Printing on multiple substrates and offering such cutting-edge technologies as augmented reality and digital printing are helping Lake County Press to thrive in the ever-changing world of print technology. “We had a $10 million capital expenditure in 2007 for two different offset presses,” recalls Peter Douglas, senior vice president and director of sales and marketing. “It was a pretty big capital expenditure.”
The company obtained an eight-color, fully interdecked offset press with ultraviolet curing, a six-color offset press and a die cutter in 2007. “That’s one thing that we’ve been fortunate with Ralph Johnson owning the company,” Douglas declares. “He’s not been afraid to reinvest in the business. That was evidenced in 2007. When things were starting to go into the downturn, we heavily invested. It was a gamble at that time, but it’s paid off.” Ralph Johnson is president and CEO of Lake County Press. His son, Tom Johnson, is executive vice president and COO.
“I’ve been here since 1975,” Tom Johnson says. “When we started out, we were a small, two-color printer in Waukegan, Ill., and we’ve developed to be one of the largest printers of our type in the country. We compete nationwide, and that transition was really a result of my father’s direction and his leadership and growth.”
Such a transition requires more equipment. “We’ve got four different digital presses on two different platforms, which allows us to run different types of jobs with different finishes and substrates,” Douglas explains. “We have digital presses as well as offset presses, which allows us the flexibility to do shorter-run work. We can run on different substrates, on plastic or paperboard up to 36 point. So that allows us a lot of flexibility to produce different pieces.”
Although approximately 25 percent of Lake County Press’ business is higher-end, boutique packaging, Douglas emphasizes that the company is not a packaging printer. “We do high-end, commercial printed pieces,” he says. “A lot of the work we do is one-off, customized type of pieces. It’s not something where we have contract work.”
Having a variety of digital presses gives Lake County Press the ability to meet disparate customer demands. “Digital printing gives us a customized approach to any sort of marketing program,” Douglas says. “We can do some test marketing with specific types of design with variable data content on the package to see what response rates might be and what feedback you might get from a client. We can have regional offerings presented on different project pieces. It gives us a lot of flexibility to be really able to customize the piece to the recipient of the package.”
Lake County Press is evolving with the printing industry to offer additional services. “Our offset offerings have gone from 92 percent of our billing in 2007 to now 60 percent of billing in 2014,” Douglas calculates. “We’ve augmented or replaced that offset business with large-format digital printing, website development and web hosting, as well as fulfillment capabilities that we have and mailing.”
These changes have come about as the printing industry is continuing to evolve. “We all have to reinvent ourselves and find other ways to supplement what we’re doing,” Johnson emphasizes. “We find ourselves going in new directions. This is what clients are demanding now, and we see the industry continuing to change. What we’re doing is we are becoming a communications company and a brand steward for our clients. We do more things for our client now than we ever have been doing.”
The company has four programmers on staff. “We have a full in-house integrated cross-media department that handles all of our website development and writes code and programs,” Douglas says. This allows Lake County Press’ customers to order jobs online using either print-on-demand or web-to-print order fulfillment.
“Our fulfillment operations can drop-ship those out to different areas of the world and/or provide variable data directly to companies,” Douglas points out. “If they want to upload a list to the site, we can output a direct mail card for a particular sales representative to do a direct mail piece to a client base specific to a particular region of the U.S. The imagery and messaging also would be specific to that region. So it’s a truly customized project.”
The goal of Lake County Press is to meet its customers’ every printing and production need. “We’re providing all of the prepress, all the printing – whether digital or offset – the finishing, whether it’s die-cutting, scoring, perforating, folding, stitching or trimming, and then the shipment of the material out to either a fulfillment operation outside of here – if the client has that service – or we provide that service to the client, to ship their packages to the end point designation around the world, and do the website for the same client.”
Lake County Press also is working with its customers on projects utilizing augmented reality. This allows a printed piece to launch a video or secondary message through a web app by holding the piece over a smart phone or tablet. Unlike a QR code – which looks like a square bar code – the marker is built into the printed piece.
“The printed piece itself is scanned in and used as the marker,” Douglas explains. “It could be the cover image or some type on the front depending on what we’re wanting to do with the client. If we have a person on the front cover, that person would pop up in a 3-D figure and start talking and give you more information about the product or give you some secondary information about the company.”
For the future, the company plans to provide grand format digital printing, which can inkjet print on a variety of substrates – such as glass, plastic or wood more than 1-inch thick – and uses ultraviolet curing.
Douglas attributes the company’s success to its entire workforce. “Having been partners with our customers for many years has enabled us to weather this whole process and helped us evolve as a company,” Douglas says. “It’s allowed us to move into different areas and adapt to the different needs that our customers have.”
Those needs may be unexpressed. “We do as much as we can, and oftentimes we solve problems for our customers that they didn’t know they had,” Johnson says. “The industry now has a direction for the first time in a while, and I think companies like ours have a good, solid direction to move down. Now we all have found our legs and are moving down a path that we feel will be productive and prosperous moving forward.”