Falls printer is on the digital edge
When George Fiel set out on his own after more than 20 years in the pre-press industry, he knew his survival in the crowded field depended on his firm being different.
And that suited him just fine.
“I always wanted to do things differently and outside the box,” said Fiel, who, with his wife Erika, founded Image Systems in the basement of the family home in 1987. “I’ve always been excited about opportunity and about new technology.”
Opportunity has certainly presented itself in technology over the course of the firm’s 10 years in business. And Fiel has taken advantage of it, building a company that did $10 million in business last year and which now has 85 employees.
His visionary approach to technology in the printing business has paid off in another way: Consolidated Graphics, a publicly-traded giant in the industry, has agreed to purchase Image Systems for an undisclosed sum.
Fiel, who will remain as president of the Menomonee Falls firm, sees the acquisition as just one more proactive measure for his operation.
“With Consolidated Graphics, we join the most successful group of commercial printing companies in the United States,” Fiel said. “They share our long-standing commitment to advanced printing technologies, a commitment that has created for us a competitive advantage in our market.”
Upon completion of pending acquisitions, the Houston-based Consolidated Graphics will have 35 companies with annualized revenues in excess of $360 million. Consolidated Graphics has a policy of keeping management of acquired companies in charge, figuring that those persons are largely responsible for making the companies successful, says Consolidated chairman and CEO Joe R. Davis.
Davis calls Fiel an example of that expertise.
“George Fiel and his staff have dedicated themselves to providing their customers a superior product through hard work and exemplary customer service, as well as being a nationally recognized leader in the digital technology revolution.”
Fiel and Image Systems certainly are nationally recognized. Fiel is regularly quoted in printing industry trade journals, with such publications as Graphic Arts Monthly calling him a “pioneer in digital imaging systems.”
Fiel saw it all coming. The Pittsburgh native spent 20 years with Kodak – experience that not only steeped him in the ways of the industry but also gave him insight into where it was headed. Kodak’s own early predictions were that graphic arts film would be a thing of the past by 1998.
Film is still used in the graphic arts industry but, more and more, that part of the printing process is going digital.
And George Fiel has led the way since he began his business as a pre-press shop 10 years ago.
“Knowing that film would be phased out, how you got to that point would be different,” Fiel said. “So I knew I had to get into printing.”
Through an association with Heidelberg, a printing press manufacturer, in 1991 Fiel was able to have Image Systems become the first site in the United States to install a direct-imaging press. He continued to latch onto new technologies, adding a computer-to-plate system and becoming somewhat of a test site for various printing technologies.
Acquisition of a direct-imaging press prompted Fiel to move out of his Appleton Avenue facility into the present 55,000-square-foot facility in an industrial park just off Highway 41.
Fiel’s wife Erika, vice president of the firm, designed the plant with an open concept, allowing a visual connection between all steps of the printing process.
And while the Fiels have made sure the facility can accommodate the latest in printing technology, they’ve also made sure it speaks to the human element, too. The employee lunchroom, for example, not only has tables for eating, but also a pool table and a ping-pong table. Elsewhere in the facility they’ve installed exercise machines for employees to use. And, harking to Erika’s German birth, the facility also includes a German-themed lounge.
“We’ve striven to be a unique printer,” Fiel says, adding that if there hadn’t been a way to differentiate the firm, he never would have gone into the business. “Our goal has always been to be a leader in the digital arena. It gives us an edge.”
Fiel also early on saw the advantages of Internet connectivity; more than half of Image System’s work comes into the plant via modem rather than on some sort of disk or paper.
Image Systems continues on the cutting edge, now working with a 6-color printing process rather than the traditional 4-color. The process, which Image Systems is using for some Fortune 100 clients, produces more brilliant, true-to-life colors on product packaging and catalogs, and on other printed items.
“Almost anything that comes out, we’re in the forefront,” said Fiel, who estimates the company spends about 2% of its budget on R&D each year. “We’ve become known as the company that’s willing to take risks.”
He sees an industry taking greater advantage of information technologies, calling it a new paradigm of communications. In that paradigm, the old “print and distribute” methods are being switched to “distribute and print,” whereby the information is distributed digitally and whereby printing is done where it’s most efficient.
It will also mean a greater targeting of printed material such as catalogs, to the point of such items being individualized for the recipient.
To take part in the new world of printing will require more resources that an individual printer can muster, Fiel believes.
“You need to be part of something bigger than yourself. If I hadn’t joined Consolidated Graphics, I would have become an unnetworked island,” he says. “So joining them is a strategic move for Image Systems for the year 2000 and beyond.”
May 1998 Small Business Times, Milwaukee
Falls printer is on the digital edge