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Digital entrepreneurship

Dec 1, 2005 12:00 AM

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Variable Data

Versatility, efficiency and flexibility are the principles upon which Sean Galloway founded Kansas City Digital Press (KCDP) in January 2002. His belief in doing more with less has paid off for this entrepreneur and his partner, Bill Mitchell. In just four years they have built a market for digital printing in the Kansas City, MO, area.

Galloway started small and built on his relationship with two other commercial printers and some contacts in local ad agencies. “Printers in the area were hoping to serve their customers better by providing short-run jobs. That’s where we came in,” says Galloway. “As a strictly digital shop, we could do work that offset shops couldn’t handle economically. It served us well, and the printers in the area liked our service because it helped them get into the door on accounts they couldn’t crack otherwise.”

With a background in digital prepress, both Galloway and Mitchell understand the ins and outs of advanced file handling. “We specialize in handling files other printers have difficulty with,” says Mitchell. “Even if the files aren’t being printed digitally on our presses, we can offer specialized prepress services such as converting Publisher files to PDF. It’s a nice supplement to our short-run specialty.”

Building a diversified base
In spite of the partners’ early success selling to the trade, KCDP wanted to build more volume. After extensive research, Galloway found there was a market for short-run books of 50 to 1,500. “We purchased a Digimaster to do black-and-white work, especially books, and that proved helpful in developing our customer base,” he says. “We could do the books on the Digimaster and the covers on our original Xerox DocuColor 2045.” By adding a laminator, KCDP could make inroads into the short-run book market.

By 2004, the entrepreneurs decided it was time to increase their company’s color capabilities with a NexPress digital press. When KCDP upgraded its color digital press, it had identified its market as short-run, high-quality work. But today, 15 percent of its jobs involve variable-data.

“In order to operate a successful digital shop, you have to have a large variety of work,” explains Galloway. “Short-run has been successful for us, but it is becoming a commodity, with commodity pricing. Fortunately, we can differentiate ourselves by being problem solvers because of our extensive background in digital prepress and expertise in digital printing. In addition, we actively evangelize variable-data printing, with a concentration on Web-to-print solutions.”

Developing a strong infrastructure
Versatility is key within KCDP. “You have to hire good people and pay them more,” says Galloway. He adds that investing in automation is absolutely vital. “With a digital workflow you can cut out extra people,” he maintains. Every person in the shop takes on several jobs.

Galloway serves as the GM, sales executive and accountant. Mitchell is in charge of production. Two employees handle everything else—one takes care of customer service, estimating and running the Digimaster; another is in charge of the bindery and shipping.

Mitchell points out that in a digital world, with its fast turnarounds and operating costs, there can’t be any downtime. That’s one of the reasons Galloway and Mitchell selected the NexPress. “There is lots of responsibility laid on the operator with a NexPress,” says Mitchell. “Operators are not just maintaining high quality, but also handling press maintenance. For us, that’s a good thing. It enables us to run longer because we don’t have to wait for a press technician to show up and do repairs.”

For six months after purchasing the NexPress, the closest technician was in Omaha, NE, Mitchell relates. “But that allowed us to work with many very knowledgeable technicians throughout the Heidelberg organization.” (NexPress is now part of Kodak). “That kind of experience was invaluable.”

KCDP’s NexPress is up 80 percent of the time. It runs seven hours per shift, with 30 minutes for routine maintenance. “It has to be a workhorse,” says Mitchell. “The press has to run all the time.” And although the printer has been running only one shift for the past year, work has expanded to allow a recent move to two shifts.

“The pressroom is our biggest profit center,” says Galloway. “When the cylinders turn, we make money.”

Opportunities for growth
In the future, KCDP is planning to move more aggressively into Web-to-print. Two current customers are evaluating Web-to-print workflows, and Galloway hopes to enable at least one of them by the end of 2005. “We can give customers a tool to make life easier for them,” he says. “Web-to-print can simplify the ordering process and enable customization or personalization, especially for companies with a large sales staff or dealers throughout the country. In fact, we have one client that came to us looking for a solution. This client wants all sorts of products, including hybrid printing (black customization on preprinted color shells), fully variable color jobs, even pens and shirts. They want it to be easier to order and to control inventory on all these products. A Web-to-print workflow will enable them to do this.”

But for a small company, will more jobs with variable-data and Web-to-print workflows mean hiring a full-time IT and database employee? No, maintains Galloway. “We have a depth of computer knowledge in-house, and if we require someone to build templates or provide advanced database assistance, we use freelancers. You don’t need to understand printing to do these tasks, just the computer language you are using.”

Marketing, not selling
Galloway has taken on the task of selling variable-data, targeting ad agencies and business-to-business companies. “We try to be a solutions provider, and to sell variable-data printing, that means I have to be a consultant. We specialize in making it easy for the customer to do business with KCDP.”

While growing their company, Galloway and Mitchell are transforming it from a digital printer to a marketing organization. In the process, they receive business development support from Kodak. “Kodak provides constant assistance,” says Mitchell. “And it’s not just maintenance on the press. They have helped us with business planning, marketing and other aspects of management. In fact, a Kodak person will fly out to help us on major sales calls.”

“Our ideal customer,” says Galloway, “is a business with an in-house marketing department. To locate them, we have done research and targeted 10 firms that fit the products we can produce profitably. Now it’s just a matter of closing the sale.”

Actually, the biggest benefit KCDP can provide is support for its clients. “Everyone understands the process of variable-data but doesn’t know how to get started. That’s where we come in,” adds Galloway.

What does the future hold for KCDP? “We want to be the digital printer in the area,” says Mitchell.

To achieve that goal, the entrepreneurs purchased a new NexPress at PRINT 05 to replace the older model. “It has a larger printable area on the sheet, which opens up new products for us,” says Mitchell. “In addition, we purchased the Glosser, which will be an excellent sales tool when selling to business-to-business or ad agencies. With the Glosser, we can eliminate the laminating problems that can occur with digital print, such as curling. The glossing unit is quicker than laminating; we can gloss 1,500 book covers in a third of the time it takes to laminate.”

KCDP added a fifth color with its new NexPress, which can handle clear matte coatings, and a toning station to provide gamut-expanding capabilities. “We’ll be able to hit the color on logos now,” Mitchell quips.

Kansas City Digital Press has come a long way from its modest beginnings. It grew 50 percent in its first year and 70 percent in its second year, and the partners expect to end 2005 with an additional 50 to 60 percent growth. Who knows what 2006 will hold for these young entrepreneurs? In the meantime, they are happy with their current path. “We both enjoy doing our own thing,” says Mitchell. “It’s great to be able to call our shots. Life is good.”

See you in July
KCDP’s Bill Mitchell discussed campaign development strategies at AMERICAN PRINTER’S 2005 Variables conference. This year’s event is slated for July 24-25 in Chicago. See

Jill Roth is AMERICAN PRINTER’s special projects editor and coordinates “Variables,” the magazine’s annual variable-data printing conference. Contact her at