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Jun 1, 2007 12:00 AM


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If you go to Greenville, SC, you'll have no trouble finding the new home of Indexx Printing. Just look for the company's gigantic sign on the main drag. It's the same sign that used to advertise movies and coming attractions for a 10-screen multiplex. Keep going past the sign and eventually you'll see a sprawling 52,000-sq.-ft. building. The former theatre has been completely renovated — the sloping aisles are long gone and there isn't even the faintest whiff of popcorn or butter.

Location scouting

What's a printing company doing in an old multiplex? “We were looking for a new location with more space,” explains Jordan Finn, Indexx's owner. “We needed a totally air-conditioned building.”

Finn initially doubted the theatre was a viable site for his company. The building, vacant for about five years, was in terrible shape. Drug addicts had yanked out every piece of copper tubing and anything else that could possibly be sold. The roof leaked, and all of those aisles would have to be leveled. A lot of walls would need to be knocked down, too. As for air conditioning, although the building had the appropriate HVAC infrastructure, Indexx still would have to purchase and install a new system.

But as Finn evaluated the situation, it seemed that the rewards outweighed the risks. The property was priced to sell and there certainly was a lot of it. With 10 acres, there would be plenty of room to expand. “Parking is not a problem,” Finn deadpans.

The local government, eager to encourage economic development, paved the way for Indexx to finance the purchase with an industrial revenue bond. Nonetheless, transforming a run-down multiplex into a modern manufacturing facility was a complex and costly undertaking. “Every day the contractor would find other things that needed fixing,” says Finn.

Indexx ultimately spent twice as much as the building's purchase price on the remodeling effort.

A couple of months ago, Finn and Indexx's 80 employees held an open house to show off the finished facility, including $2.5 million in new equipment. The $9.4 million printer demonstrated its digital and offset capabilities, extensive bindery and mailing division for about 230 guests.

Perched high above the production floor in the former projection booth, visitors could admire the company's new press iron: a 40-inch, six-color Heidelberg Speedmaster 102, as well as a two-color Printmaster QM 46 that joined an existing Speedmaster 74. Touring the digital pressroom, they could see two HP Indigo presses (an HP 5000 and an HP 1000) and several monochrome Digimasters. And throughout the whole plant, visitors could see brochures, cards, presentation folders, product mailers and other examples of Indexx's work.

Opening titles

To truly grasp the magnitude of Indexx Printing's transformation, you'd have to go back to the early 1990s. At the time, Jordan Finn was neither a printer nor even a resident of Greenville, SC. A native of Miami, he was working as the CFO of a publicly held company. Prior to taking that job, Finn, a CPA, had spent years in public accounting. So how did he get into the printing business? “Someone I went to high school with had started a printing business,” explains Finn. “He was having some financial issues and was trying to convince me to come to Greenville.”

Finn was dubious. His classmate's business, an eight-person copy shop serving legal customers, had few assets and a ledger crammed with debts.

After spending some time in South Carolina, Finn, in a pattern that would set the stage for his printing career, determined that the rewards outweighed the risk. “I saw that if I could work everything out, this [could be] a pretty good business,” says Finn. “I saw an opportunity.”

The plot thickens

But Finn further saw this opportunity wasn't a sure thing — he opted to do an asset purchase rather than a stock purchase. “It took me a year to acquire the company,” says Finn. “I had to work out deals with the IRS, there were IRS liens, state tax liens — it took me most of 1993 to take care of all the issues.”

Finn's old classmate stayed on for a couple of years while Finn immersed himself in the printing business. “I learned quickly,” says Finn. “My business background was a tremendous help in ensuring that we were profitable and that things made sense from a financial standpoint. Being a CPA also gave me credibility with the banks — I understood what was going on.”

During the company's first year in business, Finn's family remained behind in Miami. “I called my wife up at least three times and said, ‘I think I'm coming home,’” he recalls. “I said, ‘I don't think this is what I want to do.’ In the beginning it was very challenging.”

Finn struggled with culture shock. In his former job as a CFO, he was accustomed to dealing with other accountants as well as attorneys, bankers and the SEC. But in his new job, “We were perceived as one step above an office supply company,” Finn explains. “We were dealing with people in mailrooms, which was very different from what I was used to. That's changed over time as we've grown bigger, but that was my first challenge, understanding who and what I was dealing with. I had to accept that I was working in a different world.”

Act 2

Initially, Indexx specialized in tabs and other legal copy jobs produced on small-format offset presses. “We took a little bit of a risk,” says Jordan. “An opportunity came up to get into digital work. That was our first aggressive move, adding some high-speed, black-and-white digital printers.”

In 2001, another opportunity presented itself. “We had the chance to buy the assets of another printing company,” says Finn. “It had a Heidelberg Speedmaster 74, which got us more into the four-color market. We stayed aggressive in going after business and trying to hire the right people. Things just evolved.”

A digital printer adding offset equipment is more the exception than the rule, but Indexx's on-demand experience helped it deal with offset customers' expectations. “We were used to short runs and quicker turnarounds,” says Finn. “That was the way we were accustomed to working.”

Finn credits Lou DiBridge, vice president of sales and marketing, and Mike Lawing, vice president of operations, with helping the company expand beyond its toner-based roots into four-color offset. “They made that transition easy for us,” says Finn.

Indexx currently processes more than 50 jobs per day. In 2005, the company was among the first in North America to implement Metrix (www.lithotechnics.com) job planning software. Using the gang-run software lets the printer's planning and estimating department to do twice as many jobs. (See “Indexx accelerates job throughput and sales,” September 2005.)

Like many of his fellow printers, Finn cites pricing as an ongoing issue. “It's hard to know what some competitors are thinking,” he says. “The bizarre pricing in our market gets frustrating.”

The Internet poses another challenge. “We've lost business that's gone to the Web,” says Finn. “You can either get upset or embrace it. We said, ‘Let's figure out how to use the Web to increase our business.’”

The answer is Growll.com, an e-commerce site that serves mostly trade customers. Launched in 2004, the online printing initiative now accounts for one-third of Indexx's customers.

Roll credits

This year, Indexx Printing is on track to produce $10 to $11 million in revenue. Finn says he can't pinpoint a specific decision or factor that helped the company grow from a modest copy shop to a midsized commercial printer. “It was a lot of different things. I've tried to hire people with the right attitude. Our employees are vital to us and we treat them well.”

Many employees have been with the company for at least a decade. “We have been very fortunate; we have some dedicated employees who give us a wealth of knowledge,” says Finn.

Katherine O'Brien is the editor of AMERICAN PRINTER. Contact her at KOB@americanprinter.com.

The supporting cast

Indexx uses EFI's Hagen MIS to track all facets of its business. Two HP Indigo presses anchor its digital pressroom. On the sheetfed side, it's an all-Heidelberg operation with the Prinergy workflow, Suprasetter 105 platesetter, six-color Speedmaster CD with coater, six-color Speedmaster 74 and several two-color Printmaster QM 46 with IR dryers. Postpress highlights include two Stahlfolders, a Stitchmaster and POLAR 137 cutting system.

“We considered other vendors,” says Finn. “But we're most comfortable with Heidelberg. We already had some of their equipment, and they worked with us very well on financing alternatives and getting things done on time so our move would be as painless as possible. They have been extremely supportive. Sometimes it seems like the sales rep works for us, rather than them!”