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Crossing the finish line

Apr 1, 2008 12:00 AM

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Just over a year ago, Spiral of Ohio, based in Cleveland, OH, and Action Bindery of Norcross, GA, near Atlanta, rebranded themselves as Finish Line Binderies. After their merger in 2002, the companies operated mostly independently. Although pleased with the results of the first years of combined operations, company co-owner and CEO John Helline had a feeling he was leaving opportunity on the table.

¡°There are different consolidation models,¡± says Helline. ¡°Some choose to keep individual identities of acquired companies intact and focus on management and equipment improvements. Others prefer to assimilate new companies into the parent's brand. Because Action Bindery was our first acquisition, we wanted to make sure we made the right decision.

¡°We balanced some of our workload from the beginning, usually in a way that was transparent to our customers. But the two identities inhibited people from making the best decisions for the company. With few exceptions, our employees thought of themselves as being part of Action Bindery or Spiral of Ohio. With separate identities, this division is understandable. Not right, but understandable.¡±

Helline and his team also thought the marketplace would better understand the horsepower available to them. The pros outweighed the cons and in late 2006, Helline and his management team decided it was time to rebrand not one, but both companies. Finish Line Binderies was born.

Shortly afterward, this new strategy paid off.

Large directory project

Finish Line Binderies bid on a large directory project involving final distribution to schools in the Northeast and Southeast regions. This client objected to multiple vendors because of a perceived lack of accountability. The fact that Finish Line's Cleveland and Atlanta's facilities would translate to significant freight savings was secondary.

¡°Our new operational structure and branding message quickly helped this customer overcome their concerns about production in two facilities,¡± remembers Helline. ¡°Cleveland wouldn't just worry about Cleveland and Atlanta wouldn't worry just about Atlanta. Our customer believed that we're one company working toward one goal: his satisfaction.¡±

Finish Line Bindery was awarded the job, daily production goals were established and met, the job was delivered in half the time of any other bid, project coordination was flawless and the customer appreciated the fair price, good quality and additional freight savings.

One company, one source

¡°We have tremendous capacity and we're accountable,¡± says Helline. ¡°We're now positioned as one company, one source capable of quickly churning truckloads of product. As long as we say what we do and do what we say, our customers don't care if it's done in Finish Line Cleveland or Finish Line Atlanta. They just know that Finish Line's got them covered.¡±

In addition to a natural competitive advantage in their nearby markets, Finish Line Binderies' dual facilities has meant that large national printers see the benefit of working with the company. In the past year, Finish Line Binderies has cultivated new relationships with several Southwest and West Coast printers looking to finish and distribute products on both the East Coast and in the Midwest.

Mechanical binding magic

Finish Line Binderies won a 250,000-piece project for educational Wire-O bound books ¨ý inch thick. To make matters worse, the required turnaround time was two weeks. The size of this order would have been difficult for most companies to handle in a month. With two well coordinated facilities, Finish Line Binderies made the delivery promise that scared off the other bidders, won the job, and produced and delivered it on time without sacrificing any other clients' deadlines.

Another project demonstrating the tight coordination of the Finish Line Binderies' plants concerned the production of a spiral bound, five-book set. Each book was about ¨ö inch thick and had different quantities ranging from 50,000 to 150,000. The job was printed in the Southeast and delivered in the upper Midwest. Again, the quantity and geographic location of this project favored Finish Line Binderies.

Due to the arrival schedule of forms from the printer, Finish Line Binderies carefully mapped out a production schedule, which involved multiple facility production for most of the titles.

¡°Not only did we hit our deadlines and other production objectives, but there were no shipping or additional freight costs to the customer,¡± says Helline. ¡°This complex job was passing near both of our facilities anyhow.¡±

Finish Line Binderies recently completed a nice cookbook project, ¡°Deceptively Delicious: Simple Secrets to Get Your Kids Eating Good Food,¡± by Jessica Seinfeld. On a high profile piece like this, again with a tight turnaround time, everything has to go smoothly.

At the start of the job, Finish Line Cleveland prepped all of the end sheets while Finish Line Atlanta prepared the book blocks. Cleveland completed its portion of the job and shipped it to Atlanta. There, the endsheets were collated and the final project was completed to the delight of all involved.

¡°The Seinfeld job showcases the flexibility that can be accomplished when two facilities work as one,¡± says Helline. ¡°We were able to take what was an impossible deadline and get it done.

Benefits to normal-length runs, too

“We don't want to give you the impression that Finish Line Binderies only works on the mega jobs,” clarifies Helline. “Our bread is buttered with the day-in and day-out work.”

Helline explains that coordination between the two facilities means that large jobs don't bump the smaller ones.

“Again, our plant loading abilities in two different geographic markets help smooth out the production peaks and valleys,” Helline says. “Small and medium-sized jobs unquestionably benefit too. When things start piling up in the finishing industry, either broken promises or turning away work seems to be the norm. Neither helps anyone.”

Expanded capabilities, future partnerships

The increased sales and solid financial strength due to the merger of Spiral of Ohio and Action Bindery has led to management being able to make capital improvements to both facilities. Hard cover casing is one example.

“We felt that there was a market for hardcover casing because we've always had requests for this type of work,” says Helline. “We've never provided it before but now that we've got a single identity, we felt now is the time to pull the trigger. It probably wouldn't have happened without the merger.”

Finish Line Binderies also upgraded its cutting capabilities in Cleveland with the recent installation of a new Perfecta cutting system. Both locations have also made improvements to their sizeable lineups of mechanical binding equipment.

Helline indicated that Finish Line Binderies has formed a joint venture in Atlanta with a finishing company. In the near future, Finish Line Binderies will offer their die cutting, embossing, UV coating, foil stamping and folding/gluing as part of a seamless product line.

Similarly, the new partner will soon offer Finish Line Binderies mechanical and adhesive binding capabilities as their own. Bottom line: Both companies' customers will receive better turnaround times, accountability, peace of mind, and prices.

Improved communication

Finish Line Binderies didn't stop at production machinery. In the past 12 months the company has invested in new MIS (management information system) and VPN (virtual private network) systems.

“Communication, both internally an externally, is our lifeline,” Helline says. “Our facilities and people must be connected. This is a vital part of our corporate strategy.”

Contact between the company's two locations has been streamlined and this in itself has created greater efficiencies. If a problem arises in Atlanta, Cleveland can pull up the data, answer customer questions, create estimates and enter job tickets, invoice and have access to the accounts receivables system so nothing slips through the cracks.

“We're connected so well now that we can literally look through to each other's platform and see what the loads are in Cleveland, Atlanta and any future location,” says Helline. “Finish Line Binderies offers the best of both worlds. We're large enough to satisfy the postpress needs of the largest industry consolidators, but neither of our facilities has 100 employees so we're small enough to meet the individualized needs of any sized printer.

“Now that we're operating as one company for real, everything's feeling good,” Helline adds, “no matter what the economy does.”


Bringing coil binding in house

Keys Printing, a Consolidated Graphics Co. (Greenville, SC) likes to describe itself as “[Perhaps] the oldest continuing business in South Carolina and very possibly one of the best.” Founded in 1869, Keys Printing's offset pressroom has two 6-color presses, including a Komori Lithrone S40 installed in 2006. On the digital side, the printer has a Xerox iGen3, a Xerox DocuColor 6060 and two Canon imageRUNNERs.

No coil compromises

Bryan Dyar, lead programmer, says Keys Printing is particularly proud of its digital print leadership. In addition to high-end marketing programs, the printer has steadily grown its book business — the company now cranks out more than 100,000 coil-bound books annually. Until recently, the company outsourced its coil binding requirements, but, as volume grew, it made sense to bring this work in house. Keys Printing chose Spiel Associates' (Long Island City, NY) Sterling Punchmaster as well as Spiel's inline plastic coil binding system, a configuration that includes the Sterling Coilmaker, which forms the coil, and the Sterling Coilmaster, which automatically inserts it.

“We didn't compromise,” says Dyar. “You can buy preformed coil, but we wanted the advantages of forming our own.”

Creating coil is reportedly 50 percent cheaper than using the preformed kind. Since the coil is formed as needed, Keys Printing doesn't have to worry about stocking the correct amount or length of coil, “a huge advantage,” according to Dyar. “When you make fresh coil, it feeds faster and that's another plus.”

The Coilmaster lets users form and insert plastic coil at speeds up to 700 books per hour, a rate that Dyar calls “significantly faster” than using preformed coil. The machine can bind books from 8mm to 38mm.

Spiel installed the equipment and trained the printer's operators on the Punchmaster, Coilmaker and Coilmaster. The binding process starts with the Punchmaster, which can punch sheets ranging from a minimum 4 × 5 inches to a maximum of 20 × 20 inches. The action then moves to the Coilmaker, where spool-fed plastic filament is formed into plastic coil. The formed coils are automatically fed into the Coilmaster, which spins the coil into the book from the first hole onwards. The coil is then cut and crimped automatically.

Spread ‘em

The Coilmaster inserter includes a unique spreading device that allows for binding books with head and foot margins of up to 3/16 inch. Thanks to the spreader, the margin (the distance between the first hole and the head or foot of the book) can exceed the bridge (the distance between the holes). The patented spreader causes the coil to jump into the first and out of the last hole, even if the margin is larger than the pitch. Regardless of book size, the Coilmaster lets the operator center the hole pattern on the sheet.

The spreader provides flexibility — a sheet doesn't have to fit exactly between the pins of the die pattern and users can bind books with round or oval holes.

Because Keys Printing already had a Spiel Digibinder for perfect binding, Dyar was familiar with the company. His evaluation process included watching some videos online at, seeing the equipment run at Graph Expo and visiting another installation. “The equipment is very well engineered, durable and built for high volumes,” says Dyar. “We've had a great experience with Spiel. They sell direct and they stand behind their product.”