Coborn’s Print Services: ‘A Vital Asset’
When asked what he envisions for the future of Coborn’s Inc. Print Services, Manager Paul Wannigman, has one response: “To continue excelling at what we’ve done and being a vital asset to Coborn’s.”
Having been with the St. Cloud, Minn.-based in-plant for 28 years, Wannigman is proud of his three employees and their ability to “receive a request and push it out the door faster than humanly possible. We respond to all of our customers with breakneck speed,” he says. “If someone orders something, and it’s in stock, they’ll get it right away tomorrow in our truck. We’ve spoiled our customers.”
With a 50,000-sq.-ft. facility, Print Services — part of the Coborn’s Marketing and Advertising Group, which includes 13 additional employees — handles jobs for the corporation’s 120-plus grocery, convenience, liquor, and other retail locations. It bills just under a million dollars annually.
Like many in-plants, Print Services has seen other print providers try to poach its parent organization’s print work. But what makes Print Services so essential, Wannigman notes, is how it saves the employee-owned corporation money, and continues to evolve its offerings.
“We create something new every single day, something we’ve never seen before, because it’s needed in our stores,” he shares.
The Signage Surge
One prime example is how the in-plant took on wide-format production in 2012, ultimately adding a sign shop that now includes an HP Latex 360 roll-to-roll printer with an ONYX server, and an EFI Pro 16H UV-LED flatbed printer, driven by EFI Fiery XF. According to Wannigman, Print Services’ wide-format business has expanded 200-300% in the past two to three years and is its busiest department.
“We are pretty much running that seven to 10 hours a day, all that equipment, and the auxiliary equipment — a flatbed cutter, Graphtec cutter for cutting vinyl, Seal laminator, stuff like that.”
With the exception of very few items — like super-wide-format, 3D, and metal backlit signage — the in-plant handles “100% of the [store] décor, from 8 ft. down to the floor,” says Wannigman. Examples include floor graphics, signage hanging from the ceiling, point-of-purchase (POP), any size or shape window décor or window perf, and even the labels identifying meat as USDA-approved.
“Everything you see [in a store] comes from us,” he reports.
According to Wannigman, the shop prints “any kind of media substrate on our roll-to-roll [printer], and we pretty much print on our flatbed anything up to 2˝ thick — and then [we] custom cut it all.”
What helps make signage production easier, he notes, is following the Coborn’s playbook of instructions, which helps the stores maintain consistency and avoid one-offs.
“My mission is, whatever is asked of me, we do our best to accommodate it if we can,” he says. “That way, we can print things as economically as we possibly can to make sure we get the best product out there at a minimal price, thus saving us money — and if we save money, we’re saving customers money.”
Signage During COVID
While Print Services also produces items such as manuals, forms, newsletters, business cards, and marketing materials, like many in-plants, signage was its mainstay during COVID — and with an essential grocery chain to support, its sign operation was especially busy.
“In October, pre-COVID, we found we were running 14 hours a day; I never thought we’d do that much flatbed work,” says Wannigman. Then, as COVID spread in the U.S., employees were working up to 16 hours a day, he says, printing COVID-related signage as well as stickers and floor graphics.
“We went over the top instead of bust. [With] COVID, our volumes went through the roof, and continued that way probably until October,” when the corporation began remodeling stores, he adds.
Running adhesives and clings on its roll-to-roll and flatbed devices prior to COVID proved to be particularly advantageous for pickup-related signage.
“Our competitors had to get up and running whereas we were running right away,” he says. “People would only order [groceries] from places where they could pick up. We helped our customers through a very difficult time, and we were available to them.”
Although COVID signage was a boon for the in-plant, Print Services has had its challenges with the virus. One has been finding materials with current supply-chain issues.
“I get replies from ships sitting out in the harbor in California that they might be out [there] for weeks,” he says, noting he couldn’t get Coroplast for three to four months. “It’s made me conscious of how to order and when to order; I try to beef up inventories.”
Another challenging time for the in-plant was when Wannigman contracted COVID, causing him to work primarily from home last December. Despite this, production remained on track with deadlines. He has since recovered, despite experiencing spells of headaches and fatigue. The rest of the team has fortunately not contracted the disease.
“I have a great team here; I wouldn’t trade them for the world,” he lauds.
Wannigman also holds Coborn’s leadership in high regard, as the corporation has been very accepting of his equipment investment proposals.
“Coborn’s has blessed me with state-of-the-art equipment almost my entire career right from the beginning,” he adds.
Not only have these approved investments enabled the in-plant to take on the sign shop, but they allowed it to do more work with fewer people. In Wannigman’s nearly three decades at Coborn’s, the in-plant has only grown from a two-person staff printing for 11 grocery stores in his early days, to the current four-person team serving more than 120 stores.
The shop’s most recent investment was a Colex Sharpcut SXC1732 finishing system with a moveable bed for its roll-to-roll cutting. It can handle any type of contour cut the team needs, including custom boxes for packaging projects and signage.
New Services and Improvements
For now, the in-plant has two areas of focus: installation and its digital storefront. Print Services has started installing its graphics in the last few months, converting one of its catering vans to carry ladders and the necessary items for installing window, interior, wallpaper graphics, etc. Wannigman notes the shop might need to hire another full-time individual to solely handle installation work.
Wannigman is also taking the lead managing Print Services’ EFI Market Direct StoreFront, which has enabled the shop’s customers to find what they need with standardized naming conventions and corresponding images so they can easily order their desired quantities.
“It got rid of the billion phone calls and emails,” he adds. “Our digital storefront is working in parallel with our house software ... so we have to make sure they dance well together. I don’t want customers having problems ordering from me.”
This storefront’s ordering process is further complemented by the in-plant’s improved packaging and labeling that includes more obvious information and images to avoid any jobs getting hidden in the back room.
Most in-plants know they must continually expand their services to remain valuable to their parent organizations. Wannigman is well aware of this and considers wide-format to be one of the most valuable services any in-plant can offer, no matter the parent organization’s industry.
“For us, we are a grocery chain — POP is what we do to sell groceries and let all our customers know how great it is that they are in our stores, saving themselves money and getting great products and services,” he says. “To do that, we utilize a very large amount of wide-format output. I don’t think, I know; wide-format is here to stay and will grow and grow as technology improves each year.”
Related story: Paul Wannigman: Keeping Things Fresh for 24 Years