Industrial Fabrics Product Review August 2007
From nearly the moment it opened its doors 25 years ago, Best Buy Banner Co. of Riverside, Calif., has experienced phenomenal growth. The company has expanded its products and services so much over the years, in fact, that president Rose Kriese felt it was time the company’s name reflected that evolution, too. In July, Best Buy Banner Co. became B3 DigiGrafx, with an eye toward those who catapulted the company to its success in the first place: the customers.
Full-service from the beginning
Best Buy Banner Co. started as a one-woman show in 1982, with founder/president Rose Kriese at the helm. Before Best Buy, Kriese and her husband owned a company that produced commercial signs. She would have to order banners from nearby Orange County, and it would take one week for them to arrive. When they did arrive, it was folded into a shoebox. “It took me longer to stretch it than letter it,” Kriese recalls.
In the meantime, Kriese and her husband, who also worked in advertising and promotions, sold the sign business. Though Kriese didn’t have to work, she certainly wanted to—particularly because she knew there was a better way to assemble and ship blank banners. And she made her intentions clear to her husband.
“I begged him and begged him until he let me have [my own business],” she says. “So I found a 1,000-square-foot building two streets from our current building, bought a used sewing machine and got a table, one little desk and a telephone. I started taking orders, cutting, sewing, grommeting, rolling the blank banner in a tube, putting it in a box and shipping with UPS. It was just me.”
Kriese initially searched for clients by using the phone book to find sign companies in the surrounding counties of southern California. “Two weeks later, I had to call my husband to help me because I was swamped,” she says. “We started getting calls from New York and Chicago.” (To this day, the company serves customers throughout the entire United States.)
It was only the beginning. Two years later, Kriese moved her operations into a 5,000-square-foot building. Sadly, her husband died in 1986, but Kriese continued to move forward with the business. In 1987, she moved operations into a 10,000-square-foot space. Even after the expansion, space was still tight. “We didn’t have elbow room,” she recalls. In 1996, she bought property and built a 45,000-square-foot facility a year later.
Printing capabilities increase
With the new space came new opportunities to expand the company’s offerings. “When we moved into the new building, we had excess space and wanted to use it, rather than lease it out,” says Peter Gomez, chief financial officer for B3. “We decided to grow the company in a different direction. We evolved as a printing company as well.”
B3, which currently has 32 employees, started to examine its options for printing. Kriese took screen printing out of the running for a couple of reasons. “Screen printing is a dirty business,” Gomez says. “We decided to do something that complimented our customers. We have a lot of screen printers who buy blank banners from us. We didn’t want to compete with them, so we went into traditional printing.”
The first printer purchased, in 1998, was a VUTEk 5300, which Kriese calls a “workhorse.” B3 used the VUTEk initially to create direct-print banners. A few years later, Kriese wanted to get more from the VUTEk than just banner printing. To strengthen its place in the market, B3 teamed with 3M to use the manufactuer’s inks exclusively on the VUTEk. The partnership allowed B3 to branch into areas like car and bus wraps, as well as movie backdrops. Plus, the 3M inks are Scotchgard certified, offering a four-year warranty on printed vinyls with lamination. Throughout the years, the VUTEk has produced backdrops for Warner Bros., the Sydney Olympics and the TV show “The West Wing.”
The company then added an NUR Tempo Q, a UV-curable flatbed printer capable of printing directly on materials such as doors, tiles, Plexiglas, foam core and more. After adding the Tempo, B3 became a beta site for an Expedio, which introduced fabric-printing capabilities to the business.
About two years ago, B3 noticed a shift among some of its screen-printing customers—the same ones that the company wanted to avoid competing with years earlier. “They were no longer buying banners from us. They were now our competition,” Gomez says. “We came on the market and said, ‘We can give you a cheap option for a street banner, and you can have full-color graphics on it and as many versions as you like.” As a result, B3 purchased a Fresco printer to inexpensively produce banners.
The most recent addition to the family of printers came in June with the installation of a DuPont™ Artistri™. The machine prints directly onto just about any fabric imaginable, including nylon, polyester, flag, satin, spandex and taffeta. Although the Expedio printed on fabrics, they felt stiff because of the ink that was used. “With the DuPont, you can’t even feel the ink,” Gomez says. “The fabric feels the way it did before it was printed.”
Along with the opportunity to grow with the space, B3’s motivation to increase its printing capabilities was simple: to keep the customer happy. “A customer might have asked us, why don’t you carry this or that?” Kriese says. “All the things we’ve added is because the customers have asked us to. They believed in us, trusted us.”
Despite all the upgrades and new services, the blank banner portion of the business continues to remain strong, with 2,000 to 3,000 banners going out a day. “Banners are still a big part of our company,” Kriese says. “If a customer places an order [for a blank] by 12 o’clock today, it’s going to go out today. We ship it second-day air, but the customer only pays ground rates.”
And although some sign shops are capable of assembling and printing their own banners, they still rely on B3 to sell them the material. “We’ll sell them double-sided tape or small grommeting machines to make it easier for them,” Kriese says. “We lose a customer on the banner blank side, but we gain them on the material side.”
Keeping up with clients’ desires
As they have done from the beginning, customers continue to fuel B3 DigiGrafx’s development. For example, B3’s purchase of the Dupont Artistri represents the latest trend in printing. “One of the reasons we bought the new machine is that we’ve been getting a lot of calls from customers for fabrics,” Gomez says. “Designers want to see fabrics rather than vinyl. They’re looking for the soft touch.” He and Kriese foresee that clients will use this new service for trade shows, in-store promotions, museums and theater backdrops.
Clients have also become savvier about graphics capabilities. (Although B3’s graphics department mostly focuses on pre-press functions, they do provide design services at an additional charge.) “People used to just put a few colors on their printed banners, but now they’re putting pictures of people on them,” Gomez says. “For instance, a real estate sign in the past would say ‘For Sale’ and have a name and phone number. Now [agents] want their picture and a picture of the house on there. It’s just as easy and cost effective to do it with that picture.”
This strong customer influence, along with the company’s enhanced services, prompted Kriese to change the company’s name from Best Buy Banner Co. to B3 DigiGrafx in early July. B3 rolled out with a new Web site, brochures and stationery. “Lots of people think we do just banner blanks,” Kriese says. “We changed our name because you have to keep up. If you don’t keep up, or if you don’t learn anything new or change the way you think, then why are you in business?”
Like most companies who rely so heavily on their customers, B3 gives plenty of reasons for the client base to remain loyal. “We give them quality material and good customer service, and we are very timely,” Gomez says. “We are not the cheapest in the market, but we’re the best in everything else. Even though a customer might have one of our competitors right next door, they’ll come all the way here.”
“I have customers from day one. They won’t try anyone else,” Kriese adds. “You wouldn’t believe how many thank you letters we get from customers. I am honest with them. We don’t let any customer down.”
As for future plans, Kriese and Gomez finally feel that they are set for a while, particularly with the DuPont addition. “We plan one step at a time,” Gomez says. “Our customers are happy with what we have, and we are happy and satisfied too because there is nothing else we need right now. We can service customers with all their needs.”
Adds Kriese: “But if something new comes up, we will be the first ones to have it.”