Firm Breaks With Pure Printing Past

January 10, 2005
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GRAND RAPIDS — Integra Printing Inc. scheduled today for the resumption of operations after a two-week crush period of installing presses, computers, bag and baggage in its new 200,000-square-foot plant at 2201 Oak Industrial Drive.

According to Jeff Palmitier, the firm's CEO and president, the equipment came from the company's two older buildings— one near the DeltaPlex, the other just down the block from the new plant — that aggregated about 95,000 square feet.

Palmitier said opening the new plant — on the site of the old Thorn Apple Valley meat packing plant — also is kind of midway point in a corporate transition from a print shop into what he called a communications company.

He told the Business Journal the change stems from Integra's decision four years ago to break with industry tradition by investing very heavily in research and development. The reason for the move, he said, is that the industry itself has become stagnant.

The result, he said, is that the traditional print operation has put a large foot into the digital world, reinventing itself as a communications company for clients all over the globe — while printing more than ever.

He said Integra set itself a five-year goal to triple its sales while transforming itself from 100 percent print to a 50-50 ratio of print and information delivery.

"Well, we're about about halfway through that plan and right on track," he said. "And right now, we're at about 70 percent print and 30 percent ID."

He said a number of the company's competitors have begun the same transition. "But because we made a tremendous investment in R&D, it kind of gave us a leg up. We feel we have a three to five-year head start."

What Integra now does, he said, is use a number of technologies to help businesses move information and coordinate all their digital assets — graphics and copy documents — in everything from distribution to retail operations.

Integra's chief tool, he said, is a suite of proprietary software the company named MindWire, the firm's programmers developed.

And MindWire is under constant modification.

"We will usually seek out software that's leading the industry in whatever regard we're looking for," Palmitier said.

"And then we will program into and around that. And then our programmers customize it for our clients and our purposes. What we end up with is kind of a mix of core and what we add to it."

He said Integra has about 25 Web sites up for clients around the country.

"And through MindWire we're helping them distribute all their information, whether that's to B-to-B or to consumers. We have several clients who have sales forces throughout the world, and we help them distribute all their sales and marketing and other materials to all those sales forces."

"We call it 'repurposing the assets,'" he added.

"Somebody could get online with us for a particular brochure. They could order 500 that are already printed, which would ship out of our facility. But they also could have access to the electronic file and print just one copy if that's what they needed on their desktop.

"Or they could take the electronic file and have it printed if they needed it, say in London. But what we also offer through MindWire," he added, "is the ability that they can customize that document to whatever purpose they had.

"They could take those assets — those graphics, that copy — and rearrange it a million different ways as a customized brochure, or signage or whatever."

He said this range of capacities has turned out to be exactly what many clients want.

"A lot of what's been fueling our success," Palmitier said, "is that what clients are looking for is a single resource that can help with all of this. They don't want to have eight or 10 different Web sites for people to go and get into.

"We don't always do it all," he added. "But what we're becoming, more and more, is the resource that pulls this all together (for clients). Through MindWire, their sales people or retail stores or admin offices anywhere in the world have a single resource to get this from."

Palmitier said one of the most gratifying moments since beginning Integra's transition occurred about six months ago in California.

"We tend to think of California as so far ahead of us," he said. "But we had some clients out there saying, 'You're ahead of anybody we can find in California as far as technology is concerned.'

"It just shows West Michigan has a tremendous amount to offer if we have the courage to go after it," he said. "West Michigan has the talent, the work ethic and the labor pool to compete with anybody in the world."

Ironically, Palmitier said, even though the print industry isn't growing, clients' searches for a single resource for information delivery actually has increased Integra's printing operations. "We naturally get a bigger piece of the pie."

But he also said the firm's new state-of-the-art Komori press has made Integra's printing operation much more efficient, virtually tripling the firm's capacity. Without going into the digital details, computerization has removed a great deal of the manual labor from printing.

"From the pre-press system, it's all a seamless digital workflow," he said. One no longer bolts aluminum plates onto press drums, or manually sets folders and cutters or dispenses ink to fonts with a big spatula from an ink can. And the hours of laborious rag-and-bottle press cleanup are gone. Digitally operated robotics now do most of the cleanup, he said.

The upshot, he said, is that instead of getting two to four production runs a shift, the Komori gives Intrega four to six. "We were really surprised when we went out and explored what had happened in press technology. It had improved radically in five years."

Palmitier said Integra's management — which includes brother and fellow owner, Scott, who serves as CFO, and their father, Richard, who founded the company in 1937 — are grateful to the city of Grand Rapids for the old packing plant's brownfield and Renaissance Zone designations.

"It felt good to keep a growing business here in Grand Rapids and to take an old site out," he said.

He also praised Eric Weinsma, of Terra Firma Development, for having the courage to buy the old Thorn Apple packing plant which Integra later bought and razed for the new plant.

Palmitier said Integra has a staff of 85 — plus 10 to 30 temporary workers at any given time — and has been hiring a new full-time employee about every six weeks. He also said the firm is bidding on a cluster of major contracts which could necessitate hiring as many as 15 people at once this year.    

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