The Riverside Group – Adapting to Change & Investing in the Future

by: Melissa DeDonder

The Riverside Group was formed in 1988 following the merger of three Rochester, New York companies – Riverside Book Bindery, Zahrndts Book Bindery and Monroe Paper Finishing. Each company brought a diverse set of products and services to the table — Riverside specialized in perfect binding and saddlestitiching, Zahnadts brought case binding and Monroe offered a complete range of diecut finishing services.

As a full-service post press company with an emphasis on case binding, the Riverside Group is able to provide a complete spectrum of services and products ranging from binding and diecutting to laminating and folding from one location in Rochester. Riverside’s primary customer base covers the greater Northeast region of the United States, however, it is steadily growing to include customers across the nation.

“I believe that our customers come to us not only for the quality of our products, but also because of the quality of customer service that we provide. This begins with estimating and then continues throughout the entire process, from sample making to staying on top of production schedules and providing timely answers to questions or concerns,” said Peter Pape, president. As an extension of customer service, the company provides technical tips and production articles on its website to provide time- and money-saving tips to help customers plan for their next project.

As an all-in-one finishing house, Riverside can run anywhere from 250 pieces up to ½ million in its 110,000 sq. ft. factory. To manage each project from start to finish, the company has invested in a diverse set of equipment that represents almost every manufacturer in the industry. “Because of the nature of our sales volume, we try to have both semi-automatic and fully automatic equipment available for each process, which allows us to complete small, medium and large jobs as needed,” Pape said.

Currently, case binding makes up 35 percent of Riverside’s business and the company has two case binding machines onsite. Perfect binding accounts for 20 percent of the facility’s workflow, and the company has two perfect binders. Book1One, its online digital book manufacturing division, also accounts for 20 percent, and wire-o binding represents 15 percent of the business. Diecutting or specialty finishing accounts for 10 percent of Riverside’s production and the company maintains seven foil stamping machines to support this demand. Riverside also maintains full sample and prototype departments, and provides a spectrum of hand work that includes packaging, inserting and folding, including complicated display pieces. “Our product mix is all over the board, from direct mail folding to high-end coffee table books. We are probably best known for our high-end coffee table books,” Pape said.

One service that Riverside no longer provides is saddlestitching. “We know our customers and we try to specialize in services that they can’t do in-house. Saddlestitching was an area of low volume for us, and as we looked ahead and tried to adapt to change in the marketplace, we decided to discontinue saddlestitching because it wasn’t what our customers needed,” Pape said.

Investing in More Than Just Equipment

Riverside knows how to meet the needs of both its customers and its 80 employees. “Our employees have an average tenure of more than 14 years,” said Pape. One reason may be the time and resources that Riverside invests in its employees. All employees are crossed trained to run an average of five to seven different pieces of equipment and merit pay is based on their abilities and the skills needed to run the different machines.

“Each person is allowed to move at their speed of learning on new equipment. They are aware that in order to move up in pay scale, they need to be versatile in many areas and flexible enough to meet the evolving needs of our customers,” Pape said. Employees who have been with the company for an extended period of time also are reviewed on their ability to train others. New employees get a formal review four times over the course of the first two years to ensure that they are in sync with the company’s goals.

Riverside also believes in promoting from within. “Most of our management team has ‘grown-up’ alongside the company – they started on-the-floor and have worked their way up,” Pape said. Pape himself began as a sales person in 1981. “At that time, we were around $400,000 in sales. I purchased the company in 1984 because the owner wanted out of the business and I was crazy enough to want in,” Pape said.

Lean Management Leads to Many Rewards

In 2008, Riverside began implementing lean management strategies, and the company has reaped many rewards from this investment. “As the leader of this company, I am always looking for a different way to do things. We don’t want to be just another clown in the parade; we want to be the band,” Pape said. After much time researching lean concepts, Pape took the idea to Riverside’s management team and they agreed that it was the right thing to do. A consultant was hired to facilitate the initial training and help move the company in the right direction. This consultant still works with Riverside to audit the program and train new employees.

Pape estimates that thousands of changes have been implemented the past three years to make the company more streamlined from the inside out. For example, Riverside has taken a clamp changing process that used to take five hours to complete down to an efficient 20-minute process. Another example of success includes inventory management needs – the company has cut them by 30 percent internally without disrupting customer service. “We did this by analyzing turn times of materials needed for supplies and then reducing them without affecting customer needs. We also provide fulfillment for several customers, and we used that same process on the finished goods side of our inventory,” Pape said.

Pape reports that when any type of waste happens at Riverside, the company and its employees are invested in finding ways to reduce it. “As a result of our lean management efforts, productivity, customer service and employee satisfaction have all increased dramatically,” Pape said.

To implement lean management strategies, the company first created a Lean Management Team to manage the process and to continually look for ways for the company to eliminate waste in the future. This team meets once every week. “Sustainability can only be achieved when you have a management team that’s fully dedicated, with support and buy-in from the top,” Pape said.

Second, Riverside committed to company-wide employee training and continuing education. One-hundred percent of Riverside’s employees received an initial eight hours of training. The training sessions were broken into two four-hour sessions over a two month period of time. Each session was comprised of a mixture of senior managers, office and floor employees. “The training focuses on why we need to have lean management and how it will help each employee in their day-to-day jobs. We then cover the basics of lean and how to implement it in the work place. The final component focuses on how we measure it as a company and how the employees as individuals can effect change,” Pape said.

Lean Management Team Leaders received an additional 40 hours of training. All employees are required to participate in at least two continuing education sessions prior to their next performance review. “This approach doesn’t mean that we don’t make mistakes, but it does mean that we learn how to prevent them from happening again,” Pape concluded.

Seizing an Opportunity for Growth – Book1One

“As a company, we believe that our business will always be changing and that we need to change with it or we will be left behind,” Pape said. This philosophy guided Riverside into launching an online digital book manufacturing division called Book1One. This innovative division was designed to meet the small press run needs of individuals, independent publishers and organizations seeking professional and affordable printing and binding services for quantities of one to 1,000 pieces.

“Digital book manufacturing was an area that was unfamiliar from the normal trade bindery perspective, so we’ve done our homework,” Pape said. A team of Riverside employees began exploring how the company could produce one book at a time and still make a profit. The team established some guiding principles about how the company would successfully operate, and then added processes and investment as the company grew. “I will be honest and say that we never anticipated how much computer software and development that it would take. That was a whole new area for us,” Pape said.

Since Book1One’s launch in 2007, the print-on-demand book and photobook markets have increased exponentially. Book1One currently accounts for 20 percent of Riverside’s business, and it is anticipated to grow even more in the coming years. “This is where the growth potential is right now for our industry. It’s very exciting,” Pape said.

Book1One is managed by a member of Riverside’s senior management team, and offers soft cover, hard cover, thesis/dissertation, legal (sewn), plastic coil and saddlestitched binding options. Riverside has invested in software solutions to automate many of Book1One’s services; however, its employees are cross-trained to work for Book1One as needed.

For the customer, downloadable free photobook and photo calendar software provides templates that can be used to create professionally designed products without the added expense of hiring a graphic designer, or pre-designed PDF files can be uploaded directly to the website. Book1One provides a quick turnaround time – five business days for soft cover and 10 days for hard cover books. Just like The Riverside Group, Book1One prides itself on customer service and offers a variety of self-publishing tips, checklists and a blog on its website at www.book1one.com.

Pape says that there has been some cross over between Book1One customers and Riverside’s traditional bindery services, but not enough to put a percentage on it. “The two companies serve two different customer bases. When we do have crossover, we make it seamless for the customer. It’s not a major part of our plan to integrate these services,” Pape said.

The Riverside Group shows no signs of slowing down in the future. Despite the recent downturn in the economy, the company continues to invest in new equipment and processes, including a high-speed casemaker, a zero-makeready casemaker for shorter runs, a new tipper for end leaves, a film laminator and a UV coater. “Going forward, we anticipate continued success and growth in the digital book market, as well as a greater emphasis on casebinding from our traditional market,” Pape concluded. With its track record of forward thinking, Riverside’s anticipation will likely lead to future success.