Gary Pageau of the Dead Pixels Society talked with Joe Montalbano, co-CEO of Advertek Printing. In this interview, Montalbano talks about the start of the company’s digital printing business and its expansion into the personalized photo printing market.
Founded in 1996, Advertek Inc. is one of Canada’s leading commercial printing/packaging and personalization companies. Co-CEOs Joe Montalbano and Simon Spina bought the business in 1999, three years after its founding. The company has its headquarters in Vaughan, Ontario, Canada, working out of a 30,000-square-foot digital and dye-sub printing plant in nearby Brampton, Ontario, as well as a 30,000-square-foot litho and finishing plant in Vaughan, Ontario.
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Produced by Gary Pageau
Edited by Olivia Pageau
Announcer: Erin Manning
Erin Manning 0:02
Welcome to The Dead Pixels Society Podcast, the photo imaging industry's leading news source. Here's your host, Gary Pageau. The Dead Pixels Society Podcast is brought to you by Mediaclip, Advertek Printing and School Photographers of America.
Gary Pageau 0:19
Hello again and welcome to The Dead pixels Society Podcast. Today we're joined by Joe Montalbano, the co-CEO of Advertek Printing in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada. Hi, Joe. How are you today?
Joe Montalbano 0:32
I am well and how were you? Carrie? Doing great doing great. It's so it's actually Vaughan, Ontario. Okay.
Gary Pageau 0:41
Well, Vaughan, Ontario, then I, you know, I've been there. I should know because you have beautiful facilities there. Exactly. So, first, tell us a little bit about advertising and your journey to start the business because you've been in business now for over 20 years.
Joe Montalbano 0:59
Yeah, we essentially my business partner and I were with two other companies. We weren't happy where we were. And we decided to want to leave and start our own company. And we found a small company at the time. That was six people called adver. Tech. And we bought the company in June of 1999. And we, you know, slowly grew the company to where we are today. So pre pandemic, we were about 70. And now we're about 65. Bringing some folks back. So we've grown the company along the way, including the acquisition of Avar. Tech, we've done a few other acquisitions. And we always consider ourselves a little big company. So we operate like a big company. But we were a small company.
Gary Pageau 1:48
When you bought the business in 99, what were the primary markets it was serving,
Joe Montalbano 1:56
the company was doing litho, they had an old 25-inch litho press, what we did is we kept that what we brought in some new technology at the time, was called the Heidelberg Speedmaster, di direct imaging on plate. And we essentially went after the short-run full-color market. We had just missed the old film days, so we weren't doing film, we were doing direct-to-plate. And that's how we started being a short-run printer.
Gary Pageau 2:27
But from there, you also got into direct mail and other opportunities. That's really where I think you say you've said your company has grown has been in that business. So we're sort of early digital if you will.
Joe Montalbano 2:39
Yeah. So along the ways we've grown, we brought in a larger press while he's been at Heidelberg shop where we're always competing at Heidelberg shops, so we did an acquisition. And when we did the acquisition, we propelled into getting into the mailing the wide format, the small format. So we essentially are doing more than just litho. So we're doing all the different types of printing from small to large format, digital, and the litho.
Gary Pageau 3:11
And how, how have the customers changed in that part of the business over the years? Because I imagine that, you know, once the technology changed, the types of customers you serve changed?
Joe Montalbano 3:22
Well, that's a great question, Gary. And I think what's happened is, a lot of those long runs disappeared. And you know, what our customers wanted was short run full color, and they wanted a quick, and that's what we were really good at. But the long runs you know, there's still some out there, but a lot of them are pretty well gone.
Gary Pageau 3:44
You and I have met because you've gotten into the photo space, you're actually a provider of personalized photo products on a wholesale basis. How did you get into that business?
Joe Montalbano 3:54
Well, we always looked at how we can do online business, whether it was non-photo. And we had an opportunity through some colleagues of ours that said there was a need for a reputable response responsible photo provider that is able to you know, quickly adopt and join the market.
Gary Pageau 4:22
So what was that first product that you brought in to serve that customer? Because photo is slightly different in terms of the color management and what the expectations are and that sort of thing. So what was the first thing you brought in?
Joe Montalbano 4:38
The first thing we're we're digital, digital, printed items on paper and dye sublimation those were the we dove into dye sublimation because of our background. I mean, we're a color-managed company, and because we come from the print industry, where most of our competitors in the photo industry are in the lab. So we felt we had a huge advantage in understanding and translating that to the proper color. So that's where, you know, when we would put our product up against other folks that were so-called labs, we felt we had a far superior product.
Gary Pageau 5:15
Did you have to adjust your workflow a great deal to make that transition? Or was it a smooth transition?
Joe Montalbano 5:23
I mean, every year that we've we've done this, we've, we've learned, and we've gotten better at it. But we, you know, we are in the background, we just receive and fulfill orders. And we've developed a back-end system that is pretty slick. It's pretty cool. And it does have a lot of great features. So where I believe even some of these big companies probably don't have what we have in terms of the way our back-end system works.
Gary Pageau 5:54
And what would be an example of a benefit the customer would have from using that system.
Joe Montalbano 6:00
This system allowed us to remove any manual type labor. So everything's done automatically. So we collect all the orders, we process them automatically, no labor, no human thinking at all. No, no, no people sending them to the printer, except for when we batch. But it does, like for example, we can do rate shopping for our shipping. So we can basically pick the best, most economical method, and shipping whether it's across Canada and in the US. We've got full reporting, we've got auto inputs in position, we easily integrate with other folks and other carriers easily. Whether using their API's or using our API's. Yeah, so those are just some of the things. So so. So getting back to the products you brought in dye sub,
Gary Pageau 6:55
which is permanently mugs and ornaments and that kind of thing. Right?
Joe Montalbano 6:59
Yeah, it would be drinkware and wall decor. So those are essentially the items that we're doing. And that's, you know, we've developed other products since then, whether they're puzzles, or like you said, ornaments, all different kinds.
Gary Pageau 7:14
And you also do stuff on fabric, too. Is that correct? Yeah, because you do blankets, which is actually a hot item. And in the last year or so we've had one of the major vendors on that disappear from the market unexpectedly. So you were able to jump in on that.
Joe Montalbano 7:29
We did. So we you know, we can do all different types of fabrics, whether they're a small rally towel, or a large blanket, in all different types of blankets, different types of towels. So we can do all these different things. And we can do them economically efficiently and with great quality.
Gary Pageau 7:49
So your major production facility is I recall, you got to in Vaughan, I'll get that correct this time. Ontario, in Ontario, right. And, but one of them is the photo has the photo stuff in it correct?
Joe Montalbano 8:07
So we have our main our head office is in Vaughan, where we have our little all our customer service reps, our estimators, our pre-press operators. And then in in Brampton, which is 10 minutes from here, we have our digital shop, which is we do fulfillment, we do our print on-demand business. And that's where it all is. And the reason why is we didn't have enough room here. We had done an acquisition. So we decided to we couldn't combine the two buildings together, right? We separated litho from digital essentially Redonda. Man, that
Gary Pageau 8:45
must have been an interesting challenge, because you're operating two facilities, but you want to keep your labor at a low level if you can. So that must have been a kind of management challenge. Absolutely. And
Joe Montalbano 8:57
you know, we have a manager there, we have our operations manager that goes back and forth. But what we really tried to do is eliminate a lot of the thinking, the human thinking and the labor, and become, you know, really, really good at not having to have human intervention, interrupting the workflow of orders.
Gary Pageau 9:20
You want humans on the front end ordering products without humans on the inside making the products right, exactly. So one of the areas that you mentioned earlier was fulfillment. You know, even though you're in Canada, you do have the ability to ship inside the US very economically. Can you talk about how you develop that?
Joe Montalbano 9:38
I mean, we ship across Canada, and every time our customers would come they see why it's so expensive, you know, like within Canada and there's really not much we can do. We had customers wanting us to ship into the US so we started looking at that. So what we did is we opened up a depot in Buffalo, New York, and So we have a depot in Buffalo, New York that we can seamlessly ship in the US. And what's sad, but good for us is we can ship items, like within four or $5 of a package within anywhere in the US, where we can barely do that in Ontario, let alone the rest of Canada. And, you know, the US and we do this through USPS. And it's seamless. When, when we, we label everything, and it's like it's coming from the book from Buffalo. And it's, it's easy, seamless, and there are no problems, the customer will receive it on behalf of there, wherever they ordered the online, they receive it, and there are no customs, there's no duties, there's no nothing where we hear when the US vendors are trying to ship into Canada, they have nothing but a nightmare. They have to pay duties when they're delivered. And for us going to the US is easy and seamless.
Gary Pageau 11:04
So far for a US brand that's looking to serve as Canada, you're an option. But you're also an option for a US brand that wants to service the US.
Joe Montalbano 11:14
Absolutely, absolutely. And we're strategically located. We're an hour from the border, we have deliveries that go to our buffalo location three times a week, and it goes directly into the mail stream. So there's no hold-ups.
Gary Pageau 11:30
As you grown in the photo merchandising category, what are some of the things that you think are coming down the pike, that could be some of the hot product opportunities, because just personally, I was just talking to some of the brands that I that I talked to. And they were saying, for example, for some reason, ornaments were huge this year, this past year books seem to be coming back, especially the higher-end premium books lay flat. And those kinds of things do you are using that as well with your customers?
Joe Montalbano 12:04
We're not seeing a lot of layflat. But I think the mainstream type products are still going strong, whether they're books or drinkware, or wall decor. They're at puzzles. I mean, the puzzles through the pandemic did really, really well. They print down now. But what's surprising was greeting cards like greeting cards. Yeah. I mean, it's unbelievable how many greeting cards.
Gary Pageau 12:31
We're moving now, are you doing them only for obviously the Christmas holidays? And that but I mean, it's a year-round sort of thing. Are you seeing any year-round? Are greeting Cards happening?
Joe Montalbano 12:39
We are so I mean, the holiday, obviously peaks in q4. However, there are throughout the rest of the year for weddings and other anniversaries and other functions that they do. So they are popular. Definitely peaks in q4, which
Gary Pageau 12:55
Yeah, but that's the only things I'm starting to hear from a lot of people is. And they may not even even have a photo on it. But just the personalized card for a certain occasion, like you, said a wedding or an anniversary or something like that really seems to be taking off, which is weird in the world of electronic communication.
Joe Montalbano 13:16
Right? Right. You're absolutely right, which also, surprisingly, were calendars. Calendars have consistent year over year have grown and are still in demand. So people love their calendars, whether their desks or wall. They want their calendars. They love their calendars. And I mean, they're ordered throughout the year, but they definitely peak towards the end of the beginning of the year. Right?
Gary Pageau 13:40
Why do you think that is? Because because, again, everything moves more electronically. You don't need to send paper to send a greeting. You certainly don't need, you know, everyone's got a calendar on their phone, you certainly don't need a wall calendar. But some of these products just have a life of their own. Why do you think that is?
Joe Montalbano 13:59
Well, people tend to see say that printing is printing dead, but it's not. If you look around, we're surrounded by print. And people want to be able to touch and feel and give that personal message whether it's through a greeting card or they have a calendar of their loved ones or cars or whatever.
Gary Pageau 14:19
It's just amazing to me when I get I have that same conversation. I've had conversations with people outside the industry looking in and they hear about industry events or about this big retailer is in the category or something else. And they go oh, you know printings dead I said actually, it's booming in so many ways because there are so many places you can print now that are beyond just a four by six piece of paper. You know, I have a friend of mine who is a lab who does very well with photo golf balls. And it's just, you know, it's almost up to the creativity of the service provider to come up with those opportunities and merchandise them.
Joe Montalbano 14:56
It's endless and you can't be everything to everybody and you Though it's, you know, what we try to do is focus what we're really, really good at. Right? Try to stay within that. And, and continue on. I mean, that's essentially what we want to do we want to be doing more of everything that we're doing. Yeah.
Gary Pageau 15:12
But the reality is, is you're kind of tapped into the vibe of the outsourcing trend right now, where retailers or brands who may have been vertically integrated, are realizing because of the breadth of products out there, they just can't offer it all. So they are looking for outsource partners.
Joe Montalbano 15:30
Absolutely. And as you know, the market is changing where some players are removing themselves from the market. So it opens it up for other people. But there are other folks that are coming into the market that are looking for folks like us that are behind the scenes I just fulfill. Yeah, I
Gary Pageau 15:46
mean, that's the whole thing. I mean, everyone has a role to play. And I think it's even becoming less advantageous for some people to try and be all of the things to own the technology, stack, and own production and try and own the customer as well. That's a lot of costs.
Joe Montalbano 16:02
Yeah, you can you can't be everything to everybody. Right. So I think, you know, do what you can do well, and it will be successful.
Gary Pageau 16:10
So if people want to be successful, and do business with advertisers, how would they go about doing that?
Joe Montalbano 16:16
That's a great question. I mean, it would start with a phone call, give us a call. I mean, we'd have to see if there's a fit, number one if there's a good fit for what they're looking for. So obviously, if there's a fit, if there's a fit, and we're the right fit for them, and vice versa.
Gary Pageau 16:33
But I mean, you've integrated already with some platforms, and you're already working with a lot of industry partners right now. So it's not a difficult challenge.
Joe Montalbano 16:43
No, I mean, we have our own set of API's, we have an experienced it team that can easily integrate with other folks into their API's or our own. So, you know, we've, you know, we feel that we have a great back-end system that can manage all the fulfillment orders for reporting and SLAs. And All right, so we're, we're in tuned in terms of being able to offer a wide variety of products, quality products, but at the same time being able to deliver within a reasonable one on time.
Gary Pageau 17:18
Right. Well, thank you, Joe, and best wishes for a the upcoming year and I look forward to seeing you soon.
Joe Montalbano 17:25
Thank you, Gary, we appreciate it.
Erin Manning 17:29
Thank you for listening to The Dead Pixels Society Podcast. Read more great stories and sign up for the newsletter at www.thedeadpixelssociety.com
Transcribed by https://otter.ai