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Harrisburg printer expanding through campus-style collaborations

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Matthew Smith is president of David A. Smith Printing Inc. The Harrisburg company has recently added screen-printing equipment to decorate a wide array of products that include T-shirts, stickers and towels. Photo/Amy Spangler
Matthew Smith is president of David A. Smith Printing Inc. The Harrisburg company has recently added screen-printing equipment to decorate a wide array of products that include T-shirts, stickers and towels. Photo/Amy Spangler

Forget that printing contract for a moment. You want your company's logo on can koozies, coffee mugs and golf balls, maybe some T-shirts for that upcoming corporate event?

Oh, and you want a custom glass sign to display in your new office?

Harrisburg-based David A. Smith Printing Inc. has taken the steps to make all of that happen, and then some.

During the last three years, the company's traditional ink- and digital-to-print model has gradually morphed to include more promotional and complementary products and services.

"Print is not dead, nor is it dying," President Matthew Smith said. "But it's not growing."

Since the company's founding in 1967, it has hit a few forks in the road.

The last major one was the transition to digital. The latest has been deciding to diversify product lines — most not made in-house but purchased for on-demand customization through a co-op for advertising specialties — and partnering with local specialists to offset traditional print revenue losses and meet clients' other needs.

"Ink on print is a not a roadway to success or our future," Smith said. "Those who accept being more and aggressively pursue it will be on a path to success."

Traditional printing services still make up 60 to 70 percent of revenue, but that is slowly shrinking, Smith said. Custom promotional items help, but they are not the only thing DAS is doing to ensure its survival and even grow.

During the last year, DAS has brought three independently owned businesses into surrounding spaces the company owns on South 22nd Street in Harrisburg.

One is a custom design firm that specializes in wedding products, another a custom laser engraver and dye-sublimation printer. The third is a screen-printing operation that moved in last week and will be run by DAS for a private investor.

"Twenty percent of our revenue comes from what we don't print in-house," Smith said. "With these other (business relationships) over the next two years, 40 to 50 percent of our revenue will come from non-ink-on-paper (services)."

The campus-style collaborations have not only paved a path of greater control for DAS but also opened doors for these small niche businesses to forge relationships with existing DAS clients and potentially expand their own operations.

"I think this is my stepping stone," said Melissa Miller, who owns Made to Keep and has plans to open a retail location to sell her unique stationery.

DAS is her primary printer. She's also the one who introduced the company to Gregory Peck, owner of Peck's Laser Arts.

Peck, who moved into an adjacent space, had been dabbling in laser engraving out of his home for about four years before going full time last year.

"The biggest problem before was advertising," Peck said. "I had all this equipment, and no one knew I had it."

Today, about 50 percent of his business comes from the DAS client network, which includes many big names. Among them are Remington, Yahoo!, AOL, Subway, Sephora, Take-Two Interactive and Rockstar Games.

Peck does everything from name badges and signs, license plates and dog tags to small runs of T-shirts. The majority of his work is for businesses.

"I have a lot of clients looking for these things," Miller said of Peck's services, which might involve glass engraving and other products for couples getting married. He also does intricate laser cutting of designs to help her bring a vision to life.

On the flip side, Miller does a lot of design work for Peck and DAS.

"I'm hoping it's going to grow very large," Peck said of his business, which recently added an employee to keep up with the growing workload. "A year from now, I would love to be a few employees with all machines maxed out."

He is in the process of adding a catalog to expand marketing of his services.

DAS also is adding employees. Since the company will be running the screen-printing service for Trimprints, Smith said, the company is adding two people with graphic arts experience.

The company has 27 full-time employees. It runs two shifts per day.

"We are looking to develop new talent at the ground level," Smith said.

Screen printing adds another element of control for the business, he said, because it's a service DAS has previously had to turn over to outside vendors. It's also something the company gets a lot of requests for.

"We are definitely in growth mode here," Smith said, adding that he expects the screen printing to grow from a two- or three-day operation to a full shift by the end of the first year. He said he hopes to have two shifts operating the 9-foot-by-9-foot press in the second year.

Through established relationships with Sephora and the gaming companies, DAS also has developed a steady flow of hand fulfillment work. The company hires temporary workers to pack sample product kits and bonus items tied to gaming launches for national and international distribution.

A regular client is Inspirato, a private luxury destination club. DAS does year-round fulfillment of "swag bags" for the children arriving on vacation.

The one missing element to what could be viewed as a mini-business incubator is embroidery, Smith said. It's possible that another vendor could decide to move on-site.

DAS has about 20,000 square feet of building space between two properties, plus some potential to buy surrounding real estate.

"It was not a master plan, (but) it was inevitable to happen because of the control issue," Smith said. "It's provided a site where companies can get together."

Solving each other's pain points — for his tenants, it was finding a way to get their product mix out to a bigger audience — should drive continued growth for all.

"Our challenge now is communicating to current customers that our product mix is broadening," Smith said.

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