Storytelling on a Grand Scale at Group Delphi

Trade show exhibit design, manufacturing and printing
Photo by Jamie Padgett

With roots in theatrical stage scenery, Group Delphi, based in Alameda, Calif., understands the importance of storytelling. As Group Delphi has grown and expanded its reach, the company’s storytelling approach continues to be the foundation of its work.

“Over the years we’ve transformed the company into what is now our core business: the design, manufacture and management of large-scale trade show programs, corporate events, museum exhibits and, most recently,  retail operations,” says Group Delphi CEO Justin Hersh. “The commonality across these different areas is storytelling. Our interest is in trying to understand what our customers want to tell their audiences and then in finding the environment and experience that most effectively tells that story. We’re more agnostic about the solution and much more interested in delving into the story and finding the most effective way to tell it. Sometimes that may be a permanent installation in a company’s lobby, graphics, multi-media and three-dimensional work. For us, it’s being able to bring a wide variety of tools to the table, working with the client to find the right solutions and delivering those solutions.”

CEO of Group Delphi
Group Delphi CEO Justin Hersh

As Hersh notes, Group Delphi has many tools at its disposal, from wide format and grand format inkjet printing to the use of dynamic digital signage. In other words, at Group Delphi the medium is not the message; the message is the message, and the medium follows.

Hersh sees digital content that arrives on-screen, whether at an event or as part of a display, as a complementary technology to digital printing. “There’s a tendency by the proponents of a new technology to present it as a category displacer,” he says. “However, we see new technology as different media that become complementary to existing media. One of the things that’s exciting to us is that as prices have come down and quality has gone up with wide format printing, the ability to use graphics to change an environment  and then to overlay digital content, providing a level of interactivity, creates an opportunity for a much more dynamic experience.”

Graphics and booth design for Pixar StudiosWhile storytelling is its foundation, Group Delphi has built diversification, integration of media and processes, and a focus on customer service into its corporate culture. Diversification, for instance, helped Group Delphi weather the recent economic storms as the trade show industry suffered. Fortunately, it appears that the trade show business is coming back, but being able to operate in a broad spectrum of markets with a diverse product mix picked up the slack.

“It’s hard to be in a single vertical market and not be concerned about economic volatility,” says Hersh.

“There are few fundamental things that have never changed: we’ve always put creative first, whether it’s our own design or one from an outside agency. We’re always stretching to make sure, no matter how tight budgets are, that we’re delivering on the creative side. We’ve also had a relentless pursuit of quality. Coupled with that is a real focus on customer service. Those are things that never go out of fashion. Other things come and go, but if you do those three things, then you stay on track,” Hersh adds. “With customer service you have to have a lot of visibility at the management level where you’re talking about it all the time. Each employee needs to be deeply ingrained in the culture of the company so that anyone in the organization knows that they have permission to do the right thing for the customer and that the company will back them up. You have to give a lot of power throughout the entire organization, and you have to be comfortable giving people that power. They won’t always make the right decision, but in general they will. The only way to support them is to help them get better at it, but you don’t take that decision-making power away from them.”

The woodshop at Group DelphiUsing this formula, Group Delphi has grown both organically and through the recent merger with General Graphics Exhibits (GGE), a full service trade show and exhibit company, with photo and fine art printing services as well. “GGE offered some of the same services with a stronger presence in the graphics business, enhancing our graphics offering,” explains Hersh.

The merger fit perfectly into the diversification component of Group Delphi’s business model, expanding and enhancing the company’s core capabilities.

“The acceleration of integration is only going to become more important in the future. Customers don’t want to have to go to ten different providers; they want to find companies that can bring design, digital content, graphics and fabrication all in one package. We’ll continue to look for ways to enhance the variety of our services and offerings as well as the way we integrate those services,” adds Hersh. 

Classic Success Story: Keith Fabry Reprographic Solutions

Perforated window vinyl applicationsDuring the great digital color output revolution of the mid-90s, a host of traditional reprographic and pro photo lab companies died on the vine. The transition was difficult for any number of reasons, but much of it having to do with the question of when to write off the large capital expenses of the previous tried and true technology in favor of a less expensive but immature technology. It was not only a question of adopting new technology, but exploring and adopting new markets and clientele.

Keith Fabry Reprographic Solutions, which had been providing traditional blueprints since 1958, succeeded in that transition and thrived. Keith Fabry, based in Richmond, Va., not only transitioned, but held onto its core business. The company was able to expand its large-format digital graphics offerings while maintaining a steady reprographics business, emerging stronger and more capable overall.

Glass panel inkjet printed graphics
Keith Fabry applied LexJet Simple Low Tack Clear Vinyl, printed with only white ink on an Oce UV-curable flatbed printer, on eight glass panels for a US Army exhibit.

“In the late ‘90s we got an Epson printer from LexJet and a solvent printer and started doing banners and high-end posters. Then we got a flatbed printer [an Oce 550 GT with white ink and roll-to-roll] and are now doing aqueous, solvent and UV-curable printing, plus we have CNC routing equipment, three laminators, fabricating equipment with a small wood shop and full-time designers and installers on staff,” says operations manager Ricky Shannon. “It’s difficult to categorize what is essentially a modern sign shop, but we still do a lot of architectural printing, like building documents and presentation boards for architects. A separate building handles blueprinting and commercial printing, while here at this building we do large-format printing. Whether we’re doing museum or retail work, fine art and photography reproduction, special events, trade shows or displays for new home developments, every day is a different experience.”

Producing point of purchase displays
Keith Fabry recently showcased its display-building abilities at a point of purchase trade show.

Keith Fabry recently updated its aqueous inkjet printing capabilities with a 44” Canon iPF8300 from LexJet and does most of its fine art and photographic reproduction with the printer. Generally, the UV-curable flatbed printer is used mainly for rigid substrates and the solvent printer for outdoor projects.

“It depends on the final application: What they’re using it for, how much sunlight and temperature the project will take, and whether the material needs to be conformable, especially with UV-curable since the inks are too brittle to make curves, tight bends and stretch with the media. For higher image quality indoors we usually print aqueous. It’s a more lucrative area because the requirement is for higher-quality images on premium papers as opposed to high volume work,” explains Shannon.

Printing photographs and fine art
Show and tell: Keith Fabry shows potential customers the different looks that can be acheived for fine art and photography with LexJet Sunset papers.

Shannon says his favorite inkjet materials for high-end work are LexJet Sunset Photo eSatin, Sunset Photo Metallic and Sunset Fibre Gloss. “My favorite is probably the Fibre Gloss. It’s a good all-around paper, and I like the fact that there’s the slightest texture that shows through. I also like the Photo Metallic. I wouldn’t call it gimmicky, but if you’re looking for something non-traditional with a lot of pop, it’s a great choice,” says Shannon. “We print the Photo eSatin more than any other aqueous material. We find higher end photographers and artists that are re-selling their artwork prefer these nicer papers. For some of those projects we work through local frame shops where they’re packaging the artwork and contracting us to print it.”

Shannon adds the Keith Fabry prints for a client base that ranges from local college students to national franchise accounts, but it’s much more than simply printing. With its design and fabrication capabilities, Keith Fabry can take on practically any advertising or promotional project and is not afraid to do so.

Installing banners on a building
Keith Fabry not only designs, builds and prints, but also handles large installations like this giant banner for a local private school.

“Our willingness to try new things and constantly expand our offerings – basically our lack of saying no – can get us into trouble, but it’s helped us grow a lot. We have clients who come to us because they know we can find a way to make their ideas happen,” says Shannon.