From Surviving to Thriving: Lessons Learned When Adding Services to the Bindery

by Melissa DeDonder

With increased competition and a shaky economy, one of the biggest challenges facing binderies today may be keeping the doors open. Many binderies have been able to move from merely surviving to thriving in today’s marketplace by investing in the equipment needed to expand the range of services that they are providing. Four companies share the secrets to their success.

Slow and steady growth in packaging wins the race at CRT, Custom Products, Inc.

CRT, Custom Products, Inc., Whites Creek, TN, was founded in 1979 to provide top-quality custom packaging services for the entertainment industry in Nashville. Over the years, the company has expanded its customer base to service the national entertainment, software and communications industries.

CRT, Custom Products, Inc. is highly diversified, providing digital and offset printing, a complete prepress department, CAD/CAM package design, diecutting, gluing, folding, saddlestitching, foil stamping and embossing, riveting, turned edge products, blister/clam shell packaging, softcover bookbinding, fulfillment and distribution and much more.

“The secret to CRT’s success has been adding services slowly – expanding one service at a time over the years,” said Ron Brower, marketing director. “Every piece of equipment that we’ve bought has been customer driven – we wanted to offer our customers more value by not having to farm out the additional services that they needed,” Brower said. The company became a one-stop-shop for custom packaging services because it ultimately saves the customer money and keeps the entire project in-house – a win for the company as well as the customer.

Brower echoes a popular sentiment that referrals offer the strongest sales leads, but the company also relies on several traditional marketing services to get the word out, including print advertising, web banners, pay-per-click advertising, organic search engine optimization, email marketing and social media.

While the company has a wall full of gold and platinum records for musicians’ projects that it has manufactured, a key to success is the company’s many certifications. “They are as important to us as any award, because many of them were much harder to obtain,” Brower said. CRT, Custom Products, Inc.’s certifications include the following: G7 Print Media Master Certified, SFI Certified, FSC Certified and Nintendo of America Certified. In addition, the company is a Microsoft Certified Solution Provider and a WBENC Certified woman-owned business.

Book Boutique creates the unique for self-publishers

The Book Boutique, a division of Advantage Book Binding, Inc. in Glen Burnie, MD, provides complete book finishing services for self- publishers, with services that include specialty binding, repair work and custom packaging such as clamshell boxes, tablet cases and slipcases. In the summer of 2010, the company created its Book Boutique after noticing that many customers had been expressing an increased desire to create one-of-a-kind custom books that would stand out in the marketplace.

To create such masterpieces, the company uses various hand machines, turn-of-the-century book presses and antique blades in combination with techniques such as hand skiving and hand tooling. “The uniqueness of our boutique is the personal touch that we provide, which has been vacant in the marketplace for many years,” said Christine Webbert, director of the Book Boutique. “We feel that we take more of an in-depth approach, which helps us achieve goals and exceed expectations.”

The Book Boutique represents 20 percent of Advantage Book Binding, Inc.’s business. It has increased sales, provided more benefits to existing customers and increased the company’s pool of potential customers. The Book Boutique’s services are marketed through its own website – independent of the parent company – as well as through tradeshows and publishing conferences. Local book stores, schools and faith-based stores are targeted via sales flyers and personal visits from the sales team. In addition to these efforts, Webbert says that the company’s greatest marketing tools are client referrals and “word of mouth” advertising.

The Book Boutique has won numerous awards, including the 2012 Printing and Graphics Association MidAtlantic (PGAMA) Award for Best in Finishing/Binding – Q Award and the Best of Category in Finishing/Binding for the National Opera project, which featured raw silk and a clamshell custom box, and the 2011 PGAMA Best of Category in Finishing/Binding and the People’s Choice Award for the Charles E. Smith leatherbound book and slipcase.

New Hampshire Bindery goes for the gold with restoration and gilding

New Hampshire Bindery in Bow, NH, was founded in 1934. In the early days, the company’s collating, book lining and casing services were completed by hand. Over the years, machinery replaced much of the handwork and the company invested in new equipment to increase its capacity. By 1995, the company was binding more than two million books each year. Although the company had been restoring old books for years, with an influx of new equipment New Hampshire Bindery created a department specializing in restoration work and gilding that would take the company to new heights.

The machines needed for book restoration are highly specialized – skiving machines to prepare the leather, large stamping presses for the detail work and gilding machines that can apply gold to both straight and round corners. Plus, skilled craftsmen are needed to do the handwork. “These investments produce a book that people will treasure, not only for the contents, but also for its beautiful craftsmanship,” said Tom Ives, president/CEO.

“We are one of only a handful of binderies in the US that can offer such a wide spectrum of services,” Ives said. “And, specialty bookbinding is one of the only areas that we have seen growth in lately. While the economy is not very good, the market for people wanting leatherbound gilded books seems to be growing.” The company credits its website and its loyal customers, including book dealers and historical societies, for its boom in business. “We find that our customers are our best salespersons,” Ives said.

New Hampshire Bindery has won numerous local awards over the years, and last year the company won the Product of Excellence Award in the Special Products Category from the Binding Industries Association.

Specialty Finishing Group masters mailing and fulfillment services

Specialty Finishing Group, Elk Grove Village, IL, was founded in the 1920s by a father and son team who represented Spiral of Illinois and JMM Services, respectively. Specialty Finishing Group had generations of expertise in mechanical binding and all of the services that went along with that, so the company’s move toward mailing services in 1994 was a big step. At that time, the company purchased a few inkjet systems; however, changes were coming just around the corner as the Internet exploded in popularity, bringing with it the invention of ebooks and changing the fate of the postal system.

“My father and a friend put me in charge of getting our new mailing venture off the ground, and I will never forget what it was like having all of that technology with no idea how to use it,” said John Mascari, president. He explained that once the digital age started taking a piece of the bindery pie, Specialty Finishing Group made the decision in 2004 to expand its service portfolio to include the remaining lettershop services – data services, more inkjetting, inserting, wafer sealing, labeling, stamp affixing and laser printing.

“By adding mailing services instead of expanding the bindery, we were able to even out our seasonal workload so that our plant would stay busy most of the year, and we would be able to keep revenue flowing even throughout the days of the digitalization of books and manuals,” Mascari said.

In the last six months, Specialty Finishing Group has taken things to another level by offering match mailing, card affixing and read/write services. Mascari said that card affixing has become a new lettershop standard because recipients are more likely to open an envelope or self-mailer if they feel there may be something inside. “So, even if a binder does not want to be a full service lettershop, they can add card affixing equipment to an existing line with a glue system to offer this service to mailers and printers. These lines can do more than direct mail, so there is additional value in them as well,” Mascari said.

Mailing services currently represent 35 percent of Specialty Finishing Group’s revenue. “We feel strongly that our mailing services revenue will surpass our binding revenue by the end of 2013. Our binding business is declining due to book digitalization and international outsourcing, but the mailing business doesn’t have that problem.” He said that many reports indicate that the mailing business market has stabilized from the effects of email and web advertising. Mascari continued, “The other positive is that direct mail cannot be outsourced to other countries like book production can be. Because direct mail has a short production timeline and an in-home window, the print manufacturing has to happen in the US.”

For companies that want to start mailing and fulfillment services, Mascari recommends investing in an inserter and an inkjet system on a mail base. “There are many options available, so binderies should do their homework,” he said. When considering data services, Mascari advised, “Don’t do it! It is costly to find someone to manage it correctly, and the postal liability is huge. Instead, send the data out for USPS sortation and add data services later, if need be.” He said that working with the USPS can be scary, but it doesn’t have to be. “The local post office can assign a local representative so that businesses have someone to go to when starting a project. Use their business service network to get preapproval for postal rates via email.”

Finally, Mascari suggests binderies avoid the “if you offer it, they will use it” mentality. “We thought that we could convert many of our clients to our mailing services right away, but that was not the case,” he said. “Our clients were already using someone they trusted, and other binderies will find that, too, so talk to clients before making an investment.”

A View from Finishing’s Side of the Fence

In recent years, binderies have been venturing outside of the traditional binding arena when looking to expand the services that they are providing. McGraphics, Inc., a custom print finisher and BIA member in Nashville, TN, has been investing in and expanding its bindery services to attract new customers during challenging economic times.

With a slogan of “we finish what you start,” McGraphics has provided custom print finishing since 1986. When it was founded, the company primarily focused on foil stamping, embossing and diecutting, as well as small format letterhead, envelopes and pocket folders. In 2009, McGraphics expanded its bindery services in response to the growing needs of its customers. Today, the company offers up to 40 diecutting and foil stamping, in-house diemaking, folding and gluing, indexing and UV coating services. McGraphics recently added wire-o binding services to its line up in order to fulfill its growing digital printer market.

CEO Tommy McEwen said that bindery services account for 15 percent of McGraphics’ business. “It’s been an investment that has paid off. The equipment has been very affordable, and we’ve generated new customers because of our increased capabilities,” McEwen said. There have been challenges, including turnaround time and competitive pricing.

Despite the challenges, McGraphics, Inc. has pushed forward successfully. The BIA recently recognized the company’s efforts with a Product of Excellence award in 2012 for its Holiday Leftovers self-promotion piece. In 2011, the company received the Trade Finisher of the Year award from the BIA.