Having spent more than 35 years in the printing industry, Hal Hinderliter has experienced the ups and downs of an industry forced to evolve rapidly with the advent of the digital era. As such, Hinderliter – Owner of Hal Hinderliter Consulting Services, Milwaukee, Wisconsin – has developed an expertise in digital prepress, market research, variable data and workflow management. His company focuses on providing consulting and custom training programs that enable clients to understand and utilize the newest technologies while improving product quality and increasing profits.
What drew you to the printing industry as a career?
I got my first job when I was 13 years old, working as a photojournalist for my hometown weekly newspaper. I was immediately fascinated by the process that turned my photographic prints into those big half-tone dots. I wanted to learn more, which led me to take a graphic arts class during my junior year of high school. I was immediately hooked, and the rest is history!
What important changes have you witnessed in the industry over the last few years?
These days it’s all about the newest technology. When I first started in print, we were all craftsmen. We worked with our hands, using X-ACTO knives and Rapidograph pens. There wasn’t a computer in sight.
Today, the use of computers and lasers and servo motors means that our customers get higher quality results, delivered faster and more cost-effectively than we ever could have imagined. The most influential of these changes may have been computer-to-plate technology, but even that accomplishment is being swept aside by a new generation of faster and larger digital print engines. These production enhancements have been accompanied by tremendous advances in communication, including PDF workflows, web-to-print portals and internet-connected hardware diagnostics.
What is “Print that performs”?
The internet, personal computers and mobile phones are a powerful combination when it comes to disseminating information. If the only value of a printed project is in its ability to distribute words and numbers, then it will soon be replaced by electronic media – if it hasn’t already. “Print that performs” is capable of more. It motivates people to buy, it enhances brand loyalty, it provides a method to transport a product, or it adds value in some other way. Those forms of print are more resistant to electronic replacement and will provide a more sustainable future for printers and finishers. Beyond the obvious utility of printed packaging, many of my favorite examples of “print that performs” come from the marketing department: pop-up 3D diecut mailers, ornate foiled brochures and luxurious magazines with UV-coated, soft-touch covers. In other cases, though, getting print to perform includes the use of variable data authoring tools to deliver only the content that is relevant to each recipient. Projects that are successful performers will be functional in some useful way, not merely informative.
How can printers diversify into other areas?
It really starts with sales and estimating. Shops that find themselves cutting margins to the bone in order to win those long-run, 4-over-4 jobs will eventually find that no profits means no reinvestment in improved technology, rendering them uncompetitive. Finding ways to please customers who want higher-margin projects means moving away from a “churn and burn” low-bid approach. Offering (or partnering with shops that can provide) value-added finishing and special effects will lead to the production of more functional print jobs, ones that can perform a useful service not easily replicated on a cellphone screen. Dimensional coatings, security inks (with taggants), rust-resistant stainless steel stitch wire, water-resistant synthetic substrates – the list of possibilities is practically endless, and many print buyers will be unaware of what is available unless you show them these options.
What will be the biggest challenges faced by those in the printing industry in the next few years?
Changing our mindsets! After so many decades of expecting that helpless customers will seek out our expertise in print reproduction, we’ve got to become proactive in finding and promoting a new expertise that’s focused not on a specific reproduction method, but on solving our clients’ needs. This trend can be a little hard to spot, because commercial printers who decide to target a specific audience often create a spin-off company under a new name. This allows them to tout their success with educational, healthcare, governmental or other specialized applications without being burdened by the “printshop” moniker.
How will HHCS continue to advocate and provide services for those individuals?
My consulting practice often includes assisting printers in rethinking their approach to the market, as well as the selection and implementation of new technologies and practices. It’s generally difficult for companies to look beyond incremental changes to their existing business methods; bringing in an outside consultant can enable the examination of entrenched procedures and illuminate new paths to profitability.
What trends do you see for the industry in the next few years?
The printers and finishers who will survive and thrive are those who will take a more vertical approach to the marketplace. Instead of offering a loosely defined set of services to all comers, vertical shops will look for opportunities where their capabilities and experience can provide turnkey solutions to complex business problems. Then, they’ll seek out customers who can benefit from these specialized solutions and offer themselves as a strategic partner.
How will HHCS continue to serve and influence the industry?
I’m developing courseware and educational curriculum that I hope will have a lasting and positive influence on the graphic arts, and I continue to enjoy my involvement with the OUTLOOK conference at GRAPH EXPO, as well as the MUST SEE ‘EMS awards. Of course, I also remain available to companies that may need some outside advice on their operations.