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Beating the clock

Oct 1, 1995 12:00 AM

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This efficient trade shop consistently meets the high-pressure deadlines of its agency clients

Pulling up to the unassuming building on this narrow Manhattan cross street, there is little indication of what is going on inside. It's another gritty looking exterior that seems to line many of the boulevards in the midtown area, essentially indistinguishable from any other gray structure.

Riding the tired elevator to the seventh floor and strolling down the time worn hallway to James Banyon Photo Engraving's office door yields no further clues. Upon crossing the threshold, however, visitors suddenly exit the industrial era and are propelled decades forward into the digital world. Scanning the room, one sees an impressive array of high-end drum scanners, flatbed scanners, CEPS systems and PowerMacs.

This advanced prepress shop is New York through and through. This is the city big advertising agency players call home, and it's these demanding customers that the firm has managed to acquire and retain throughout its 22 years.

"There are a ton of prepress shops here in Manhattan, but only a handful that are on the high-end level," notes Nick Yanakas, president of the firm. "Quite a few places can crank out the work, but not with the same service and dependability that we supply. Our salespeople walk into the agencies every day, show them our work, discuss their problems and bring jobs back for corrections. It's this personal service that clients appreciate.

"It's also very important for us to b.e located in the city, unlike many of our competitors," he continues. "It's not enough to be right outside the Lincoln Tunnel or across the river in Long Island City. In this business, speed is everything; if a client needs us, we can be there in half an hour at most. Any number of things can go wrong on the road from the suburbs."

As the exec relates, working with advertising agencies poses additional time challenges since those agencies constantly receive last-minute extensions from their magazine publisher clients.

"There are so many approval levels at the magazines who have to OK an ad before our agency client sees it, and at the last minute the agency may send us a slight change," he offers. "Unfortunately, that minor correction could take four hours and there may not be any time left to get it done. That's when tough decisions have to be made.

"Does the agency let the ad go out for this one publication, then fix it for all the rest? Do they risk losing a $70,000 insert in Cosmopolitan or Elle, and a million dollar account? We know it's essential to give them as much time as possible to make these vital calls."

Indeed, the emphasis on service and quick response drives nearly every move the company makes. Today, the firm receives approximately 30 percent of its jobs electronically, and constantly works to educate the rest of its client base of the enormous time savings this offers. Additionally, the company understands that those who do decide to go the electronic route need significant hand-holding and tutoring to get up to speed.

"When a client first attempts to provide files electronically, its often a big mish mash," the exec relates. "It's usually not the customer's fault, though. They can have an ad that's ready to go, and it can change 180 degrees in five minutes. Twelve people may be coming to the poor Mac operator with changes in minutes, and inevitably something is going to go wrong.

"We are very patient with customers and are glad to sit down with them for training. It's paid off; in the past two months, acceptance has truly hit. The agencies are forcing their own art directors to play with their computers to see how easy they are, and now much of the work our clients send us is 80 percent complete. We simply put in the high-res images and do retouching."

The company also began offering an electronic mailbox service last September. Although it is not typically used to receive large files or complete ads, it has been an enormous benefit for last-minute emergency changes.

"Clients can place a file in our bulletin board at 3 a.m., and we can jump right on it," notes Yanakas. "Although we are only about 20 blocks from most of our clients, this is just another way we've streamlined the process."

James Banyon management also understands that in this hectic business, there is no time for a machinery breakdown. That's why it insists on backups for much of its vital equipment . . . just in case.

This redundancy philosophy isn't strictly limited to the digital equipment either. The company knows that its traditional equipment is just as vital to the day-to-day operation as the more high-level digital technology.

That's why the company purchased two Amergraph System 7500 overhead exposure units. Why were Amergraph's units chosen? According to Yanakas, the equipment's extensive automated features played a big role in the decision, offering yet another way to get the job done quicker and more efficiently.

"Unlike some older machines, the Amergraph's units are extremely easy to operate," the president notes. "All of our job programs are loaded into the internal computer, and operators push the appropriate button to match the job they're working on. The correct filter automatically goes into place, the right probe goes on for the integrator and the vacuum turns on by itself. As long as it's programmed correctly, nothing can go wrong.

"Productivity has been greatly increased simply because mistakes have been significantly decreased," Yanakas adds. "We no longer make three proofs and wonder why they all look different. We don't have to spend hours trying to figure out who did what wrong."

In fact, little has gone wrong with either machine since they were brought on board. However, the one time that there was a slight glitch, the trade shop discovered just how dedicated Amergraph is to providing quick response.

Notes the president, "We were not able to fix the problem over the phone, so we sent the bad part to the company by overnight mail. It immediately sent a new part within 24 hours, and we were back up and running without a hitch. It's absolutely essential that we get that level of service from our suppliers, and Amergraph certainly proved it is up to the task."

James Banyon also appears up to the task of planning for the future. In addition to enhancing electronic communications with customers, the entrepreneur envisions a move into digital photography.

However, management recognizes that people are the key element to success and makes sure its employees are well trained and rewarded for good work. Additionally, customer service on a personal level is stressed.

"We are not captive to one big client representing 80 percent of our business," Yanakas concludes. "We treat each customer, no matter what size, as a big fish in a little pond. If you don't respect your $100,000 customer as much as a $1 million client, you're not going to be in business long."

This sustained philosophy of steady growth makes the company a good bet to remain on top of this competitive market, and certainly ensures that its clients will continue to have one less time pressure to worry about.