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Built from scratch

February 28, 2011

Sorrento Mesa Printing is a six-employee, $1 million shop. From its industrial park address to its pragmatic approach to equipment acquisitBuilt from scratchions, there's nothing fancy about this 24-year-old operation.

Scott Cappel, Sorrento Mesa's owner and founder, was the NAPL/NAQP 2010 “Printer of the Year.” “Success is a combination of hard work and lucky breaks,” he says. “Sometimes you make your own luck and sometimes it just happens.”

Luck was with Cappel in 2000 when a client demonstrated Overture Services, a keyword commercial search tool. (Yahoo acquired Overture in 2003.) “That day changed everything for me when it came to marketing,” says Cappel. “It wasn't like a light bulb going off; it was like fireworks. We had just put up our first website — this was the key to drive traffic to it.”

Cappel went home and learned all he could about Overture. He soon opened an account and snapped up terms such as “San Diego Printing and Copying.” “There were very few people bidding on these [words]. Most were available for a minimum bid of five cents.”

Six months later, Google launched Ad Words. “We started using them, too,” Cappel recalls. “Pay-per-click (PPC) advertising has been, by far, the most successful method of generating the first contact with prospects that have become clients. We had the run of this method for many years, with virtually no cost for the hundreds of search terms we used. We still use PPC, but I believe organic search engine optimization (SEO) has given us a better return on our time and investment. Together, they are the most valuable marketing tools we use.”

Don't call us

SEO represents a quantum leap from Cappel's early marketing efforts. When he and a partner opened the business in 1987, Cappel would go door-to-door dropping off scratch pads with the company's logo and phone number. A Yellow Pages ad also brought customers — most of whom were looking for the lowest cost provider. “That was our first and last Yellow Pages ad,” says Cappel. “We could instantly see it wasn't going to help us.”

Cappel's partner, an excellent press operator, had enough of a reputation to bring in some trade work. But margins were low. After six months in business, Sorrento's founders decided they were incompatible and dissolved their partnership. Cappel was on his own.

“Fear is a great motivator,” says Cappel. “You have to get out there and get the business.”

In 1990, Cappel heard sales consultant Larry Steinmetz speak at an NAQP meeting. Steinmetz, the author of “How to Sell at Prices Higher Than Your Competition,” was an inspiration. “You have to create value, get bit of a backbone and be willing to walk away if someone isn't willing to meet your price,” says Cappel. “The idea is to keep bringing in [new] business so you aren't held hostage to a customer.”

Tower power

In 2005, Sorrento Mesa was an all-offset operation courtesy of its 14 × 20-inch Ryobi press. Many vendors have tried to entice Cappel to upgrade his 2-color press. “I tell them I'm doing ok,” says Cappel. “I'll get more towers when I can't get work off [on time]. We have a really good press operator who's been with us for 15 years. We've never disappointed a client.”

Prior to making any significant equipment investment, Cappel insists on talking to current users and, where relevant, running test files. Years ago, eager to add process color capabilities, Cappel installed an unproven AB Dick Century 3000. “That was a huge mistake,” he recalls.

Sorrento Mesa stuck with film and metal SilverMaster plates for the first 20 years of its existence. “We waited because we didn't want to go with polyester plates,” Cappel explains. “We saw most commercial printers were going with metal thermal [platesetters], so we waited for prices to come down.”

The printer eventually installed a Screen PlateRite 4100 platesetter with an Epson 9880 inkjet printer. Both are driven by a Harlequin Xitron workflow.

The all-digital world posed a proofing challenge. Sorrento Mesa previously made Matchprint proofs. “You did your exposures and laminated it,” recalls Cappel. “The dot gain was built in. With direct-to-plate, we didn't know where were.”

Alder Technology's Bruce Bayne and John Horn helped Sorrento Mesa achieve G7 certification. Cappel says the color management experts helped the shop translate theory into practice. (See “G7: Your bottom line,” September 2010.)

Digital print now accounts for about 75% of Sorrento's work. Early on, Cappel jettisoned a Xerox 1090 copier to concentrate on offset work. But in 2005, a growing chorus of customer requests made Cappel reconsider his digital strategy.

He brokered digital work until the volume justified bringing it in house. Learning of a special program for NAPL members, Cappel investigated Konica Minolta's offerings and opted for the bizhub PRO C500. “We outgrew it in six months,” Cappel recalls. “We were going to melt that thing if we kept running it that hard.”

In 2007, Sorrento Mesa stepped up to a bizhub PRO C6500 with a Creo front end. A second followed in 2008. “Our digital color machines are by far our most profitable pieces of equipment,” says Cappel. “The ROI on all three were less than six months from acquisition.”

A lifelong learner

Cappel's enthusiasm for the printing business remains undiminished after 25 years. “Every day I ask myself, ‘What am I going to learn today?’” he says. “Having the right staff makes a big difference. I can delegate operational functions and focus on strategy.”

He also credits his family with keeping him focused. “I start early, but I get home for dinner at six every night. It adds structure to my life.” Cappel and his wife have three sons, ages six, 13 and 18. Every year, the family heads to Hawaii for a two-week vacation. “Family is very important,” says Cappel. “I love to spend time snorkeling in the warm Hawaiian waters and spending time in the surf with my boys.”

Move over, Dun & Bradstreet

“Goldmine tied to LinkedIn is a killer app,” enthuses Scott Cappel. As a one-man sales force, he's always looking for time management tools. A Goldmine window tab can be programmed with a script for LinkedIn as well as Google Maps. Cappel can instantly see where a company is located as well as a prospect's profile. See www.linkedin.com/in/sorrentomesa.

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

Printer of the year

Scott Cappel was the NAPL/NAQP 2010 “Printer of the Year.” A 1984 graduate of the University of California San Diego (UCSD), Cappel began working as a press operator and sold printing in the summers between classes. After graduation, he became a research assistant at the Salk Institute of Biological Studies. But Cappel's love for business ultimately won out: He opened Sorrento Mesa Printing in 1987.

More than a calendar

Quick print marketing guru Mike Stevens singled out Sorrento Mesa's 2011 calendar for his February 2011 “Golden Ink Knife” award. “It is unusual to see a calendar used as direct mail advertising. Sorrento Mesa does it brilliantly,” says Stevens. The 18 × 24-inch calendar features beautiful, professional-grade photography of San Diego.

Stevens was impressed with the total presentation. The calendar arrived in a high-quality white corrugated box. A polybag protects the calendar and also includes two 8.5 × 11-inch sales inserts. In addition to a sell sheet detailing the company's capabilities, the package included what Stevens calls “a creative, personalized sales letter.”

Stevens presents monthly “Golden Ink Knife” accolades to the printing firm that shares the best marketing idea at www.gutenblog.com.

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