Local company adapts to the times and changes focus to the documentation of people's lives.
TUKWILA — The success of digital cameras has created a new market for personalized notepads, calendars, greeting cards and photo books, and Reischling Press Inc. has completely reinvented its business in response to this development.
Founded in 1979 in Seattle by Barry Reischling, the privately held company has shed the traditional printing process of using negatives and is focusing completely on digital reproductions.
In 2007, the company moved from Westlake Avenue to Tukwila, doubling its facility size to 30,000 square feet. Its revenue is expected to climb to $28 million this year, up from $4 million in 2005. And next year, the company plans to open up a second factory.
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“This one will be on the East Coast because we want to keep the shipping costs low and we want to get the product to the customer as fast as possible,” said chief executive John Perez. “Every product is finished within three days — at the latest — after we have received the order.”
Perez even talks about expanding to Europe and Asia, “but not before 2010.”
RPI has 100 employees. For Christmas sales it plans to hire about 200 temporary workers. “For we are literally flooded with orders during this season. People not only want to get greeting cards done, but also calendars or photo books to give them away,” Perez said.
But RPI’s growth is not only due to the popularity of digital cameras. “Sometimes a company is as much defined by what it doesn’t do as much as by what it does,” Perez said.
For example, RPI chose not to print on T-shirts or mugs. The company would have to buy different printers, with which it has no experience. “We have reinvented our business model but at the core we are still a paper printer — and want to stay that,” Perez said.
Another important decision: RPI only deals with other companies and not directly with the consumer. That is probably why few people have heard of the company.
“We have tried to mount our own Web site, attracting consumers to it,” Perez said. “But it quickly exceeded our capacities. It’s a different business.”
Among RPI’s clients are drugstores as well as Internet companies such as Snapfish and Blurb. It works like this: A mother wants to have pictures of her daughter as a baby turned into a photo book. She goes onto the Internet and finds Snapfish. She downloads the pictures, picks a design, writes text and places an order online.
Snapfish then passes this order on to RPI to print. The company sends the book directly to the customer.
“We decided early to focus on our efforts on Web-site design and online marketing and to outsource our printing services, mostly complicated products like photo books, calendars or notepads,” said Marc Chapmann, head of worldwide operations at Snapfish, located in San Francisco. “RPI is not the only printer that works with us, but it delivers high-quality products in time for our customers.”
RPI is broadening its pipeline. The company has hired 15 people to develop ready-made designs for the customers. So far RPI has invested about $1.2 million in it. “We try to target specific groups with our designs, for example young or old people. A typical young design looks like this: colorful with a modern, rather simple pattern, with straight lines or boxes,” Perez said.
A certain danger to RPI’s business, especially for the simpler products such as greeting cards, could be the improvements in home computers and printers. “But the vast majority of folks doing printing at home are just printing standard 4-by-6-inch photos. People just don’t have the time to make things, and frankly the ink and paper supplies for home color printers are quite expensive.”
Perez is especially skeptical of people making photo books at home. “It’s about binding techniques, and we make books with up to 220 pages. Who would do this at home?”
Photo books have become the company’s best-selling product, increasing from 510,000 units in 2007 to 1.3 million this year. The books are followed by stationery and cards, which will total 1 million units this year, up from 300,000 in 2007.
“What is really important for us — the market for digital cameras is still growing,” Perez pointed out.
Dimitrios Delis of PMA Marketing Research, a photo-industry association, said, “Statistically, every second U.S. household owns a digital camera already today. Just think about the progress made with cellphones: Soon we will have even more models with integrated cameras — and the technology will be much more advanced,” he said.
Delis estimates that the market for products personalized with consumer photos will grow in 2008 to about $1.45 billion. And that is with only 6 percent of American households having ever ordered a printed photo book, according to Perez.
“There’s definitely high potential in the market,” he said. “And we will try to get a big piece of the cake.”
Georg Kern: 206-464-3283 or email@example.com