Think You Know Mitchell's Speedway Press? It’s Time to Take Another Look
From Inprint [Impress] Magazine 10/15
In the past 15 years, the company has expanded from traditional offset printing to complete in-house direct mail services, including variable-data printing, and even developed a presence in the auto racing industry, successfully transitioning to digital printing in the process. “With each advancement, fulfilling customer needs was first and foremost, but it had to be done in a way that offered our customers faster turnaround and fair pricing, while meeting current quality expectations, all while still making sense from a growth standpoint,” says president and CEO John Henry.
Such was the case with Mitchell’s latest venture: large-format signage. “We had started to see a call for large format that wasn’t being met in a timely manner,” notes Henry. “A lot of the area sign shops were using hand-cutting methods and older vinyl-cutting machines that didn’t produce the best quality, either. We’d always stayed away from the signage business completely. We print at a high quality level with high color standards, no matter what the process. Our customers expect a very good-looking job with accurate color matches and no gradient banding. If we were to hand them a sign that didn’t measure up to what we print with the other processes, they wouldn’t accept it from us, and that could negatively impact our image and relationship with them.”
From its beginning as an offset and letterpress printer of business forms, events programs, and marketing materials, however, Mitchell’s has sought to differentiate itself through a total-quality commitment that encompasses service as well as output. Fulfilling this mission has led the company successfully into a variety of new growth opportunities.
In 2001, it introduced comprehensive direct mail services, from design to printing and database management, which has attracted clients ranging from major medical facilities to political campaigns. In 2009, the company merged with Speedway Press, the nation’s oldest racing program printer, opening further new applications creating, printing, and selling weekday and race-day programs, schedules, drivers’ cards, and more. Business extends from racetracks throughout the region into Canada, as well as for IndyCar, NASCAR, and other racing teams.In keeping with this service-oriented growth model and openness to new products and technologies,
Henry decided to take another look at wide-format printing options toward the end of 2013. He was intrigued by what he saw, particularly the Mimaki line. “Not only were there printers that I thought could meet my color requirements, but the whole process had become more automated, without all the handwork, which we weren’t willing to get into,” he says. Henry’s findings encouraged him to get a more precise read on the market.
When an in-house study indicated that 90 to 95 percent of Mitchell’s customers were currently buying signage (“but not from us”), he began researching the equipment in depth. “I looked at every manufacturer and then started whittling down the field to what would best suit my needs,” he explains. Having been digital for about 10 years, Mitchell’s had developed a very efficient prepress workflow for its offset and digital cut-sheet printing. “So when we went looking for large-format capabilities, we wanted something that fit with our workflow and worked with our Hot Folders,” says Henry.
He sought input from members of the National Print Owners Association doing this type of work, and identified the major players in the market at his level. After researching the manufacturers and their distributors and their track records, he began talking to dealers and users. “Part of what went into the decision was price,” says Henry. “Part of it was capabilities. A lot of it was the quality that the machine put out. I was looking for ease of use for my people who would be using it; and that related to both the printer and the training that was available.” When we fond all that we invested and expanded the results; our customers love the new products we can do for them.
Mimaki’s long history as an innovator in large-format digital printing was a significant factor in the purchasing decision, as was the availability of proven cut-and-print technology. “Because we were just starting out in this area, we opted to buy a printer/ cutter rather than two separate pieces of equipment,” Henry notes. “We didn’t have a large budget and wanted to get the most capabilities we possibly could for our investment. We looked for ways to automate as much as we can, but still achieve the quality and craftsmanship we want.”
He chose to go with an ink configuration that included silver and white, as well as CMYK with light magenta and light cyan. “We basically opted for heightened and expanded color fidelity over the speed that could be gained with a two-CMYK setup,” Henry explains. “We felt it would enhance what we could offer to higher-end graphic customers and that could potentially be of greater benefit to us while we were building this part of our business.” Mitchell’s uses only ecosolvent ink. “We didn’t want solvent smells in the building, and I didn’t want to have to worry about venting,” says Henry. “I was also concerned about possible clogging with solvents if they weren’t put away properly. With the ES3 inks, we’ve had no problems on either front; in fact, unlike with older inks, we can also print and laminate the same day.”
The printer was installed in a single day by the distributor along with a Mimaki representative, leaving Henry and two designers with two-and-a-half days for training. “The learning curve was very short because of our graphics background,” says Henry. “We were already handling high-quality files and images and using Adobe Creative Suite, so it was an easy transition to working with digital files for large format. It mostly involved learning about sizes and resolutions, as well as the prep settings and how to use them for centering, putting in cut lines, setting up multiples by nesting, etc. A lot of the time we spent on the digital end was in learning the RIP.
The training went quickly. Within half a day, we were ready to take on our first job; and within a few short weeks, we didn’t have any questions at all on RIP settings. We were glad, however, for the support we had in learning about things like best practices for cutting, printing, and mounting, with which we had no experience. And, it’s great to know help is available if we need it.”
Since the addition of the 64 inch printer in February 2014, Mitchell’s wide-format business has continued to grow. Besides indoor and outdoor banners and signage, Mitchell’s prints posters, decals, and “splash” graphics (small-area car wraps/minor detailing) for on-ground installation on race car doors, trunks, windows, etc. It also sometimes finds printing smaller runs of contour-cut labels on the Mimaki printer to be more cost-effective than on a cut-sheet press.
Overall, the typical run size is five to 10 pieces, although the company has printed 100 posters (28 by 48 inches) on the unit. Mitchell’s predominantly uses the unit to print vinyl, but it also has been used to print on scrim and optically clear laminates as well as backlit material, Coroplast, PVC, and even sheets of aluminum. Materials are generally 54 to 64 inches wide, and the only limit on the length is how quickly the print is needed, says Henry. “We’ve done a 48-inch, two-sided banner that was 33 feet long to stretch across a road. They told us it would be hard to do and get lined up front to back, but on our Mimaki, we did it on the first try.” he notes.
The Mimaki machine’s capabilities plus some creativity and planning have helped Mitchell’s carry forward its emphasis on personalized, professional service in a variety of ways. It uses unattended operation and smart scheduling to meet tight deadlines for on-demand printing and the on-time delivery that is central to the company’s mission.
The printer has also enabled options that were previously impossible to do in-house. For example, Mitchell’s printed full-color signage on for a major area aluminum plant. It also used the CJV30 model to print 48 by 46-inch emergency evacuation banners for the local US Coast Guard office on scrim with a dry-erase cold laminate on top to make updating routes quick and easy using markers.
“We’ve seen an increase in sales because of large format, and so far it’s all come from our existing client base,” says Henry. “We haven’t even marketed to new customers; and when we do, we’ll be able to offer an even wider range of products.” And while the new venture has added sales, it hasn’t required adding staff; it has simply improved the sales-per-employee ratios.
“The word is spreading, and we’re starting to pick up large-format work from digital cut-sheet and offset customers in industries like racing who have been using other vendors for their large-format work,” Henry says. “We’re not getting all of that business yet, but we’re working on it!”
Call or email us 315-343-3531 John@speedwaypress.com