Commentary & Analysis
Rapid Digital Press Maps Out Wide-Format Success
With a little research, a clearly defined strategy, and fast, high-quality wide-format printing equipment, Phoenix, Ariz.’s Rapid Digital Press has carved out a successful niche in map and GIS printing applications, and is now poised for growth.
By Richard Romano
Published: December 3, 2014
True to its name, Rapid Digital Press’ growth has been rapid. “We set up the press on the 6th of February , by the 15th we were printing, and by the 28th of February, the very first month we were in business, we were at profit,” said Kenneth Hadfield, founder and CEO of Phoenix, Ariz.’s Rapid Digital Press. “We’ve made money every month we’ve been in business.”
Hadfield began Rapid Digital Press with a single wide-format device—the Reprographic Technology Inc. (RTI) Vortex 4200—a little bit of market research, and no small understanding of the capabilities of the machine and the Memjet printhead technology underpinning it.
Hadfield’s introduction to Memjet was during his two-and-a-half-year stint as global channel manger for Colordyne, a manufacturer of label printing equipment. When his contract with Colordyne was up, Hadfield wanted to continue in the print business, and with the Memjet technology, but in a way that didn’t compete with Colordyne. So he cast about for a compelling market and seized upon wide-format printing. After doing some research, he said, “The premier company that I felt that had evolved the wide-format technology was RTI. They had the most experience with the product in the market, the most units in the market running in production. It was fairly simple to operate and to get into production very quickly.”
The first order of business was to line up a source of quality substrates. “We sought our own line of product, had it tested and had it profiled to the RTI digital press prior to our start,” said Hadfield. “We worked directly with a company here in Scottsdale called AzCoat, and they produce all the products that we print on. We private label them for our use.” Rapid’s Fast Ink Media line comprises a variety of both natural and synthetic papers, as well as some materials adapted from the label printing world, such as BOPP (Bi-Oriented Polypropylene), and other materials such as Tyvek.
After lining up the media and fingerprinting and profiling the press, the next step was to pick a market to go after. “There are myriad people who are in the graphics and display advertising industry here in Phoenix,” he said, “but a small handful that are in the business of AEC [architectural, engineering, and construction] and GIS [geographic information system] printing. We chose to go into that market and the Vortex 4200 made it very easy.”
Rapid was set up as a service bureau or wholesale printer; it prints for other printers or companies that sell printing services but outsource it.
The hallmark of the Vortex is fast output; it’s a 42-inch inkjet printer capable of printing at speeds of up to 12 inches per second, or 9,168 square feet per hour.
“We print faster and finer at an affordable cost,” said Hadfield. “We can offer architects, engineers, contractors, construction firms, land planners, and surveyors our products at a very competitive price and something at a finer quality than they’ve ever seen before.”
Early on, Rapid landed what would become one of its biggest clients—Landiscor, one of the premier mapping and GIS companies in the U.S., based in Phoenix. Landiscor had been producing all of its roll maps using offset, but had been trying—unsuccessfully—to migrate to digital, since they had to print a minimum run of 500 and they were eager to eliminate inventory costs. The company also wanted to offer its own customers some level of customization. “We were able to offer them for the very first time what they say today is superior to an offset press,” said Hadfield. Additionally, he added, “Now they can offer a unique feature to their customer: they can customize their maps to their own company or add GIS overlays specific to the digital images they want. They can order one print, 10 prints, 25, 50, 100, and they can have them all the same day. Now Landiscor goes from being an offset printer having to set up production runs and take a week to 10 days to get the mapping to literally print-on-demand.” Landiscor relaunched its own website to take advantage of this newfound ability, and also realized they can charge a premium for customized maps. “They used to sell their roll prints for $50 to $70—now they’re getting $300 to $350 for the same roll print customized.”
A unique aspect of Rapid’s business strategy is its support of a program called called VetAd. “VetAd is dedicated to the support, mentoring, and empowering veterans in their own business,” said Hadfield. “We take veterans and we train them in display advertising and print, and we set them up in their own business. Both RTI and Memjet have been huge supporters of VetAd.”
As befits the work that Rapid produces, the company had initially mapped out a strategy. “Our plan was, the first three months, fingerprint the press, determine our markets, and get our products in line,” said Hadfield. “The next three months, test the market, see what the price would be, and what we would have to do to compete in those markets.”
No they are poised for the next step: expanding, both in terms of setting up a dealer organization in the Phoenix area, and expanding to different geographies. “We’re already beginning in San Diego in a test market in digital media, and we’re moving into Dallas/Ft. Worth, plan on moving into Northern California—we have an arm starting up in Fresno,” said Hadfield.
Hadfield recognizes that, like any single-pass printing technology, the Memjet printhead has its limitations—it’s not entirely suitable for high-end photographic work—but for the niches that Rapid has pursued, it is an excellent fit. “Very honestly, it gives you an edge over the competition in the market not only by how fast it prints, but the quality that comes out,” he said.
“It takes you to a whole new level.”
Visit our Video section to watch an interview with Kenneth Hadfield, CEO of Rapid Digital Press.