TREND OFFSET PRINTING -- An Upward Trend
BY ERIK CAGLE
In 1996 it was becoming increasingly clear to Anthony and Robert Lienau, co-founders of Trend Offset Printing, that the Southern California market which gave birth to their thriving business—from a $15 million printer less than 10 years previously to nearly $80 million—was just about tapped of growth potential.
Before long, the Los Alamitos, CA-based printer was embarking on a national expansion plan, first in Carrollton, TX (a Dallas suburb), followed by Jacksonville, FL. It proved a prophetic move by Anthony Lienau, company chairman.
"We were profitable within our first three months in Texas," notes Todd Nelson, president and COO of Trend Offset Printing. "It was at that moment we knew it would be an important piece in our growth on a national level."
For a company with the word "trend" in its name, Trend Offset Printing has bucked a few, starting with its marriage of the heatset and coldset web offset printing cultures. Coldset printing in a heatset plant is akin to finding Pepsi Cola in a Coke machine, or perhaps seeing a Cessna plane in a used car lot. They have something in common, but it's largely acknowledged that the two traditionally don't belong under the same roof.
Jeff Sweetman, CEO of Trend Offset Printing, feels it is the melding of the print cultures, along with technology and a national presence, that enables the company to set itself apart from competitors.
"Our diversity creates a more recession-proof printing model," he says. "We manufacture heatset, coldset and combination products. Hundreds of weekly, bi-weekly and monthly publications benefit from our plants nationwide. We've created a culture with common new equipment and standards at three large web printing plants being applied to a wide range of publication, catalog and directory markets across the United States. We build plants organically from the ground up, all new with equipment common to all facilities.
Another trend the company has avoided is that of negative sales growth in this struggling economy. In fact, Trend Offset is posting enviable numbers for a healthy financial atmosphere; projected revenues have risen from $182 million in 2001 to nearly $200 million by year's end. Previous strides have also been lengthy; sales ballooned from $120 million in 1999 to $151 million in 2000.
"When it comes to our growth, the level of communication we continue to keep with our customers before we make any big purchasing decisions is a huge factor," Nelson says. "We have a strong connection with what's happening with our customer base, and we're light on our feet to be able to make decisions that complement that. When I say light on our feet, if it means we need to buy an $8 million press, it doesn't take an act of Congress to do that. We have a structure in place that can get it approved very quickly.
"When you look at our competitors, especially the national, multi-million-dollar printers like Quebecor World, R.R. Donnelley and the like, our nimbleness is very attractive to our clients. They like the ability that we have to react quickly."
The company has been reacting quickly since its inception in 1985 with a modest, 25,000 square feet of manufacturing space on a street corner. Trend Offset now encompasses 90 percent of the street, roughly 31⁄2 city blocks. In under 17 years, the company has grown to more than 1,000 employees (600 in Los Alamitos alone) and boasts a little over 700,000 square feet of space, with another 80,000 slated over the next 12 months.
Trend Offset cut its teeth as a retail insert printer but, as it bolstered its bindery lines and word spread that the company performed both heatset and new high-speed, high-quality coldset web printing, it gravitated toward weekly, bi-weekly and monthly publications. Such freebie non-subscriber, pure-revenue publications for automotive, housing, travel and hotel niches became the company's largest market category. Trend still manufactures retail work, telephone directories and high-end enamel catalogs, and is a direct mail/marriage mail printer. The company also produces substantial GPO and state printing.
"We look at printing sales and customer benefits and examine the pipeline from the creation of the concept, building of the editorial or the advertising, through the buying of the paper, data communication of titles, the imaging of a client concept onto plate, and the printing, binding and ink-jet or newsstand distribution, to the reader," Sweetman remarks. "We've looked to close the gap in the time and cost pipeline for the client. What's really thrust our growth was the fact that we were closing these gaps for so many customers. It's a huge benefit for our publisher clients to be able to save one or two days in their production cycles because of our three plant locations and replicated technology."
With the benefits of heatset and coldset technology under one roof that cater to quick turnaround publications, according to Nelson, "the added value is time, because you don't have all those services fragmented out to multiple vendors. So that model was an easy stepping stone to grow from a $15 million printer to the nearly $200 million operation that we are today.
"As market conditions change for our customers, we provide them choices that can reduce costs and increase revenue. The way we're set up, we give them a lot of choices," he adds. "We encourage the examination of new formats farther up the quality chain, across it or down as our clients' desires and market conditions dictate."
From the printer's standpoint, the diversification has enabled Trend to avoid becoming a victim of the slumps that befall certain markets. A thriving publication printing market, for example, would help offset a stagnant directory business. Coupled with the strength of its regional branches, the company brain trust aims to make Trend Offset as recession-proof as possible.
The Carrollton, TX, facility opened its doors in 1998 under the direction of Paul Finie, with the Jacksonville, FL, plant coming online in 2001. Their geographic mapping came after studies by the company, which tapped into its major clientele to gauge where placement would be most appropriate from a print volume standpoint.
Before ground was broken on the Texas facility, Trend Offset had $12 million in contractual obligations booked. At Jacksonville, the pre-booking figure was $15 million annually.
Having a three-pronged business model reflecting the California facility has provided Trend Offset with a base for comparison and has eliminated any of the guesswork when it comes to equipment, notes Nelson.
"When we opened Florida 18 months ago, there was nothing in that plant that we were not already familiar with in our California or Texas facilities. So we didn't install anything in there that's new to the equation or difficult to measure.
"What happens is that the bar continues to be raised on both quality standards and performance measurements, because we share a great deal of information with each of the three facilities to compare against each other. That's very healthy."
Seven years ago, Trend Offset was one of the first web printers to usher in computer-to-plate imaging. The company has remained at the forefront of technology and recently added a five-color Alcoa (nee Didde) Excalibur press, along with a five-color Heidelberg M-800 cover web press with UV coating, in Florida. At the finishing end of the line are Muller Martini and Kolbus binders.
Both of the new presses, added within the last 12 months, are already running at near capacity. As was the case with the new plant openings, Trend Offset let its clientele guide the decision-making process.
"Every one of the equipment decisions we've done has driven higher quality standards and increased our productivity," Sweetman remarks. "The biggest impact has been at the customer level because of the the capacity we've been able to give them. For example, we have seven perfect binding lines at our three facilities. If you're a publisher with a saddle-stitched product and you want to grow revenues into a perfect-bound method, we encourage that kind of growth. Our objective is to fuel client growth in pages and circulation, and be the tool of our customers' increased revenues."
In the Florida facility, an eight-unit Heidelberg M-600 web press equipped with Autoplate and Quad/Tech International (QTI) closed-loop color control, and a 12-unit Heidelberg V-30 coldset press highlighted the startup.
Nelson notes that Trend Offset was one of the first companies to embrace QTI's closed-loop technology. "We went through a thorough evaluation of their system," he says. "There were various players in the market and we had other peripheral equipment we were utilizing in our plants that came from QTI, so it was natural for us to go with them. That's been a real positive relationship for us."
As Trend Offset stretches toward the $200 million sales mark, Sweetman believes it will be important for the company to continue to further diversify the markets it serves and bolster the roster of products it manufactures, such as newsstand publications—demographic catalogs, business-to-business publications—printed products that can leverage Trend Offset's capabilities.
"With some of the changes that are happening with postal regulations—we're really connected to that with ink-jet mailing services and postal savings that all three facilities provide—we have to be looking constantly at solutions to help our clientele, especially since postal regulations are a moving target," Nelson says.
The company's master plan includes eventually adding more facilities, a move that will naturally be driven based on Trend's high-level customer relationships.
"One remark we've heard from vendors and customers is that we are the 'new' Quad/Graphics," Sweetman says of another independently owned company that grew organically. "I take that as a very nice compliment."