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Grand Notability, Short Turnaround

Hargrove Inc. Undertakes a Historic Project

By Melissa Donovan

Most widely publicized events are assigned, planned, and staged months and sometimes even years in advance. The U.S.’ presidential inauguration is not one of these celebrations. Every four years one sign shop is tasked with creating hundreds of thousands of large format graphics for formal balls, directional purposes, custom banner treatments, parade floats, and more—in less than one month.

Job Experience
Hargrove Inc. is familiar with working for the U.S. government. The 64-year-old company designed, built, printed, and installed projects for the national Christmas tree lighting ceremony, the annual White House Easter egg roll, America’s bicentennial celebrations, democratic and republication national conventions, and international summits involving NATO and G8. The shop also specializes in trade show services and custom exhibits. High-profile customers include A&E, the American Cancer Society, International Paper, Madison Square Garden, the Smithsonian Institution, and VH1.

The company’s 350,000 square foot facility sits in Lanham, MD. A majority of Hargrove’s clients are based in Washington, D.C. In 2008, Hargrove launched a West Coast division in Las Vegas, NV.

Offering special events, general services, and custom exhibits gives the company a unique position in the graphic arts. “Although we offer three distinct lines of business, we function as one company, providing our clients with the advantage of unified resources and collective offerings. Many clients use a combination of our services to satisfy individual goals and requirements,” explains Fred Strickland, director of production, Hargrove.

95 percent of the shop’s output is digitally produced using a variety of printers including a Hewlett-Packard (HP) Designjet 5500 and HP Designjet 9000, and most recently, an EFI VUTEk QS3200 printer. Hargrove purchased the EFI VUTEk printer at ISA 2008. At 126 inches, the device allows the shop to print the majority of its graphics on one printer. With the addition of the QS3200, the shop reduced outsourcing by 75 percent in 2008. In 2007 Hargrove’s total outsourcing cost was $850,000. Now, all rigid projects and 85 percent of banners are produced in-house.

The QS3200 runs three shifts per day. “Purchasing a true industrial printer capable of running all day, every day was the best decision we ever made. Our original ROI projected a 16 month return, but with the speed and versatility of the QS3200, we beat our original projection by almost six months,” shares Strickland.

Welcoming a New President
Hargrove experienced short turnarounds and high volumes in January 2009. The Presidential Inaugural Committee (PIC) chose Hargrove as the official general contractor for President Barack Obama’s January inauguration.

PIC is handpicked by the President Elect to plan the entire inaugural celebration. Individuals are appointed approximately three weeks after Election Day in November. Hargrove has been the general contractor for presidential inaugurations since President Harry Truman took office in 1949, but that does not guarantee them the contract. They are placed in a pool of shops to compete for the job.

During a formal interview, PIC traveled to Hargrove’s MD-based facility. PIC’s goals for the inauguration included hiring a contractor that provided large-scale graphics for both indoor and outdoor use. Secondly, they needed a company that practiced eco-friendly methods. Quality, variety, and an eco-conscious attitude led Hargrove to its 16th inauguration contract on December 18, 2008. This left the shop with 30 days to create graphics for 44 separate events.

The shop’s QS3200 ran nonstop for four weeks without any downtime to produce 25,000 graphics—totaling 200,000 square feet. Hargrove used a Kongsberg i-XL24 cutter/router to finish the graphics. Applications included carpet, indoor and outdoor directional signage, grand format banners, dimensional seals, and faux marble panels.

To complete all of the work within the allotted time frame and budget, Hargrove contracted a number of temporary and freelance employees. Those participating in on-site installation were given special credentials and clearance from the U.S. Secret Service. “Although this is something we are accustom to because we commonly work in or around Washington D.C., there was definitely a heightened sense of security throughout the entire process,” comments Strickland.

A Brief Overview
Discussing the array of graphics Hargrove produced for the occasion would take pages. Strickland admits most of the evening’s inaugural balls shared the same theme, but many featured unique applications.

The Commander-in-Chief ball included a 16-foot presidential seal printed on carpet. Hargrove printed the graphic in three separate sections and then seamed them together for the final product. The Neighborhood ball required a graphic for television crews’ main camera shots. Hargrove created a 16-foot in diameter, 12-inch thick relief seal. The seal was the largest produced in the company’s history.

Hargrove also created output for the We Are One outdoor concert held on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial the Sunday before President Obama’s inauguration. Employees constructed and installed custom scenery to mask a multi-level scaffolding stage on the memorial’s steps.

In six days Hargrove’s staff designed, printed, and delivered 20,000 square feet of material. Normally, the company would hand paint this type of scenery to mimic the look of granite and marble, but due to time constraints Hargrove printed on vinyl banner material using the QS3200 and wrapped it onto panels.

Concept meets reality is Hargrove’s motto. “We pride ourselves on how true to life our finished products look compared to proposed renderings. Today’s printing technologies allow us to better capture realistic, scenic artwork,” explains Strickland.

Once the scenery was installed the concert producer decided the artwork was not visually compatible with the actual stone surfaces. Hargrove reprinted approximately half of the set overnight and reinstalled the day before the event. They also switched from vinyl material to gatorboard due to the temperature being only three degrees. The climate change made it nearly impossible to stretch the vinyl over existing frames.

“Without the QS3200’s ability to print large quantities of graphics on various substrates this event would not have been possible,” adds Strickland.

Challenges Overcome
Weather and short turnaround times were at the top of Hargrove’s list of challenges. Past inauguration experience prepared Hargrove for unforeseen obstacles. Besides battling freezing temperatures prior to the Lincoln Memorial concert, snow was prevalent the night before the inauguration. During the storm Hargrove employees placed hundreds of large banner towers throughout the capital.

The condensed time between design, approval, production, and installation was another astounding obstacle. Luckily, the company was able to offer PIC a proofing portal service, which allowed them to preview and approve graphics online. “The portal feature eliminates a lot of the back and forth phone calls and emails previously required to fine-tune each graphic. It streamlines the process, which is a huge time and money saver for our company,” shares Strickland.

A Historical Contribution
PIC was impressed with the various finished products. Strickland notes the event graphics translated well to television and print. Hargrove made sure to use substrates with a matte finish to prevent reflection and glare from technical lighting.

"Decorating for one of the world’s grandest events is a high honor and we feel very privileged to make our contribution to history. Meeting these rigorous challenges and surpassing our own expectations gives all of us at Hargrove a great deal of personal gratification," admits Strickland.

Apr2009, Digital Output

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