Back in March (2019) we covered Deborah Corn’s Project Peacock Print Fair and reached out to our network to see if we could find a printing company interested in talking to us while being in the area. Fortunately for us – and our audience – we got in contact with ‘Command Digital’ in New Jersey and made this fantastic film from there. ‘Command Digital’ is a division of the ‘Command Companies’ who produce books in both digital and analog plus printing of Health Care, Pharmaceuticals, and financial services.
In this film, both President Nicholas Brusco and Executive Vice President Dale Williams talk about their company, and the services they offer. This is one of our BEST films, and we are very proud of both the story as well as what our recent investments in equipment achieve.
My name is Dale Williams. I am the Executive Vice President here at Command Digital. Came here about 10 years because I recognized the company and where it was headed and the investments it was going to make, specifically in inkjet market and on the color side.
My old life was one color. This is a four-color market so I wanted to get into where the action was at. I knew the ownership was the type of ownership that would be willing to invest a lot in the future. It’s proven that I was a correct move and so I’m very happy that I did.
I want to say the first summer I was here we had two Xeikon presses. The second summer I was here we had four Xeikon presses, which was right before we were ramping up getting ready for the Inkjet. I think on a good day during our peak season with those four Xeikon presses, if I got 750,000 pages or so a day I was thrilled. Now we have Inkjet presses and we’re doing about 15 to 20 million pages a day. We’re pretty much loaded throughout the year. We do have some room to breathe but it’s a pretty busy environment and continue to grow. It’s been a great ride.
We clearly have a concentration in books. I think that a lot of things have happened that while books might be contracting, we in our strength have absorbed more business and we continue to grow in publishing. Despite what the trends are in publishing in general, I think our performance has allowed us to continue to grow. But it’s not just books, it’s healthcare, it’s pharmaceutical, it’s financial, it’s a number of other verticals that compliment the underlying base of the publishing business that we have. We continue to grow, we continue to add other verticals on top of it, try to fill in the trend as it may have been changing over the last few years.
I think we all thought that publishing was going to continue to decline, it just hasn’t for us. I think that the mix of equipment that we have, the mix of services, the mix of technology as it relates to solving our client’s problems makes us very attractive to a lot of clients. We’re nimble, we understand their business, and we’re taking advantage of the print that they currently have while transforming our business to match our clients.
Here at Command Digital, we’ve grown organically from the onset, we have not grown through acquisition. With the exception of maybe the last year, there was no transition from offset to digital that we took from our conventional partners. Those people that get into digital and they want to just extend the value chain, they look at their business a lot differently than we do. We are far more solutions based and we find that solutions that aren’t going to rob from Peter to pay Paul. We try to leave our conventional facilities to themselves.
Now, what’s interesting as being part of the Command Group is our ownership invests heavily on the conventional side as well. We might have invested 50 or 60 million dollars in this plant over the last seven years, but the other plants are investing in the tens of millions of dollars as well to keep their equipment up to date. When we look at what is that breakeven point between conventional and digital, we’re comparing ourselves to the latest conventional technologies, zero make-ready presses, faster presses, things like that. We have a pretty good idea of where that breakeven is and we could offer that to our customers.
I think we do put our clients front and center to the solutions we come up with, to how we make decisions about our growth. The fact that we’re financially strong I think allows us to make a lot of good decisions, it allows us to not go after business that is outside of our core competency. I think being successful and being financially sound allows you to be true to who you say you are.
We understand there’s a lot of things happening in the industry. We’re very, very fortunate in our position because Command Digital, being part of the Command Web companies, we have a wide range of customers and markets that we service. Now, we’re the digital arm of the Command Group so we have a vast network of salespersons that, a sales force. It’s interesting because the sale for a digital solution is much different than a conventional sale so they typically, our salespeople for the conventional side rely heavily on our expertise to help find the sweet spots with our customers, so how we could service them and provide that solution that they’re looking for. It’s a unique combination that not everyone enjoys.
On the flip side, being part of the Command Companies is great because we’re a financially sound competitor. We’re not desperate, we don’t have to jump at every opportunity. We have the ability to pick and choose where we want to play. In this market, I think the problem is you got a lot of printers stuck in their niches and they don’t know how to get out of it. It’s just not that easy.
I think there are factors in our industry, however, that is true. I think there is oftentimes too much capacity. I think oftentimes we’re still feeling the effect of the financial crisis that we experienced in 2008 and people have still recognized that their companies are not sustainable. They’re continuing to create weakness because as long as there are people out there that are willing to drop their price and drop their price beyond levels that are sustainable, we’re all going to suffer. I think that it continues to create problems.
I don’t think as industry printers understand pricing in a way for self-sufficiency for understanding their product and how pricing strategy really impacts the market. We don’t collude, we don’t work together as an industry to set pricing. I think there are other industries that aren’t as obvious about what they do as what they’re actually doing. I don’t think we align our best interests in how we price work. I will say that being a financially secure business we don’t chase work on price. What we find is a healthy business.
There are digital printers that specialize in one-off book products and we all know who they are. The Amazons of the world that do that and they spent tens of years developing and losing a ton of money back in the day when it was a toner based. Ingram and the like spent a lot of money and lost a lot of money developing their workflows. But now, they have it down to really good science. We’re not a one-off solution. We bridge the gap for publishers that aren’t necessarily ready to go to a virtual inventory, they still want to have inventory but they just want to manage it better. Our solutions help our publishing customers, on to publishing again because that’s just one market we serve, it helps them maintain their competitive advantage. Because a lot of publishers feel that distribution is one of their competitive advantages. We help them keep the distribution piece without getting rid of it and doing a complete virtual inventory.
I don’t know what the next thing that Amazon is going to do and their continued influence or how they’re controlling that part of it are going to really change the cost per unit. I can’t see it getting any less. I think Book of One is going to be more expensive than what you find in a bookstore. I still it will exist, I think the authors that are going to benefit from Book of One are going to be different than the authors that are going to benefit from being in a bookstore. I hope bookstores don’t go away.
I think for every three hires we make, one or two are in IT. I think financial and healthcare where compliance communications define a lot of what we do today, we realized that that is moving. While we continue to provide print services, we also recognize that those documents are going to be delivered electronically. We are now getting more involved with content, content management, content creation and the ability to serve that content across multiple channels. We’re still doing a lot of print.
We recognize that consumer and member preferences change over time. I think that the thought that reader’s preferences on what they were going to read and who they were going to read, I still think that influx. We don’t buy our children eBooks, we buy our children book books, paper books. That’s how we learned and I think there’s a fair amount of research that suggests it’s a better way of learning. Will consumers continue to opt out of print? I don’t know but we’ll be ready when they do.
I think our perspective on the market is a little different than the grim perspective that a lot of people see in the market. The stars may have been aligned, we might be the smartest people around, which I doubt, but we are very well positioned for how things are changing. We’ve chosen good industries to become specialized in. We’re doing well.
On the publishing end, we have a great sales team that’s in with all the major publishers. We were lucky enough to win a contract with a large adult trade publisher who wanted an inventory replenishment program. We took that program and we built it because you need to have big customers in order to put the resources towards something. You can’t build what we do for small customers. That said, once you build it, now the small customers could ride on the highway just for paying a fee. It was kind of a lot of good timing, good investments. There’s a lot of, you call it luck, call it strategy, whatever you want, but a lot of things happen to come in and sit really well for us and our timing was great. We pride ourselves in excellent customer service. Once we get a customer, we tend not to lose them. We’re pretty aggressive.
But we’re a family-owned business. The things that have made us successful over the last 60 years has a lot to do with the family and how we approach business every day. I think it’s the way we treat our partners, our employees, and our clients. It’s a family business.
Without question, the larger customers have a larger volume and they also more astute buyers and more stringent CFOs that know how to tweak their vendors into giving up as much as we possibly can. But at the same time and strictly speaking on the publishing side, they’re faced with a lot of other problems right now. One of the things that they need more anything is a financially sound alternative. If they try to squeeze everything out of everybody, there won’t be anybody left.
I believe with the trends that we’re seeing, smaller run lengths, many more jobs, a need for transparency that automation and leveraging data in our environment and the ecosystem of what we do is what our clients are going to value the most. Being able to take smaller jobs, turn them around quickly, stay competitive, stay efficient and provide them the data that they need back is what’s going to drive our future.
Today we have lots of great systems. We have an infrastructure here that’s going to support that level of transparency. We’re building web portals and enhancing the ones that we have that are going to provide our clients the kind of experience they have in their regular lives, being able to rest assured that Command has a job, that you’re going to be notified that at any point you can know the status of that. Be able to continue to help our clients become more and more efficient. Help them with change management, all the things that they struggle with. Not only are we producing their materials, but we’re going to help them improve their process and their efficiency.
That vision is not a vision that’s going to be delivered tomorrow. It’s like boiling the ocean, a cup at a time. Our vision is big. I think right now we probably have as good if not better a platform for transparency, for access, for change management, for inviting our clients and their stakeholders into the process as exists in the market and we think we can do better.