Printingforless scores success with Internet prowess
By DAN BURKHART
Of the Gazette Staff
LIVINGSTON The growth of Printingforless happened so fast owner Andrew Field still hasn't had time to change the "Farmers Creamery" letters on the building where his business is located.
No matter. The change inside the building is more important.
"We've been more concerned with remodeling to make room for more employees," Field said.
Just six years ago, Printingforless had five employees. Today it has 45. The reason is simple.
"We've had a growth rate of 150 percent per year," he said. "We keep adding people to handle the work."
The reason for that growth rate is simple, too. Printingforless has a Website that works.
It didn't start out that way. The original print shop opened in 1996 and struggled to get accounts, Field said. Concentrating on Montana, Idaho and Wyoming, the company hoped to keep its own printing presses busy by calling on every business it could.
"We'd go out on the road and get in bidding wars, but it just wasn't working," he said. "We realized there were more deer and elk in Montana than print buyers."
Field thought there had to be a better way. He put his faith in e-commerce, building a
which would bring in work nationwide. The Website was launched in 1999 and has nabbed 6,000 customers in only two years.
"Printingforless.com" represents a revolution in the way print work is handled, according to marketing director Jeff Batton.
"Many businesses are online, but they have Web sites that show the product, tell something about the company and then say 'Call us.' We have a Website where the customer can find out everything they need to know, place and send an order without ever talking to us. In a way we're hoping not to talk to them," he said. "That allows our technical people to concentrate on the real work."
People have become pretty proficient with computer publishing systems but the technical details for transforming electronic designs into hard copy printing is where they need help, Field said. That's where technical support is crucial.
"We make sure the digital pre-press work is bulletproof," he said. Specializing in serving small businesses, graphic designers, ad agencies and not-for-profits who need quick service and affordable printing, the Web site allows customers to configure, price and customize their orders.
Four color commercial printing is particularly in high demand, Field said.
The converted creamery building may not contain the company for long, according to Field. He expects the company to have 300 employees in the next three to four years.
"I think it will grow 20 times where we are now in the next five years," Field said.
The jobs are above-average pay allowing him to recruit top technical talent.
"We have found people who can multi-task, enjoy living here, understand the company and have a commitment," he said.
Some are dot.com refugees. Others just like Montana.
"At least they don't have to live and work in Silicon Valley," he said.
Batton said it is a source of pride that the company has added to the area's economic base by importing dollars from outside Montana.
"We're located here, paying good wages to people here, but bringing in money from all over the country," he said. "That's a pretty good business model for Montana."
If Field has any regrets, "it's that we didn't get online sooner."
Customers rave about the company.
"Let me put it this way. When those guys go public I'm going to buy as much stock as I can," Ron Long said. Long owns a company in New York which relies on Printingforless.
The quality of the work also finds favor with art gallery owner Dimitri Pavloff in Bodega Bay, California.
"I placed an order for 3,000 brochures for Local Color Gallery," he said. "I designed the brochure in my first attempt at using MS Publisher and I am obviously no computer whiz, but to think that they can work off the file created by a bozo like me to produce something so sharp and professional is truly amazing."
Field said the company funds its growth partially with venture capital and while "venture capitalists have gotten a bit of bad reputation lately, we have great relations with investors. They are excited to see a clean, high tech business make it."
About $1.2 million in venture capital helped the company get up and running, according to Batton.
Printingforless is likely the largest online commercial printer, Batton said.
"We believe we are and we use that in our promotional material. In a business as competitive as this one, if we're wrong someone would have called us on it by now," he said.
For now Printingforless is not too concerned with the competition.
"It may look easy, but there are plenty of things we know that no one else knows how to do," Batton said. "We think we've got the jump on this kind of business for a long time to come."
2/11/2002 - Copyright © The Billings Gazette, a division of Lee Enterprises.