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Willie Brennan: Why Not be a Transformed Print Company

Published on April 3, 2012

Founder of Custom Print Now Solutions Willie Brennan adapts the company into a full service custom print facility

Willie Brennan with Custom Print Now Solutions; started the company in 2004.  However, we incubated in another company two years prior to that.  My background is over 30 years, I don’t know the exact amount anymore because I cut keeping track, nor do I want to really know, but over 30 years of printing, commercial, publication, direct mail, full service, design, typeset print, binding, mail for—and a commercial sales rep for a long time until the internet came and that was in the early 90s and when that happened I saw an opportunity to offer my clients the ability to move their data or move their content onto the web and why not be the company being the printer to transform that same data that we put in print, brochures, direct mail, magazines and so forth and move it onto the web?

So we were probably the first printer in the whole Washington metropolitan area in the early 90s to be able to do that.  We had a good head start because right before that the industry changed because of desktop publishing.  So we used to be the design, typeset, print, bind, mailer for the association, publisher, company to do their commercial and publication print and all of the sudden desktop comes on the market, but before that when we did a project meaning design typeset before we print we went back and forth with galleys and page proofs and it could take three to four weeks to do a four to eight page newsletter only because the customer kept making all these changes because they wanted perfection.  All the sudden desktop comes on and they give us this file and they think that it’s ready to go and it was anything but ready to go.  So we saw an opportunity.  Sales reps, all they cared about was taking that disk, throwing it in a prepress or customer service and running. 

Anyway, we saw an opportunity and we created a seminar series title “The Seven Deadly Sins of Electronic Publishing” and what we learned was that just because a new technology came into market and at the time Quark Express was like the number one, they never took the time to learn how to use it and it was complicated and it was clunky and even, I understand, still to this day maybe you know 20 years later that file still doesn’t come in correctly.  So what I learned there was technology, people don’t like technology.  

I bring that in because it’s still the same today when you talk about web to print or variable data or cross media.  It’s technology and people do not like technology.  So we capitalized on that by seminars, education, a lot of things people don’t talk about today, providing value in addition to just being your printer and so forth.  

A few years later—so we were doing internet websites from the very beginning, brochure ware, transactional; as a matter of fact, some of the sites we built in the late 90s are still active today because they were very simple, easy to use.  There was no technology involved, but there was technology, but the user didn’t know that it was technology and that’s what we incorporate today when we build a web to print system.  So a few things happened, our company was bought by Graphic Industries.  We were a local 15 million dollar commercial print plant.  We were bought by Graphic Industries, which was bought by Wallace, which is now bought by O’Donnelly [ph] and they introduced me to web to print and when I saw that I went oh my God, that is the next major game changer.  First it was the internet and providing new value add, new cross marketing tools back in the early 90s.  Web to print comes on.  I go well there is another annuity.  Once I set up a system I'm going to have an annuity.  I'm going to solve problems for my customer and I'm going to in turn as a print service provider create an annuity, a kind of beautiful thing, right?

And then one thing led to another, got out of the printing industry for a little while because with the Wallace buyout there was a lot of change and so forth.  It was great when it was Graphic Industries.  It wasn’t so great when it was Wallace because they wanted to do things their way.  We had $500,000 accounts that weren’t big enough for them that I wanted to offer web to print services to, so anyway, got out.  Got into the technology industry and if I thought that the printing industry was in a state of flux I saw that the technology industry with like database software and so forth, I went well maybe the printing industry isn’t so bad after all.  

So but I did learn some things there that were what I use in my business today and how we sell, how we go to market, who do we offer our services to, but to make a long story short we started our own web to print.  We started off using some of the software programs that were supposed to do everything that they said they’re going to, but they didn’t and our customers had—and presenting this to the marketplace our customers had different ideas about that and how they thought that it should work.  So we tried some of the software, put it out there and unfortunately it didn’t work and I said well what will work, what is it that you’re looking for and what she was looking for was a very simple, dumb-downed, user interface in order to have her affiliate base customize and have distributed customized marketing materials.  So we went custom and never went back.

However, we have backfilled with some different software programs, APIs or widgets or builders of good solid technology into our custom user interfaces and portals and as a result of that we’ve grown every year.  We’ve made the Fortune 500, 5,000 list in 2011 for tripling our growth over a three year period, so that’s a good thing.  So we’re doing something right.  We got busy from early on and we wound up getting a lot of business from word of mouth and from other printers, agencies, print brokers or sales reps that just had a relationship with a client who had a need and as a result of that and if I hadn’t have actually gone out into the technology world and saw that they were using all these different methodologies for how to get you know acquire customers through you sales channels where you might have hundreds of sales reps, but maybe only 10 are experts.  Well that’s the model we’re using, so you go.  We work with people that have relationships.  They bring the opportunity.  We come in and present, propose and close the solution and then implement it.

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