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Jun 1, 2000 12:00 AM

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Right mix of customers, employees and equipment spells success

Bloomington Offset Press Inc. (BOPI) was founded in 1947. The Bloomington, IL-based printer has grown from $8.7 million in annual revenues in 1997 to $11.1 million in 1999.

Upon taking charge of the second-generation family business several years ago, Tom Mercier took a long, hard look at the company. What would it take to thrive in the years to come? Upgrading prepress, press and bindery equipment was the first priority. Today, the business-to-business printer's capabilities include computer-to-plate, six-color with in-line coating, UV web and digital proofing. The bindery offers saddlestitching, diecutting and fulfillment services.

In 1998, adding its first MAN Roland six-color press with coater was a big decision for BOPI. But the $3 million press was quickly booked-18 months later the company added a second six-color press, also a MAN Roland. The new press can handle 40-pt. board, enabling the company to pursue customers in the cosmetic industry as well as other high-end package work.

BOPI is currently working on ISO certification. It will hold an open house this month to show off what it terms its Six Stars-the new press and its 40-pt. board capability, as well as its Agfa Galileo CTP device, Fuji 550 copydot scanner, Hexachrome and Polaroid PolaProof digital proofing equipment. It will also announce its "premium metallic process," a patent-pending process for spot coating metallic colors. This process was developed as an environmentally friendly alternative to foil bronzing for a greeting card client.

While the firm is proud to have leading-edge technology and a formal quality management program, Paul L. Macfarlane, director of sales and marketing, stresses the importance of having a well thought-out implementation strategy. Before going CTP, BOPI evaluated its file integrity and proofing options. As a result, the transition went smoothly-within one month, 75 percent of its jobs were CTP.

A Rampage RIP was chosen to drive the digital workflow, explains Macfarlane, director of sales and marketing, because it RIPs page-by-page. If a page were to reflow, the problem would be isolated to one page-not an entire file.

A closed-loop workflow facilitates quality control. "Our statistical process control team (SPC) has measured the dot behavior on the press, PolaProof and Galileo," explains Macfarlane. "They have tied these into a closed loop-we have exacting control of all of them. We know what will happen to the dot at all stages and have total control from the point it starts to RIP the raw file to the point of contact with paper on the press. We can apply a pull-back curve to the post-RIPed file when we output it, ensuring that when a client has a 90 percent screen next to a solid in a file, it will print 90 percent on the press."

To promote proper customer file preparation, an electronic "read-me" file accompanies each job. BOPI's employees use this file to record what was done to a file and why. Salespeople can then use this job history to show customers how to create cleaner files. If the situation warrants it, the printer's computer services department will visit the customer's facilities to demonstrate how to create PDFs, transfer files, etc.

BOPI took care to settle the proofing question before implementing CTP. The PolaProof is used for contract proofing, while two wide-format Agfa Sherpas are employed for content proofing.

"The press inks have been developed with our supplier and use the same ink pigments as the PolaProof inks sheets," notes Macfarlane. "When we show a client the PolaProof-on the printing stock-it is the most accurate emulation of the actual press sheet."

Expansion also has fueled BOPI's growth. Although it originally served central Illinois, it now covers all of Illinois and part of Missouri. Macfarlane, former group marketing manager for Sharp UK, has applied his experience shuttling between offices in the UK, Germany and Minneapolis to overseeing BOPI's Springfield, Peoria, Champaign, Chicago and St. Louis regional offices. Sales assistants in the home office ("not glorified CSRs," stresses Macfarlane) are teamed with salespeople to ensure good communication.

Good internal communication is a priority-management shares its one-, three- and five-year plans with employees. Tom Mercier said when we spoke to him in September as part of our Management Plus awards coverage: "Having the right people with the right enthusiasm and drive at the right time with the right investments, with the right clients-it all works."