The Dead Pixels Society podcast

Rick Bellamy, CEO of RPI, on the printing market, consolidation and COVID

August 13, 2020 Gary Pageau Season 1 Episode 15
The Dead Pixels Society podcast
Rick Bellamy, CEO of RPI, on the printing market, consolidation and COVID
The Dead Pixels Society podcast
Rick Bellamy, CEO of RPI, on the printing market, consolidation and COVID
Aug 13, 2020 Season 1 Episode 15
Gary Pageau

Gary Pageau of The Dead Pixels Society talks with Rick Bellamy, CEO of RPI, about the company's recent acquisition of Blurb, the forces driving industry consolidation, the future of print and RPI's leadership role in COVID-19 response.

RPI is a leading make-on-demand producer of private label personalized print services to businesses around the world, including books, greeting and holiday cards, apparel, and business products for e-commerce companies, mass retailers, and Fortune 1000 corporations.

The Seattle-based company, which celebrated its 40th year in business in 2019, has additional production facilities in Kennesaw, GA, Rochester, NY, and Eindhoven, NL.

Show Notes Transcript

Gary Pageau of The Dead Pixels Society talks with Rick Bellamy, CEO of RPI, about the company's recent acquisition of Blurb, the forces driving industry consolidation, the future of print and RPI's leadership role in COVID-19 response.

RPI is a leading make-on-demand producer of private label personalized print services to businesses around the world, including books, greeting and holiday cards, apparel, and business products for e-commerce companies, mass retailers, and Fortune 1000 corporations.

The Seattle-based company, which celebrated its 40th year in business in 2019, has additional production facilities in Kennesaw, GA, Rochester, NY, and Eindhoven, NL.

Gary Pageau  0:01  
Hello, and welcome to the dead pixel society podcast. I'm Gary Pageau. And today we're being joined by Rick Bellamy, the CEO of RPI.

Unknown Speaker  0:13  
Hey, Rick, how are you today? I'm doing well, Gary. Thank you. How are

Gary Pageau  0:17  
you? I'm well, doing great. Well, our RPI has been in the news the last couple weeks because of some acquisition, news. And we thought we'd get on the horn with reg to talk a little bit about that about the photo printing side of the industry, and some of the directions is taking. So, Rick, can you first tell us a little bit about RPI as a company? It's been around about 40 years. I think there's a lot of people who know of the company as one of the larger white label printing suppliers, but you can kind of share some of the history of the company.

Rick Bellamy  0:56  
Yeah, absolutely. The company was started in 19 79 by Barry rationing in response to a gap in the market around the production of legal documentation in particular and was an early adapter of adopter of digital printing when you know, you could get any color you wanted as long as it was black. About 99 very son, Ted reisling came back to the business for a stint in the prosecuting attorney's office and came up with an innovative solution to allow people to upload photos and create a personalized Notepad, which is an early an early photo application. Sure, and named a website in which they sold that iPads calm, which was a name I made fun of until Apple released the product of that type and So that was very successful. By 2006. The company had figured out how to create a mass customization platform that allowed them to produce one off product under scale. And in doing so, was servicing a lot of the photo industry as a private label provider. So they ended up selling off the commercial side of their business and really just focusing on manufacturing of that personalized print products. You know, today, we span locations all over the world with owned locations in Eindhoven, Atlanta, Rochester, New York, Boise, Idaho, Seattle, Washington. And now with this acquisition, San Francisco, California. And we also have a global distribution platform, which is can directly integrate with any digital system in the world, never found one that we can't integrate with, and accept orders and route that digital content to the best place in the world to produce almost any personalized product from apparel, to gifting items to the flat printed products that are produced in our internal facility. So

Gary Pageau  3:22  
So does that, does that have to be part of your network or can third parties be a part of that?

Rick Bellamy  3:30  
We carefully choose our production partners strategically, and make sure that we are managing the quality and the service delivery times very carefully. And then we work with our partners as well to help them to improve their productivity along with, you know, as we learned, as we learn to do some as well ourselves in manufacturing these Personalized Products

Gary Pageau  4:00  
The news is, of course that you've acquired Blurb, which was one of the largest self publishing platforms, not only photo books, but you know, magazines and novels and personal publishing of all kinds, some wall decor and some other items. And you've had a relationship with them actually going back to 2005.

Rick Bellamy  4:25  
Yes, we're really excited to be adding blurb into the RPI family. So yes, as you as you mentioned, Gary blurb and RPI have been partners since 2005, when Eileen getting's, the founder of blurb, and the concept that making a professional quality book shouldn't be so hard and you should be able to just make one right. So it's crazy and crazy. She, she came to Ted reisling and, and the rest is history. We've been a strategic partner with them every every sense and today We produce a massive, vast majority of their print volumes. And so for us, it was a natural fit for. As you know, there, as you mentioned, the a big part of their customer base is the creative professional, whether that's an author, whether that is a photographer, or whether that is a designer producing marketing materials, for the vast majority of their users are in that creative professional space. But it made made sense for us as an acquisition.

Gary Pageau  5:34  
If you already been servicing those type of clients before the sort of creative professional space or some of your other customers, or is that sort of the growth potential, you see?

Rick Bellamy  5:45  
Yes, and yes, so we produce for both b2b and b2c markets. And a big focus of ours over the last several years actually has been growing in those b2b market sectors. So business products marketing materials as a way to drive personalization into those markets. And you know, as we see the benefit of personalization in, whether that's a sales call, or whether that's the ability to produce a small number of business cards, so

Gary Pageau  6:21  
So, tell us a little bit about how blurb fits in because like you mentioned, like you said before, you've always been sort of a white label behind the scenes company industry, people know who RPI is. And in the last, you know, few years you've acquired car centric which own the peekaboo brand, but you know, you're really not known as being a in front of the end user kind of company and you know, blurb is so where How does blurb fit in.

Rick Bellamy  6:51  
As I mentioned, a big part of Blurb's user base is based as a creative professional, so And they have one of the best I guess now we do have one of the best rendering engines and e commerce platforms out there. So we actually work with Blurb already on many of the private label applications we for example, service 23andme in the DNA market and producing a personalized product for them. So we are not moving away from our private label and servicing our customers in any way shape or form. And having access to that creative professional and helping drive personalization into their everyday life is an especially around the publishing and, and especially around the publishing space, made perfect sense for us as the next step in our building of personalization platform that spans services, from everything from creative building. All the way through logistics that deliver a personalized product to your home or business in just a few days. So it was a, it was a natural extension for us. And also we've known them for, as I mentioned since their founding. So the ability to bring them in as part of the family was, it was a very strategic opportunity that we couldn't pass up.

Gary Pageau  8:28  
And from a geographic standpoint, they're not far away, right?

Rick Bellamy  8:31  
They are not far away and very similar cultures as well. So we've we've grown up together. So it just made sense for us to move in together, as you might say.

Gary Pageau  8:43  
So from what you've said, it sounds to me like it's part it's a part of a a strategy, technology strategy as well because like you said, they saw they had some rendering technology that you were interested in and also it appears that you know, the management of blurb is staying along. So you're going to get Some expertise in that area as well.

Rick Bellamy  9:04  
Exactly, so very much it's an additional technology service add on to our existing add on services, printer net, which we acquired as part of the soft print acquisition which allows us to, you know, add workflow mass customization workflows into various print facilities from large big box retailers to print facilities all over the world. And that to peekaboo which is very focused on private label input applications. So we're, we're expanding our private label today that runs Office Depot photo site, for example. And now we're adding in magcloud, and blurb so access to that creative professional and our ability to Utilize the services that they excel in, right to enable brands, quite frankly, to step into this world of personalization, whether that's for brand loyalty applications, or whether that is for increased conversion, or whether that's for personal usage.

Gary Pageau  10:22  
So there's been some consolidation in the industry in the last year as if you've been, I'm sure you've noticed, right.

Rick Bellamy  10:33  
So yes, to say the least.

Gary Pageau  10:35  
Yes, yeah. And, you know, it's not only in the photo personalization space, but it's also you know, generally in printing, right, you had Quad an LSC trying to get together and that kind of fell through and you've had other people is this being driven by technology, because it's become so efficient now that there's so much capacity in the industry. Know that it kind of lends itself to that? Or is it because the market isn't growing as much? And so that's driving it? Or is it because from my standpoint, I'm seeing a lot of venture capital kind of sitting is coming into play now kind of initiating some of these activities.

Rick Bellamy  11:20  
I can share my perspective on it.

Gary Pageau  11:23  
That's why you're here.

Rick Bellamy  11:25  
There's definitely consolidation in the marketplace, and I think it will accelerate. And I think there's several factors. The entire print market is in a transition right now as a combination of things happen. Advances in technology are certainly a driver. companies who were able to make the investments in driving new technologies, especially as more and more of the printed product that is distributed as being done digitally That that technology requires a sizable investment and for smaller print facility that, you know, is already struggling or potentially, you know, looking at how do I, how do I finance the next round of technology and how do I actually implement it into my writing process ease. It's a sizeable barrier for many of the smaller groups to to keep up in that space. I think another area is the print industry in general has not done a good job of presenting the exciting opportunities to a younger group of people, especially in the universities and and, and attracting a younger set. So you see quite a bit of an aging ownership structure with a lack of succession plan in place. Smaller companies, which is creates a challenge as well. So you add to that with the ongoing market challenges, you know, because because the market is in such a transition, what you did 10 years ago is probably not going to be marketable today, or even five years ago, or even five years ago, you know, as the expectation of personalization, and at least customization and integration with digital art, digital media becomes more critical. You know, it is a transformation that's happening inside the industry. Absolutely don't think it's going away. Actually, we see lots of growth opportunities, but it's no longer necessarily the mass produced primary channel or have a secondary channel that's highly targeted. So I think you'll see a continuation of consolidation in the marketplace as those that are able to adapt rapidly to changing market circumstances and make the investments to do that are able to grow and increase their profitability and others you know, are going to need to find ways to monetize what their existing customer base. Yes. I am still amazed when I look at printing industry statistics when I see how much printing is still done analog, right with with, you know, web presses and things like that. It's it's quite astounding, actually. It is astounding. It's one of the world's largest industries. And that transformation as you know, analog continues to shrink and digital continues to grow. But digital There's a long ways to go to catch up.

Gary Pageau  15:03  
I mean, it's it's interesting because when you when you come from the photo world where the analog to digital conversion is more or less happened and happened a long time ago, yes, there's some analog happening, but it's not nearly the share that it is in the printing world. And you know, from the photo perspective, every image is is unique, right in the sense that they've always had runs of one, if you will, when you're making four by six prints or what have you. And now the printing industry is kind of catching up to that where you can have a personalized item a basically a run of one item that's totally unique. So it's kind of interesting to see that happening in the marketplace.

Rick Bellamy  15:46  
So so and and the value of the printed product becomes much stronger. Now as digital as digital media becomes more and more ubiquitous, high quality, high image printed piece becomes a higher value. And whether that is as a gift to memorialize vacation, or whether or not that is a sales piece that helps you make a decision to actually convert into a sale. It equally effective works well as a tactile experience that helps burn that brand into your market into your brain cells.

Gary Pageau  16:29  
Yeah, I mean, it's kind of amazing when you look at some of the like, finishings and coatings and things like that, that can be applied now almost in a digital way. Like, discotheques and things like that, that is now trickling down to you know, amateur work where people can have, you know, a coating on their photo book that is unique and it just, it's just fascinating to watch this. How far personally conversation is going to go to kind of, as you say, add value to printed piece.

Rick Bellamy  17:05  
Exactly. Yes. No, it's a. Yeah. And with a generation and upcoming generations that have an expectation of things being personalized to them.

Gary Pageau  17:16  
Yeah. Yeah. I mean, that's the table stakes now, right. Now, speaking of you mentioned before your your company culture. There's something I want to touch on because as we've all been experiencing this year, there's a bit of a pandemic. And can you talk a little bit about how your company has responded to the pandemic? Because you've taken kind of a leadership role, at least in the printing industry with some guidelines that you've shared, of how your company has responded?

Rick Bellamy  17:52  
RPI has been on a cultural journey for 10 years now. We're really focused on Building a common vision mission and set of values, which turned out to also be phenomenal basis for change management platform. And so yes, when when something unforeseen hit us like in this case COVID-19 might be team was able to respond extremely quickly. And within days, we used CDC guidelines, we used our own medical expert input, and we built out a series of procedures and steps that we would take in order to protect our employees in every circumstance that we could come up with. As we did that, you know, there were obviously lots of people in the industry, that we're all trying to figure out how Do I stay open as an essential business? Right? For those of us who were central businesses, and how do I protect my employees so that they're safe? Sure. And I'm happy to say that you know, everything from screening everyone who came into the building to limiting the number of people that came into our facilities, to responses to any kind of symptoms on the floor, in production, and to our quarantine, periods. All of those have been very effective in helping us to react quickly and keep our keep our teams safe. So, you know, today, today, we have facilities that follow those procedures and Keep them keep our employees safe, just based on the CDC guidelines and following those in in all of our locations, honestly.

Gary Pageau  20:11  
So how did how were those protocols and procedures developed? You know, was it was it a team approach? I mean, you've got multiple facilities, right? And so there's probably different physical configurations in all of those facilities. Was it a bottom up sort of process cross functional team process? How is that managed?

Rick Bellamy  20:36  
It was actually a cross functional team process. So each of our facilities have general managers and then leaders for each of the functions. We quickly built teams, cross functional teams to address everything from signage, to marketing and production of keeping people six feet apart from shutting down or limiting contact inside of the break rooms to, you know, to creating new sanitation stations every few feet within our facilities. All of those activities were coordinated between my facilities and the leaders in have to say the leaders inside of those organizations at every level, were able to not only change their procedures but do so in a way that made it sustainable and turned it into the new standard practice that we could carefully enforce. And today with in in today's environment, we we consider it just part of our safety efforts and named it it's the six foot culture. So we are we are working throughout Our organization to create the just make a standard part of our life that we create a six foot distance between ourselves and, and where all the protective safety gear.

Gary Pageau  22:12  
Yeah, I mean, it's it's not likely it's going to change anytime soon certainly not by the time the fourth quarter holiday season hits, certainly. So you've done some webinars and things like that. And then is that something people can check out somewhere?

Rick Bellamy  22:30  
Yeah, absolutely. You can access that on On our idea exchange, there's a recording of recording of that webinar that's archived there.

Gary Pageau  22:45  
And what kind of material was it? Was it more or less a how you did it sort of thing so people could take away some learnings from that or is there like any materials they can download?

Rick Bellamy  22:55  
Yep, there was a combination of you know, how we reacted what the impact was. And then yes, there's I think there's a host of documents as part of that package that you can download and utilize in your own organization as well.

Gary Pageau  23:10  
That's great. So it sounds to me like you're fairly optimistic - present circumstances notwithstanding - about the future of print.

Rick Bellamy  23:21  
Extremely Yes. I think that print communications and the ability for print to connect on an emotional level makes print an essential part of our communication structure. And I think the opportunities inside of this now inside of this industry are, are massive for those that are able to adapt rapidly. So I'm, I'm quite bullish on the market and our opportunities in the market. Though it's not the traditional No traditional project based, transactional print that we saw that in the past.

Gary Pageau  24:07  
Yeah, that's I think that if we've learned anything about 2020 is that things change very rapidly and permanently.

Rick Bellamy  24:19  
Yes, I would expect that, you know, the things, the things that we are doing now to adapt to this current situation out of that many, many of them will become standard procedures in the future. You know, I, we don't expect the COVID pandemic to really return to normal until about a year from now, because it just takes time for the vaccines to become become widely available and widely accepted. And a lot of it and then there will be social change. There'll be social change just in people's behaviors as well.

Gary Pageau  24:57  
Right, right. And that's they're just gonna say even even if You know, magically, a vaccine were to be available in the third or fourth quarter of this year, there will still be some behavior changes that are still going to happen over that time people you know, so it's it's like you said it's gonna be a long haul this is gonna be a interesting time.

Rick Bellamy  25:15  
Yep. And and many of the things that we're doing now, you know, we spoke we speak about this a lot on our teams, a lot of the things that we're doing now should help us in the future with any other flu outbreaks or normal disease outbreaks as well as future pandemics as well. So many of the practices that we are implementing simply are best practices in inside of inside of an organization anyway. So

Gary Pageau  25:46  
yeah, there really shouldn't be a downside to keeping your customers and your associates safe. There's really no downside to that.

Rick Bellamy  25:54  

Gary Pageau  25:56  
Well, thank you, Rick, for your time today. I appreciate Are you speaking me so soon after the acquisition hope things are going well and hope to catch up with you soon.

Rick Bellamy  26:08  
Thanks, Gary. Much appreciated. Talk soon.

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