Influence Graphics, a small, short-run, digital printer in midtown Manhattan, was first formed in 1985 as Ron Sizemore Visual Productions (RSVP). The firm provided creative services for presentations, desktop publishing, color copying, and 35mm slide imaging services, until Sizemore had to reinvent the company after tragedy hit New York City.
RSVP's business model was to provide outsourced corporate graphics to mostly Fortune 500 companies (primarily in financial sector). RSVP grew quickly, and had more than 50 employees by 2001, but the catastrophic events of 9/11 caused the company to lose more than 80 percent of its business overnight.
Hoping to pick up the pieces during the aftermath, RSVP merged with another firm in an attempt to rebuild the business, but "after a couple of years, we realized the original business model was no longer valid, and we would need to reinvent ourselves," offered Sizemore.
After 9/11, RSVP was no longer outsourcing presentation work, and shortly after dabbling in printing, the company began receiving requests for printing short runs of brochures and booklets. RSVP was successful in building that business but it became a daily struggle to put out quality materials, since its equipment at the time consisted mainly of Xerox copy machines. In 2005, Sizemore invested in a HP Indigo press.
"The Indigo turned out to be a great return on our investment and within months, our business was increasing and our clients were very happy about the higher quality we were able to produce," he noted.
A New Business Model
In the past, the company's sales model involved making cold calls to try to book appointments. As time when on, this model proved ineffective.
"In 2006, I visited a friend who was building a vacation home, and he kept pointing out everything that he purchased for the house and how he found it online. I realized that by now I too was turning to the Internet to find whatever I needed to purchase. It didn't take long before I came to the realization that our business customers were probably also in the same mode (most of our clients are younger than me anyway). So we decided to try our hand at advertising on the Internet," explained Sizemore.
The company's Internet advertising started with a basic Web site, and soon it began generating a few thousand dollars of business each month. "It was truly exciting to get those first few jobs from our Internet advertising," he recalled.
Over the past couple of years, the company revamped its Web site several times and increased its advertising budget.
"In 2007, my current partner Al Weiss and I bought the business back from the company we merged with after 9/11, and we have been able to grow the business (now Influence Graphics) more than 25 percent in each of the last two years. In 2008, we will have generated more than a million dollars in business from our Internet advertising. We spend roughly 10 percent of that amount with Google," Sizemore explained.
He pointed out that Influence Graphics doesn't try to compete with VistaPrint by only accepting online orders. In fact, Influence doesn't have an online store. The company has found that the majority of its customers want to speak to customer service representatives.
While Influence Graphics still has account executives to handle the large corporate accounts, most of its growth now comes from smaller companies through Internet advertising. "Prior to 9/11, my customers were huge Fortune 500 companies, and if I lost them, the business would be in jeopardy. Now, most of the revenue comes from small to mid-size companies," he said.
Sizemore added that the new model makes the company much less vulnerable to a lot of the bankruptcies and corporate mergers currently taking place with the larger companies. Influence Graphics currently averages between 1,000 to 2,000 new visitors per week to its Web site.