I met Sharon Gracheck (Pronounced gray-check) while looking for someone to print up my CD inserts and tray cards. I had already been to two other places. The first place refused to even look at the material and the second place put me off for over two weeks with a quote. (Sound familiar?) When I got to Metro Printing, I was exasperated. I was sure that I was going to run into another dead end but Sharon saved the day. Sharon said that she had never printed up anything for a CD but she said that she was willing to try. She called three business days later with a quote.
Within a few weeks of the quote, I had a CD cover and insert that looked like no other in the business. At first I was put off because some of the ink had been wet when the cards were stacked on top of each other and the inside of the some of the inserts had a backwards impression of the cover. I later found that I had nothing to worry about because Metro Printing had intentionally overrun the job for just such an event. I got 2000 good copies of my stuff which was exactly what I ordered.
I had such trouble with the other printers that I swore that I would somehow find a way to get this information to the music biz. I promised myself that I would blow these other troublemakers out of the water as soon as possible. I started publishing THE UNDERGROUND (My Now Defunct Zine) soon after printing up my CD and put off the interview with Sharon for way too long. But, as they say: He who hesitates is late. (Or something like that.)
The conversation below won't cover all of your questions on printing but it should give you an idea of what a conversation with a good printer should sound like. If your printer doesn't talk to you the way Sharon talks to me, keep trying different printers until one of them does.
NOTE: I am not a journalist, any goofy errors found here are nobody's fault but mine. This is also the first interview that I have conducted on any level so I hope it reads OK. Well, enough excuses, on with the show...
THE UNDERGROUND: So how long have you worked in the printing field?
Sharon Gracheck: Almost fifteen years. I was with Metro for eight years and I left for about twenty-two months and I went to another printing company after that for about a year. There's a big difference in quality between print companies.
TU: Is there a big difference between the franchises and independent companies?
Sharon: The quality is much better when the owner is printing. In the franchise that I worked, the owner was not the printer so he didn't have as much control, qualitywise, because he couldn't go back there and print.
TU: I've gone to franchise printers and they don't seem to be too friendly about doing custom jobs, they tend to say, "Well, we could probably do this but..."
Sharon: That's the thing that we hope we never encounter here. About six or seven years ago, a guy walked in and he had just been to a franchise shop. He asked me a couple of questions and then he said, "Why didn't she tell me that when I was down the street at (such and such)! She just acted like I didn't know what I was talking about!" We want to be everything to everybody and if we can't do it, we'll be the first to tell you. And if there's any way possible, we'll find someplace that CAN get it done. People think that printers can do hats and T-shirts and that kind of thing, we're not that kind of a printer but we can sure direct you to where someone can. When you work here, you learn a little about everybody's business.
TU: When somebody comes with any kind of job, like a J-card or a CD, what are some of the things that you're looking for?
Sharon: Well, you want to get the information that the customer wants to put across in their printing. I also try to find a style. What do you like? Do you like modern things? Do you like very traditional things? A lot of satisfying the printing customer comes down to asking the right questions. You need to know what quantity they're printing, if they're budget minded and what qualities they're looking for.
TU: So it sounds like you do a lot more than just printing. You do design as well?
Sharon: Yes, we do. We have two full time artists on staff and we try and keep as much "in house" as possible. We feel that we have a little more control that way.
TU: I assume it must drive you nuts when somebody comes in and has no idea what they are looking for...
Sharon: But if you're experienced, you can help direct them. A small Mom & Pop operation may not need a four color job if all they need to do is get their name out in front of people. In a case like that, you do it as inexpensively as possible. Obviously, a graphic designer is going to want to spend more money because they're going to have to impress people with the quality of their work. You need to listen, you need to be a little bit of a consultant.
TU: So let's say that a guy like me comes up with just a mockup and he says that he wants a four color job done. Also, let's say that he just wants you to produce films, can you do that?
Sharon: Yes, we can do that.
TU: What are some things that people need to know about four color printing?
Sharon: Four color printing is rather expensive. Before you do anything, you're probably going to spend between $150 and $300 on a small, one picture, four color job just in negatives and separations. The new computers have helped out a little bit, you could probably scan and output a picture, without any design, for about $150.
TU: What does your design cost?
Sharon: An 8 1/2 X 11 page, as long as it's not too involved, is about $25 page. A logo is anywhere from $50 to $150, depends on what you're looking for. If you want to see three (logo) samples, you're probably looking at something like $50. If you want six or more (logo) samples, that might run $150 or more.
TU: What are your hourly design rates?
Sharon: Hourly rates are probably $40 to $45 an hour.
TU: I wanted to do some foil printing, you know, the printing with a glossy metallic finish. What can you tell me about that?
Sharon: Our foil printing is contracted out. We have somebody that does a wonderful job with foil, he also does embossing. We've worked with him for years and he's very good. Foil printing is not inexpensive by any means but it creates high visibility, which really is the point of foil.
TU: I know that foil can be pretty expensive, that's why I went a different direction with my stuff. What about embossing? I assume that it is expensive as well.
Sharon: It's about the same cost as foil, maybe a little bit less expensive. If you're blind embossing, you're not using the foil, foil's expensive in itself.
TU: I know you don't do T-shirts, hats and stuff like that, what are some other things that you don't do?
Sharon: Signs. We don't do signs. People think that we can do signs. We can't.
TU: What kind of signs can't you do?
Sharon: Like signs a signmaker would do. Like signs for the outside of your building, for the side of your truck, things a signpainter would do. We do work closely with a signpainter here in town. If someone needs a logo we can get some positives to take to them.
TU: Do you guys do posters?
Sharon: We can. We can go up to 17" X 22" poster. We could actually get up to 19" X 25" but most of the time, if you're going to use that size, you're going to bleed off, so you're going to trim down from that.
TU: Bumper stickers?
Sharon: We can do that.
TU: Do you contract that out?
Sharon: We sure do. This (pointing at a glossy bumper sticker in a catalog) has a lamination on the top of it so it's weatherproof, and that's the thing that we can't do here. We could do some bumper stickers. We once had a customer in here that did a campaign for Desert Storm. We printed that on yellow stock, but that was a short term thing.
(Sharon points out some prices on various sizes and types of stickers in the catalog and then continues.)
Sharon: The most important thing you can do in printing (when getting price quotes) is to ask about the price on the next quantity up (from the amount you are ordering). The printer should always supply that but most don't. In this example (pointing at a sticker in the catalog), 250 is $180, 500 is only $240. For $60 more, you're getting double the quantity. If somebody comes in and says that they only want 500 envelopes, the printer needs to say, "OK, you can do 500 envelopes for $34 but for $52 you can do 1000." and let the person then make the decision.
(Sharon continues through the catalog)
Sharon: You said you wanted to do some foil printing on your CD cover, is that right?
Sharon: You could print up foil stickers instead of going through the foil process, you would have foil without all of the cost.
(Sharon continues to discuss various prices of stickers and different uses for them. We eventually make our way to business cards.)
TU: I've had about a zillion people ask me for my business card, I tell them that I don't have any. My question is: Has anybody ever come back to you and said, "We got this incredible response from this card here."?
Sharon: They tell us that people keep the outrageously colored cards a lot more that they keep the white ones. (Pointing to a glossy red card with gold foil.) This one runs about $87 per thousand.
TU: Wow, that's not bad!
Sharon: If you're so far into it that people are asking for your card and if your business is going to grow, people have got to have a way to contact you. Outrageous colored cards do work but I wouldn't go with this (She points at a day-glo lime green colored card.), we had a high school use this for attendance cards and within two weeks they were back complaining, "...the girls were all making eye appointments, these aren't working out." (laughs)
TU: Are there cheaper cards?
Sharon: We have Thrifty cards that run 15.95 for 500, 18.95 for 1000 but you don't get to make any choices. It's their format, their fonts, their design and you get (She points at some blandly designed cards.) all these choices.
TU: Oh, yuck.
Sharon: It's the same type style throughout. If it's caps (capital letters), you have to use the caps. If it's uppers and lowers, you have to use the uppers and lowers. You can delete lines but you can't add any additional lines. And that's a black and white card with the Thrifty. You can go to designing your own card for 500 for $23.95 and 1000 for $29.95 but it's still in black and white. I'm sure that this (the black and white card) is good for the cleaner's down the street but if you want to show a little creativity, you need to think about moving up. I'm a color coded person and if I look up Wendy, my nail girl, in my cards, I look for a mauve card.
TU: Do you guys do tape labels? Do you sell the label blanks?
Sharon: We can print up the labels but we don't see any point in selling the blank stock because you can go down to Dixon's and buy them yourself, it's cheaper that way.
TU: Good point. We were thinking about buying some blank labels, making a couple of rubber stamps and just stamping the labels up at home.
Sharon: We make rubber stamps, too. Dixon's also has some nice brochure material and let's say that you are printing up 50 brochures, you could do this on your printer. (She produces pre-designed blank letter stock. One of them has a punch out rolodex card at the bottom of the page.)
TU: Man, this is great!
(The conversation about different do-it-yourself options continues for a few minutes. Sharon presents a number of items that can be purchased at a paper store that would allow people to take care of smaller runs at home.)
TU: Well, I've run out of questions. Any last remarks?
Sharon: Yes, you need to keep in mind that the franchises that I mentioned earlier and other places have their own place in business. I wasn't necessarily knocking franchises overall, they just have a different focus than we do. Everybody has their own little niche and our focus is on getting you the best for your money. That's what it's all about.
TU: Sounds like you folks have it together. Thanks for your time.