Having navigated the wide-format digital printing world for more than 20 years, Lynn Krinsky, president of Stella Color (Seattle, WA), knows a thing or two about growing and prospering in this innovative and competitive area. I recently had the chance to talk with her, and have her share some of her knowledge. (You can learn more about Stella Color at www.stellacolor.com.)

Dan Marx: Do you think wide-format digital printing systems have “fully arrived?”

Lynn Krinsky: It’s arrived as far as it has today and of course we know, six months from now, a year from now, it will be a little farther along. In the last few years, the changes haven’t been as dramatic. Resolution has been better; speeds have gotten faster. There has been a little bit more selection in substrates to print from; I think it’s refining itself. I don’t know what’s missing—I would say it’s something the equipment can’t give us, and that’s to take whatever equipment you have, whatever your business model, and utilize a workflow that works best. You can have the finest equipment in the world, but if you don’t know how to write up a job, manage it and engineer it from the beginning, the equipment choices you make don’t really make a difference.

DM: Tell me about a time when your company moved into a new technology area?

LK: When we went into flatbed printing, I knew that a router would be needed soon. We were printing on all these boards, we were upping our volume, and we could no longer cut things by hand. Getting the router was just a completely different mindset. Not only from prepress—you had to set up files so the router could recognize them and cut them—but I just couldn’t believe how fast the router filled up and I couldn’t believe we didn’t have one before. The flatbed forced the router into the shop and now it's just invaluable. If you don’t have the market to sell something, however, it is ridiculous to just look at getting something before it makes sense to do so in your shop.

DM: How important is equipment speed to your business?

LK: Speed is important, but I also think budget is important. Some companies are small, some are larger. Now with the quality of all the equipment, if you’re looking to purchase, since everything looks good, you can also line up some moderate speed with something that’s affordable, or if you can afford it, get something that’s very fast. I know people who have purchased two of the same machine. Having redundant equipment, they can print two different jobs at the same time without waiting for one job to finish.

DM: With so many materials options, how do you manage them all?

LK: I approach this carefully, because it is such a broad range. I think we have probably more than 200 materials in our system, maybe more. In the program we use to estimate and track jobs through the shop, I’ve started to put “special order” next to certain materials that we don’t use very often. I want my estimators to know that the material might not be in stock—we’re too small to carry tons of stuff on the floor that is a special order. We like to think of ourselves as a shop that will experiment and be creative with a customer, but we’ve ended up with rolls of unused materials, and it’s hard to keep that in check. But we’re starting processes that will help us keep special order materials in stock.

DM: Is wide-format digital getting easier?

LK: I think a lot of it has to come from management. If you want something to look good, you have to take the steps necessary. For instance, investing in some color software or investing in a team member who knows color. I know that we have very picky customers and it just won’t fly if the color is off; we have to be consistent. When they send in a job again, the color has to be the same. So it’s important to take every step to make sure that happens. There are some shops that don’t care about quality and they just hit that big green button and they may get a lousy print, but they’re selling it for nothing, as well. I think that price vs. quality is something that any business needs to look at.

DM: What is the most surprising change in this industry segment?

LK: The thing that has most surprised me over the years is how some people will just get in the dirt with the pricing. So we’ve had to change the way we’ll go after clients. It’s always been a relationship, but now you have to lower your margins and work on the relationship. We never like to be the lowest price. We strive to be in the middle. So even if you’re in the middle, you’re higher than the lower, so you have to sell yourself as quality. That’s made it harder just to do business. I think it has nothing to do with the equipment or your skills, but just how to survive in the industry.

DM: What advice would you give to someone starting out in wide format or looking to buy their next piece of equipment, regarding a successful business approach?

LK: Whether people are starting new wide-format companies or adding to what they already have—I think that really plays into the kind of choices they should make. Do a business plan around the wide-format side, if that’s what you’re getting into. I don’t think there’s a simple answer here—it has to fit the comfort level of fitting wide-format into the business and the sophistication of the people who are going to run it.