For Linemark, an operation based in Upper Marlboro, Maryland, the phrase “The customer is always right” takes on a different meaning. Having started as a small commercial printer 36 years ago, the business has migrated to what Linemark President Steve Bearden calls a three-phase company to align with its customers’ evolving needs.
“We have commercial printing, direct mail, and then we do a lot of photo products — so custom books, photobooks, calendars, any type of photo product,” he says. “Each is basically a third of our business.”
Investing in Expansion and Automation
It was to continue its growth and expansion in applications in its three core areas, and to better serve customers, that prompted Linemark to acquire Electronics For Imaging’s EFI Pro 30f UV LED flatbed printer from authorized distributor Nazdar SourceOne. Though Linemark has utilized EFI’s software and color management tools, this marked its first equipment purchase from the supplier, which enables the operation to print on a variety of substrates.
According to Bearden, Linemark is utilizing the Pro 30f for different large-format, commercial, and photo products, the latter of which it is printing on Dibond and acrylics, in addition to some canvas work and posters.
“With the EFI, we really wanted to be able to print the quality on different materials, and after all of our testing, we felt this was the best fit for Linemark from a quality and flexibility standpoint,” he says. “The extra-large bed being 120x80” gives us more capabilities, and the ability to print really thick materials has also worked well for us.”
Linemark is no stranger to staying up to date with technology and demand. “We were pretty early into digital printing,” Bearden shares. “We had our first color digital press in the ‘90s … and really the way we grew and acquired equipment was just listening to our customers and seeing what they wanted from us, and we would adapt to that.”
When it comes to marketing its services, Bearden says that while Linemark uses social media and direct-mail marketing, much of its business is through word of mouth. “We have a lot of clients that are seeking us out that want to work with us,” he adds.
In addition to producing different applications and media flexibility, the EFI Pro 30f investment is part of Linemark’s overall strategy in acquiring equipment that automates higher-quality printing, especially as a business that Bearden says can fluctuate in the number of staff it needs based on the season.
“During our busy seasons, we definitely need more people and we bring in temporary or part-time employees,” he says, noting this is primarily the business-to-consumer (B2C) photo side of the business during the November-December holiday season, which can account for 40% of Linemark’s work.
“But one of the things that we've done to work to make that better is we've really focused a lot of our purchasing on automation — trying to automate our workflows so that when we get busy, we won’t need as many people to get that same amount of work out,” adds Bearden. “We have really over the years concentrated on production, productivity, and automation. That was one of the reasons why we ended up buying the EFI Pro 30f.”
Navigating the Pandemic and Looking Ahead
Though the onset of COVID-19 had disrupted printing businesses and halted capital investment plans, Bearden says the plan to purchase a new flatbed printer for rigid materials had already been in the works for the operation.
And though he shares that Linemark didn’t necessarily shift its product offerings, the pandemic’s impact on the different facets of the business varied, causing employees to shift around. “Our online business did well last year, and our commercial business really took a hit because we did a lot of work for conventions, events, trade shows — things like that that were totally shut down,” he adds. “The business-to-business (B2B) side of our business really slowed down on that side, and the B2C side of our business did very well.”
Like many businesses, Linemark has had several employees who have worked from home during the pandemic, especially those who were particularly concerned they were more susceptible to getting COVID, or had a family member with a weakened immune system. Most employees have returned to the office, with the exception of those located across the U.S. who were already working remotely.
To further support employees, particularly parents navigating the pandemic, Linemark had also set up a “school pod” inside of its training center where staff could bring their children to do their remote classes. “By and large [the children] got up and went to work with mom and dad for probably six or seven months at least that it was running; that was really helpful for some of the parents,” says Bearden, noting it allowed staff to be able to check in on their kids throughout the workday. “It worked out pretty well. The kids seemed to like it, they got along pretty well, and I think it was a lot better for them than sitting at home just going through the paces there.”
As vaccines have rolled out and restrictions have lifted, Bearden says Linemark, like its fellow printing operations were glad to see the economy start opening up. “Our customers are going back to work, they are starting to have events again, and we definitely can see that in our current work volumes,” he notes.
Now, looking ahead, in addition to maximizing its EFI Pro 30f investment, Bearden says the company is also working on improving its MIS system to “build that connectivity from our client to our MIS system to our equipment, and then back to the client on the backend, so there’s really a full circle of information.”
It marks yet another step in Linemark’s continual mission to enhance its customers’ overall experience and ensure they’re fulfilling ever-changing needs.
This article was originally published on wideformatimpressions.com.
Lauren Searson has been the Managing Editor for the PRINTING United Journal since November 2017 and has worked in publications/communications for 13 years.