When Gene Klein began working summers in his dad’s blue print shop, little did he know that one day he would be running one of the leading output fulfillment providers in the country. For 48 years, the San Mateo, CA-based BarkerBlue Digital Imaging has been on the cutting edge of technology, has paved new roads in planroom technology and has led the sustainable movement in the industry. For their years of service and dedication, they have been selected by Wide-Format Imaging as the “Reprographic Shop of the Year” for 2009.
“When I started working for my dad back in the mid-70s, I really thought it was going to be a summer gig while I went to college. I never thought it was going to be my career. As I continued to learn the business from him, we found out that we really enjoyed working together,” said Gene Klein, CEO and owner at BarkerBlue Digital Imaging.
While BarkerBlue’s roots are steeped deep in traditional reprographic service offerings, the shop has proven to be a major catalyst for change in the industry. Klein, a past chairman of the board of the ReproMAX network and current board member, has consistently pushed the envelope of the reprographic business, from pin-graphics to laser-plotting to color on-demand print to adopting online planroom technology.
The San Francisco Bay Area business was founded in 1961 by Jerry Barker. “The original name of the company was Barker Blueprint. It was a 3,000 square foot blue print business located in Burlingame, CA. At the time, Barker Blueprint was a small mom and pop blue print shop but their big customer for many years was the San Francisco International Airport. It was a small profitable company that had vast potential,” said Klein. “My dad (Gene Sr.) was looking for a business to invest in and he purchased the shop from Jerry in 1976. Around that time, I was an undergraduate at Stanford and would work at the shop during the summer. After graduation, I was planning on going to law school but my dad asked me to try working full-time in the business for the year and see if I liked it. In 1979, he kicked out his tenant in our building to double our space to 6,000 square feet. He then ordered an Acti camera and vacuum frames to move into the photo business. During that year the business really took off and needless to say I didn’t go to law school. I really enjoyed working side-by-side with him and learning the business. It’s now 30 years later and the rest is history,” said Klein.
Cutting Edge Technology
Klein has continued to maintain many of the business acumens first set by his dad when he was running the company. “My dad always wanted to purchase the latest equipment and be on the cutting edge of technology and I have carried on that tradition. “We have always tried to stay ahead of the curve with regard to digital imaging and document management technology. I believe in having the latest solutions to run our business and that has helped us stay on top,” he commented.
Staying Ahead in the Market
In 1983, they purchased the Shacoh 360 Screen wide-format electrostatic engineering copier. “This knocked out some of our existing photo business, but I was beginning to realize that you have to cannibalize your own business before somebody else does. The fact that the Shacoh could do 36 inches wide when the width limit at the time (with the Xerox 2080) was 24 inches gave us an edge in that marketplace. In 1987, we purchased a Versatech 8836 plotter, which was our first official foray into the electronic world. It could produce 20 E-size plots an hour, which by today’s standards is slow but at the time was much faster than the pen plotters in the offices of our customers. We also started purchasing computers. At that point we were in the reprographic business, blueprint business, and the plotting business. Then in 1988, we got into color copier market when we purchased a number of Canon copiers that set the stage for us to move into the graphic arts and then display graphic markets,” he explained.
To accommodate all the new markets they were now serving, they changed the name of the company to BarkerBlue Reprographics. In 1989, Klein was made president of the company and his dad continued to work at BarkerBlue until he passed away in 1991. “My dad instilled in me that change was good and over the years we have changed with the times and that has helped forge our success.”
BarkerBlue was on the ground floor and first reprographer in its market to deploy Web-based electronic planroom services. Klein noted that the emergence of online plan rooms has now moved into a core offering for members of ReproMAX, the largest international network of independent reprographic companies. “We pushed for the online planroom as a way to remain competitive and offer progressive solutions to our customers,” he pointed out.
“In the late 90s we were a full service reprographer and that was about the time that the dotcoms were coming out talking about hosting projects online. I saw that as a threat. I believe that you should never let anyone get between you and your customers, so we wanted to be the ones hosting the projects. One day I was playing golf with some ReproCAD members and we were talking about trying to find a way where we could post drawings and projects online for our customers. One of the guys said they were working on developing a software program that could accomplish this. At that point I dropped my driver and said ‘wow we need to work with you on this.’ We purchased a system, called CDM, helped develop it, then recruited others in ReproMAX to also buy the product and help refine it. CDM wound up being adopted by 15 companies in the ReproCAD network. We then focused on digital services and put all of our clients’ projects on our planrooms, back when some of them didn’t know what a planroom was. In time, Adenium’s DFS system became the ReproMAX standard, because it was a very powerful platform that could take us in new directions, but CDM was a valuable stepping-stone, ” Klein recalled.
It was around that same time that Klein began to revolutionize the shop with the purchase of an Océ 9800 wide-format digital printer in 1998, purchased solely as a plotting machine for the shop’s diazo department. Blown away by the Océ 9800’s robust workload capacity and operation, Klein completely eliminated BarkerBlue’s diazo department, replacing it with four Océ 9800 series machines and marking a major shift to digital printing. “Back then most reprographers had one or two 9800s, and they regarded it as a luxury service, sort of like ‘First Class’. I didn’t understand that. I wanted to be all-electronic, all the time,” reported Klein.
BarkerBlue’s current equipment arsenal includes: Four Océ TDS 800s, two Océ 9800s, an Océ TCS 500, two Heidelberg 9110s, an Océ 6060 solvent printer, an HP Indigo 3050 press, a Roland SolJet 645 12-ink color plotter with DaVinci RIP software, ReproMAX DFS online planroom (7500+ projects hosted), two HP 1055s , an HP 5500, and a SEAL 5500 laminator.
The HP Indigo 3050 press was a major investment, made in 2005, that totaled, with supporting equipment, about $600,000. “I had friends in the industry who thought this was too much of a stretch. ‘Start with some high-speed color copiers, like the Xerox 6060,’ they said. But the 6060 prints looked the same as the prints made on the slower speed Doc 12s, so, from the customer’s perspective, what was the change?” Klein asks. “With the HP Indigo the customer gets offset quality at color copy run lengths and pricing levels, and each piece can be personalized, to boot. I saw that as a major paradigm shift for our marketplace,” said Klein.
The next phase in the company’s development was its move toward sustainablily which began when John T. Roach joined the company in 1998 as the general manager. That same year, they changed the named to BarkerBlue Digital Imaging Inc. “John is very much an environmentalist as well as a vegetarian, and I’ve learned from him,” Klein said. “He’s really inspired me and our business.”
Skating to a New Location
In 2001, Klein was looking to move to new location and purchased the Rolladium roller skating rink where he had skated as kid. “It was a 17,000 square foot building just off Highway 101. I loved the maple wood floors. It also had a huge domed roof and liked the openness that it would provide. “Many people thought I was crazy moving into an old roller rink but sometimes you have to take a risk. I paid 2.9 million dollars for the property. I then put about 2.3 million dollars in improvements from a new electrical systems to seismic upgrades to adding a huge air conditioning system,” said Klein
“In addition, ATT was looking for a company to be the fiber optic hub for the neighborhood and we jumped at the chance. That allowed to us to have incredible online speed which was unheard of at the time. It’s a massive system. Today we are running about 40 MB per sec! It’s another key to our success,” said Roach.
They also purchased a back up power system that runs about 80 percent of their power if the power goes out. All their files are backed up to a 15 terabyte RAID as well as an offsite facility every night.
BarkerBlue is trying to change the face of traditional blueprinting, by leading the way with their use of digital online ReproMAX DFS and PDM platform systems, the product of a partnership between ReproMAX, McGraw Hill Construction, and Adenium Systems.
“We are enabling owners, builders and architects to share and utilize information digitally as much as possible with industry-leading tools only available at BarkerBlue. We realize, however, that sometimes they must print out paper documents and we want to ensure that when they do, we’re doing as much as we can to minimize the impact on the environment. To that note, we are using recycled paper for all the construction plans and small documents. 30 percent recycled bond all the time. And the best news, there’s no additional charge for this environmental benefit,” said Roach.
Other sustainable moves the shop has made include banning paper plates and cups from the kitchen in favor of permanent flatware, low-flow toilets, fluorescent lighting which was instituted by the company’s project coordinator, Echo Wodarczyk. But the biggest move was when they went to solar power last year. The idea to go solar was presented to Klein two years ago by Roach. “I was a little skeptical at first, but I trusted John’s judgment.”
BarkerBlue’s $1.5 million solar array was completed late last year. The 155 kilowatt AC rated solar array, consisting of 856 Sanyo 200HIT Hybrid solar modules, covers the entire building.
Roach worked closely with a team at Sunlight Electric, the San Francisco-based solar design and retail company that installed BarkerBlue’s $1.5 million system. Rob Erlichman, the chief executive of the 6-year-old solar company, said Klein and Roach presented the “desire to make smart business decisions and an open-mindedness to looking for creative solutions” that Sunlight Electric looks for in a client. The 1949 building didn’t hurt, either.
“The historic building presented both challenges and opportunities,” Erlichman said. “The challenge, however, was introducing 21st-century technology to a 20th-century structure. Sunlight Electric met this obstacle by installing nearly half a mile of structural reinforcement wood to make sure the equipment wouldn’t pull out of the roof,” Erlichman said.
The resulting 155-kilowatt solar power system began generating power by mid-December, meets approximately 75 percent to 80 percent of the company’s power needs, saving them “easily” $65,000 annually in operating costs, Roach said.
“The panels create enough energy to power 22 homes, and they keep 270,000 pounds of carbon dioxide out of the air each year, according to the company, which displays live feeds of the system’s energy production 24 hours a day on our website, www.BarkerGreen.com,” added Roach.
And when the building uses less power on holidays and weekends, the excess energy generated by the solar panels is fed back into the Pacific Gas & Electric Co. grid, supplying clean energy to the surrounding neighborhood. Roach said he hopes BarkerBlue’s highly visible solar efforts will inspire similar actions in others.
The hill-like roof, a new a new landmark for Silicon Valley commuters on Highway 101, is a testament to modernity, covered almost completely by solar panels, which helped the company win its first sustainability award earlier this year. BarkerBlue was presented with the San Mateo Area Chamber of Commerce Green Business Award. A week later, the company was certified as a green business by the Bay Area Green Business Program.
This recognition is a crowning moment in the company’s business goals, which focus on adapting the printing business to suit today’s technological abilities and environmental needs.
“Once again, BarkerBlue takes a leap forward in the construction industry—they’re truly walking the talk, paving a brighter future for our planet,” says Ted van der Linden, Director of Sustainability for DPR Construction and board member of the US Green Building Council.
“The use of renewable energy in the form of solar power is an outwardly visible way to demonstrate BarkerBlue’s leadership, and will complement greatly their paperless information management system and use of recycled paper in the printing process,” van der Linden explains.
People are Key
Klein points to their people as keys to their success and longevity. “The people are the key to our longevity and success. They are the ones that talk to our customers everyday and keep them coming back,” he added.
BarkerBlue has 45 full-time employees, many who have been with the company for more than 15 to 20 years. To promote education, the company pays for employees to take two classes a year for what ever they want to take. BarkerBlue also sends its people to about five or six ReproMAX DFS conferences per year.
“They are great opportunities to share best practices with other outstanding reprographers around the world,” said Roach. “In addition, our director of sales Jared Willis offers training sessions for customer service. He is LEED-certified in the construction market as well and frequently updates the staff on sustainability issues,” Roach added.
Their workflow consists of digital file submission and deliveries. We don’t pick up jobs, we receive them in large part electronically. But we do deliver them. We also never respond to requests for printing bids. For example, we fired our previous number one account, the San Francisco International Airport, because they bid out the contract every year. We are interested in customizing solutions for our customers. When they sign up with us, we basically become a part of the construction team and we attend project team meetings. We become a partner,” said Klein.
“ReproMAX is an integral part of our offering. It’s a great information sharing network and a great distribute-and-print network. I can’t stress how important ReproMAX is to us,” said Klein.
Opening the Vault
Both Klein and Roach consider their ReproMAX DFS planroom as the central hub of information for their clients’ construction projects.
“I tell my clients that we are not in the printing business. We are in the information management and fulfillment business. We believe that printed communication has a place but its only one form of communication. We strive in our planroom community to have a digital trace tracked to every piece of paper that’s out there,” said Klein.
“Our planroom becomes a sort of Big Brother. We have 10 full-time project managers in our Digital Asset Department that actively manage the projects. Our client retention rate shows its working,” added Roach.
As for the future, Klein sees many challenges ahead for the reprographic industry. “Most reprographers now have an online planroom and they consider it a good document management and print ordering tool for their customers. That’s not enough. We have to be an integral component of the building systems that enable integrated project delivery. We have to address Quality Control, Cost Control, and Time Control on every project. With ReproMAX DFS and the hard work of our talented Digital Asset Department, BarkerBlue is already there.”
Gene Klein’s 5 Secrets for BarkerBlue’s Success
- It’s all about the power of the network: “ReproMAX.”
- We only want to play where we can change the paradigm for our customers. “On our AEC side, we improve the fundamental business processes of construction. On our color side, we increase the ROI of each printed piece via personalization.”
- Invest in new technology: “We have always been on the leading—and in some cases—bleeding edge in new technology and equipment.”
- Investment in our people: “People are so important to our success.”
- Being part of the project team: “We are not a vendor, we are a partner. We try to touch every part of our customers’ processes throughout their projects. We are only interested in customers who can leverage our entire value proposition.”