Commentary & Analysis
Allowing Clients to Be Creative
By Barbara Pellow "
By WhatTheyThink Staff
Published: November 8, 2004
By Barbara Pellow "We fulfill hundreds of ads to publications all over the world every day. We serve very large retail chains like Burberry, Polo, Calvin Klein, and Chanel. We are a true full-service facility, all under one roof." November 8, 2004 -- A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to interview Mark Wenger, President, of 291 Digital, located in downtown Manhattan. The company occupies more than 100,000 square feet of production space and serves 2,500 clients. Employing 160 people, 291 Digital operates 24 hours a day to meet the needs of the high-end retail and advertising community in the New York City market. 291 Digital's portfolio of offerings includes everything from sheet-fed printing to very high-end Madison Avenue-type retouching. According to Wenger, "We fulfill hundreds of ads to publications all over the world every day. We serve very large retail chains like Burberry, Polo, Calvin Klein, and Chanel. We are a true full-service facility, all under one roof." 291 Digital is focused on growth opportunities in areas such as digital asset management and file storage, large format printing, digital ad delivery, print management, variable data and short run digital printing, and Web site management and design. Wenger indicates that 291 Digital prides itself on being able to handle any project from inception to execution. He also describes his business as vertically integrated, and when you visit his facility you can see why. One floor in the facility is dedicated to medium- and large-format for an array of signage applications. There are five conventional darkrooms used to print with enlargers. There is a very large mural room with a 24-foot wall to meet the needs of agencies and retailers in the production of hanging signage. The ground floor level contains four sheet-fed Heidelbergs, three six-color and one two-color. Another floor is dedicated to digital color print-on-demand operations. And the fourth floor, which is what Wenger categorizes as the epicenter, is where all page work, retouching and file prep for output is manufactured. According to Wenger, "All files travel vertically through our building. For our digital asset management system, where we manage thousands and thousands of images for clients such as Polo, Nikon and Merck Pharmaceutical, we use a customized version of Web Native. All of our tracking is done through a very customized version of File Maker. We have a limited-service bindery and a very large mounting department, where we mount just about anything on anything. We're direct-to-plate with Creo. We have two Spectrums, for digital match prints. We have an XP4 and an XP2 Kodak Approval. Given both our technology and our facility, we describe ourselves as being a full service, vertically integrated operation." Large Format…A Key Ingredient Like other digital print operations, 291 Digital has discovered that large-format, digital inkjet graphics are a bright spot in the market for serving retailers and advertisers. Like other digital print operations, 291 Digital has discovered that large-format, digital inkjet graphics are a bright spot in the market for serving retailers and advertisers. Printers getting involved in large format find themselves able to broaden their businesses and serve the needs of a diverse customer base. 291 Digital is not alone in recognizing this market opportunity. According to TrendWatch Graphic Arts' Printing Historical Database, the percentage of printers and trade shops that plan to invest in large-format printing equipment has been on a steady rise over the last six years. While proofing, signage, and trade show graphics are among the most well-known applications, other large-format applications include floor graphics, fine art prints, legal/courtroom graphics, vehicle and building graphics and wraps, and even giant books. According to Wenger, "The reason we decided to begin investing in medium- and large-format inkjet technology was the desire for this company to be full service. We wanted to offer our agency and retail clients a full scope of products to supplement their creativity." The large format applications that Digital 291 encounters are limitless. According to Wenger, "As major corporations try to enhance brand identity in the market, big images become an essential ingredient to the marketing mix." A client will take over the entire Penn Station for three days and utilize everything from hanging banners, to floor graphics, two- and three-sheet posters, to backlit displays. A recent project included signage for a large international cosmetics company. 291 Digital provided imagery for the cafeteria and employee areas of its world headquarters in New York. With any type of cosmetics clientele, color accuracy, color fidelity and resolution are critical, and 291 Digital met those requirements, producing over 1,600 square feet of graphics applied directly to a wall. Wenger also explained, "Major financial institutions in New York City are using out-of-home advertising that they are calling station blitzes or domination campaigns. A client will take over the entire Penn Station for three days and utilize everything from hanging banners, to floor graphics, two- and three-sheet posters, to backlit displays. They will dominate the station with that campaign for a few days. Using our Encad technology, we have gotten the real upper hand in getting a lot of these jobs because we can print on all the substrates necessary for one of these campaigns." When an individual buys a shirt, the clerk is asking if it would be acceptable to take the customer's picture with a digital camera. Then if corduroy slacks go on sale that are coordinated with the shirt, they combine the past purchase image of the shirt and the individual to entice the buyer to also acquire the slacks. The rate of mail opened goes up by 3:1 Another key segment being addressed by 291 Digital is tradeshow graphics. The ability as a full service provider is critical in meeting the needs of this marketspace. Wenger said, "The tradeshow exhibit market took a serious plunge after 9/11, but is coming back strong. Our full-service capability plays an important role here. Because of our technology mix, we provide everything from personalized direct mail postcards announcing the show to handouts and large format graphics." When asked about future market growth with large format, Wenger commented, "I think the largest growth opportunity for medium- and large-format inkjet printing is the high end retail market. The future prospects for my firm are good using inkjet technology to address the retail market space. There is not a retail window you walk past these days without a graphic in it, and as competition increases the retailer will want the highest quality, most creative window. That means more opportunity for large format prints." Digital Asset Management 291 Digital's Web Native system allows 24-hour access to the client's digital images over secure Web connections, from anywhere in the world. The process is simple, fast and secure. Customers can browse 291 Digital's server for their archived files, download images for layout or retouching and upload finished documents for output. Wenger said, "For our large clients, there are thousands of images to be archived and catalogued, and asset management is essential for moving forward with large retailers and advertising agencies." Variable Data is Part of the Mix Working with the client from concept through production is critical. It is all about allowing the client to be creative and bring new products and concepts to the market more quickly. Digital 291 further augments its product mix with full color variable data on-demand printing. Wegner indicated, "It is an ideal complement to all of the event work that we do. If we are doing signage for a sales meeting, we can produce the handouts and variable data information for the sales personnel. We can incorporate full color graphs and charts that indicate the sales rep's individual progress in the market. We are also seeing digital color variable data interest in the retail market. One major retailer is evaluating a project blending digital photography with variable data. When an individual buys a shirt, the clerk is asking if it would be acceptable to take the customer's picture with a digital camera. Then if corduroy slacks go on sale that are coordinated with the shirt, they combine the past purchase image of the shirt and the individual to entice the buyer to also acquire the slacks. The rate of mail opened goes up by 3:1 It's All About Creativity Today, the investment in technology is yielding results for 291 Digital. Its broad technology infrastructure means that retailers and advertisers can try new techniques and marketing programs to accelerate time to market and increase awareness. The focus on digital asset management ensures brand integrity on a global basis. 291 Digital's full service offering provides the ability to maximize share of customer. According to Wenger, he is experiencing double digital revenue growth in the tough, competitive New York City market. When asked why he feels that 291 Digital is successful, Wenger said, "As things get more digital, working with the client from concept through production is critical. It is all about allowing the client to be creative and bring new products and concepts to the market more quickly. We have made the right infrastructure investments to do that."