LAWRENCEVILLE, Ga.—Beaver Paper and Graphic Media, a paper and textiles company for the dye sublimation and digital printing markets, opens a research-and-devlopement facility for the first time in the company's 35-year history.
“This is really a lot easier because what was hard was doing your lab work by sitting in a dark room and imagining you had all the equipment," says Philip Prieur, CEO of Georgia-based Beaver Paper and Graphic Media. "Cooking up your experiment, observing the result, and moving on it—that was harder. Having a for-real lab? It's way easier.”
Beaver Paper recently underwent its fifth expansion and, as part of it, built the new quality-control and research-and-development lab, which brings the facility to a total of 164,000 square feet. The company brought in industry veterans Patrick Moore and John Trimble to run it. Moore is a 14-year veteran of the digital printing industry and holds a degree in chemistry. Trimble’s background includes consulting work to all of the major dye sublimation printer, software, and ink manufacturers.
“They’re both industry specialists in sublimation, they’re both well known in their field, and both of them have at least a decade each of industry-specific experience,” Prieur says. “They started with us and were productive from the day they started.”
Beaver Paper was initially launched as a flexible packaging company in 1977, Prieur says. Its conversion into one squarely focused on sublimation has been, as he puts it, “a painfully slow metamorphosis.” But it’s paying off for the company and its 80 employees, some of whom have been with the company for decades.
“Last year, our revenue growth was phenomenal,” says Prieur, who’s been there since 1984. “It was upwards of 25 percent year-over-year. We’ve had a new record for total dollar volume and for growth, the rate of growth, every year since 2007, all the way through the recession. It’s been crazy, and it appears that we’re positioned—if we do a few things right and if we keep showing up for work on time—we should be able to double this thing again with our European operations over the course of the next three to five years.”
The company is opening a new full-service facility in Germany to focus on manufacturing, packaging, warehousing, sales, and distribution by the end of this summer. It also plans to beef up its current Los Angeles facility. Prior to opening its lab and bringing in scientists to run it, Prieur did all of the research and development, he says.
“It was really difficult for me because I never liked it,” Prieur says. “It was out of necessity.”
For many years, Prieur used the company’s break room for research and development where he was busy “cooking up concoctions and coding chemistries and having people object to it while they were eating lunch.” He’s only half-joking, says Rebecca Hinton, Beaver Paper’s marketing manager. Prieur did conduct chemical experiments in the break room, but it was after hours, she says, so no one was there eating lunch. But she did have to come in sometimes the next morning and clean up after him.
“By 1990 I had involved (the company) in an analog process of rotary screen dye sublimation printing and lithographic dye sub, and then, of course, those processes started getting nibbled away by digital printing, which lends itself well to sublimation,” Prieur says.
As the company slowly morphed from a packaging company, it became more responsive to companies’ requests for certain types of materials.
“Sublimation printing is an area of specialty,” Prieur says. “It’s good for us because the truth is, it’s devastatingly complicated and difficult to do correctly. If you don’t do it correctly, you get nothing. If you do it correctly, you might get paid. That sounds just unpalatable enough that it’s probably the greatest protection that we have—that it’s just really difficult.”
As the company grew its customer base, it started seeking niches in the sublimation market that needed to be filled.
“The trick is to see what’s not there,” Prieur says. “Anybody can see what’s right or what’s wrong about what’s there, depending on what they want to see. The real trick is seeing what’s not there.”
That’s one of the reasons the company went beyond paper and now has its own line of TexStyles graphic fabrics.
“And that really wasn’t because we wanted to get into the textiles business,” Prieur says. “It was because we wanted to control the media that the images were being transferred to. If the media is not being produced in a controlled and repeatable fashion, the final result is not controlled and repeatable. There was too much variability. So our objective was to apply controls to the production of (textiles) so that people can expect a certain result and obtain it each time. Seeing what’s not there, what wasn’t there was something that had a repeatable performance. That’s what was missing.”
Beaver Paper and Graphic Media now has its products in 41 countries, Prieur says. Not bad for a company that started, as he puts it, “in a kitchen in Doraville, Georgia.”