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Marketing niche

Nov 1, 2008 12:00 AM

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As a child, Bruce Leone used to watch his grandfather print. “He was a preacher and he had an old Multilith press in his basement,” Leone recalls. “That's how he made side money. That impressed me.”

Leone founded Ink Inc. (Louisville, OH) 23 years ago. The 8,550-sq.-ft., all-Heidelberg shop has seven full-time employees and emphasizes its design capabilities. “We position ourselves between an agency and a print shop,” says Leone. “We've [always said] if we didn't design it, we don't print it, and if we don't print it, we don't design it. We're a turnkey provider.”

Leon attributes this combined approach to his school days. “In high school, art class and graphics class were side-by-side. That is where I spent my time. I am still doing the same thing 28 years later. The only difference is that I am getting paid for it now.”

Good people have been integral to Ink Inc.'s success. “I like to say that nobody works for me, we all work together,” says Leone. “You need more than a salesperson with a nice watch and cologne. You have to have a person fronting your accounts who can coordinate people and resources to get customers where they need to go.”

Having design and print capabilities under one roof works well for customers as well as the printer. Customers, many of whom have worked with Ink Inc. since the company opened its doors, love the convenience, while the printer enjoys a streamlined production process. “We're working with our own files, and that simplifies prepress,” says Leone.

Because the production is done in house, there's no guessing when it comes to estimates. “Our quoting is dead-on accurate,” says Leone. “Our customers bank on that.”

Brand cop enforces consistent identity

Ink Inc. specializes in marketing. “If they have some print marketing but a little more Internet and direct media, such as newspapers, we usually shy away,” says Leone. “Our customers look to us to create direct mail campaigns, folders and all of their collateral. We do marketing packs that can include pocket folders, sell sheets and brochures.”

The printer also produces letterhead, business cards and corporate identity materials. “We become a ‘brand cop’ for our customers, ensuring their corporate colors and logos are used properly and that their messages are consistent,” explains Leone.

Jobs and run length vary at Ink Inc. from 1,000 pocket folders to 100,000 direct-mail pieces. “We do a lot of perfect-bound books, too,” says Leone. “We just finished a 274-page book and right now we are finishing a run of 25,000 184-page books.”

Quality expectations are established up front. “I am more picky than our customers when it comes to color,” says Leone, a self-described ‘hands-on manager.’ “We've never had a customer come in for a press proof. Once they sign off, the job [is ready to go]. The neat thing is, once we send a job out, we know when the sign-off is coming. The stock is on the floor and everything is ready to go. Once a job is signed off, we're in production the next day.”

While some companies might be feeling the pinch of an uncertain economy, that's not the case at Ink Inc. “We've been insanely busy these past two months,” says Leone. “We're having the best year in 23 years. We're terribly fortunate.”

Leone explains when budgets are lean, a one-stop marketing outlet becomes an attractive alternative to working with an agency: “We get opportunities we wouldn't typically get.”

Print as an investment

The early days weren't easy. “It was a really hard startup,” concedes Leone, who was 23 years old when he founded the company. “My biggest hurdle was my lack of business training.”

Leone also credits AMERICAN PRINTER columnist Dick Gorelick as a key influence on his management philosophy. “I appreciate his insights — I find myself employing at least one principle from his column immediately after reading it.”

Asked if he would do anything different if he were starting his company today, Leone has a witty comeback: “Marry richer!” Leone is quick to add that's he only joking. His credits his wife, Jennifer, as a big part of Ink Inc.'s success. Jennifer, who joined the business 16 years ago, handles all accounting and estimating responsibilities.

Leone says that while certain aspects of the business always are challenging, he still loves the printing industry. “In these trying times, you have to love what you do and find great satisfaction in helping your customers achieve their goals. You also have to make print an investment as opposed to an expense for the customer. It has to help them make money in the end.”

Katherine O'Brien is editor in chief for AMERICAN PRINTER. Contact her at

Adding mailing services

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Mail Shop in a Box also includes tips from Xerox and leading industry partners, demonstration videos and templates to assist in optimizing mail piece design.

Xerox has added two new programs to its New Business of Printing Business Development Services series. The vendor is offering a Web-based, customized communications sales-training program that arms a sales force with the expertise to sell personalized documents. The current program includes seven courses, including transactional and transpromotional, and how to implement a Web-to-print offering. See

Equipment notes

Bruce Leone launched his company with a used Heidelberg GTO. “It just ran and ran,” he recalls. About eight years ago, he upgraded with a Heidelberg Quickmaster, Speedmaster 74, and Stahlfolder as well as a Standard Horizon perfect binder model BQ260. “I definitely wanted to go with Heidelberg, for the sheet size and equipment integration. Equipment has to have a clear-cut benefit [for ourselves and customers].”

Get ‘The best of Gorelick’

“Dick Gorelick's articles have the insight only experience can bring,” says Bruce Leone. “Out of all the trade magazine buzz and hype, I'm drawn to these articles for their simple truths.”

A few years ago, AMERICAN PRINTER published a 32-page booklet we informally call “The best of Gorelick.” Read “101 ways to improve profitability” at