Wide-Format Saved My In-plant
If I had not started my wide-format business in 2003, Regional Health would not have a printing department today. It would have been closed down due to an ever-changing world of technology and business.
Forms used to be the majority of our work. Today they are gone; they are mostly all electronic. Then the majority of my print was full-color print marketing items. Today that majority has been severely impacted by social media and digital marketing.
Now, wide-format is more than half of my business. In my case, the profit or cost savings are up to 600% on wide-format. We produce a range of items: directional signage, window wraps for patient rooms, wall graphics, outdoor banners, yard signs, vehicle logos, canvas art prints, roll up banner stands, sidewalk signs, light pole flag banners, contour cut stickers, and floor graphics, to name a few. We provide an essential service for Regional Health.
None of this would have happened, however, if I had been satisfied with the status quo years ago. There was a brief time in the late ’80s when I worked for a manager whose philosophy was to work fast, don’t make waves, and just keep our heads down so we would not be noticed. I very quickly learned that if you operate that way, the only time someone hears your name or brings up the department is due to a complaint, or to say “The printer messed up again.” It does not take long to get a bad reputation if the executives or customers only hear the bad about you. Word about bad experiences flies many times faster and wider than good experience stories do.
One day my boss left for a meeting and never came back. Our VP, along with a security guard, came later and asked our team to come into the break room. That is when they told us they had terminated the manager and would be conducting a search for a new one. It was at this time they asked me to take over in the interim.
The next day I went to the VP and told her I felt things needed to change. I had some ideas, and I knew I could build a top-notch department if given the chance. That was 22 years ago, and we’re still going strong. I wouldn’t be able to say that, however, were it not for wide-format printing.
What’s Your Excuse?
I know there are other in-plants out there that are not yet doing wide-format printing. Maybe they’re telling themselves the status quo is good enough. Maybe they’ve convinced themselves their customers really don’t need any wide-format, or they don’t have space for a printer, or some other excuse. Well, I’m here to tell you that if your parent organization is printing or buying any wide-format products on the outside at all, you need to start researching now. Your organization is spending money on the outside that you should try to get a piece of so you can bring cost savings to the process.
Sometimes another department already has a wide-format printer, and you may be tempted to let them do this work. This is probably not what’s best for the organization.
I too had to overcome this. Our Education department had the “poster printer” for the health system. I went to my VP and pitched the benefits of all printing running through my shop: cost control, brand integrity, etc. I gained support from my VP, and then we approached the Education department with a proposal that included the benefits mentioned above and others. We also pitched that this would free up the Education coordinators (who were printing the posters) to do more of their own work and not have to babysit a printer.
The leaders loved it, but it was not well received by all users. One coordinator took ownership of the printer as her “baby,” and an IT manager across the hall, who had 24/7 access to it to print IT network diagrams as needed, was outraged. In one meeting this IT manager sitting across from me stood up with her palms on the table and said, “You are taking my printer offsite to the Print Shop?”
I then had to diffuse the issue by telling her I would support her needs and provide the same great service we provided for her other printing. By focusing on the benefits to the entire system, we moved the wide-format printer into the in-plant.
I was in a very small, cramped space, in the corner of a building. But I made room for the first 42˝ machine. With enough creative thought anything is possible. I had to have someone get up from their desk so I could roll out the HP printer from the wall to load a roll of paper on the backside of it, then roll it back in the corner against the wall to let it print. I had to hope the person at the desk didn’t roll their chair over a portion of the print on the floor each time they backed away from their desk to get up.
I also had an old multi-use office desk in another small room down the hall to lay the posters on to trim to size. I scrounged a piece of thick glass from our maintenance department to lay on the top of the desk to cut on, as I was told I couldn’t purchase a large cutting mat. This desk was also used for sorting paper form originals on their way to filing cabinets. It was tough, but we made it work.
Thinking Beyond Posters
I’ve heard the argument that because the in-plant is already printing posters on its digital toner device, it doesn’t need a wide-format printer. I think this is somewhat short-sighted. The oversized sheet option is nice, but in most cases, you are still limited by the width you can print. Please consider the opportunities beyond a poster that wide-format can give you. If you are printing posters for promotions, I’m sure there are other specialty items that a versatile wide-format printer can produce that event planners are not considering and would love to have. They are probably buying them outside. Go to your system’s events coordinator to see what is being promoted or handed out. Do some research. Make them buy from you.
The retail markup on wide-format is huge. In my local area, it can range from 400-600% over my cost to produce. Look at your yearly totals of outsourcing wide-format versus the actual cost to produce it.
If you have to start with a small machine, do so. Your demand will grow as will your ROI numbers and product offerings, and you can work toward a bigger machine to print more items in a few years. I now have a new building with plenty of space that allowed me to move to a bigger wide-format machine to expand my offerings tenfold and make my in-plant more valuable to my organization. In my experience, if you offer it, they will come.
With determination, proper research, and accurate justification, things can happen. In all reality, these days you cannot afford to be without a wide-format printer.
For the past 22 years, Larry Mills has been the manager of Printing Services at Regional Health, in Rapid City, SD, a network of hospitals, clinics, nursing homes, and other medical facilities located in western South Dakota and stretching into Wyoming. Before becoming supervisor, Mills spent seven years as the in-plant’s lead printer. Prior to that he worked for Grelind Printing, a local commercial printer.