Print NW Adapts to a Changing Market
By Natasha Ashenhurst. This story was originally published in theApril 2017 VOICE Magazine
Political races provide good business for printers. Last fall—leading up to the November election—Print NW, located in Lakewood with a Biz Hub in Lacey, printed, addressed and mailed over 7 million postcards, letters and brochures.
Perhaps this statistic isn’t surprising—after all, it’s what printers do. But anecdotes like this are misleading because for printers to succeed and grow in today’s market, leaders in the industry have to look beyond print on paper and embrace innovation, new mediums and rapidly changing technology.
Print NW’s owners, Jeffery Beardemphl, Ned Witting and Jeff Stallings, believe that their focus on innovation and new technology and staying ahead of industry trends is the reason for their continued success.
Print NW opened its doors 15 years ago. Beardemphl, Witting and Stallings were working for a large printer in the late 90s. After an acquisition, the printer let them go, as well as a large percentage of the staff.
“Jeffery had a vision, believing that the Puget Sound area needed another printer and a skilled workforce needed employment, so we acquired a small press—Valley Press—which eventually became Print NW,” said Stallings.
Today, Jeff Stallings—a Thurston County native and Tumwater resident—is President and chief operating officer, Jeffery Beardemphl is CEO and Ned Witting is chief financial officer.
Thriving in a Declining Market
Once upon a time, the printing industry was considered a “top five” industry in terms of overall employment and capital spending. However, once advertisers embraced the digital medium, the page count and amount of paper used declined.
“We had to find creative ways to get our customers’ messages out. We are competing with internet and mobile advertising,” he said. So, Print NW and his team turned to their customers. They listened. They watched. And what they learned changed their business model.
“We still have the large offset presses, but we added digital printers for shorter runs with faster turn-around times,” said Stallings.
They purchased a CNC router for faster and more accurate signage cutting. They purchased larger printers for large sign and mural projects. They added GPS technology to their delivery trucks to track their progress and find more efficient routes. They added four information technology professionals to provide better data and dashboard reporting.
Print NW operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week to maximize efficiently.
“We are always listening and learning. Trade shows are really important in our business. We recently attended a conference for retailers. These customers need wall murals and in-store decorating,” he said. So, they added wraps and wall murals for customers like the Tacoma Art Museum. They create Plexiglas with graphics for signage and decoration for customers like Harbor Wholesale and the Tacoma Rainiers.
Print NW recently invested in embroidery technology, opening up the corporate identity market, including branded shirts, hats and pens.
“And our advantage is that when an employer—for example—has a new employee who needs the corporate-wear, we have the capacity to make the box, print the box, print the T-shirt, the employee handbook and then ship it to locations throughout the country,” said Stallings.
The downside of introducing new technology is finding the skilled workforce to work with that technology.
“When we decided to add embroidery to our product line—before we could purchase the machines—we had to find the skilled technician who could operate the machine and help us with the purchase,” he said.
Finding the right people to run the equipment is Print NW’s most difficult challenge, admits Stallings.
“We train from within whenever possible, but learning how to use this equipment often takes six months or longer,” he said.
Despite the challenge, Print NW credits a large part of their success to their employees’ experience and energy.
Printing Locally in a National Market
Stallings is well aware that he is competing with less expensive, web-based printers nationally, but he believes his people and local presence gives Print NW the advantage.
“Our team is out there in the community, ready to help our customers develop compelling solutions to grow their businesses. Customers can call us and arrange a visit, or they can stop by our Lacey Biz Hub and talk to us about a project. We’ll show them different types of paper stock, printing options, cross market campaign ideas and apparel options. We want our customers to engage with us to see how we can help,” he said. “The human part is what we’re good at.” ●
Featured Image: Print NW’s main production floor, including wide-format, signage and bindery. Photo by Greg Raines, Lionsdenpro.