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Technology Leads Filmet to Fortune

(May 2007) posted on Wed May 16, 2007

Disastrous property damage, loss of key customers, and evaporating markets would spell the end for most companies, but for graphics producer Filmet, these trials marked turning points that would lead the company to prosper. Read on to find out how th


By Ben P. Rosenfield

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Few companies could survive losing their biggest customer, having their most lucrative market snatched away, and coping with the obsolescence of their core service—all in the same year. But it was these events that dramatically reshaped
Filmet, a Pittsburgh, PA-based graphics printer, and ultimately led the business to the most successful point in its nearly century-long history.

 

Filmet was founded in 1910 by Vincent Bachelder as a photo-finishing operation that specialized in department-store and professional portraits. Upon Vincent’s passing, his son, Vernon Bachelder, left school in the 10th grade and took over the operation. A fire early in Vernon’s tenure resulted in a total loss for Filmet, and as Vernon rebuilt the company, he decided it was time to change direction. He dedicated Filmet to commercial photography and, according to his son, Rick Bachelder, became quite a skilled and gifted photographer. In the early 1950s, Vernon found his safety at risk during a couple of jobs, which prompted him to make his occupation a bit less hazardous. He put down the camera and focused on processing prints for other photographers.

 

Rick Bachelder, the third generation to lead the company, joined Filmet in 1976 after finishing college. Filmet had nine employees at the time, three of whom were Rick, his father, and his mother. Rick’s siblings, Gary and Denise, were next to come on board, and Rick took over as president in 1980, which gave his parents the chance to retire.

 

The mid-1980s brought the addition of Filmet’s first piece of electronic gear: a typesetting system. “We started setting type, and it really opened my eyes to this new wave that was coming—electronics,” Bachelder says. He was hooked on leading-edge technology from that point on.

 

Filmet’s next high-tech purchase was a machine that Bachelder had custom-made to image directly to a 4 x 5 piece of film, thus eliminating the need to make negatives from slides provided by the company’s customers. The photographic prints made from the direct-imaged, medium-format films were more crisp, in focus, and vibrant than the films made with negatives. This capability allowed Filmet to do business nationally.

 

“We were trying to start a pattern of being first in emerging technologies,” Bachelder explains. “Shortly after that, we got into prepress.”

 

Bachelder wanted to come up with a way to make high-resolution color transparencies with the shop’s
prepress equipment, so he purchased a Cymbolic Sciences Fire 1000 Film Re-corder system. It allowed him to gener-ate transparencies up to 8 x 10 in. and Filmet to enter the retouching side of the business.

 

“As this was starting to take off for us, we saw the next set of changes coming,” Bachelder recalls. “The next set of changes were going to be really hitting hard in 2001.”

 

2001: Disaster and recovery

The year 2001 dealt Filmet three huge blows. The shop’s largest customer closed 12 of its 17 locations, a move that cost Filmet 20% in total sales. Next, the events of September 11, as Bachelder puts it, essentially finished off the trade-show and exhibit business—Filmet’s primary market at the time—because the events were cancelled. Finally, Bachelder recognized that the photographic product Filmet sold as a display device was quickly becoming outdated.

 

Rather than abandon hope, Bachelder looked to new technology once again to rejuvenate Filmet. He became intrigued by large-format inkjet technology, which eventually led him to EFI’s VUTEk 2360 roll-fed solvent inkjet. He felt the machine would provide a way to shed Filmet’s older business model and explore new markets.

 

“I saw the 2360 as a printer that gave me close to photo-like quality, but a much more durable image,” he says. “I put the 2360 in and six months later added another one, which was a VUTEk 3360. All of a sudden, we were moving away from trade shows and exhibits into P-O-P.”

 


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