‘Always up’ to the challenge
Professional Plotter Technology Corp. brings custom print shops to clients
Jason Ake, owner and CEO of Austin-based Professional Plotter Technology Corp., knows the wide-format plotting and printing business inside and out—literally.
“It sounds cliché, but I started this business in a shed behind my home in 2001 with about 500 bucks,” he says. “I was working as a technician at a local Hewlett-Packard (HP) reseller at the time. I helped to develop their wide-format division. When the internet boom hit, the company didn’t diversify and started to lose money.”
Where others saw challenges, Ake saw opportunity.
“I went home and started buying broken printers on eBay, fixing them up and reselling them the next day,” he says. “I’d get off work, and there’d be a big box in my driveway with a 100-pound printer. I’d carry it to the shed and work on it until 3 in the morning. Then I’d wake up at 5 a.m.—because I had to be to work at 8—put the printer back in the box and call the shipping company to pick it up.”
In addition to the hands-on experience Ake gained disassembling, repairing, refurbishing and reselling printers, he learned a great deal during the eight years he worked for the local HP reseller. “They sent me across the country to train directly with manufacturers,” he says. “This is where I gained all the IT knowledge. I have earned close to 50 different certifications and am a T7 color expert.”
By 2006, Ake decided he could “do things better” by bringing printing and plotting equipment, supplies and services directly to clients. “I incorporated in 2006 and 12 years later, we are the second-largest wide-format equipment reseller in the country,” he says. “Our motto is ‘Stop wasting time and money at the local repro-graphics shop.’ ”
Locally Owned, Nationally Known
Although Professional Plotter started small and still prides itself on being a locally owned business, it now has thousands of clients across the United States. The company is an authorized reseller for major manufacturers such as Canon, Epson, Xerox and Contex. It leases warehouse space in 10 different states so it can deliver equipment and supplies to any domestic location within two days.
Much of the company’s growth can be attributed to Ake’s keen ability to spot and apply trends from other market sectors, stay on the leading edge of technology and keep pace with the changing needs of clients. In addition to developing and selling its own paper, branded as FineTouch, Professional Plotter offers three partnership agreements: FlexPro, Always up and a basic customer loyalty program.
“Our FineTouch paper is compatible with all the printers we lease and sell,” Ake says. “It’s equivalent to original equipment manufacturers (OEM) paper for a fraction of the cost. We encourage the use of OEM products and our paper to ensure uptime. Would you go to a random gas station and put unregulated, untested gas in your car? No. In the print world, using poor-quality products can lead to costly repairs. We are able to offer extended warranties because we know the machines we lease are properly maintained.”
As Ake observed the macro market shift toward subscription-based services, he recognized the value of developing a program like this for his clients.
“Blue Apron is an example of this,” he says. “The ingredients for homecooked meals arrive in a box each week. Our FlexPro Partnership is similar. It bundles three products or services into one package: a month-to-month rental agreement for printing or scanning equipment, supplies such as paper and ink, and ongoing support and maintenance services.”
The FlexPro Partnership offers more than convenience. Ake says it saves clients at least 70 percent in printing costs while simplifying their bookkeeping.
“Our clients receive one bill and only pay for what they use,” he explains. “Many of our competitors still sell equipment leases with maintenance agreements that lock companies into using the same equipment for up to five years. Our focus, though, is on our customers’ success and growth. So, we provide the flexibility they need to make changes at any time without penalties. All we do is amend the contract—and, if we’re not performing as expected, they can cancel with a 60-day written notice.”
Alexa Messer, partner for Messer Design + Construction, attests to these benefits. Her firm leases a wide-format, compact Canon plotter from Professional Plotter. “I am not technologically savvy, and neither are the guys in the office,” she says. “We probably called Professional Plotter with questions every day for the first month. They are always available and very responsive. They come out and set up plotting software on new computers at no charge. They also monitor the supplies online, so they know when we are low on ink or paper without us having to call or send an email.”
Messer says she has also been amazed by how much her printing costs have gone down. “We print plans for all of our trades,” she explains. “We cover those costs and have all the documents ready to go. They never have to wait for them to be done by a printing company. Our bills are about $300 a month, and we use the plotter every day. I think we will probably save $10,000 to $15,000 this year alone.”
“Professional Plotter’s customer service has been incredible. Supplies arrive the day after they are ordered, and they solve problems by remote access anytime we have issues.” Larry Kuebel, General Manager, Blanco A/C, Electrical & Plumbing
Professional Plotter has also revolutionized wide-format printing and plotting for the construction industry by creating its “Always up” program.
“This is an out-of-the-box way to solve downtime issues,” Ake says. “In the unlikely event that a printer or plotter does go down, we will print your job and FedEx it to you for next-day delivery. Or, if you are local, walk right in. We have a print shop here in Austin at our demo location. Clients can also email or Dropbox a job to us, and we will print it within two hours. If you are at another national location and need prints immediately, you can send it to a local repro shop, and we will cover the bill. This ensures that our clients are always up. Most of our clients are subcontractors, GCs, architects and others in the building industry. They need prints to meet a deadline.”
Ake and his team have also developed a loyalty program to encourage clients who rent or buy equipment on a cash basis to also purchase their paper and supplies from Professional Plotter. “In return, we give them a warranty for whatever period they want and provide 24/7 tech support for the duration of that agreement,” he says.
As the demand for printed documents tapered off and Ake recognized the trend toward digitization, he further diversified Professional Plotter’s products and services. “We sell scanners and tablet computers and provide online document storage and mobile plan rooms with real-time updates for companies moving toward a paperless workflow,” he says. “We also use help desk software to provide tech support anywhere in the world. By using a program called LogMeIn Rescue Lens, clients can share their desktop computer with a technician or they can use the camera lens on their phone to show us exactly what the problem is.”
In-House Print Shops
Ake makes a clear and compelling case for collaborating with Professional Plotter to set up an in-house print shop.
“It’s friendlier to the environment, and you can keep your documents confidential,” he explains. “You also avoid time delays and costs such as shipping and courier fees, can use the technology that best fits how you run your business, and not only reduce your printing costs but also have more accurate information for billing reimbursables. People will say: ‘I’m not a printer, I’m a framer.’ I get that. If you can print invoices and emails, though, you can use our equipment. It’s that easy. We literally set the print shop up in your office with a basic inventory of supplies. We can train your staff and are there 24/7 to support you.”
Larry Kuebel, general manager of Blanco A/C, Electrical & Plumbing in Blanco, Texas, especially appreciates the convenience, access to proper technology and improved budgeting capabilities his company has experienced while working with Professional Plotter.
“We lease the Canon IPF780 with a 36-inch scanner from Professional Plotter,” Kuebel says. “Since we are located in a small rural town, we don’t have access to reprographics and would have to travel at least 30 miles to get plans printed. We had no way to copy plans that customers would bring in. With this equipment, we can quickly print scaled drawings for bidding or to send out with our crews. We can also scan customers’ documents and save electronic copies on our server.”
“Leasing equipment from Professional Plotter also allowed us to get the equipment we needed instead of settling for the equipment we could afford,” he continues. “Their lease agreement includes all the consumables, so we can more accurately forecast our monthly budget for prints. In addition, their customer service has been incredible. Supplies arrive the day after they are ordered, and they solve problems by remote access anytime we have issues.”
People Make Businesses
It takes more than entrepreneurial instinct and the passion to achieve an ideal match between products, services and clients to grow a small startup company into one with national stature.
“People make businesses, businesses don’t make people,” Ake says. He’s particularly proud of the contributions that three employees have made to the success of Professional Plotter: Geno Muto, sales manager; Laura Penney, manager of marketing and business development; and Garrett Cangemi, the company’s head engineer-technician. “Geno just celebrated his ninth anniversary,” Ake says. “He is my original salesperson, my top salesperson, and the top Canon salesperson in the nation. Geno is very passionate, very personable. He creates a great rapport with clients. Laura came to us from one of the largest paper resellers, so she brought nearly a decade of media expertise to the table. She developed the FineTouch line and has helped me grow this side of the business. Garrett has also been with the firm about nine years. Garrett is an expert in wide-format digital imaging and works with all our clients on technical issues.”
Paying Prosperity Forward
Since founding Professional Plotter over a decade ago, Ake has found ways to share the firm’s success with clients and community members. “We support the Austin and San Antonio chapters of professional organizations such as the AIA and AGC,” he says. “We know our community and the things people feel strongly about. So, we are developing and implementing a plant-a-tree program. For every box of FineTouch paper sold, we will donate a dollar to the National Forest Foundation, which will plant a seedling to help rebuild forests.”
Professional Plotter also has a large trade-in, trade-up program. “If you have an old, outdated device,” Ake says, “we will pick this up and completely refurbish and repurpose it to help keep IT equipment out of landfills.”
No matter which combinations of products and services clients choose, Ake says Professional Plotter’s primary goal is to help clients prosper by enabling them to focus on what they do best.
“By collaborating with us, they don’t have to designate an office manager to inventory ink tanks or paper or set up an IT department to deal with technical issues,” he says. “We want to take all that burden off our clients so they can grow their businesses.”
After writing two books and contributing to several others, Heather Beal now uses her writing and photography skills to bring Who’s Who stories to life.