RPI Raises $5M from Huntington Capital, Carves Out Photo Printing Niche in Digital Age
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with a tactile quality. “I compare it to food. When I’m starving and I just want something quick, I go to fast food—that’s like e-readers and magazines,” Bellamy says. “When I want to savor something, I consume a book that I want to keep, and go back to, that’s going to be a physical product… like going to a restaurant and ordering comfort food. Increasingly, we [RPI] focus on color-rich products. There is something about that richness of having something you’re holding in your hands.”
So, back to RPI for a minute: The company had a very tough year in 2008 as the recession was hitting. It had also become a highly seasonal business; almost all of its profits were coming from the fourth quarter (holiday season). It could no longer handle those kinds of swings with its traditional printing methods. It also needed to control its costs and focus on business fundamentals.
In part thanks to Bellamy’s leadership, RPI has increased its profitability in the past year, and its revenues grew by 30 percent in the most recent fiscal year. The company’s profits are now distributed throughout the year, Bellamy says.
The key to all of this is the firm’s relatively recent software-integrated manufacturing system, which started in 2000 and has become a center point in the last five years. Basically, instead of a traditional batch-and-queue process— where stuff piles up at each station and moves from station to station—RPI has slowed down its equipment and processes to better balance the load throughout its factory. It also uses parallel processes to automatically adjust to consumer demand. That way, each product moves through the system in a “continuous flow,” which is more efficient (the term comes from the practice of lean manufacturing).
RPI currently has about 100 full-time employees. Bellamy says to watch for some geographic expansion, in order to be closer to end consumers and be able to deliver products to stores and homes faster. “It’s time to accelerate the growth and broaden the addressable market,” he says. He adds that the new growth funds will be used to focus on product merchandising services, for both e-commerce and in-store, across many brand owners; to invest in the company’s technology platform and licensing so as to reach broader geographies; and to drive more personalization of its products.
Lastly, I asked Bellamy about the issue of trying to survive, and thrive, as a printing company in an increasingly digital age. “People have been predicting the death of print since 1980,” he says. “I don’t believe it’ll be until our children’s children are the ones running the world.”
He points out—and this resonates with me—that people will still need physical stuff to get their hands around, if it’s important enough. “What gets printed will be produced as it is needed,” Bellamy says. “How do you archive the memories and things you’re doing today that will be retrievable in a decade? That’s a real issue throughout society. The ability to retrieve digital memories as technologies and companies change becomes relevant over a person’s lifetime. Most storage sites are not responsible for loss of imagery. Digital permanence is something that will be very important for generations to come.”