellow with a button-up shirt and open collar, pants and a pair of sleek shades. And, despite his name and obvious shape, Mr. Keg prefers to tote a martini glass, which suits him well.
"Mr. Keg represents a fun factor that more identifies with us," Mullen adds. "He might not be the most professional mascot, but customers respond well to him. He definitely separates us from the rest."
PrintKEG may not be ready to tangle with the VistaPrints of the world, but check out the overhead and sales per employee—there are five full-time workers in a 2,000-square-foot facility. It churns out general commercial products such as brochures, posters, flyers, stationery, table tents, business cards and postcards in the business-to-consumer (B2C) space. Many customers fall under the headings of designers, artists and musicians, and the printer has begun to target churches and schools.
How can PrintKEG expect to grow appreciably bigger in a sector chock full of Web-based competitors? Mullen notes PrintKEG's niche is the cheapest price for small quantities. When the quantities reach a level in which it becomes more cost-sensible to print offset, he recommends other printers.
"The most important benefit is our PrintKEG Promise," adds Mullen of his money-back-if-not-delighted reprint or refund guarantee. "Our guarantee on prices initially attracts people to us, but it's the ease of the overall experience that keeps clients with us."
Mullen himself monitors customer service e-mails that come in to PrintKEG, and takes comments and suggestions seriously. When shipping charges drew the ire of some clients, he sought out ways to lower his internal costs so that he could reduce shipping fees.
Social networking applications engage current and potential clients in a number of ways for PrintKEG. Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and YouTube are just a few of the outlets PrintKEG has exploited in its quest to become a new-era marketer. In fact, it has commercials that can be found on YouTube.
"Social networks are part of our lives now, and I don't think companies have a whole lot of choice but to use them," Mullen remarks. "We don't rely on traditional means of advertising anymore, like television ads or the phone book. We update on Twitter and build connections through LinkedIn. We're also experimenting with Yelp, Google Wave and foursquare. So far, they have made a very nice impact."
Wanting to engage clients even further, PrintKEG used its blog to promote Photo Challenge, asking clients to send in images of themselves utilizing the images printed with the online maven. The winner was given $250 in credit. PrintKEG, in turn, was given a deeper glimpse into how end users leverage their products.
"We wanted to see what customers were doing with the prints," Mullen says. "We got a lot of responses, and it helped create a connection. We're not just creating ink on paper; these clients are proud of their creations and we wanted to see them in action. We'd like our next contest to involve video."
Growth is definitely in the cards for PrintKEG, which has relied on a pair of Xerox 700 digital color presses, but is generating enough clicks to justify looking into adding either a Xerox iGen or HP Indigo digital press within the next 12 months, according to Mullen.
Recently, the company added t-shirts to its repertoire (a nod to its musician clientele) with photo gifts and stationery also destined to make an impact on the bottom line.
With growth comes the hope of purchasing finishing gear, as well as a 3,000- to 4,000-square-foot building within the next few years, aided by favorable commercial terms in South Carolina.
Mullen notes that his programmers are working on unique tools to benefit the designers and resellers among their customers with an application programming interface (API) that will allow them to make use of PrintKEG content on their own Websites. As an example, PrintKEG is working on a WordPress application that will allow artists to sell their work on their blog within minutes of setup.
So while not everything that Mr. Keg puts his name to will be solely products of a printed nature, all five members of PrintKEG have their eyes on the prize. For now, the next plateau is $10 million in sales, and why not? The company has been able to hit its marks thus far.
"We constantly evaluate everything that we do," Mullen says. "We concentrate most on the customer experience and how we can make it easier, better and smoother for them. Our increase in sales and the customer base tells me we're on the right track. More importantly, it's about internal happiness—ourselves, our company, our people. In the end, if everyone's not smiling, then we're not going to work." PI