Gold Medal Success at Olympic Bindery

by: Dianna Brodine

The 2008 Beijing Olympics placed the spotlight on dedicated athletes who have taken a basic talent and enhanced it through hard work, determination, and a willingness to go beyond the ordinary to find success. The ultimate reward for this sacrifice is a gold medal. For Olympic Bindery in Broadview, Illinois, the ultimate reward is customer satisfaction, encouraging its customers to “Go for the gold”!

On the Starting Blocks

Business partners John Welacha and Dan Mooney have known each other since high school, when they worked together during the summers for a Chicago-area printer. After spending the first years of their careers working as operators, supervisors, and sales staff for printers and binders, Welacha’s father, John Sr., stepped in with a new plan. John Sr. had been a bindery manager for many large printers and binders in the Chicago area and he was getting ready to retire. In 1986, he convinced his son that the time was right to make a move from employee to owner by opening a new bindery to serve the Chicago area. “He was the catalyst,” explained Mooney. “When John Sr. retired, he came into Olympic and worked to bring in sales, while helping with production and quality.” Mooney joined his old friend at Olympic Bindery in 1992.

Olympic started its operations in a 12,000 square foot manufacturing space in Cicero, Illinois. The plant moved to its current location in Broadview in 1994, beginning with 30,000 square feet but expanding as business grew until the company reached its current 73,000 square feet of production and storage space. Seventy-five full time employees work two shifts, with the capability to produce around the clock based upon production needs. Mooney is the president of Olympic Bindery, concentrating on sales and administration while Welacha, vice president, controls the daily operations for the plant.

Serving a range of clients, from small printers up to very large web printers, Olympic Bindery’s biggest market is long-run saddlestitching, with standard and oversized map folding following as a close second. Most of Olympic’s customers are in and around Chicago, and the bindery’s run volume is typically anywhere from 50,000 – 300,000 pieces, although Mooney said Olympic has done runs of anywhere from 500 pieces up to beyond 50 million pieces.

Racing Beyond – Cut and Fold’

Olympic Bindery started out as a straight “cut and fold” operation. The bindery expanded in 1988 with a multi-binder, a machine designed to be both a flat sheet collator and stitcher, and took on a lot of direct mail and newsletter work. “That’s how we got into saddlestitching,” explained Mooney. “In fact, we still have that piece of equipment!”

Newsletters are just one corner of the business now. Olympic Bindery is a full service binding and finishing operation, with capabilities for cutting, folding, saddlestitching, diecutting, and mailing and fulfillment. “It’s not that we’ve expanded beyond typical services,” explained Mooney, “but we’ve taken those services to a new level.” Olympic sells its customers on the idea that the current high cost of transportation and increasingly tight production schedules demand that printed product makes only one stop after leaving the print shop floor. “Sending printed product to just one finisher for several bindery processes is becoming more of a necessity than a convenience,” said Mooney.

The journey to one-stop finisher followed a winding road, one that many traditional binderies have stared down as industry consolidation and the advent of the internet began cutting into profit margins. In 1996, Olympic Bindery entered into the perfect binding market. With several good contracts in hand, the operation went well until 2005, when research catalogs and pricing guides began the switch to the internet. As the volume of perfect binding work began diminishing, Olympic decided to exit the perfect binding market.

The operating space freed up by the sale of the perfect binding equipment opened the door to another opportunity. Olympic became partners with a small mailer who moved into the Olympic Bindery building. To accommodate this change of direction, new equipment was purchased and new capabilities added. “We have two offline imagers with wafer sealers on them, and we do a lot of kit building, inserting, and projects by hand.” Olympic offers spot gluing, seam gluing, shrink wrapping, and ink jet addressing as well, in support of its mailing operations.

Mooney and Welacha believe the addition of mailing and fulfillment services is the key to the growth of Olympic’s bindery operations. “There’s more and more direct mail being done,” said Mooney. “As for fulfillment, there are a lot of projects out there that have to be done by hand. There’s no efficient way to do those by machine yet.”

Traditional bindery services also have grown. Olympic now has seven saddlestitchers, giving it the capability for everything from short runs to multimillion piece runs, with a short turnaround time. The bindery also has purchased several MBO folders, all specifically purchased to support its map folding, direct mail, bill insert operations, and book work signature folding.

Mooney and Welacha make it a point to keep abreast of industry changes, specifically in regards to new developments in technology that can reduce costs and run jobs in more efficient ways. “We try and buy a couple of pieces of equipment each year with the latest technologies, simply because once you start falling behind it takes a long time to catch up. Olympic’s ability to stay competitive will depend on the developments out there in equipment,” said Mooney. Before purchasing new equipment, the partners look at job volume and recent changes in the types of jobs flowing through the bindery. “If you look at that and try to analyze where the trends are moving as far as types of business, you can look and see what’s out there in the industry as far as equipment. If a machine runs 20 to 25 percent faster or requires less labor, you can see where you recoup some costs.” Three years ago, Olympic Bindery purchased a high-speed automatic saddlestitcher from Muller Martini that increased its production 25 to 30 percent and reduced the labor required by one third. The company now has three of those machines. Mooney cautioned that Olympic Bindery still has to evaluate the volume of work needed before making an investment in new equipment. As the mailing and fulfillment side of the business grows, Olympic plans to purchase more automated fulfillment equipment, particularly in terms of automated inserting and affixing.

Building the Gold Medal Team

Top-of-the-line equipment isn’t the only way to attract customers and build sales volume. Strong customer relationships also are critical to continued success for Olympic Bindery, creating a team that is committed to excellent quality. “In this rough economy, the print industry is driven by price,” said Mooney. “We set ourselves apart from the rest by working as a partner with each and every customer to build a healthy business relationship. That means we’re upfront, honest, and fair with the customers. We also have excellent quality control throughout the plant and deliver what we promise, on schedule and with fast turnarounds.”

Welacha and Mooney set the example by being hands-on owners. On most days, both men are in the shop or the office. Welacha works with all of the bindery’s customers on a first hand basis, answering all production questions for each project. The bindery has a customer service manager who is responsible for initial order entry and production reports, but any concerns having to do with production, quality, or service are handled by Welacha and Mooney. “It’s important to both our customers and our employees to see that the owners of the company are getting personally involved,” explained Mooney.

The tighter margins brought on by price competition and higher material costs have led Welacha and Mooney to work differently with their employees as well. “You’ve got to reduce your pricing to get a job in the door,” said Mooney, “but then you really have to stay on top of everything on the shop floor to produce the job as efficiently as possible at all times.” As a result, the staff at Olympic Bindery is receiving training on how to be efficient. Meetings are held with the shop supervisors and managers to evaluate procedures and processes. “We asked ourselves what would happen if only certain employees worked on certain jobs. We typically rotated our people on all of our equipment, but maybe that wasn’t the most efficient way of doing things. Now we’re changing that a little, to determine what each does best.”

Employees are relied upon to oversee all production details, putting each machine operator at the front line to determine the quality of the product that is delivered to the customer. “We stand behind our work 100 percent, which says something about our belief in our quality,” stated Mooney. “We are proud of all our projects. Each one, when planned and produced correctly, shows the pride that every one of our employees displays.”

The Winning Formula

At Olympic Bindery, the commitment to creating partnerships and dedication to ensuring quality take this former “cut and fold” bindery beyond the ordinary. Sharing information and efficiencies not only among Olympic’s employees and customers, the bindery also has become an active supporter of the Binding Industries of America (BIA) and the Graphic Finishing Industry of Illinois (GFI). Mooney, as acting president of GFI, believes networking with industry peers to share ideas and policies is the key to upholding the values and consistency of the entire industry, allowing all of the competitors on the binding and finishing playing field to raise the bar.

From binding through finishing to fulfillment, a motto on the company’s web site provides the winning ingredients in the bindery’s formula.

Experience + Positive Attitude = Success

By building healthy business relationships through up-front honesty and service with a smile, the owners and employees at Olympic are proving that they are willing to go above and beyond to help its customers “bring home the gold”.