Many print shops thrive to find a niche, something that sets them apart from the competition. However, it is also essential to build on that business and remain open to new trends and making investments, even when timing may be less than ideal.
Launched in the early 90s by Paul Mason, a racing enthusiast, Landmark Grafix started out with a focus on the race car market. This mission continued for decades, mostly producing race decals and trailer graphics. When Mason passed away in 2014, the business was offered up for sale and current owner and CEO John Sharp took the reins.
Sharp moved the business from Sonoma Raceway, Sonoma to Alameda, CA about 45 miles away. The business has since expanded from a 200 square foot loft in 2014 to 10,000 square foot operation in San Leandro, CA. What was just him in the beginning has grown to eight employees. Today, Landmark Grafix primarily serves the San Francisco Bay Area of CA with a reach from coast to coast for its clients.
While racing graphics remain a staple market for the business, commercial and wholesale printing and installation is now the larger share of its revenue. Its target customers are those it can partner with for the long term. “We love to get to know our customers and their needs, thus providing significant value to them,” shares Sharp.
For its wide format printing needs, it is equipped with a solid lineup of HP Inc. printers including the HP Latex 560 and 800 roll to roll and P Latex R1000 flatbed hybrid. It also offers laminating, die cutting, and routing services.
Cutting and routing are essential tasks required for a significant portion of the wide format shop’s work. The company operates a MultiCam Celero, which it acquired in September 2020.
Sharp admits it took a calculated risk investing in the machine during a difficult and unpredictable time in the world and industry.
However, after weighing the pros and cons, Landmark Grafix decided that the cutter was the next essential piece of equipment on its wish list. In addition to adding new capabilities, the shop knew it would likely aid in more efficient workflow, reduce outsourcing costs, and expand product offerings.
“The risk has been paying off,” states Sharp. The MultiCam Celero flatbed cutting table is made in the U.S. and offers U.S. support. “Accuracy and quality are our top priorities with any equipment purchase and this machine has met those expectations,” he offers.
The cutter services the shop’s print/cut workflow primarily along with some cut/rout-only jobs. It prints and cuts many materials, but among the most popular substrates are coroplast, acrylic, wood, vinyl, PVC, and aluminum composite material (ACM). “The machine is incredibly versatile, which matches the projects we receive perfectly,” says Sharp.
For a business that has grown tremendously over the years, the MultiCam Celero has opened up new opportunities Sharp feels may not have been possible without it. High-volume roll-to-roll cutting allows increased throughput throughout the shop, speeds up delivery times, gives it confidence to offer more, and assists its current staff in moving away from manual processes.
Of course there was a learning curve, as Sharp admits the machine was unlike anything it had used before. “We were fresh to the CNC world entirely and the learning curve was somewhat steep. This is nothing new to us as I came into this industry with zero experience. The challenge is what we seek as a team and we took it on headfirst. Testing and trial and error brought us up to speed to make the machine useful to us within the first few weeks. The biggest challenge is understanding what tools are used with which materials. Thereafter, it is about making that process efficient and cost effective.”
The MultiCam Celero is utilized for a wide range of Landmark Grafix’s product offerings, including recurring work it wholesale prints for another print/sign shop.
Recently, it utilized the flatbed cutter on 31 sheets of ACM, which was supplied by the customer.
The signs were printed on the HP Latex R1000 and cut on the MultiCam Celero.
The supplied media presented some initial challenges, as it was a lower quality ACM material than it is used to working with. At first the printing influenced the surface and made it difficult to cut. “The ink was durable but the faces of the sheets were cracking very slightly. We changed tooling to a better endmill and resolved the issue after some trial and error. Color matching and consistency were also critical,” explains Sharp.
This particular job hit during a busy time for the shop, but it was done over the course of two work weeks.
“The customer was happy with the results and appreciates our quality control process. Nothing leaves our shop that we wouldn’t post for the world to see up close,” notes Sharp.
He says the MultiCam Celero was the only way to finish this job after printing. “The print/rout workflow worked well once we understood the material limitations we were dealing with. The machine operated flawlessly and barely broke a sweat.”
Landmark Grafix is confident in its abilities and its sales strategy. “In our industry we have found it easy to compete. We are not a low cost shop and not the most expensive. There are many terrible print jobs produced and poor installations executed by other shops. There is a market for that. We don’t often compete with those shops as our market is different,” shares Sharp.
He says it is focused on higher quality, better service, and finished products and services that exceed customer expectations. “We take time to dig into projects and strive to offer something better to the customer. This is achieved by giving better print quality, cut quality, material type, ‘greener’ products when possible, faster turnaround, responsive personal service, and effort to reduce cost to our customers both short and long term. Our approach is never about the quick sale.”
To maintain this reputation, the shop is committed to excellence in everything it does. This includes its infrastructure and equipment. “Growing so quickly over the last several years has put us in the common place of our old systems and processes no longer working as we need. Our equipment line-up is where we need it to be for the moment so our current focus is on more efficient workflows, better customer service and response times, further development in quality, and investment in our people. Our team is our most critical part and putting in tools and processes to help them is what we need to do to continue growing and exceeding.”
Landmark Grafix finds success in its flagship machinery, including HP Latex printing systems and its Multicam Celero digital flatbed cutting system.
In part two of this series, we focus on a U.K.-based company that also invested in cutting during a challenging time.
Sep2021, Digital Output