Concord Litho Succeeds In Maturing Direct Mail Market

Concord Litho is a $42 million Northeast printing firm with 170 employees, six presses, full-service bindery, mailing and fulfillment services center, and a Fundraising Division that caters to non-profit organizations (including strategic planning and creative design). Its Direct Mail Division is powered by heat-set web presses with extensive in-line finishing, including inkjet imaging of names, addresses, barcodes, and other variable data, while its Sheetfed Division annually produces more than a million large-format point-of-purchase displays up to 64 inch and more than a billion greeting cards.

Founded in 1958, Concord Litho, which is wholly owned by brothers Tom and Peter Cook in Concord, N.H., serves national clients, including TV Guide, Rodale, Publishers Clearing House, TD Bank, Dunkin Donuts, and the World Wildlife Fund. Concord Litho is one of 30 firms nationwide to earn G7 Master Printer status for both sheetfed and heat-set web printing.

“Coupon use is skyrocketing thanks to the recession, and we’ve found our largest variable data projects are leveraging the increased trackability of barcoded coupons, combined with the ability to include relevant, personalized offers to various segments in the customer’s database based on factors like age, gender, location and past purchase history and preferences,” explained CEO Peter Cook. “A recent project for a major big box retailer involved printing more than 3 million trackable coupons that were imaged and perfed inline on one of our heat-set web presses; another included inkjetted information customized with local store locations, hours, and contact information.”

“A major grocery client is really taking advantage of the ability to provide customized offers and coupons based on household income and geographic location,” he added. “Putting the right coupons in front of the right people at the right time to drive redemptions . . .they’re getting solid results by optimizing their communications this way.”

While Cook said he doesn’t believe the use of direct mail will be expanding this year, he does feel it is maturing to a degree that is good for the industry. “We are innovating to hold onto the direct mail business that we currently have from our customers,” he noted. “We’re not adding color to all our pieces, but we are personalizing throughout the pieces, adding barcodes and QR codes.”

“We service two markets,” explained Cook, “commercial business and non-profits, and we also have a large-format press for point of purchase posters.”

Cook noted that his tactic with clients is not to tell clients how to design and create their direct mail pieces but to offer recommendations to improve response rates based on what works. “We offer creative recommendations,” he explained, and it appears to work since his business has remained steady in an extremely challenging year for the printing industry.

Concord will continue to expand in 2010 after a “decent year” in 2009, he said. “We’re planning to add lettershop and personalization equipment this year.” Personalization and segmentation are key advantages for Concord Litho’s non-profit clients, too, he added. “It’s a powerful, cost-effective combination of test strategy, data, inkjet, and traditional print.”

In December 2008, the company added inline inkjet imaging. This $2 million investment meant Concord could now image and address high-volume direct mail and marketing projects inline on its heat-set web presses, saving time and money—and opening new opportunities for affordable personalization, segmentation, campaign tracking, and testing.

Powered by a Kodak Versamark DS 6240 Printing System, the company’s new inline inkjet equipment allows it to image 25.5 inches per project in one color at a 240x240 dpi fidelity, with no slowdown in speed; print a variety of text, graphics, charts, barcodes, autonumbers and tables throughout a printed piece (both sides may be imaged); and print variable messages and images based on selective or conditional logic in a database (for example, one graphic for men and another for women on a mailing list, or print a barcoded coupon offer based on a customer’s most recent purchase).

In respect to adding services, the company recently hired Christine J. Erna to oversee expansion of its Mailing and Fulfillment Services Division. Erna brings with her more than 25 years of experience in direct mail design, analysis, and training, including 18 years with the United States Postal Service, said Cook.

“Christine has an incredible wealth of experience and knowledge and is immediately available as a valuable resource for our clients, for mail piece design, consultation, and postal optimization programs,” he noted. “In her role, she is charged with leading plans to add in-house lettershop capabilities and enhance mailing and fulfillment services in 2010.”

As director of Mailing and Fulfillment Services, Erna will provide additional variable data and multichannel marketing expertise for Concord Litho’s Direct Mail Division, which has five heat-set web presses with extensive in-line finishing, including multiple ribbons, perfing, die-cutting, remoist and wet gluing, and ink-jetting of variable data like addresses, logos, charts and QR codes. And Erna, who currently serves on the Postal and Government Affairs committee of the Mailing and Fulfillment Service Association, will also serve as internal consultant for Concord Litho’s Fundraising Division.

In 2009 Concord Litho was one of the first two organizations to take the Direct Marketing Association’s “Green 15 Supplier Pledge.” This program supports the DMA’s goal to reduce 1 million metric tons of carbon emissions between 2009 to 2013. In taking the pledge, Concord Litho promises to do its part to reduce its carbon footprint and improve environmental performance throughout the entire direct marketing process. The pledge also asks the firm to make its best efforts to educate, train, and make resources and expertise available to its clients in support of Green 15 tenets.