In our increasingly “paperless” world, you might think
printing companies would be struggling to survive. Tukwila-based RPI is not
only surviving, but also thriving.
RPI, which stands for Reischling Press Inc., prints
personalized products such as posters, notebooks, calendars, greeting cards and
photo albums for individual clients. The company has printed unique photo books
for Mike Holmgren after his final year coaching the Seattle Seahawks and James
Cameron after he finished production on the film Avatar.
RPI President Ted Reischling first recognized the potential
market for these products in 1998. The firm had already been in the commercial
printing business for almost 20 years when Reischling developed the idea of
using photos to create personalized notepads for individual customers. The
product, which Reischling called the “I-Pad,” was a success. In 2006, RPI sold
off the commercial portion of its business and decided to focus solely on
manufacturing personalized products. Since then, it has grown more than 500
percent, and now serves 40 percent of the personalized printing market.
CEO Rick Bellamy attributes this success to the advent of
digital photography and social networking.
“Social networks are looking to these kinds of products as a
way to monetize the content that is being uploaded on their sites,” Bellamy
says. “People have uploaded a ton of content. Now what happens?”
RPI is currently working with social networking and photo
sharing sites like Scrapblog and Everlater. While sites like these allow people
to upload and share images for free, RPI can turn these photos into albums and
other products that customers can then purchase through the website.
It’s a narrow market, but RPI is not without
its competitors. California’s Shutterfly and Redmond-based startup Smilebox
also provide customized photo products. What makes RPI different, Bellamy says,
is that it focuses solely on personalized products and does not handle
large-scale print jobs. Also, the company only sells its products
business-to-business through its network of partnerships with retailers and
social networking sites. Over the past year, RPI has raised $10 million in two
rounds of venture capital financing—not too shabby for an old-world printing