Ask any commercial or large format print specialist who ventures into variable data printing (VDP), and they’re likely confide that VDP not only requires an investment in hardware and software technologies but also a whole new way of thinking about and selling print.
"VDP is different than signage," suggests Shawn O’Neal, general manager, Conestoga DPI, a central PA-based print supplier that offers both digital commercial print and large format display graphics.
"When you print a sign," he explains, "it’s one and done. Or, take trade show displays, for example. You may produce one for a customer and not seem him again for a couple of years when he’s ready to make a change or update the display. But with VDP, you’re talking about a more hands-on relationship—not only with workflow, but with the overall marketing strategy. Because VDP is anything but one and done. You’re constantly trying new strategies, choosing new lists and sources of data. You’re monitoring the results, and offering new ideas to your customers on how to complement their campaigns with things like Web landing pages. It is more of a consultative relationship."
Conestoga DPI is similar to a lot of print businesses these days. Its roots are grounded in one type of print, but the company’s business model is evolved. "We do short run, on demand digital work, and also, we’re doing the large format indoor, outdoors, and trade show graphics," O’Neal explains.
"I co-founded the company with another fellow who was the owner of a log cabin manufacturing company," O’Neal recalls. "At the time, he was looking for a way to better serve his customers by producing versions of catalogs tailored to the different markets he was catering to—like KOA campgrounds, non-profit organizations, churches, and consumers."
Though the manufacturing company required a lot of print work in the form of catalogs, brochures, and other marketing materials, O’Neal’s partner wasn’t interested in the cost of the required digital print equipment. Together, they started the print business, which, from the start, not only produced print for the log cabin company, but also catered to the local print for pay market.
A Canon CLC printer and a 40-inch Hewlett-Packard plotter were among the company’s first investments, and as the business grew, it became evident that the greatest opportunity for expansion was in large format work. "We’ll double the volume of large format work this year from last year," he confides. "Our short run digital work is pretty much confined to businesses within a 20 to 30-mile radius, but our wide format business covers the entire mid-Atlantic region—DE, NJ, NY, and PA.
The combination of the short run digital, VDP jobs included, and large format capabilities is key to the success of Conestoga DPI, O’Neal asserts. With the installation of a Raster Printer RP-720 UV flatbed, it’s allowed the company to be a true one stop shop for its customers. And print buyers not only value the simplicity of having a single print vendor with which to work, they also appreciate the ability to get consistent quality and color across the spectrum of a print campaign, he notes.
"Banks, for example, are great clients for us, because they have indoor needs—from counter cards to posters, variable data marketing, and trade show graphics. And then they’ve also got the outdoor needs, such as drive-thru, yard signs, and banners," O’Neal suggests.
VDP isn’t only a different sell in terms of the client relationship, O’Neal says that there are also differences in competition. "With signage, your competition may be the guy down the street who has the same equipment, the same capabilities. But with VDP, your competition is expanded to other forms of media. You’re competing with not only other print companies, but also with other forms of marketing media, such Web sites and email campaigns. And as a print supplier, you need to be able to advise your customers on how best to capitalize on each, and demonstrate the return on their investment."
For more information on VDP—technologies, strategies, and best practices—don’t miss the May issue of Digital Output magazine.