Color Ink sells solutions
Sussex printing company strives to keep up with trends

By Katherine Michalets - Freeman Staff

April 2, 2015

Todd Meissner talks during a tour of Color Ink on Tuesday afternoon.
Charles Auer/Freeman Staff

SUSSEX -Walking through the more than 100,000-square-feet of Color Ink, a person can see the multiple components of a print media in-store display campaign for a company. On Tuesday afternoon, hanging signs and multiple one-sided flat signs were stacked and ready to be packaged to be sent to Sears for its upcoming jewelry sale.

Color Ink President Todd Meissner is proud of the various printing capabilities the 31-year-old company has, including large format, UV and digital. It can add custom finishes to products, such as magnets or an additional printed component.

Meissner took over the day-to-day operations of the company from his father, Jim, who started a design studio from his home in 1975. The company, Black Ink, expanded into its own facility in Hartland, but in 1984 a change was made to start a printing shop.

Meissner said he was the second employee in the print shop and now his grown children are looking at joining the business. Jim Meissner is still involved in the decision-making at Color Ink and has his fine and contemporary art for sale in a gallery attached to the business.

Luke Sommer takes a printed piece off a large-format digital printer at Color Ink.
Charles Auer/Freeman Staff

While Color Ink has grown to more than 120 employees - about 95 full-time and 25 to 50 temporary employees - and has $24 million in annual sales, Meissner decided to launch the company FunDeco three years ago. FunDeco creates temporary furniture and toys from strong paper products.

Adding a new, innovative operation to the company has been well-received by its employees, Meissner said. He said they are happy to know that the company has a direction for which it is striving.

FunDeco is still struggling to grow to the level Meissner would like, but he said there is momentum with placement of products on Zulily and Walmart.com and in college bookstores, as well as its own website, www.fundeco.biz.

The company also has license agreements with 90 colleges and Major League Baseball.

The furniture is intended for college students and children. Dorm-style products include stadium chairs, beverage and food serving centers, tables and wall clocks. For children, FunDeco makes easel stands, doll and craft tables and interlocking 3-D puzzles.
 

Promoting a unique product - and navigating challenges

The hurdle for FunDeco has been getting customers to understand the product because there is nothing else similar on the market, Meissner said. The product is intended to be used for about six months to a year and then disposed of, which is often the housing cycle of a college student or the amount of time a child has interest in a toy. The products are UV-coated to help protect them from moisture.

Some of the items Color Ink makes for trade shows are on display in the design area of the company.
Charles Auer/Freeman Staff

The core of Color Ink remains the printed product with customers in the United States and Canada. The time leading up to Black Friday tends to be the busiest for Color Ink, although there are always challenges to navigate.

Meissner said one of his favorite projects was for Macy’s. The retailer wanted a 20-foot replica shopping bag to be displayed by the New York City store for actor Neil Patrick Harris to stand before during a fashion event. Color Ink doesn’t have ceilings that high, so workers had to assemble the frame in the parking lot and add the lighting to it there. Material for the bag was sewn by a local sail maker, he said. When completed, it was the only item loaded on a semi and taken to Macy’s.

Essentially it was a $20,000 shopping bag, Meissner said.

A corrugated paper bobsled made for an Olympics sponsor at Color Ink.
Charles Auer/Freeman Staff

“So many other companies can put ink on paper,” Meissner said. “What we are trying to do is sell solutions.”

For example, Foot Locker will create a rendering of an in-store display it envisions and then sends the request for proposals to a half-dozen printing companies for their take. Companies like Color Ink can then submit a prototype and a breakdown of the costs in 48 hours to get the contract.

Clients’ needs and the industry continue to change, Meissner said. Five years ago Color Ink didn’t have digital printing capabilities, but to keep up with the industry, it made the investment. When companies like Color Ink added large format digital printing, in turn silk screening companies took a hit.

A disposable coffee table made by Color Ink's subsidiary is aimed at college students.
Charles Auer/Freeman Staff

“And the customer buying habits are changing as fast,” Meissner said. For instance, many customers now wish to reuse previously printed advertising products and want to reduce the amount of material used or going to digital signage.

While Meissner sees the trend of the printing agency continuing toward consolidation, he said he is committed to staying independent and family run.

>>RELATED: Recruiting and then retaining talented employees is a challenge for manufacturing companies in 2015, so Color Ink President Todd Meissner developed an acronym for guidance.

www.fundeco.biz

www.colorink.com

Email: kmichalets@conleynet.com