Graphics House Is Growing

January 20, 2003
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MUSKEGON HEIGHTS — In terms of its staff size, you wouldn't say that Graphics House is a world-scale company.

But Dan McKinnon, the company's founder, general manager and owner, contends that because his firm constantly invests in the newest print and graphics technology, it literally has become a world leader in digital printing.

Moreover, the Detroit native adds, the 11-year-old firm delivers within 24 hours … anywhere. Period.

It's not the sort of claim one expects from a firm located just a block from the modest retail district of an inner city foundry town whose industrial base evaporated 20 years ago.

But McKinnon says that Muskegon Heights City Hall has been very supportive. As a result, he said Graphics House has been able to make a series of additions enlarging its plant — originally a stationers' store — to 16,000 square feet of workspace.

"And it's a mess here now," McKinnon adds ruefully. "We're so jammed in this place that we're stumbling all over each other."

But thanks to the cooperation and encouragement of city hall, McKinnon said Graphics House has purchased a vacant 10,000-square-foot building on the opposite side of Peck Street into which it will move some of its overcrowded operations, while making room for two new high-tech printing acquisitions.

And such acquisitions, he said, are an absolute necessity for a firm in the industry to maintain its growth.

He said most printing firms read about the industry's latest high-tech bells and whistles and do little more than yearn for the day when the price comes down, or the software bugs are worked out, or when a competitor down the block forces such an acquisition.

In a company publication, he wrote, "Most businesses are somewhat scared of new technology. We're used to dealing with it and we embrace it."

As a consequence, he said Graphics House has capabilities that no printer would have dreamed of when it entered the industry in 1991.

He outlined a scenario where one of Graphics House's clients, an exhibitor, arrived at a trade show in Las Vegas to make the unsettling discovery that a competitor was preparing to hand out brochures that were a virtual knock-off of the client's.

Likewise, the competitor's booth at the show had the same color scheme and much the same wording of the booth that the client was preparing to set up.

McKinnon explained that, thanks to the Internet, the client within minutes was able to send its graphics data to Graphics House, which put its design staff to work on the project. Once the client OK'd the new design, Graphics House was able to have the first run of 9,000 new brochures rolling off its presses within 30 minutes.

New technology, McKinnon added, uses waterless offset inks and, therefore, does away with the need for print drying time, so that the brochures were in the hands of UPS and on the road to Las Vegas in time for the show's opening.

The same applied to the new 10-foot tall, four-color panels for the client's booth.

Designing the panels was a coordinated extension of the brochures, though the printing occurred on the company's new Scitex Superwide Grand Format Printer — a $1 million investment that Graphics House installed last year.

Only three other firms in North America own one of the Scitex Superwides, McKinnon said, and what the device enables Graphics House to do is print a product up to 16 feet wide and of unlimited length. Those 16-foot panels, too, can be welded side-to-side to produce an even wider image.

He explained that the Scitex can print panels for the sides of truck trailers.

Last year, Graphics House's Scitex produced a 50-foot-by-50-foot photo of a famous sandwich cookie for Oreo's centennial celebration. "They took it down to the Indy 500 track and put candles on it for a photo shoot. Then they just threw it away."

In the case of the Las Vegas exhibitor, he said, the Scitex was used to create Velcro-backed panels that then were affixed to a Velcro-faced collapsible aluminum framework that Graphics House workers custom-made for the show.

The Scitex, McKinnon said, is one of seven state-of-the-art printing devices that Graphics House currently is using. The next-newest acquisition is a Heidelberg Quickmaster DI, a fully automated direct-to-print press. Direct-to-print means that the press has the software to accept graphic images and to translate those images into print without the intermediate manual steps of filmmaking and plate burning.

He declined to go into detail about the two new printing machines that the firm plans to buy and install later this year in the new plant across the street, which now is undergoing renovation.

He did say that, like any high-tech devices, the equipment Graphics House buys usually brings with it capabilities that even the vendors' salespeople don't understand. "The more experienced you become with this equipment," he said, "the more you discover what you can do with it."

McKinnon says Graphics House does anything that anyone needs done with respect to printing. The company, for instance, provides pre-press services for some printers and, in other cases, does the entire job as a subcontractor while the printer simply takes the order and then sells the product at a mark-up.

On a national scale, he characterized Graphics House as a third-tier vendor that has reached national markets primarily though public relations firms.

Among the firm's corporate accounts are Greyhound, Federal Express, Buick, Subaru and Caesar's Palace. The company also produces graphics materials of all kinds for more than 250 sports franchises and universities.

Graphics House has 52 employees working in five divisions, a 10-fold jump from the five-member staff that incubated in 1991 in a vacant industrial site in the City of Muskegon.

One of the divisions, Graphics House Wireless LLC, is not involved in printing. It markets the NexTel product through four wireless phone stores. 

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