Kubin-Nicholson Corp.

While many of the printing companies in southeastern Wisconsin focus on printing glossy magazines, specialized labels, customized photo books, commercial packaging and more, Kubin-Nicholson Corp., a Milwaukee-based printer, has carved out its own niche in oversized billboards, signs and other large promotional materials.

About half of the company’s business is in printing billboards, bus and train-wrapping advertising and giant posters that are frequently hung from skyscrapers in cities such as New York, Chicago and Los Angeles. The company is able to make signs as large as 300 feet tall and 185 feet wide, using its large-format printers and stitching capabilities, said Michael Rees, president and CEO of Kubin-Nicholson.

“For the Palm Pre campaign, we did a number of those, where the industry looked beyond the normal billboard,” he said.

Transit systems have been a solid source of orders for Kubin-Nicholson in recent years. The company routinely produces bus and train-wrapping advertising materials, as well as related printed advertising for bus shelters, subway stations, newsstands and other fixtures near transit stations.

Many companies look to establish “station domination” in subway stops and large transit hubs, Rees said, and Kubin-Nicholson has been asked to produce advertising that winds down steps, is featured on the inside and outside of trains and is used on both inside and outside the stations themselves.

The other half of Kubin-Nicholson’s business is in point-of-purchase (POP) and display sales. While other printing firms specialize in smaller POP displays where customers might be able to quickly grab smaller items, Kubin-Nicholson prints much larger displays.

“These are the larger ones that are placed on end aisles (in big box stores like Home Depot) or displays that hold materials,” Rees said.

Kubin-Nicholson has one of the 11, 80-inch KBA205 presses in the United States, and the company uses it to produce its POP displays, as well as high-resolution maps and the Fathead brand decorative wall adhesives.

The company is one of two suppliers for Fat Head, Rees said. It currently uses both its digital and lithograph presses to make Fathead decorations, cuts the shapes out using an automated laser cutting system, and then ships the decorations directly to customers.

Kubin-Nicholson’s equipment is set up to handle both medium size to short run orders, “from one to 1,000,” Rees said, which allows it to produce large quantities for retail clients looking for a national rollout in retail stores to a single order for a Fat Head wall decoration.

Kubin-Nicholson was founded in 1926, and has been owned by the Rees family since 1971. The company has 80 employees. Most of them work in its 100,000-square-foot headquarters and main printing facility in Milwaukee.

The company also operates a 20,000-square-foot printing facility in Dallas. Kubin-Nicholson plans to add equipment and upgrade existing equipment in Dallas later this year because of continuing demand from the southern states, Rees said.

“In the recession, the Dallas market has held up remarkably well,” he said. “My clients there like to buy local. If I can provide more for them there, I can do more work there.”

As it was for many businesses, 2009 was slow for Kubin-Nicholson. But based on orders from the last several months, the company is forecasting about 10 percent growth this year.

“Our second quarter estimate has been fairly accurate – May and June have been busy,” Rees said. “All of the metrics are up from last year. There is more activity, more estimates.”

The company believes that its investments in Dallas later this year and its purchase last year of printing equipment that can produce billboards on polyethylene material will pay off in the short term. Most billboard customers now ask for the new material instead of traditional paper billboards, Rees said.

“There are very few standard bleed billboards any more,” he said. “It’s all gone to the polyethylene, which is a recyclable material.”

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