Ben Franklin Press was founded in 1956 as an offset print supplier to Phoenix and the surrounding region. Ron Clark, the company’s current president, grew up in the business. He began his unofficial apprenticeship at the ripe old age of 12.
For decades, the company focused entirely on the commercial offset market, but during the mid 90s, the management team at Ben Franklin Press saw new opportunity in large-format graphics. And Big Ben Jumbo Graphic Solutions, a second division, was born.
"We were one of the first printers in our area to purchase the size of digital printer we bought—a five-foot-wide digital printer manufactured by NUR," Clark recalls. "We do a lot of work in sports marketing. We’d been printing programs and media guides on offset for a number of the professional teams, and we figured it would be a smart move to get into stadium graphics."
Eighty percent of the company’s current business is derived from professional sports teams and sporting venues.
Admittedly, moving beyond the world of offset proved to be a challenge, Clark notes. The new digital "sell" wasn’t as easy as he’d hoped it would be.
"Back then, all those types of large-format graphics were being done on vinyl. And the printing process was fairly limited. Customers were used to asking for, and getting, one-color type on one-color vinyl," he recalls.
Print buyers simply weren’t aware that the technology had moved big print beyond block letters on a white background. "And they also didn’t really understand how adding color and photography and so forth could actually benefit them," Clark suggests.
Fortunately, customers were fairly quick to catch on with a little education. "We began giving customers tours, and they were just blown away by what we could do," he recalls.
Today, Big Ben runs a stable of digital print engines, including two HP Scitex XL1500s (a three-meter and a five-meter)—the printer’s two workhorses—an HP Scitex VEEjet+ flatbed, and a Mimaki JV3.
Clark proudly notes that Big Ben is capable of printing virtually any size graphic, on a choice of 22 substrate options. Today, the company prints everything from billboards to building wraps, banners to slot toppers.
Finishing large-format jobs can be labor-intensive and time-consuming. And Clark immediately knew that he’d need to invest in some new finishing technologies to complement the digital print engines.
"The first piece of finishing equipment we bought was a heat seamer. We were one of the first printers in the area to be able to seal the edges like that. Most printers were still sewing," Clark recalls.
When the flatbed printer was purchased, Big Ben simultaneously installed a Kongsberg iXL i-cut Cutter/Router.
"Without a cutter, what good is the flatbed," Clark considers. "We use it not only to cut out the square stuff, but also some pretty intricate shapes. … Before we got it, we had to print on our Mimaki, mount it on the foam core, and cut it out with a jigsaw!"
The company followed the same mantra when it came to digital finishing as it had with offset. "All of our bindery work and finishing is done in-house on the sheetfed side of the business. And we felt that we needed to do that with the large-format operation, too," he adds. "We’ve never outsourced any of our finishing. We want to be known as the printer that makes it simple for the customer. Just give us your project, and we’ll complete it—start to finish. We are a one-stop shop."
What’s next for Big Ben? "Stadiums and some of our other clients want to be able to print on cloth, so we’re going to retrofit one of the HP Scitex XLs to allow us to print on textiles. Of course, that opens up a whole new problem in terms of finishing. Obviously, we’re going to need to address sewing."
Clark says that his biggest challenge in the business of print is keeping pace with technology. "I invested over a million dollars in the business in recent years, and we’re still not where we need to be. Now, we need to print on textiles."
Like it or not, Clark knows that he needs to continually invest in new equipment and workflow tools to stay competitive: "Per capita, the Phoenix area has more flatbed and wide-format printers than anywhere else in the country, and there are new ones being sold every month."