Bolger Vision Beyond Print

Like many tables across the country, dik Bolger’s table is covered with college brochures, jewelry catalogs or healthcare information packets. The difference is that the marketing materials on Bolger’s table aren’t delivered in the deluge of daily mail, but are his own products. 

Bolger is the owner and CEO of Bolger Vision Beyond Print, a Minneapolis company that is one of the major players in printing and customized technology services. As he thumbs through the finished products, Bolger is not just reading the information; he’s checking the image quality and feeling the texture of each page. It’s a sensation that cannot be replicated by a smart phone or a tweet, and one that continues to make print a viable part of the digital future. “Print has an intrusive quality that makes it a critical part of any marketing campaign,” Bolger says.

During the Great Recession of the late 2000s, many companies scaled back print efforts to cut costs, believing they could replicate print’s reach through digital media. But information on a website is not tangible and is more easily dismissed and forgotten. Print, however, has a physical presence. It is picked up, read and picked up again. In turning one page, a reader may stumble across several others snippets of information, discovering a news article or special sale that becomes suddenly relevant. 

Many of Bolger’s customers have realized that value, and the 40-year veteran of the industry is now seeing a resurgence in print as sales have increased year over year. “I think there was a recognition you can’t [eliminate print] and still be effective in marketing,” Bolger says.

Understanding the print market is rooted in Bolger’s family. His parents, John and Genevieve Bolger, published a Minnesota shopping circulator and sold advertisements door to door. Although they carved out a small niche, the couple eventually realized their printer was making the most money. In 1934, the Bolgers took out a $15,000 loan and purchased their own printing press. With no business plan in place, John Bolger drove the family’s wood-paneled station wagon to Minnesota-based 3M and asked if the company wanting to buy printing. 3M remains a customer to this day. 

Serving Markets

The corporate customer base has been Bolger Vision Beyond Print’s foundation ever since. When dik Bolger joined the company 40 years ago, revenues were about $800,000 annually. Now the company pulls in $35 million each year and 40 percent of the customer base is located outside of Minnesota.

Bolger Vision Beyond Print provides services to a number of other markets, including luxury companies, healthcare, financial and education. Colleges in particular have been an area of growth. High schoolers considering higher education prefer print as their first point of contact from a courting college, Bolger says. A brochure can provide students with a feel for the campus without using too many words, then direct them to the school’s website where they may access more detailed information.

Tapping into new markets while continuing to meet the demands of existing customers has helped Bolger Vision Beyond Print grow 10 percent each year. Part of that success can be attributed to the company’s ability to offer full printing services along with its customized web-based technology solution SmartQ®. This print management system puts the power of print, variable direct marketing, fulfillment and reporting metrics at the hands of its clients for easy access 24/7. Eleven application developers are part of the Bolger team who work with clients. Bolger Vision Beyond Print has two facilities, each 100,000 square feet in size, located about a mile apart. One offers traditional printing, but the other, Bolger Direct, handles services through SmartQ®, including, variable print on demand, mailing, fulfillment and assembly operations. “It’s a combination of services that help us save our customers money,” Bolger says.

To better offer those services, Bolger Vision Beyond Print strives to build partnerships with its vendors. Working with companies that offer quality and good pricing is not enough, Bolger says he values loyalty in the vendors he chooses. That philosophy has led to many long-term relationships, such as the more than 25 years Wisconsin-based Western States Envelope & Label and Priority Envelope have supplied the company’s envelopes. Building such partnerships allows Bolger Vision Beyond Print to become a bigger fish in its vendors’ ponds. This not only grants the company more purchasing power, but also enables it to seek vendor input on meeting each customer’s need.

Staying Relevant

Print on demand is rapidly changing the market as customers seek to produce only as many marketing materials or magazines as needed. To remain competitive, Bolger Vision Beyond Print has invested in Xerox iGen 150 presses, which Bolger says offer quality equal to the high-end Indigo 10000 Digital Press without needing a highly skilled — and highly paid — press operator. That allows Bolger Vision Beyond Print to bring in temporary workers, quickly train them to operate the press and then decrease the number of employees once the job is completed. Being able to appropriately scale the workforce to any sized job has helped Bolger Vision Beyond Print cut costs for customers.

That scalability has further benefited the company’s variable printing services. A traditional direct mailing campaign treats marketing like a shotgun, spreading the same message to thousands of people in hopes of getting a 1 or 2 percent response rate. Variable printing is more like a rifle, using data on individuals to adjust the content of marketing materials and aim at their specific interests or needs. This individualized approach mirrors how Amazon targets customers and Las Vegas casinos incentivize gamblers, raising that low response rate to 15 or 20 percent. 

Marketing is not the only benefit. In the healthcare industry, variable printing can allow insurers to tailor information to customers based on medical conditions, resulting in better care and more knowledgeable patients. “It’s the data that drives,” Bolger says. 

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