I always love heading down OH-42 en route to Dayton to visit the folks at Think Patented. The short hour and a half trip from my home in Delaware, Ohio is always worth it. Chairman Niels Winther and CEO Ken McNerney are long time friends of WhatTheyThink and are always fun to visit and get a good perspective of what is happening with today's successful progressive printer.

Last week I was invited down by Niels to attend a special open house event they were holding. When I arrived the parking lot around the facility was packed so I had to park across the street in some overflow parking they had designated. It seemed right away this event would be pretty exciting see good attendance.

At first glance this was a pretty typical open house event: Goodie bags greeted us in the lobby, the facility was sparkling clean, staff was at the ready to speak with visitors. A deeper look hinted at the fact that this event was a bit different than the standard open house. I haven't had opportunity to be at very many, but I can't imagine they could be organized and executed better.

A great map was provided that visually gave the layout of the plant along with locations of great food and drink provided entirely by other local small businesses. This was a nice touch. There was everything from catered food, to a coffee/smoothie bar, to awesome "TP" cupcakes. The map also provided information on special scheduled presentations on different subject matters specific to different parts of the plant. There was a pre-press demo, a digital presentation that was absolutely packed, a direct marketing presentation in the mailing room, and a "beyond print" presentation.

A nice addition was a local Apple support vendor to Think Patented who was on hand to talk to customers and assist with computer related issues specific to the Mac platform. I walked by this room several times and each time there was a conversation going on.

That was the biggest thing that struck me. Conversation. There was a high level of engagement. People were there to learn and Think Patented vendors and staff were there to help. Ken McNerney pulled me aside at one point and pointed to some people sitting in a room talking. I had assumed it was staffers working because they looked like they were working hard on a project. Ken commented that he loved to see his developer and a customer working so closely like that. The line between staff and customer really did seem to blur as there clearly was a consultative approach being applied at Think Patented. Really good stuff.

Vendors from Heidelberg, Kodak, Domtar (RIS), and the USPS were on hand as well as some others. I left understanding more about Think Patented capabilities and philosophy and optimistic about the future of the industry at large if printers out there are being run in a way that engages their customers and helps them innovate, become more efficient, and is a true resource for printed and digital communications.

Before heading out - and grabbing some sugar for the road in the form of a pop and cupcake - I got to speak with David McNerney. David is Director of Vertical Markets (and yes Ken's son). He took valuable time away from visitors to give us a summary of the event and a glimpse inside of Think Patented:

Packed house at the digital presentation

The smoothie bar

Awesome cupcake