Founded in 1922, Arandell is a company that has grown from humble roots into the premiere catalog solutions provider for North America that it is today. In a conversation with Steve Engelhardt, Brad Hoffman, the company’s president, talks about the history of his company and the print press industry in general, how Arandell has become so successful over the years, the changes he and the company have adjusted to in response to the internet, and why the future is looking quite bright for this Wisconsin-based business.
The print catalog industry’s process can be broken down into three parts, the front end, the middle, and the back end of production. It’s quite simple, really.
“The middle component is the actual printing process,” says, Hoffman, adding, “but nowadays, with all the technology available and utilized by us and our competitors, it’s really become almost a given in terms of page and color quality.”
Hoffman says Arandell separates itself from its competitors in that, “while we share similar technology from a manufacturing platform, Arandell continues to differentiate its industry recognized quality superiority through print and human resource advancements that give nationally recognized retailers consistent quality print results.”
In what Hoffman calls “Circulation Planning”, Arandell will, prior to printing, take a look at how its customers are mailing their campaigns, who they’re mailing to, and how frequently their touching their customers. “We look at these aspects of their business and, upon doing so, offer advice as to where they need to scale back their efforts, where they need to increase their mailing due to past success, and which mailing lists are still effective and which aren’t,” he says.
Understanding their customers’ intended audience is just as important as understanding the customers themselves, and as a result, another service they offer on the front end is big data analytics. “We have a service that will look at the target audience you’re trying to reach with your catalog, such as income level, presence of children, or age, and will subsequently pull all the related names and addresses in the desired region and put them into a list for our customers ahead of time, we even can take it a step further and identify buying behaviors of products down to the SKU level, which dramatically improves results Hoffman says.
He believes that Arandell’s data analytic capabilities are essential for its customers because “with our industry shifting from print aesthetics to production efficiency in terms of what’s paramount to a company’s business, knowing ahead of time who and where your audience is, is something of great significance and I don’t think any of our competitors come close to matching us in that regard.”
The analytical capabilities are part of Arandell’s bigger commitment to performing effective target marketing for their clients. Hoffman says that he and his company put a lot of effort into “consulting with our clients and associated vendors to provide marketing services that range from touch point frequency, circulation management, and message content, to behavioral tracking and potential product format differentiators.”
As much as Arandell invests in its customers on the front end, it offers even more innovative solutions and capabilities on the back end of its printing process. Hoffman says that most of the expenses his customers pay are through the delivery and postage costs levied when they ship their catalogs around the United States. In response to this, they offer a program called “co-mailing” in which Arandell customers sending catalogs to the same postal carrier route can combine their books in the same bundle to realize significant postage savings.
Hoffman says that in addition to “co-mailing”, his company also offers “drop shipping,” which serves as another money- saving strategy related to reducing postage-related expenses for their customers. Describing the function, he says, “With catalogs, specifically the manner in which they end up in a consumer’s home, it’s almost primarily the United States Postal Service that’s distributing them to the mailboxes, leaving few options and fixed prices for our customers when they want to ship.”
Arandell’s “drop shipping” service works to drop shipments as deeply into the postal system as possible as a way of minimizing delivery costs as much and controlling customers’ requests for in-home delivery. “For example, if a customer was in Wisconsin but wanted to ship to Florida, we would print their catalogs and then dropship the order as far as possible into the Florida postal systems to minimize the amount of travel done by postal delivery services, which is really where our customers’ bills rack up,” Hoffman says.
Arandell prides itself on the efficiency and effectiveness it displays on the front and back ends of the production process, but what about their actual printing and processing capabilities carried out in their production facility? Located in Menomonee Falls, Wisconsin., Arandell’s main production facility spans 550,000 square feet and is the single-largest web offset catalog production facility in the United States.
Inside, one will find an assortment of machines designed to meet any and all of their clients’ needs. Their newest technology, and the one that does most of the heavy lifting, is the M3000 eidelberg press, which is single web minimizing color compromises and has web widths from 52” to 72” for numerous page configuration offerings. In addition to it, Arandell has been able to duplicate the M3000 technology across 5 of their M3000 presses as a way of ensuring consistent quality across its entire manufacturing process. “We combine binding and finishing equipment with old-fashioned craftsmanship to create versatile and flexible binding experience,” says Hoffman.
And yet, he says that “most of the technology changes today are related to getting things set up quicker, maintaining color consistency, and so forth,” he says, adding, “customers are getting more sophisticated in their needs and it all ties back to the front-end and back-end capabilities in terms of what separates one company in our business from another.”
Hoffman says that his business used to be about hitting a button on the press and printing out a million copies all destined for the same location. Today, customers still need those million copies printed, but 100,000 of the copies may go to Florida, while another 300,000 must go to Boston, and the remaining 600,000 will go to Los Angeles. “That’s the way the market is going, with each city needing perhaps a different cover color or overall format based on consumer demographics, and I feel we have really turned this demand for customization into a strength for our business,” he says.
At the end of the day, he says that flexibility is easy for Arandell, as his company has “mastered the relevant technologies to produce premium results with the greatest efficiency,” adding, “our veteran press specialists offer the most up-to-date offset printing technology and color correction techniques, really enabling our clients to approve color with confidence.”
Arandell’s hard work and success in the face of change was rewarded greatly in 2013. In the beginning of 2013, they received the 2nd and 3rd place awards at the 2012/2013 Web Offset Association’s Print Awards, a ceremony held annually by the Printing Industries of America.
In May, they won bronze at the Sappi Awards, an international awards ceremony that recognizes master craftsmanship and honors excellence in print. Finally, in August, Arandell was honored with the highest recognition, a Gold award, at the annual Gold Ink Awards Competition.
Referencing Arandell’s motto, “Going Beyond,” Hoffman says that these recognitions are a testament to the dedication of his employees, and his company’s overall commitment to always pushing the envelope of opportunity. “We go beyond the printing, distribution, and expectations laid out before us,” he says, adding, “our model is based on being open-minded and prioritizing the partnership we have with our customers.”
It’s that kind of philosophy that propelled Arandell through the 2008 recession, when Hoffman says catalog circulations and mail volume in general dropped by 25-30 percent. However, over the past couple years we have seen a steady increase and will continue seeing increases in the future. And, although the emergence of the internet over the last decade has created a gradual shift from print to online, Hoffman says he’s not worried at all. “People ask me how I’m going to compete with the internet, and I tell them we don’t need to because we are actually complementary to one another,” he says, adding, “things that are becoming big, like smartphones, QR codes, and augmented reality, print is the driving factor behind them all, they’re all meaningless without it.”
While the internet’s negative impact on the printing business can’t be ignored, Hoffman says that his company has learned from the recession and has used an opportunistic outlook to continue to increase business. “We’ve had to do some belt-tightening, some material processes done differently, but as of today I can tell you we’re pulling in much more earnings with a lower overall volume than we had several years ago.”
Hoffman is excited about Arandell’s future and he has every right to be. In an industry that has undergone quite few changes over the last five years, they have been able to maintain an eminent grip on the market and leverage their credibility to become an established name and one that looks to continue to build relationships for many years to come.