How retail accounts can create long-term relationships and new directions for print providers.
For this past October, a refresh was planned to give the store a new look, and promote sportswear for the fall/winter season. “There are a lot of parts and pieces to the campaigns we work on, and a lot of the time they are very different,” notes Mockley. “All of these campaigns are specific to retail product rollouts.”
Of course, it can take a while for the print provider to be entrusted with so much work. With Columbia Sportswear, as is often the case with large accounts, the proving ground is typically small orders for a limited number of printed signs, P-O-P, or graphics. If the company delivers, and client confidence builds, projects grow larger and a more long-term working relationship develops.
Those relationships can transform a print shop’s prospects. “Retail is by far our largest source of business,” notes Gross. He estimates that two-thirds of Infinity’s print production is for retail. The balance is in one-of-a-kind projects and exhibit work for museums and educational institutions.
Rooted in mapping
Despite its importance today, however, retail was not one of the targets when Gross started up the venture that would become Infinity Images. The company began as the digital printing department of an engineering-services firm specializing in aerial mapping, creating large-scale topographic maps from stereographic photography. It had its own photo lab, and Gross added high-res digital photo printing with a Cymbolic Sciences’ LightJet in the 1990s.
Initially, he focused on two specialty niches: exhibit graphics and design agencies. “Both had a need for small quantities and high quality in larger sizes,” he recalls.
Demand slowly grew and the business eventually evolved into a standalone-company. By 2000, Infinity had three employees, its own location, and was beginning to gain a reputation in the Portland area for wide-format digital print work. Satisfied customers referred others to the company. Gross produced some signage for NBA’s Portland Trailblazers as well as small retail and restaurant chains in the Northwest. “Then we began to do some sign work for Adidas and some small work from Nike, which later blossomed into much more.”
Infinity Images blossomed, too. By 2002, business had reached the juncture where demand for large-format services outpaced the production capacity of the LightJet. Gross made the first of several strategic re-investments in the company, upgrading print technology to increase production and expand capabilities. A Durst Lambda was brought in, followed by the addition of Seiko and NovaJet wide-format inkjet printers, then another Lambda. In 2006, Infinity added an EFI Vutek PressVU UV flatbed plus the company’s first Zund digital cutting table.
Today, Infinity’s equipment lineup includes EFI Vutek QS3220 and QS2000 flatbeds, two Lambdas, and a Fotoba cutting system for roll media. The shop recently added a Zund GL3000 10 x 10 cutting table and a Durst Rho 1000 flatbed/rollfed grand-format printer with a precision feed table and auto stacker.
These investments have reaped big payoffs. Over the years, Infinity has relocated and now operates from its own 25,000-square-foot facility as well as a 10,000-square-foot annex. The staff includes 44 full-timers in production, sales, and administration. Some accounts, like Columbia Sportswear, represent so much business they command their own dedicated production manager.
A fundamental change
In part, Gross attributes his company’s success and growth to “making prudent investments in technology and buying things that will get used enough they will pay for themselves.”
The combination of speed, quality, and total production capability of the shop’s machines has the company well positioned to provide its clients whatever they require, even on the tightest turnarounds. “You have to be able to respond to what the client wants in the short term – and that’s increasingly an issue when working with clients whose graphic needs are evolving all the way to deadline,” says Gross.
But, meeting one challenge only breeds others. “When you go from producing 10 pieces to hundreds, it fundamentally changes how a company operates,” Gross continues. “You can’t always anticipate the degree of change it requires in how things get organized as they move through the shop, and how you do your workflow so you touch things as few times as possible.”
For companies like Infinity Images, who have a commitment and track record to grow and re-invest in clients’ evolving needs, the future can hold endless opportunities.