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The Gray Printing Co.: Fostoria's brightest light

May 1, 2002 12:00 AM


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The Gray Printing Co. has an unusual claim to fame: light-bulb labels. In the early 1900s, a Fostoria, OH, light-bulb manufacturer, Mazda Incandescent Illuminating Co., couldn't etch wattage and voltage information on its bulbs. So The Gray Printing Co. got the job of printing and diecutting millions of tiny, gummed lightbulb stickers.

The company recently installed a Creo Lotem platesetter, Heidelberg Nexscan scanner, Iris proofer and KPG Approval digital halftone proofer. A new T-1 line for high-speed file transmission also enables the company to offer Web-based soft proofing. Although The Gray Printing Co. originally anticipated that 65 percent of its work would be produced via CTP, about 85 percent is currently direct-to-plate.

Tell us about your digital workflow transition.

Prior to installing CTP a year ago, we had been imposing film in eight-page flats. Because we print a number of publications that still rely on film for ads (as well as one or two that continue to send camera-ready art), however, the transition has been a slow process.

Copydot scanning ad film and proofing large copydot files has been time-consuming and costly. Plate processing and plate sensitivity to pressroom chemicals were troublesome. But quality (in terms of register and dot gain) and efficiencies have improved — we're now beginning to reap the benefits of the process.

Any advice for printers adopting CTP?

Don't jump into it without going to full-imposition film flats first. Make sure your digital infrastructure can handle the data flow, and has sufficient memory for live files. Establish a system for managing files for quick retrieval of live jobs as well as long-term archiving. Make sure everyone in your plant buys into the process.

How have customers responded to soft proofing?

We have used RealTimeImage's (San Bruno, CA) RealTime Proofing for more than a year with a select group of customers. It's most beneficial for customers producing complex, demanding jobs that are also time-sensitive, such as annual reports. Despite tight deadlines, these jobs often require multiple proofs. Instead of having to make and deliver several sets of hard-copy proofs, we've found it helpful to make only one, and then to do successive rounds of soft proofs. If there are several geographic locations where a proof must be approved, it can be reviewed with notations made at the various locations simultaneously.

How is your company coping with the economy?

We've struggled like most companies. Sales were down during the last half of 2001, and margins virtually disappeared. Fortunately, we are not overextended financially, so cash flow has been adequate to meet obligations. Business seems to be picking up since the first of the year. With internal improvements in place, and a boost in volume from a recovering economy, we expect to grow our business profitably this year.

What are your growth goals for 2002 and beyond?

We have set a growth objective of 15 percent this year. We're doing everything possible to keep costs down to enable us to compete successfully in today's cutthroat business climate. We've added to our sales staff and plan to start a new sales/advertising campaign this spring.

We enjoy your direct-mail self-promotion pieces.
How do you measure their effectiveness?

Thanks for the compliment. As a famous advertising executive once said: “We know that only half of our advertising is effective… we just don't know which half!” While direct-mail responses can be measured, it's difficult to attribute the sale of a specific printing job to a specific ad or mailer. Most advertising has a cumulative impact — repeated “hits” have a disproportionately greater impact than a one-time mailing. In addition to response rates, we depend on indirect feedback from our sales force, and direct feedback from informal interviews and conversations with customers and prospects.

Where's the best place to eat in Fostoria, OH?

The Black Cat restaurant is the old standby when it comes to handmade half-pound hamburgers, onion rings, garlic cottage cheese, Dutch ham and cabbage soup, and rhubarb pie. Also, for a gut-sticking breakfast, Del's Diner in downtown Fostoria can't be beat.

Down the road a few miles south of Fostoria is the New Riegel Café. They barbeque the best ribs around!

COMPANY
The Gray Printing Co.
Fostoria, OH

EXECUTIVE
Robert A. Gray, president;
Scott A. Gray,
VP sales & marketing

YEAR FOUNDED
1888

ANNUAL SALES
$10 million

NO. OF EMPLOYEES
95

SQ. FT.
80,000

SPECIALIZATION
Publications, catalogs, commercial printing and softcover books