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Manufacturing Solutions: Strategic Factory Delivers Innovative and Creative Products and Services

Strategic Factory’s President and CEO Keith Miller was recently featured on the cover of  I95 Business magazine. I95’s Executive Editor, Gregory Alexander, visited the facility and took a personal tour with Keith before writing this insightful article on our Strategic Factory and the unique services we offer our clients:

Anyone who runs a business – whether it’s a sole proprietorship, medium-sized business or large corporation – recognizes that a large amount of time is spent on tasks outside of your core industry type.

Updating social media channels, marketing services and promoting strategic components of your company are all necessary to be successful, yet they can absorb a large part of the day, leaving little time to grow and run your business. The hyper-specialization of marketing and promotional vendors further compounds the situation, as you must establish a relationship with multiple vendors, as only a few offer a “one-stop-shopping” model.

To help streamline the process and offer cohesive and innovative marketing campaigns, a Maryland-based business not only saves its clients time, but also delivers creative and unique products and solutions. Strategic Factory, based in a new state-of-the-art building in Owings Mills, is the brainchild of Miller’s Minuteman Press’ President and CEO Keith Miller, who has a long track record of success as owner of the largest Minuteman Press franchise in the world.

Strategic Factory is the Masterbrand that offers marketing, graphic design, printing, customized signage, promotional products and personalized apparel – with just one phone call.

“Many businesses are sending the same digital file to several different vendors,” Miller says. “They’ll call a sign manufacturer for their signs, use a different vendor for banners, a quick printer for copying, another for apparel and yet someone else for promotional products for an upcoming trade show. They’ll use additional vendors to re-engineer their brand and do graphic design and web development work.”

“Why use multiple vendors when Strategic Factory can handle everything from concept to creation?”

Miller adds, “It’s something as simple as knowing what your PMS (Pantone Matching Systems) color is. If you had business cards printed with us, for example, we’ve got all your information on file and whatever we are producing will be consistent and stay within your guidelines. Your logo, fonts and colors will always be right. It makes everything so much easier for the client to have one contact.” Strategic Factory caters to many customers with a variety of marketing and communication needs, Miller says. “We can execute signage, window decals, business stationary, corporate collateral materials and even rubber stamps. With one call, we can handle everything.

Expanding a business’s offerings can have its pitfalls, as Americans have witnessed companies that overextended themselves or branched out in areas that were not their specialty, resulting in a decrease of quality and customer confidence. However, Miller is confident that Strategic Factory will not suffer this fate as the company made strategic decisions by adding products and services to its portfolio that were natural companions to its core printing business.

“Our infrastructure is already in place. We’ve achieved the economies of scale, and the back-end office structure is all the same. We’re just introducing more widgets into the mix.”

“Whether it’s making a sign or a print job, it’s the same digital file, same type of equipment that is producing the product, and the same quality controls,” he says. “We have a fleet of 15 vehicles that makes deliveries every day, so now when we are going to a client to deliver finished printing jobs, we can now simultaneously deliver full campaigns that our customers are anticipating (e.g. banner displays, water bottles or customized apparel). It’s all strategically aligned to what we already do.”

An American Success Story

Reaching for the American Dream is a concept that is near and dear to the United States, the hope that anyone can be successful in this country if he or she seizes the opportunity. In July of 1999, after obtaining the necessary immigration visas and work permits, Keith Miller relocated from South Africa to Baltimore with hopes of achieving that American Dream. Recognizing that he lacked sufficient knowledge and background in the American business model, Miller quickly purchased a Minuteman Press franchise for sale in Pikesville in Baltimore County. Franchises offer many advantages for a new business owner, including a known brand, established supply chain management processes and a network of fellow franchise owners.

Miller’s Minuteman Press started humbly with two employees and 800 square feet of office space, yet in 2002, it moved into a new office space with triple the amount of production floor space. Miller’s father, Lester, moved from South Africa and joined the company to assist with business development. In a few short years, Miller’s Minuteman Press experienced significant growth with the acquisition of stores in Westminster, Towson, Hunt Valley and Lutherville. Ten years after immigrating to the United States, Miller had built a company with five locations and 37 employees, and by 2013, his workforce had doubled to 76 employees. Today, Strategic Factory consists of 112 employees and five agencies: the flagship Miller’s Minuteman Press; Graphic Tango, a marketing and creative services agency; BRANDED4U, which handles promotional products and custom apparel; Master Signs, featuring posters, banners, indoor and outdoor signage; and the Production Facility, the onsite, state-of-the-art production and manufacturing headquarters.

Not Your Grandfather’s ‘Factory’

As a journalist who has spent 25 years working for newspapers and magazines, I have seen my fair share of printing facilities, and most of them are dark, dirty and unpleasant places to work. However, Strategic Factory’s impressive 40,000-square-foot facility is high-tech, colorful, hip and beautifully designed. Built by Merritt Properties, the headquarters is bright and airy with tall ceilings and ample natural light. Attention to cleanliness is also apparent, as the ‘Factory’ more resembles a showroom. Miller says that it was important to build a new facility that mimicked the company’s focus on innovation, technology and creativity.

“The building speaks a lot about what our capabilities are. Up until this point, it’s been difficult to show our clients what we can do for them. Now it’s a pull factor – clients want to tour the facility, and we have had people come see the building and urge other businesses to check us out. It’s instrumental to help us tell our story.”

The new building was powered by financing made possible through the Baltimore County Department of Economic and Workforce Development’s Small Business Loan fund, a privately financed partnership between Baltimore County and 23 of the region’s leading financial institutions. A $5.5 million Industrial Revenue Bond was issued by Baltimore County to support the company’s construction and equipment purchases.

The new building also illustrates Strategic Factory’s commitment to the environment. A 100-kilowatt solar array on the roof of the building captures the power of the sun, and the company uses soy and vegetable-based inks and prints on recycled materials. When buying paper, Strategic Factory utilizes suppliers that harvest from trees that are from Certified Managed Forests, which must adhere to strict environmental and social standards. “We also donate a tree for each job we complete via our partnership with Trees for the Future and have donated over 39,000 trees,” Miller adds proudly.

Strategic Factory also has room for growth, Miller says, noting that there are 16,000 square feet of space adjacent to the building that can be utilized. The new headquarters has also allowed the company to grow its workforce. “Less than two years ago when we hired our human resources director, she was team member No. 47. We now have 112 team members and are actively recruiting to fill various open positions,” he says.

Locally Grown

Strategic Factory plans to add even more employees in the coming year, just one of the ways that supporting local businesses benefits the local economy. When walking around the facility, a large crab icon donning the colors of the Maryland state flag is prominently displayed with the tagline, “Proudly Produced in Maryland.” Miller says that there are definite advantages to using a local printer versus sending your job to an out-of-state company.

“We are very competitive on price; we win a lot of bid work that is strictly price driven. We may not be the cheapest every time, but we give the best value for the money all the time.”

“We have processes in place so that when a digital file comes in – no matter what the product is – we have people who study the file and ask, for example, ‘Does this design, layout or color make sense for what the customer is trying to achieve?’ We expect to make suggestions to the client and collaborate on any enhancements that can improve the job instead of simply printing the file that the customer uploaded.”

Additionally, since Strategic Factory has an in-house creative services agency, “a lot of customers start working with Graphic Tango, while others realize during the process that they need to realign their vision and need strategic planning. Since it’s an in-house agency, it’s the best place to collaborate with the customer to see what they need and what can be delivered,” Miller explains. “Every company functions at different stages of a business’s life cycle. Each stage requires different marketing strategies and tactics to survive and thrive. This is where we deliver our greatest value proposition.”

Another advantage for customers that use a local business is speed. “We’re able to meet extremely tight deadlines and can produce and deliver your product in as little as a few hours, depending on the job,” says Miller, adding that they handle 1,000 jobs a day on average, with around 250 coming in and going out daily. “We get three deliveries of inventory supplies each day; when we first started, we were averaging one delivery a week.” Miller says the company is able to handle such a large volume while doing so primarily Monday through Friday. “We focus on pushing as hard as we can during the week so that everyone can appreciate their weekends spending time with family and friends.”

Another tactic Strategic Factory utilizes to handle the workload is cross training. When I toured the facility, I witnessed a graphic designer who was helping cut business cards.

Miller says that cross training is part of the company culture and mottos are printed on the walls and even on team members’ T-shirts.

“We started with a ‘Yes! Yes!! Yes!!!’ motto, and then implemented ‘Can Do. Will Do. Happy To!’ to urge team members to enthusiastically tackle any job and deliver the best possible outcome. We also have a motto, ‘See It. Own It. Fix It!’ If someone sees an issue, we want them to own it and find the root cause. It does not benefit me to pay them to do nothing and does not benefit them to watch the clock when they can rather go to another department, learn something new and see if they can contribute something to the process. It helps them understand our internal workflow: they see where the product is going next and how they can make something better and work more efficiently. Our skilled team members are highly valued; everyone here has a voice and will be heard.”

I95 BUSINESS reprinted with permission OCTOBER 2015 www.i95business.com

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