A Wide Range of Value
Tom Frazier admits that location has played a pretty big role in his in-plant’s expansion.
“In the area that we’re in, we don’t have a lot of other options,” says Frazier, director of Printing and Mailing Services at Western Carolina University (WCU). That area is about 50 miles west of Ashville, N.C., in the middle of the Great Smoky Mountains, where WCU’s 11,000-student campus is located.
“So as a result,” he continues, “this institution has allowed us to have some capacity and hardware and abilities that in many schools our size you wouldn’t find.”
But that is certainly not the only reason this nine-employee in-plant has become an innovation leader among its peers. Under Frazier’s direction the shop has focused on adding the services that university departments need and providing such great service that no one looks anywhere else to get their needs met.
“When people think print, we want them to think of us,” Frazier declares. “When they want to tell their story…we want to be their first source. Our job is to take care of them.”
To that end, the in-plant has built a booming wide-format printing business that produces all university signage; it had a flatbed printer years before other in-plants had even conceived of such a thing. The shop parlayed an engraving job into an expanding awards production business. The in-plant’s proficiency with variable data printing has secured it a partnership with Admissions and made it a crucial cog in the recruitment wheel. These initiatives all reflect Frazier’s motivating philosophy:
“Every day we have to work to make ourselves of value to this institution,” he says. “The minute we forget that, we’re gone.”
Perhaps the most visible value the in-plant provides is wide-format printing. The shop’s handiwork is evident all over the 589-acre campus in rural Cullowhee, N.C.
“There’s not a sign on this campus that we didn’t produce,” Frazier proudly proclaims. “We print the metal signs that are used on campus for parking. We print on acrylics. We print on a variety of other types of boards.”
The in-plant boasts five wide-format printers, including a 64˝ Roland VersaUV LEJ-640 hybrid flatbed printer, which is called into frequent use for printing directly onto rigid materials like Coroplast (corrugated plastic).
“In a year’s time, we will print over 1,000 4x8-ft. sheets of Coroplast,” Frazier reveals.
WCU Printing and Mailing Services has done some ambitious projects with that printer, such as a 6x16-ft. stadium sign made of several Coroplast panels seamed together. The shop also wrapped the walls of a women’s locker room by installing sintra board over the cinderblock walls and wrapping that with sports images and graphics. But this is nothing new, Frazier says; the in-plant was wrapping walls 10 years ago. As he sees it, the in-plant is not just providing printing for these projects, it is helping to shape the image of university departments.
“At one time we were just a part of the discussion related to business cards, envelopes, letterhead and brochures,” he observes. “Now the conversation extends to how is their lobby going to look. What kind of graphics do they want on their hallways? So we are part of the entire feel and look and experience that their employees, students and visitors have in their facility.”
And to think, it all started with bed sheet stretched between two poles.
‘Is This the Best We Can Do?’
Frazier tells a humorous story of the day the previous chancellor spotted such a low-end attempt at signage on campus — an event promotion painted on a sheet and jerry-rigged to hang on poles. He thought, “Is this the best we can do?”
“About a month later we had our first plotter,” Frazier says, a Mimaki JV3-160.
The wide-format printing business blossomed. Eventually, after discovering that printing on an adhesive-backed vinyl material and applying it onto Coro-plast was more pricy than the lease cost for a flatbed printer, the in-plant got its first hybrid flatbed printer about a decade ago, a ColorSpan DisplayMaker 72UVR. The Roland VersaUV LEJ-640 replaced it and has been busy ever since.
In-plant employees install all the signage and wraps, aided by the shop’s 23 student workers. Giving students real-world experience is one of Frazier’s main goals, since it supports the university’s mission. It wasn’t always this way, though.
Not Part of the Mission
Six years ago when chancellor David O. Belcher arrived, one of his first moves was to create a university mission statement. Frazier took a look at that statement and realized the in-plant wasn’t a part of it.
“We weren’t closely aligned with what’s at the center of the university, which is the student,” he says. “What we’ve been doing over the last six years is looking at … opportunities for us to become closer to the center of the universe for higher-education.”
Employing students and giving them experience running equipment and installing signage is one important part of that.
“They have a great opportunity to pick up real-world skills,” he notes.
Frazier mentions a recent graduate and in-plant alum who got three job offers from graphic arts companies because of her experience there.
“She’s valuable,” he points out — and all because the in-plant gave her the opportunity to work there.
Adding Value With VDP
Another way the in-plant has gotten in tune with the university’s priorities is through variable data printing. The shop prints high volumes of personalized mailings for Admissions using MarcomCentral’s FusionPro software.
“There’s not a day goes by that we’re not personalizing,” Frazier says.
Working in coordination with WCU’s marketing department, the in-plant prints recruitment materials that point potential students to the online and social media components of the university’s recruitment campaigns.
“We are the first touch,” he says.
These combined variable data and social media efforts have paid off.
“We’re seeing record numbers of applicants,” Frazier says. “I cannot emphasize enough how much we have benefited from a strong social media division. The ability to print and mail personalized products that lead to additional online opportunities to continue and develop a conversation ... has been successful with every department we have worked with.”
The in-plant prints student acceptance letters too, using its two Ricoh Pro C7100 color printers and a black-and-white Ricoh Pro 8200.
“By aligning ourselves with Admissions … we’ve taken on the entire fulfillment role of being the first contact with admitted students,” he says. “That solidified our relationship with that academic department.”
Because of Printing and Mailing Services’ expertise, it has also become a consultant for departments when they have an idea for a mailing but are unsure if it will be cost prohibitive. Frazier brings them right to the scales in the mailroom.
“Because often the price of mailing can be a factor that limits or decides whether the project even gets off the ground,” he says.
He suggests size adjustments or gives them new ideas for pieces that will mail more affordably.
Frazier feels fortunate to have administrators that value the in-plant and encourage it to be creative.
“The leadership we have is always pushing us to try something else,” he says. “What can we do that we haven’t done before? What can we do that’s bigger and better?”
He plans to continue seeking new ways to help university departments be successful.
“We’re very blessed and very fortunate to have the kind of administrative support that we do,” he says.
Related story: The Flatbed Opportunity
Bob has served as editor of In-plant Graphics since October of 1994. Prior to that he served for three years as managing editor of Printing Impressions, a commercial printing publication. Mr. Neubauer is very active in the U.S. in-plant industry. He attends all the major in-plant conferences and has visited more than 130 in-plant operations around the world. He has given presentations to numerous in-plant groups in the U.S., Canada and Australia, including the Association of College and University Printers and the In-plant Printing and Mailing Association. He also coordinates the annual In-Print contest, cosponsored by IPMA and In-plant Graphics.