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IWCO Direct’s Océ ColorStream 3500 Exceeds Expectations

Nov 14, 2011 12:00 AM


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Katherine O’Brien, OutputLinks Communications Group’s Senior Editor, recently had the opportunity to speak with Joe Morrison, President, and Debora Haskel, Vice President-Marketing, of IWCO Direct, regarding the first US installation of the Océ ColorStream 3500.

“I can’t believe this is inkjet printing.”  That’s what Debora Haskel said when she saw the samples produced on IWCO Direct's Océ ColorStream 3500.  In September, the Chanhassen, MN-based company installed the first ColorStream 3500 in the United States.

The installers had hardly finished when Haskel, Vice-President, Marketing, and the IWCO Direct team were evaluating a print sample they planned to show attendees at the DMA Show in Boston during the first week of October. “It’s a big blue solid box with ‘Can You Believe This is Inkjet Printing?’ in reversed out type,” she explains. “I admit that [as we prepared the piece] I held my breath and suggested we might want to have a backup plan for the show. But I could not have been more impressed.”

Making an impression is what IWCO Direct is all about.

The tagline accompanying IWCO Direct’s logo makes a bold claim: “Direct Marketing Like No One Else.”  “We are a total package provider, a marketing service provider, with our suite of services and end-to-end production platform,” says Joe Morrison, President. “Our in-house creative services department has been working very effectively with our customers to build winning packages. We continue to be very focused on postal optimization and postal expertise.”

Despite the dire talk swirling around the USPS, direct mail remains a powerful marketing tool.  “The Postal Service is essential to the U.S. economy,” declares Morrison. “The mailing industry generates more than $1.1 trillion in sales revenue and supports more than 8.5 million jobs or more than 7% of the nations GDP and more than 6% of the nation’s jobs.”

Citing a recent Wall Street Journal article, Morrison notes that the USPS perceives advertising mail as its “rescue plan.”  According to the article, advertising mail increased 3% after remaining flat in fiscal 2010, and now accounts for 48% of all mail.

“We are seeing an increase, and our customers continue to tell us that nothing works better for acquiring new customers than direct mail,” he adds.

Proven Platform Offers Flexibility

The Océ ColorStream 3500 incorporates innovations perfected on earlier continuous feed devices, including Océ’sDigiDot piezoelectric drop-on-demand technology. Resolution is 600 x 600 dpi; optional multilevel dot modulation provides higher quality at full-rated speed.

Rated at 1,073 letter-size impressions per minute, the production printer lets users minimize their risk when upgrading to the latest technology—simplex users can step up to duplex configurations and monochrome users can ease into full-color or five- or six-color printing at their own pace.

As Andy and Julie Plata reported when the ColorStream 3500 debuted at the Canon Expo in Tokyo in November 2010, the entire ColorStream 3500 printer system was developed to allow fast implementation into existing workflows at high volume production centers. From right to left paper flow, to standardized Type1 post-processing connectivity, to seamless integration with all major print streams including PDF and postscript. And, the entire printer is built upon subsystems that have been proven in prior Océ systems.

The modular device has a crawl/walk /run/fly strategy:

  • Crawl: Start with a 537-ppm monochrome simplex printer, either replacing or adding capacity.
  • Walk: Add a second engine as necessary for additional volume or duplex printing. 
  • Run: Add color if your business growth provides the cost justification.
  • Fly: Add specialty colors or MICR for enhanced printing and a competitive edge.

IWCO Direct is clearly on the “fly” end of this scale. In 2010, the $386 million company acquired the U.S. operations of Transcontinental Direct. It now has a total of 2,550 employees at facilities in California, Minnesota and Pennsylvania. With the ColorStream 3500 installation, IWCO Direct has expanded its color digital capacity by more than 600,000 full-color letters per day.

IWCO Direct’s CEO Jim Andersen puts it this way in the company’s blog:

  • Personalization is the present, and future, of direct mail. We’ve invested heavily in digital printing equipment that allows our customers to create more personalized, relevant and engaging offers.
  • Color creates impact. Numerous studies have proven that full color printing increases open and response rates for direct marketing programs. This press provides greater flexibility for high-speed color and monochrome production of high-volume direct mail.
  • We’re growing. We’re bullish on both our future and that of the direct marketing industry.

“The Océ ColorStream 3500 was the best fit to bridge the space from cut-sheet color to the continuous color environment,” says Morrison. He cites output quality and ease of use as key factors behind the purchase. The ColorStream 3500’s platform is similar to IWCO’s existing monochrome devices, further streamlining the learning curve: “Océ’s folks working with our team have been able to get our technical folks up to speed very quickly. We've been pleasantly surprised at how fast we completed the installation, got the equipment up and running and had our operators fully trained, competent and confident with the equipment.”

Substrate testing has been in-depth and challenging. “The biggest challenge we've had in our testing has been expanding on the Océ list of qualified papers for the U.S. market,” says Morrison. “This has been more effort than we had anticipated and we're putting a lot of time and energy into it.  Océ has been extremely supportive in our efforts to expand upon the substrate portfolio.”

IWCO Direct expects to shift a significant volume of its current cutsheet work to the new machine. “We're in the process of testing that now,” says Morrison. “In addition we've had discussions with our customers about the opportunities as to what we might be able do for them with the ColorStream 3500 and we've started quoting on some projects. This provides us with a great opportunity to bring in more business that we weren’t able to before.”

How does the new machine fit with existing capabilities? Morrison says it adds new capabilities as well as capacity. “The Océ ColorStream 3500 offers greater productivity and flexibility for high-speed color and monochrome production of high-volume direct mail, which is the core of our business. We will continue to look for other opportunities to invest in capabilities that are complementary to what we do and can help our customers.”

ICWO Direct believes the ColorStream 3500’s quality will help it capture new color and personalization opportunities. “We continue to see programs with more complex personalization and expanded use of color as marketers become more targeted in their messaging and offers,” explains Morrison. “A significant portion of our capital investment in the last 24 months has been focused on expanding our personalization and color capabilities across the platform. [Previously] output quality and cost [restricted growth in these areas]. But the industry as well as equipment providers such as Océ have come a long way in creating a product we think is a good fit in the marketplace.”

Potential applications include:

  • Documentation for health care clients’ wellness and disease management programs, where each co-care provider wants its own logo and graphics embedded in the final letter.
  • Adding graphics with color for high-end financial services loyalty programs.
  • Forms replacement to reduce the need for the two-step process of printing monochrome variable data on preprinted offset color forms. This also reduces inventory, time to market and waste.

The sales process promises to be as targeted as the ColorStream 3500’s output. “It's a different sell than the monochrome solution which is different from a web offset produced shell with offline laser imaging,” says Morrison. “In other words, we [highlight] the equipment’s ability to serve a unique product niche in a unique market.”

Morrison says early response has been favorable. “At the DMA we showed some samples to a number of our current and potential customers and they were pushing us along probably a little further than we want to go—we're still testing paper.  But many of the folks we talk to are ready for us to run work and start quoting. We're working with a number of other customers on quoting some new projects—the reaction was very positive. We feel pretty good about where we are in the marketplace, we see the market continuing to grow and we're well positioned to take advantage of that.”

The Final Word

Beyond bragging rights as the first U.S. installation, the ColorStream 3500 will give IWCO Direct’s customers cost-effective personalization and color options without sacrificing quality. Inkjet will continue to help direct mail literally push the envelope.

Océ ColorStream 3500 specs are here.

I invite you to follow me via the RSS feed button below and talk to me via the Comments Section below as we venture together through this exciting and challenging time of transition and opportunity.

Thank you,

Katherine O’Brien

Senior Editor, American Printer

Senior Editor, OutputLinks Communications Group

KOB@OutputLinksCG.com