Commentary & Analysis
The Secret to Success: Digital Lizard sees 500% revenue growth
Digital Lizard of Las Vegas reports an astounding 500% growth from 2011 to 2014. Senior Editor Cary Sherburne speaks with Digital Lizard President Bill Wieners to find out how this growth was achieved and what his expectations are for the future in this article sponsored by HP.
By Cary Sherburne
Published: October 27, 2015
In August of 2011, Digital Lizard, an innovative provider of data-oriented digital printing and marketing services and one of the most advanced digital printing facilities in the United States, was acquired by Las Vegas based Creel Printing. The company has now embarked on a multimillion-dollar expansion project that will double its printing capacity and extend services with a state-of-the-art fulfillment operation. Digital Lizard also operates a production facility in Hayden, Idaho.
New services include comprehensive data/asset utilization, inventory management, intelligent mailing, and other value-driving services. The company is also bringing foil stamping capabilities in-house — providing for unique finishing to catalogs, booklets, manuals, direct mail, and other client projects.
Digital Lizard has a robust digital production platform that includes seven HP Indigo 7000 series presses, 2 HP Indigo 5000 series presses, and two HP Indigo WS7250 digital web presses. The most recent additions are two HP Indigo 7800s in its Hayden, Idaho plant, and two HP Indigo WS7250’s in its Las Vegas plant.
“We acquired the web presses to support a key customer, a large provider of photo specialty products,” explains Bill Wieners, Digital Lizard’s founder and President. “They were looking for a more efficient and cost-effective means of producing one of their most popular items, a 12” calendar. The Indigo web presses offered the perfect solution. While we considered producing them on our dry toner digital presses, we felt there would be a compromise in quality that would not be acceptable to the customer, who was accustomed to HP Indigo quality.”
In addition to photo products, Digital Lizard also produces a significant volume of direct mail for Las Vegas casinos and other businesses. Wieners says, “We have become extremely efficient in the production of high volume direct mail which has allowed us to capture about 50% market share for casino direct mail. Any direct mail projects in excess of 7,500 pieces are produced on the WS7250s at a speed of 4,000 feet per hour, which is more than double the speed of our HP Indigo 7000 series presses. The other aspect of the efficiency is that with 55,000 feet of 100 lb. text to a roll, you can produce 65,000 8.5x11” bi-fold mailers without having to change paper. In effect, we have one operator running the equivalent of three sheetfed presses with no paper changes. And our nearline finishing from Hunkeler handles output from our two Indigo WS7250s with capacity to spare. We have 8.5x5.5” piles coming right out of the stacker in mail tray order with an employee picking up mail and putting it in trays. It all adds up to blazingly fast production speeds. Unless we need to due to form factor, we won’t buy another sheetfed press in our Las Vegas plant because the roll-fed efficiencies are so incredible.”
Another application that is ideal for the HP Indigo WS7250s is a real estate flyer project. A hundred flyers are distributed to 13,000 people each month; half receive variable flyers produced on the WS7250s and the other half receive static flyers produced at Creel on web offset presses. “With the Indigo presses,” Wieners adds, “the flyers come out in 100-piece stacks so there is no need to sort, finish or collate them. They are ready to distribute”
And the installation was flawless. Wieners states, “We signed off on the installation of our first Indigo WS7250 on a Friday afternoon. By Monday midday, we had 1.8 million impressions on the new press. By its first anniversary, we had 83 million impressions on it!” Wieners explains that about 90% of the work produced on the WS7250s uses EPM mode (CMY process printing) which further improves productivity with a quality that satisfies customers.
The applications Digital Lizard is producing in its Idaho plant are different and more amenable to a sheetfed environment. “That’s why it made sense to add two more HP Indigo 7800s there, replacing two Indigo 5500s and significantly increasing our capacity,” Wieners says. The Idaho plant serves more than 6,000 independent graphic designers producing high-end marketing materials as well as invitations and announcements for life events such as weddings, showers, birthdays and graduations. “We process a couple thousand orders per month,” Wieners adds. “And we literally use 55 different paper stocks every day. That would obviously not be manageable on a web press.”
Digital Lizard serves this market with high quality and fast turnaround. “We are able to serve the Pacific Northwest with same day shipping,” Wieners says. “But surprisingly, about 25% of our on-demand business actually comes from the East Coast. Because of the time difference, if a project is in by 10:30 AM our time, we can produce it and ship it out same day. Most East Coast printers won’t take same-day orders after noon. That works to our benefit. We are producing lots of presentation packages for East Coast customers.”
The Indigo 7800s also have white ink capability which Digital Lizard uses to produce window clings and other materials on transparent media. “We had white ink before,” Wieners explains, “but with the 7800, the quality and ease of use is significantly improved.”
The company also uses HP’s Direct2Finish solution with its sheetfed presses to speed up cycle time. Wieners says, “Direct2Finish delivers set-up and operational instructions to the bindery automatically, via JDF, from the HP SmartStream Production Pro print server. The operator follows 2 simple steps:
- Scan the barcode on the banner sheet
- Follow simple operational instructions
“It makes the bindery operation extremely efficient and helps reduce costly errors in finishing.”
Wieners also takes advantage of SmartStream Designer and SmartStream Composer in a highly efficient prepress workflow, as well as the SmartStream scheduling module. “The Holy Grail in digital is to be able to schedule your plant like an offset plant does,” he says. “And SmartStream allows us to do this. A huge advantage for us, since we run so many different stocks in our Idaho plant, is the ability to quickly and easily gang jobs on like stock for a much more efficient production operation.”
So what does all this efficiency add up to for Digital Lizard? “Amazing growth,” says Wieners. “When Creel purchased us in 2011, we were a $4 million company, and we just crossed the $20 million mark this year. That’s 500% growth, and we don’t see it stopping!” One of the biggest contributors to that growth, according to Wieners, is the ability to leverage hybrid production capabilities with Creel’s web offset presses and the WS7250s. He cites three national magazines as an example, one in financial services and two in real estate. “The real estate magazines have a distribution of 150,000 with personalized covers,” he explains. “Creel produces the magazine interior, we produce the covers, and they are married during the binding process at Creel. We also do the data analysis and mail sorting at Digital Lizard.”
In another hybrid application, Creel produces a run of a half million catalogs for a high tech company, a three-month supply, which Digital Lizard places in inventory in its warehouse. At the time of mailing, Digital Lizard produces a variable component that is mailed with the catalog. “This company wanted to include the variable component in the campaign,” Wieners explains, “but felt it couldn’t be done if the entire thing had to be printed digitally – it would be cost prohibitive. By using our hybrid manufacturing techniques, they are able to personalize the mailing and we are saving them tens of thousands of dollars. This is a model we will continue to pursue, and the ability of our WS7250s to match up with Creel’s web offset presses to produce these kinds of innovative applications is, we believe, pretty unique in the industry.”
This just scratches the surface of what Creel and Digital Lizard are delivering for their customers. “The future is bright,” Wieners concludes, “and we are having a lot of fun. Our relationship with HP, and the excellent customer service we receive, is an important foundational element that has enabled us to get to this point, and to continue our growth into the future.”