As John Hoffheins sees it, there are two significant changes in the commercial printing business. “Ten years ago there weren’t the cost pressures that we face today. And the use of PDF files to ship documents over the Internet wasn’t as common.”
That said, Hoffheins remains highly bullish on the future of the commercial printing business. “I don’t see print going away for many years to come. Print is here to stay.”
As vice president of sales for George Rice & Sons, a commercial printer based in Los Angeles, Calif., with 200 employees serving a prestigious portfolio of Fortune 100 and Fortune 500 companies, Hoffheins should know. Indeed, the fact that you are reading this article on these glossy pages and not on your Palm Pilot would tend to bear him out on that. Print is still the primary medium of choice for annual reports, corporate brochures and sales collateral, despite claims you may have heard about the “paperless” office and the demise of the post office.
If anything, digital computer technologies have made the printing industry more cost-efficient. As for the pressure to keep costs down, it’s really no different a situation today than what other industries face – and overcome. “You can’t sell against price,” says Hoffheins. “But what you can do is add value and partner with customers to achieve their goals. That’s worth something beyond the cost of the job itself.”
Reputation also helps, and George Rice & Sons has been in the business since 1879. It is a perennial recipient of major industry printing awards, including seven Gold Ink awards and award-winning annual reports for Williams Sonoma and Starbucks Inc. recognized at the prominent Mead Paper Annual Report Show. It is common for the company to run printing jobs that cost in the range of anywhere from $50,000 to $250,000.
In the 1990s the company was acquired by Quebecor World, and became one of its 160 worldwide divisions. Quebecor World itself is part of the larger Quebecor, Inc., a French-Canadian based media conglomerate. So, in addition to a long history, George Rice and Sons offers itself as a highly financial stable partner with global media connections.
Hoffheins emphasizes the partnership role his company plays with his own customers. “We’re not just selling print, we’re working closely with customers to achieve their objectives by producing high quality products that have a very high profile,” he points out. “We’ve developed long-term relationships with leading companies in the automotive, entertainment, and communications industries, among others. Because of our dedication to serving our customers and working with them not just as suppliers but as partners in their success, I see these relationships just getting better over time.”
BEST PRINTER IN A SUPPORTING ROLE
A case in point was the key supporting role played by George Rice & Sons in the Academy Awards to produce an office commemorative poster for the 73rd annual Oscars® Presentation.
Poster designer Alex Swart, an award-winning graphic artist and principal of the SwartAd agency in Los Angeles, credits George Rice & Sons as an indispensable factor in the project’s success. “For a poster designer, choosing a production team is a matter of trust,” he says. “I need to trust that the team handling the pre-press color work is dedicated to realizing the designer’s vision. I also require state-of-the-art expertise and technology. I chose George Rice & Sons not only for their specific category experience with ‘one-sheets,’ but for their impressive track record with challenging jobs. From top management to the crew on-press, they demonstrate a passionate dedication to quality; I could trust that the final printed poster would look great.”
Being based in Los Angeles of course provides immediate access to the entertainment industry, where clients such as Columbia/Tri Star/Sony and Paramount Pictures rely on George Rice & Sons to translate creative concepts into a tangible product. The printer has a wide variety of customers in other leading industries, as well. These include DaimlerChrysler, Acura, Porsche, ChevronTexaco, Bank One (now J.P. Morgan Chase), AT&T Wireless, Nextel Communications, Princess Cruise Line and Lenox China.
TECHNOLOGY IMPROVES PRODUCTION
The company employs 20 direct salespeople to nurture these relationships. Still, the quality of the relationship depends to a large part on the quality of the product. You can’t have one without the other. To this end, George Rice & Sons operates a 250,000-
square-foot printing plant equipped with the latest innovations in machinery to ensure not only a good-looking product, but one that’s cost-effective.
“We’ve invested heavily in new technology,” Hoffheins points out. “We’ve seen a huge benefit in productivity gains with the use of state-of-the-art equipment.” Ironically, some of this technology is digital-based, the very thing that was supposed to put printers out of business. “With the use of digital files to go directly to a print plate we’ve eliminated the time consuming pre-press process,” he notes as an example. “This helps us not only achieve better print quality, but reduce our production costs. Along the same lines, we use just-in-time inventory and take advantage of any opportunity to automate a process that’s resulted in tremendous expense reductions.”
Hoffheins pooh-poohs the notion that digital is going to be the death of paper printing. Though it’s a growing trend for companies to put their annual reports on their Web sites for downloading (and even Quebecor World does this for its own Web site), the market for paper remains strong. “We do help our customers set up PDF files so someone can read a brochure electronically.” A Quebecor World service, Que-Net Media™, provides an extensive range of digital and technical solutions to help customers simultaneously publish and promote in multiple media. This includes creative, photography, digital pre-press, color management, content management, automated publishing and workflow activities.
Nonetheless, he emphasizes, “It’s still widely felt that a report needs to be printed. Especially in the banking and investment business, where there are tons of disclosure agreements and other legal documents that have to be sent to clients and shareholders, there’s indication that paper isn’t going to disappear. Right now the electronic version complements the hard copy, but doesn’t replace it.”
Hoffheins notes that while last year was a bit off, probably more than a few companies faced the same challenges in working against a sluggish economy. Now, as the economy seems to be picking up, he is confident of a much better coming year. And you can go to print with that.