By Barbara Pellow November 29, 2006 -- A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to talk with Aaron Hale, VP Digital Communications at New Jersey based Premium Color Graphics, Inc. His enthusiasm was contagious because his partnership with Cherry Hill Photo had led him to Santa Claus as a digital print volume building channel partner. Combining photo applications with digital printing's strengths opened the opportunity to work on new and more valuable personalized products for their mall photo services. One of the biggest challenges for growth in the graphic communications industry is expanding distribution into new geographic markets and reaching more prospects and customers. Increasingly, graphic communications firms are discovering that the direct selling channel that they are accustomed to using is an expensive method for this type of expansion. Graphic communications firms that want to extend their reach into new markets quickly and shift a portion of the responsibility are looking at indirect distribution alternatives to accomplish this goal. A good distribution partnership can provide market expansion, growth in revenue and profitability and improved equipment utilization. It will also absorb the fixed cost of sales as well as customer support functions in new markets. Hale found just that kind of volume building channel partner with Cherry Hill Photo. No One Knows Santa Better No one believes in Santa more than Cherry Hill Photo (and now Premium Color Graphics, Inc.). Cherry Hill Photo currently serves over 300 of the finest enclosed regional malls, shopping centers and department stores from coast to coast as well as in Canada. It has been providing mall photo services for over 40 years since its first promotion in 1961. The firm utilizes state-of-the-art photographic equipment and has developed the techniques and systems to ensure a smooth- running, professionally operated and profitable photo promotion. Last year alone, Cherry Hill Photo placed more than 250 naturally bearded Santas in malls and department stores throughout the country. Their Santas have even reached celebrity status, appearing on television programs such as CBS's "48 Hours" and in advertisements around the world. The selection process and intensive training assures that Santas not only look the part, but they become the part. Cherry Hill Photos provides Santas for both mall activities and special events. Premium Color – Leveraging the Photo Opportunity Premium Color Graphics (PCG) was founded over 13 years ago by two pioneers in digital prepress --John Watson and Mark Fitzgerald. They are technology innovators that understand digital workflow. Clients have access to a digitally driven job tracking system so that they can get up-to-the-minute job status. Premium Color Graphics has invested in the latest CTP technology and a full service bindery. It uses Heidelberg and MAN Roland equipment for offset work. The business has had a history of focusing on impeccable color quality. The quality and consistency of color work lead to ISO Certification. Earlier this year, Premium Color Graphics invested in a NexPress 2100 to complement its existing production portfolio. The objective of the acquisition was to help advertising agencies, design firms and corporate marketers reach out to their clients and prospects on a more personal level. The digital press gives PCG greater flexibility and faster turnaround capabilities on short-run projects. "We now have the high quality of a press combined with the speed and flexibility of a digital system, allowing our customers to consider a wider range of options to meet their business challenges," Hale said. Images can be used on playing cards, coffee mugs, ornaments, tote bags, puzzles, clothing and even personalized greeting cards. According to Hale, Cherry Hill Photo is proving to be a terrific partner in evolving new options and alternatives for effectively utilizing the NexPress. "Combining photo applications with digital printing's strengths in areas such as very short run printing, perfected output and sharp text and graphics opened the opportunity to work with Cherry Hill Photo on new and more valuable personalized products for their mall photo services." The key value proposition for Cherry Hill Photo was an expansion in the merchandising opportunity for the Santa images. Photo merchandise, ranging from calendars and photo books to greeting cards and novelty items, is an important growth segment for the imaging industry. This fast-growing market has been fueled by the explosion of digital photos, digital printing technologies, and e-commerce. Parents with Santa photos of children are continually looking for new photo products and gifts that express their personality and provide utility beyond a typical 4" x 6" print. After mom and dad have had their son's or daughter's photo taken on Santa's lap, they get a selection of photos to purchase. They can purchase a CD which has a link into the web site Parents can transform the images into any number of products, including playing cards, coffee mugs, ornaments, tote bags, puzzles, T-shirts and sweatshirts. If users want personalized greeting cards, they can select the photo images from the CD and merge them with any one of a number of templates, as well as insert a very personalized message. Pick your product! Images can be placed on mugs and other items. The Spirit of the Season The Cherry Hill Photo and Premium Color Graphics partnership has learned that Santa distributes more than toys during the holiday season. Through effective use of captured photographic images and the Internet, these firms have teamed up to move product information, specifications, and selection of Santa images directly to the end customer. While Cherry Hill opened the retail market across the U.S. to Premium Color Graphics, the Internet is providing a means for serving a large number of customers for follow-on merchandise sales for both organizations. This creative approach to the holiday market has increased value for the end customers through creative gift giving ideas; opened new revenue opportunities for both Premium Color and Cherry Hill Photo; and accomplished all of this cost effectively. While some are reluctant to focus on holiday merchandising because they consider the market as too cyclical, Premium Color Graphics is thankful that there is a Santa Claus. And they also realize that Easter is just around the corner.