Vision Integrated Graphics Is Poised for Growth with Tobe Direct Acquisition
Doug Powell has good equipment. In fact, the CEO of Chicagoland’s Vision Integrated Graphics Group has great equipment. Powell knows this; if 30 years in the graphic arts industry has taught him anything, it’s that one must be fearless when it comes to embracing new technology. As a result, Powell walks the bleeding edge, and it has yet to burn him.
Here’s the rub…Powell knows that his competition has good, perhaps state-of-the-art, equipment as well. They, too, can turn a job in short order, at a competitive price. Their work is good quality.
As technologies and processes continue to improve, and the weaker of the species falls by the wayside, the differences among print providers—from a quality and productivity standpoint—become extremely subtle. It used to be that printers would brag about their dots and coverage, but now the conversation has turned to multi-channel campaigns encompassing ancillary services like marketing, creative, design, data management and analytics.
Finding a point of differentiation is one thing, but selling it to your customer base is another.
“It’s hard to differentiate our businesses in the industry, because equipment and processes have moved dramatically to the plus side,” Powell explains. “We strive to have the best people who can offer solutions. We have certain job-shop work, but our strength comes to light when we truly partner with our customers and their businesses, from project management through shipping. That’s where the team knows, understands, lives and breathes our customers’ concerns.”
While it is too early to tell, Vision aims to meet all customer needs, including those beyond printing. And what a client base it serves—Fortune 100 retailers, advertising, finance, health care, independent distributors, nonprofit/fundraising, sports and entertainment, to name a few.
The company has its eyes set on explosive growth well beyond the $70 million in annual sales it now generates. It provides commercial printing products, direct mail and wide-format printing, as well as fulfillment and a comprehensive menu of marketing services (including planning and development), cross-media and integrated marketing, Web-to-print, direct mail campaign management, and data leveraging with full analytics and reporting.
Vision’s product and service dossier became a little thicker this spring when it acquired Tobe Direct, a direct mail specialist based in Bolingbrook, Illinois. The deal added considerable juice to Vision’s existing direct marketing capabilities, giving it four Chicagoland locales, and provided a new set of customers to leverage.
“We produced a lot of direct mail at Vision prior to the Tobe acquisition, but we’re more lower volume and a combination of sheetfed and digital,” Powell explains. “Many of our corporate account customers were looking for higher volume, perhaps more unique, direct mail solutions. We met John (Tobe, owner) and felt he was a market leader and that we could further leverage what he’s built.”
Tobe, president and CEO of Tobe Direct, notes the companies were introduced by HP, which is a primary supplier of HP Indigo digital presses to both firms. After getting to know his counterpart at Vision, Tobe found that he and Powell had a great deal in common. Both had similar backgrounds. And while his company was fresh off an astounding 80 percent growth rate from 2013 to 2014, John Tobe was looking to the future.
“I wanted to join an organization that has a bright future, that was a good, synergistic fit and could help us drill deeper inside the accounts we already had,” Tobe says. “We both share a vision of not stopping at $70 million in revenues, but growing to half a billion. We’re adding more digital assets to our platform and are truly becoming a marketing services provider.”
Bolstering Its Range of Services
Only 10 years earlier, Doug Powell’s Award Vision and Steve Smits’ Alpha Beta Press had merged to create Vision’s current identity. Its headquarters is located in Chicago with two northern Illinois production facilities: Tinley Park and Bolingbrook (from the Tobe deal). In 2012, the G7 Master Printer qualified company bolstered its wide-format digital printing specialty with the acquisition of Point Imaging, a brand identity and promotions specialist based in Hobart, Indiana. Vision was one of Point Imaging’s largest customers and, following the transaction, the wide-format provider lost its largest client.
“It was challenging, one of those situations where you’re not quite sure what you’ve got,” points out Smits, who serves as president of Vision. “The relatively significant customer that was lost accounted for a significant percentage of their sales and EBITDA.
“But, within two years, we rebuilt that business with our sales infrastructure and accounts. We far exceeded the business; we made budget, even with them losing their largest account,” Smits adds.
According to Powell, growth in the wide-format business has been complementary to its other product lines. “Most of our account execs find it very easy to sell into a lot of these different spaces,” he says. “We’re selling a complete package to a retail store, so we might be producing a new store welcome kit of 1,400 individual SKUs and might use multiple plants in our organization that all consolidate into our fulfillment center. We’ve got a pretty deep portfolio of output devices—eight HP Indigos (including a six-color, 29˝ HP Indigo 10000), four sheetfed offset presses (up to six-color, 40˝ capabilities), five three-meter, wide-format printers and two five-meter devices. We maintain a really large portfolio to support our customers’ needs.”
And don’t forget the value that marketing capabilities brings to the table while adding a point of differentiation. Part of the beauty in the approach, according to Tobe, is that the company can approach the chief marketing officer at a retail client, for example, and offer a comprehensive package. Vision can take the helm of a client’s customer loyalty program, house the data, analyze past results and determine the best method of attack for the customer’s next multi-channel campaign.
“We’re putting together the pieces of the puzzle,” Tobe says. “We’re going to leverage the message they want to send their clients, in a channel that will drive responses, provide results and good returns on their investment.”
In the short term, Vision will be working toward fully integrating Tobe Direct into its organization, and part of that will likely entail a facility integration to enable the firm to better leverage its combined capabilities. Vision also brought a chief technology officer on board, a role aimed at helping to sew their respective products and services into a cohesive offering.
While Vision and Tobe Direct were among the earliest adopters of HP Indigo technology, the newly-merged company is just beginning to look at a foray into the production inkjet world. Powell feels that his company now has the scale to get into high-speed inkjet effectively and profitably, an investment that would be in addition to the company’s typical $3 million annual capex budget.
“At $42 million to $45 million, Vision might not have been the right-sized business to address the inkjet market adequately,” he says. “Our products were a little too diverse; we didn’t have enough volume for the types of output that fit neatly into the inkjet space. Now, with Tobe Direct in the fold, we can add their products and services, and we have a very viable opportunity now to capture some market share in that area.” PI