It’s always nice to find success stories in and amongst a general recessionary atmosphere. It is these success stories, and the methods employed for success, that will help lead all of us out of economic uncertainty.
Case in point is GVH Studio, based in Bennington, Vt. Though not near a major metropolitan area (the closest city outside of Bennington is Albany, N.Y.), GVH Studio has not only weathered the storm, but thrived with 15-20 percent growth over the past few years.
GVH Studio’s success is due to the company’s strict adherence to a core philosophy that combines quality, customer service, on-time delivery, solid vendor relationships and attention to detail. Of course these are all elements that every company strives for, but putting them into practice consistently requires constant vigilance.
“A generally understood element of wide format is that it’s going to be really big and no one will walk up to it, which is not always true. At museums, for instance, people walk up to it and look at it closely, so you want to see image quality and color fidelity,” explains GVH Studio’s owner Greg Van Houten. “Then we have to get it there on time, and that’s one of the biggest challenges with printing in general. When a museum is opening an exhibit it has to get there, and that’s what we do. That’s been the basis of our growth. Our clients rely on that, and do not want to risk it by shopping for a lower price. We survey the installation site before we produce a job to make sure we have the right media at the right size with the right approach. We strive to understand the job from all angles before it goes into production.”
This deadline-oriented approach comes from years of experience before Van Houten opened and incorporated GVH Studio about five years ago. Previously, Van Houten worked in the offset pre-press industry where his specialty was color correction, imaging and darkroom photography.
“In offset, delivery is everything. We were doing everything from publishing to national one-page advertising, and it was a culture of making deadlines. You learn techniques to get things going and what to get going first and how to get things in line from there,” explains Van Houten. “Our goal is to deliver the jobs early, and not be opening up with the customers on the day it’s due and finding mistakes then. That’s just an attitude. A lot of it just comes from understanding the customer and what your role in their life is. Very early in my career I can remember getting excited about a thousand-dollar job, and then realizing that the production manager is trying to traffic a $3 million television campaign. They don’t want a $1,000 job to eat up their day; you have to make it happen for them so they can check it off their list. So you have to find out what your role is in their production workflow and be part of their production system.”
All of this is accomplished over an impressive range of applications and client types: Museums, industrial clients, corporate clients, special events, trade shows, vehicle wraps, banners and design-build projects of all stripes. Despite the variety of work that comes through the door, Van Houten says they keep a relatively limited inventory of different print media.
“I try to keep my product line relatively small. I don’t want 400 brands of PSA vinyl on the shelf. Quality control and predictability are synonymous. When you change media all the time, you lose track of what it does, how it performs in the field and how it prints,” says Van Houten. “I’ve worked with shops that fight everything tooth and nail just to get a couple of cents per square foot off the media, and they do every job with a different brand of material and no one knows what it does. As an example, we use LexJet’s Simple Flo Wrap Vinyl for different applications, including vehicles, and we know what it’s going to do and how it will perform. We use specialty media when the project calls for it, of course, but we try not to jump around too much.”
Van Houten maintains a close relationship with his vendors, making sure that he’s up to date with them on billing while nurturing that relationship as much as possible. After all, says Van Houten, “I tend to use the same vendors and when I need a favor, I need a favor. If someone pays their bills, you’ll get to their job and get it done, and that’s the way we are. It’s not just about the customers and our guys here in the shop, it’s also about our vendor chain, whether it’s a fabricator or a media supplier. We try to find vendors we can depend on and are responsive. LexJet, and specifically Jaime Mask, have been fantastic. She’s great and fun to work with; it’s a very pleasant and enjoyable relationship. And if she’s not there, there’s always someone to pick up the phone and get me what I need. I don’t shop around with a bunch of vendors trying to find three cents off a square foot. I like the material, LexJet gets it to me on time, and that’s what I need to know. I won’t deal with someone I don’t like anymore. I fired a customer a couple of years ago. I got to the point where I didn’t want to do their work anymore. They made us crazy, didn’t pay their bills and screamed at us. This is not why I come to work in the morning. We’re very fortunate to have wonderful customers and very enjoyable vendors to work with; it keeps the ulcers away.”
GVH Studio produces its work on an Epson GS6000 low-solvent and three HP Designjet 5000 Series aqueous printers. The Epson is generally used for outdoor work and the HPs for indoor projects. Ultimately it boils down to project parameters and budget. The production area is complete with a 60″ SEAL laminator, a 54″ Graphtec cutter and tables with rollers so that they can be moved out of the way for larger projects that require more floor space.
The shop setup is a kind of an ergonomic extension of the company’s core philosophy. It’s built for efficiency and flexibility so that GVH Studio can ensure all of the qualities it brings to the table for its client base. It’s less about cutting costs on items like print media or production equipment and more about creating efficiencies that bring costs down and reduce turnaround times.
“Everybody’s trying to do things economically; the bigger the company the more price conscious they are because they’re looking for ways to cut costs. The smaller the operation, however, the more they want to see success and get a quality product. A lot of times they don’t know what that means, exactly, and that’s where we step in,” says Van Houten. “You can always find something cheaper. We show up and make sure you’re happy with it, and in the long run you’ll spend less money if you use us than if you bounce around to different vendors to shop price. If one of my regular customers comes in and they’re not happy with it, we’ll do it over. Those are the people who pay our mortgage, and we want them to walk out of here thinking their money is well spent. That’s how clients come back and justify doing the next project with us to their people.”