Magna offers value-added services

by Sonja J. Keith
Mike Kemp photos

Quality and customer service remain at the heart of Magna IV, even though the printing company looks very different today than it did when it started in 1975.

Kent Middleton serves as chief executive officer of the company that his parents, Gary and Pat Middleton, founded in Downtown Little Rock. “The business we are in today, we weren’t in when we started,” he said.

Middleton recalls that Magna originally produced film for printers to make plates used in the printing process. With the introduction of desktop publishing, the industry underwent a big change, prompting a major transformation for Magna. “Nowadays, there is no film. It’s all digital. It’s all electronic. We had to get into the printing business because what we were doing was dying,” he said.

Kristi Dannelley, who has been with Magna IV since 1998, has been the chief operating officer since 2007. “At our core, we’re a commercial printing company, but what we do best is deliver value to our clients,” she said. “Sometimes that means we provide traditional print services and sometimes that means we develop custom programs to solve their needs. What we do best is help companies customize and streamline procurement of their marketing needs.”

As an example, Dannelley cited Magna’s work with Dave & Buster’s, a national chain offering a sports-bar-style setting for American food and arcade games. Magna has worked with the chain since it was created in the early 1980s. To meet their needs, Magna has created an online portal for the company. “It houses all of their marketing collateral and we fulfill that from one central location, which helps them control their brand,” Dannelley said. Items range from embroidered shirts produced at Magna and business cards that are printed and shipped within 24 hours of the order, to menus and wide format point-of-purchase displays.

“We fulfill almost everything for Dave & Buster’s except their food,” Dannelley said.

Magna also has a strong niche in the non-profit industry, according to Dannelley. The company works with St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, the National Kidney Foundation and the Colon Cancer Alliance. “For non-profits, we typically help them deliver their collateral for different campaigns,” Dannelley said.

Account executive Steven Schilling explained that the St. Jude Home Giveaway campaign is held in 32 different cities across the United States. The Kidney Foundation also has 90 walks and 20-plus golf tournaments. Magna has set up marketing portals for each non-profit that allows event organizers to order the needed materials, which are customized for a particular location and shipped.

“It really helps to centralize and maintain their brand,” Dannelley said, citing greater efficiency and time-savings for the client. “Because you can leverage volume, we help them save money, too.”

Other major clients include Gold’s Gym and Snap-On Tools.

Over the years, with changes in customer needs and advancements in technology, Magna has added equipment and new services. The company continues to offer traditional printing services used to produce publications like 501 LIFE, but has added digital presses for shorter runs and personalized content. Digital equipment also produces special format pieces, like 501 LIFE’s Kris Allen cutout.

“Technology changes so fast,” Dannelley said. “We’ve been pushed into new things to serve our customers’ needs. If you don’t adopt the new technologies, you just can’t stay in business. Digital has been huge. It affects the way our clients talk to their target audience.”

Some of the customized capabilities include printing a customer’s name on cards and a URL code to help the client track response and identify potential sales. Dannelley envisions the future will include a continued trend toward short-run, targeted/customized communications and cross media marketing.

“Helping our customers to understand that and employ that in their businesses will become more and more important,” Dannelley said.

In addition, Dannelley sees traditional printing remaining important. “I also see a shift back to more print because there are a lot of studies that show print is more and more relevant in today’s digital age because people are so bombarded (online),” she said, adding that consumers are drawn to a printed product that they can hold and flip through. “It’s not the same as on your iPad.”

In the future, Dannelley also anticipates that wide format will continue to grow. “Stores are trying to compete for your attention. The in-store displays and in-store marketing will be a huge growth segment,” she said, explaining that digital technology allows Magna to offer those services.

Magna currently is housed in three buildings, with a total square footage of 60,000, in the Little Rock Industrial Park: a printing/bindery plant, wide format/office space and direct mail/fulfillment. Magna has 70 employees.

Middleton said the company is committed to upgrading equipment to ensure a quality product, a principle that started in the pre-press days.

“Most people don’t do that. Most people don’t upgrade. Most people don’t invest. They buy a piece of equipment and run it until it falls apart. We try to stay up with what is going on,” he said. “It’s better for everybody. It’s better for the employees, for speed, better for turn time, better for quality. It is spending money, but it’s an investment in the company.”

This year, Magna has added three new presses, including equipment that will provide a UV coating on printed materials. “Our big presses will run for years and years, but with the digital technology, you’re forced to upgrade every few years because the technology becomes obsolete. There is always something faster, cheaper to run and with better quality.”

One of the biggest challenges Magna faces is telling its story and explaining the value-added services it can provide through centralizing and streamlining marketing materials, according to Dannelley. “We can provide a better product that you are getting now by controlling the brand and leveraging the volume to save money,” she said. “Our biggest challenge has been selling ourselves.”

“We’ve been misunderstood for a long time,” Schilling said. “I think marketing ourselves for a long time is our biggest challenge.” He added that the company is keen on customer needs and is willing to explore equipment purchases to meet needs.

Dannelley added that another challenge is hiring a skilled labor force, including programmers. “Even the skilled tradesmen are so hard to find now because as the industry shrinks, that labor force goes away. That is a really big challenge for us right now. We almost have to bring in the younger people and train them.”

Middleton considers “change” in the printing industry as another challenge. “The biggest challenge you’re going to face from here on out is change, because everything changes,” he said. “It changes on a daily basis sometimes, it seems like. There are different ways to do things.”

Dannelley said what she enjoys most about her work is the change. “I like the fact that it is something new every day and then the people. I feel like we have a really great family atmosphere. We have very little turnover.

“I’m never bored. It’s something new all the time.”

Magna and its employees are active in the community and give back, something that started with the founders. “Gary has always encouraged us to be very active and involved in the community,” Dannelley said. The company is involved in a variety of non-profits and charitable events, including Big Brothers/Big Sisters, the Jingle Bell Run and Angel Tree.

Middleton considers Magna employees a valuable asset and notes that many have been with the company for a long time. “We have good people,” he said. “You have to have good people to make sure the product gets out. We appreciate them and what they do.”