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January 2006
Getting Right to the Point
By Heather Head

      Spell out my name in alphabet soup, tattoo my image on your midriff, and highlight the route from my place to yours: I will take notice. Integraphx can help you do it for every one of your most qualified prospects and loyal customers.

And that’s only the start of the integrated Web and print marketing capabilities Integraphx brings to the Charlotte area. The 30-employee company has been in the same family for 25 years, but they are far from old-fashioned. State-of-the-art integrated graphics capabilities, high-end digital printing, and interactive online services and products serve a diverse client base that constantly seeks the latest technologies and capabilities.

Keeping up with the demand for new technologies has been a hallmark of the company’s success. Says Scott Nowokunski, a principal at Integraphx, innovation and flexibility are cornerstones of the Integraphx company culture.

 

Copy to Print to Bam!

Scott’s father, Ed Nowokunski, founded the company in 1979 with what was at the time an innovative concept: corner copy shops in convenient retail locations. At its height of popularity, Kopy Korners as it was called, had eight retail locations in Charlotte.

By 1993, with national copy chains established in the business, the “copy shop on every corner” concept was no longer fresh. The Nowokunskis saw that in order to remain flexible and innovative – and competitive – they needed to evolve.

“We looked at our customer base and realized that 90 percent of our customers never even walked in the door,” explains Scott. “So we said, ‘Hey, what do we need all these doors for?’”

They consolidated to one big location and began serving customers through account managers. They changed their name to “The Printing Office” to reflect their new thrust.

This format allowed them to place employees in more specialized positions that took better advantage of their strengths and skills and interests. Result: better customer service that became a differentiating factor for the company through the 1990s.

But by 2004, the company had already begun to evolve into something else. Advances in technology had vastly changed the face of the printing industry.

To remain competitive and maintain their edge, The Printing Office had entered the world of digital color printing, integrated Web and e-mail services, and cutting-edge dynamic mapping technologies.

In addition to all the traditional printing and copy services, they had added marketing and design services, large format printing, e-mail design and delivery, and many other high tech and integrated services. But they were finding it difficult to communicate their cutting edge culture to potential clients and they realized they needed a new image.

“It took us three or four years,” remembers Scott, “of thinking about changing our name.” One day, the office manager came into a brainstorming session and said, “Integraphx.” Recalls Scott, “Bam! That was it. That was what we wanted it to be.”

It was an instant facelift. “The name change opened a lot of doors for us, and a lot of new markets,” says Scott. It has also brought a lot of well qualified potential employees to their doors: “People who wouldn’t apply for a job at The Printing Office are applying for a job at Integraphx.”

At the same time that they changed their name, they moved from a 16,500-square-foot facility to their current 24,000-square-foot facility, and soon after added their new tag line, “A really cool printing company.”

 

Really Cool

Says Ed, they grabbed their slogan from Scott’s line at networking events. “I’d spend 25 minutes trying to explain to someone what we do,” laughs Ed. “Scott would just say, ‘It’s a really cool printing company.’ That answered all the questions.”

One thing that’s really cool about this printing company is the value they bring to direct mail campaigns. They combine a qualified marketing and design staff with cutting edge dynamic technologies to create direct mail pieces that boast astounding response rates. Where most direct mail campaigns are considered successful if they get a one percent response rate, Integraphx often boasts a 15 to 30 percent response rate on its customers’ campaigns.

For example, Ed talks about a financial advisor they recently helped. Before coming to Integraphx, the client would send out eleven thousand direct mail pieces inviting people to his seminars at a steakhouse. By contrast, Integraphx leveraged integrated database technologies to include not only each prospect’s name on the mail cards, but also a map from that prospect’s address to the steakhouse. They sent out only seven thousand, to a carefully screened mailing list obtained by Integraphx, and the client’s seminar was filled to overflowing. “He had to cut it back to only four thousand pieces the next time,” recalls Ed.

The dynamic mapping technology, leveraged through a partnership with Mapquest, is available only through a very few companies in the United States, and is ordinarily not available at all on a small scale. But because they see a growing demand for it, Integraphx has invested heavily in the partnership with Mapquest plus the programming time to get it customer-ready, and are now able to offer it at an affordable rate even for small runs.

Another technology Integraphx leverages for customers is called “DreamType.” Dream Type allows companies to put their customer’s name on a birthday cake, spell it out in water droplets, or tattoo it on a swimsuit-clad thigh. Combining PhotoShop-type technology with database integration, the company can print out thousands of pieces, each one distinct from the previous, with each photo-quality image seamlessly incorporating a different prospect or client’s name, logo, or other information gleaned from the database.

Then, giving another level of meaning to the term “integrated,” each direct mail piece can print out a Web address that incorporates the prospect’s name. When the prospect clicks through to the Web address with his or her name in it, the Integraphx customer can then track response and capture additional information about that prospect.

By combining all these technologies and capabilities, Integraphx serves its customers with outstanding return on marketing dollars, and customers are taking note.

In addition to business services, Integraphx is tapping into a growing consumer market, especially through their Web site, www.mymagicmemories.com. They have an interactive tool that allows people to upload photos and create personalized calendars, which are then sent directly to the printer with minimal human handling. It’s even barcoded and mailed automatically. On the same site, consumers can order photo blankets, Christmas cards, and many other personalized products.

 

Learning from Loss

Although Integraphx currently has a diverse and loyal customer base, of which no single customer comprises more than six percent, times haven’t always been so rosy for them. In 1998, as they were beginning to transition from pure printing services into more integrated offerings, they received the bad news that would become one of the two greatest challenges the company ever faced: they were about to lose 50 percent of their customer base.

At that time, two customers constituted half their customer base. “That was scary,” says Ed. And when they lost them both in one year: “We cried.” It was 1999 when the losses hit, and that year Integraphx barely broke even. But it was the company’s flexibility and innovation that led them through and that ultimately turned the loss into a win.

“We increased our sales force and our marketing,” says Scott. Adds Ed, “We took some major investment and changed our whole focus.” They moved from primarily a volume producer of black and white copies – which they still can do, into digital color and began building the wider offerings they’re known for today.

As a result, while 1999 was tough for them, they were ready to grow again by 2002 – a year when most companies were in decline.

“We’d already had our 9-11 in 1999,” says Scott, “So by 2002 we were geared up to acquire new customers.” It’s a trend that has continued into 2005, when many printing companies are once again experiencing layoffs, but Integraphx is still hiring.

But 1999 wasn’t the first time the company had shown uncommon toughness in the face of disaster. Ten years earlier, when Hurricane Hugo hit the Charlotte area, the company was without power for ten days, during which they lost $170,000.

“We didn’t have $170,000,” says Ed grimly. “But we survived it. Stupidity, grit, hard work – we just really hung in there. These things are really good tests, because if you can survive them, you come out a lot better on the other side.”

 

Caring People

One thing that has helped the company survive and thrive, agree Scott and Ed, is a great employee base. Scott likes to tell the story of their latest move, which was completed in a single weekend. At the end of the weekend, several of the vendors who had helped came up to Linda Kirby, the general manager and also a principal in the company, and remarked that they had never seen employees work so hard for their company.

Says Scott, the loyalty goes both ways. One method they use to thank their employees is at monthly meetings. Employees spend part of every meeting thanking each other from line workers up to management for specific contributions they’ve made. One observer called the event a “lovefest.”

They also offer a comprehensive set of benefits and opportunities for growth and development. Scott says other ingredients in their relationship with employees include keeping the employees well informed, even to the point of handing out abbreviated financial statements, so employees can see where the company’s money is going. They also give them a voice in what the company is doing, and they’ve avoided the micro-management trap, allowing individuals to manage their own departments and be responsible for their own work.

“Ed allows us all to make our own mistakes,” says Scott. “We are held responsible for our mistakes, but we’re allowed to make them.”

Scott hesitates to say where their company is headed in the future. The changes over the past five years have been so dramatic and far-reaching, that he says he just can’t predict what might happen in the next five.

They will remain flexible and innovative. “We're going to do more creative, integrative marketing campaigns, combining direct mail, Web sites, and whatever else we can come up with,” assures Scott. “We’ll be working on projects then that we can’t even conceptualize now.”

Heather Head is a Charlotte-based freelance writer.
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