Custom calendars

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If you’ve ordered a personalized calendar, photo book or series of greeting cards from one of the three most popular online photo product websites, chances are your product was printed at Proven Direct Inc.’s Milwaukee plant.

Proven Direct provides backroom operations, including printing, binding and mailing services, for the largest online photo providers, said Mike Limbach, the company’s president. The company also is a direct marketing provider, developing, printing and mailing direct marketing materials for a wide range of customers.

Proven Direct’s photo services are designed for the high end of the consumer market and for professional photographers, Limbach said.

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“On the high (or professional) end, we might do a photo book for a special vacation or wedding,” he said. Photo books range from $89 to $300 each, depending on page count, the type of book binding used, cover material and finishing on pages. Some of Proven Direct’s other photo products are more affordable.

“The calendars are about $19 each,” Limbach said. “They’re both personal and inexpensive. You can walk into a Wal-Mart and buy something for $20 for your grandparents, but it won’t be something customized and special.”

The company uses a high-tech system to process its photo-related orders that includes a high reliance on automation. Each order is completely automated until a production worker starts one of its digital presses, Limbach said.

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The highly automated system turns out orders in 24 to 48 hours on average, Limbach said. Including shipping time, most customers receive their orders within one week.

“This business couldn’t have existed five years ago,” Limbach said. “It’s the prevalence and adoption of digital cameras, the prevalence of broadband (Internet connections) on the consumer side and the quality of print that we can produce on our digital cameras.”

Proven Direct moved into a new 53,000-square-foot facility in Milwaukee’s Menomonee Valley in February.

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“We process about 10,000 individual orders per day,” Limbach said. “It’s a huge data and image transfer. With the work flow we’ve built, the storage and processing capabilities are huge. We use Red Anvil LLC (at 37th and Burnham) for our managed services, and we have a direct fiber link from there to here. They’re sending 10,000 to 100,000 images per day.”

The company’s move to the Menomonee Valley has made it easier to attract and retain employees, Limbach said, especially in higher technology and design-oriented positions.

“Younger folks who are doing programming or are at an agency want to be downtown or in the Third Ward,” he said. “We also mail 40 million to 50 million pieces per year, and all of that is sent to the downtown Post Office.”

Proven Direct has 55 employees. The company hired about five new workers this year and anticipates similar hiring for next year.

The firm hires as many as 20 seasonal employees each year for the busy eight to 10 weeks leading up to Christmas.

“Photo is driving our growth,” he said. “We’re growing 30 to 50 percent (annually on the photo side), depending on the product.”

The company is planning several new products and looking for new ways to sell its existing products to new customers.

“We’re thinking about doing collage posters and puzzles,” Limbach said. “One of the things we’re doing is looking for opportunities for corporate markets to cross-sell the products into.” 

Proven Direct Inc.

1301 W. Canal St., Milwaukee

Industry: Custom printing, direct marketing

Employees: 55

Web site:

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