Victory in Victoria: A Wide-Format Success Story
By now, in-plants should have no doubt about the importance of wide-format printing to their viability and growth. IPI research shows that 72% of in-plants have wide-format printing capabilities, and they continue to expand them with new devices to serve new needs.
One shining example of wide-format success lies in far western Canada, on Vancouver Island. University of Victoria Printing Services has gone from printing basic posters a few years ago to establishing a thriving wide-format operation that now generates 20% of the in-plant’s overall revenue. Along that path, the in-plant faced some of the same obstacles that have deterred other in-plants, yet it overcame them — challenges like a lack of space for wide-format equipment and competition from other departments that also offered wide-format.
When Manager Sean Guldin came to the university nearly eight years ago from Graphic FX Signworks, he brought with him some strong wide-format experience. Yet the in-plant at the time had only a small Epson poster printer; more complex work requiring different substrates was being outsourced — and there was a lot of it.
“We recognized the demand,” Guldin says. Accommodating it, however, required research and planning. Five years ago, he proposed adding three pieces of equipment:
- A 64˝ Epson SureColor S30670 printer
- A 54˝ Royal Sovereign laminator
- A 60˝ Graphtec plotter
Guldin’s director agreed to the expansion plan, but there was one small hitch.
“Our main shop did not have the space at all to add this equipment,” Guldin says.
This was not about to deter him, however. Because Printing Services and the book store were both part of Campus Services, the in-plant was able to secure two small areas in the book store’s basement to place the equipment. This was far from ideal, however.
Jobs were printed in one area, then rolls were carried to another area for cutting, and finally, they were brought to the main Printing Services production facility across the street for mounting and finishing.
Still, the wide-format operation, which was given the name Blink, worked hard to build up business. Guldin promoted it heavily and met with clients, including Marketing and Communications. Slowly, the business grew.
“We increased our profits and we proved to our director that there was enough profit to hire a new employee with the proper skill set,” he says.
Just as importantly, the first year’s success showed the director that Blink needed a new space where all of its equipment could be together.
“That was a big turning point,” Guldin says.
A More Visible Location
The wide-format operation was consolidated into a more prominent area in the book store, which included a walk-up storefront. Now, instead of placing orders in Printing Services main facility, customers could order jobs right where the work was being done.
“It made the whole process for the customer a lot simpler,” Guldin says.
The more visible location, right in the building where students needed to go to buy books, resulted in a lot more student business. Instead of going off campus for academic posters, they began ordering them from Blink. This allowed the in-plant to participate directly in the strategic framework of the university.
“Having the close connection with students really makes us valuable,” he says.
Guldin was also able to get the university’s Marketing and Communications department to start sending the bulk of its wide-format work to Blink.
To improve visibility, he asked that Blink be included on campus tours for both new students and new staff.
“By the end of the second year of business, Blink had made enough revenue to support the hiring of a second full-time employee,” Guldin says. “Within three years, Blink was responsible for 20% of our department’s revenue, and the margin continues to grow every year.”
Blink handles everything from banner stands and Coroplast signage to custom-cut decals and floor graphics. Staff installs wall murals, window graphics, and floor graphics and partners with Facilities for more complicated installations.
In 2016, the shop added an Océ ColorWave 500 toner-based printer, which Guldin says can print a 3x4-foot poster in one minute for half of what it used to cost.
“It sped the print time up by nine minutes,” he proclaims.
It can also scan and reproduce engineering drawings or posters.
More recently, Blink upgraded its Epson printer to a new SureColor S40600.
Confident in Quality
Blink’s wide-format success came about even though two other campus departments were already offering wide-format printing and signage: Facilities and a student-run print shop. Guldin was not intimidated because he was confident the in-plant could provide better quality work at a lower price, and this has proven to be the case. After negotiating with Facilities, an agreement was reached where Facilities would provide permanent fixed signage and wayfinding signage, and Blink would supply promotional and advertising signage.
Another issue stemmed from the fact that most of Printing Services’ eight employees worked in the production facility, and never saw Blink’s employees across the street. So Guldin began bringing employees together to show them each facility and get them more familiar with the work being done. He includes all of them in weekly production meetings and staff meetings to foster more of a team environment.
Guldin encourages all in-plants to jump into wide-format without hesitation. Challenges will arise, he says, but if you have excellent customer service, understand your pricing and products, and stay flexible enough to pivot and adjust your services when appropriate, it will be a successful business.
“The profit margin should be the most attractive thing about it,” he says.
Bob has served as editor of In-plant Impressions since October of 1994. Prior to that he served for three years as managing editor of Printing Impressions, a commercial printing publication. Mr. Neubauer is very active in the U.S. in-plant industry. He attends all the major in-plant conferences and has visited nearly 170 in-plant operations around the world. He has given presentations to numerous in-plant groups in the U.S., Canada and Australia, including the Association of College and University Printers and the In-plant Printing and Mailing Association. He also coordinates the annual In-Print contest, cosponsored by IPMA and In-plant Impressions.