by Cassandra Balentine
PIP, Inc. is a printing, sign, and marketing services franchisor. PIP centers are located nationwide and in select countries around the globe, each owned and operated by franchisees who are independent employers and set their own policies and practices for operations.
Jodi Solotoff is the owner/president of PIP Livingston, NJ. This location is a 4,500 square foot facility with seven employees. It focuses on regional clientele.
“My father and stepmother started the PIP Livingston franchise in 1990, opening a brand new location as a second career for my father. In 2010, my father turned 65 and announced plans to sell the business and retire. In that moment, I had an epiphany. Two days later, I said, ‘Don’t do it! I’ll buy the business and move to NJ to run it,’” shares Solotoff.
Since then, she’s been operating the businesses, looking out for the latest technologies to serve its client base.
“We’re not here to take job orders; we’re here to transform print into results. PIP Livingston is a versatile shop, including a variety of things across the printing and marketing materials spectrum,” says Solotoff. In addition to digital, offset, large format, wide format, B&W, and color capabilities, it offers finishing and other special touches. “We make it a point to grow our toolbox to help our customers achieve their goals.”
Approximately 50 percent of the business is digital, with five percent offset, and 15 wide format. The remaining 30 percent is related services, including mailings, fulfillment, graphic design, and finishing.
PIP Livingston’s digital printing capabilities include a B&W RICOH Pro 8210 and 8320 along with the color RICOH Pro C5210, C7210, and C5320. For offset, it has a two-color Heidelberg press. For large format work, it utilizes two Canon imagePROGRAF 6000S devices as well as a Mimaki JFX 200 and a Colex contour cutter. The Mimaki and Colex were both purchased through Ricoh.
The company started to revamp its digital mix about eight years ago. At an annual PIP franchise convention, Ricoh was promoting its sheet-fed presses.
“Ricoh came into my shop, did a study of what I was working with, talked through my goals with me, and then drafted up their suggestions based on all of it. The relationship has only blossomed since,” she shares.
In fact, PIP Livingston recently participated in a preproduction study of the RICOH Pro C5310s. “My operators quickly fell in love. They only wanted to use the RICOH Pro C5310s, and with the beta period coming to a close, they said, ‘if you don’t buy us one, we’re all quitting!’”
She describes the C5310s as a lighter production machine that accommodates the print business’ daily needs and helps uncover new opportunities.
With a variety of printing capabilities, it provides a holistic, consultative, results-oriented approach. “If someone wants to order 10,000 envelopes from me, that’s great, I will give them 10,000 envelopes all day, every day. But I want to find out what they’re using them for, so I ask what they’re trying to accomplish. That opens up a new conversation about working together to produce that mailing. It really goes back to the idea of ‘not being order takers,’ but rather experts providing a service.”
COVID-19 has turned the world upside down, and many print providers have had to carry on with new strategies.
“There are so many facets to this tragedy, but the truth of the matter is you can only do what you can do,” states Solotoff. She says a lot of its customers’ businesses closed, so it had to find other ways to utilize its capacity. “So much of my business—and I’m not alone here—relies on events from signage to direct mail and everything in between.”
PIP had to get creative. “We’ve tried to focus in on what we can do with what we’ve got and how it aligns with customer demand. We’ve stretched our wings and tried segments we never dreamed of being in.”
Solotoff points out that PIP is traditionally a business to business (B2B) company, and it doesn’t typically deal with consumers, but over the course of the pandemic, monitoring social media, they noticed a demand for jigsaw puzzles. “So I said, ‘We have a Colex. We can make jigsaw puzzles.’ It took us a solid eight to ten days to figure it out, but now we’re in the jigsaw puzzle business, and business is good.”
Additionally, amidst the pandemic, the shop picked up new internet-based customers who sell products online, an area it never played in before. “These customers send me the job orders they receive, and we do all the printing, shipping, and fulfilling. In fact, to really broach new territory in customer relationships, one of these customers has become my tenant and has a crew of people working in my building.”
Solotoff points out that in a time like this, it is important to think beyond the business. “Before we made the pivot to puzzles, our first goal wasn’t selling. We started out by calling our customers just to check in, see how they were doing, making sure they and their families were safe and healthy. Beyond a business sense, in a human sense, we all need each other. I really try to bring that human element—that genuine care—into all of my interactions, every facet of my life.”
It is also important to find the positive side to difficult times. “We became a world of people who care about each other again. Maybe this will help more business relationships become more loyal to people than price,” she shares, adding that it comes down to mindset and what you want to focus on. “Let’s take my shop’s puzzle rollout, for instance. I know it’s maybe kind of silly, but it’s something that helps people pass the time and it helps keep the lights on at my business. Being forced to change has opened up a segment of my business I never thought I was capable of pursuing. But I am, and I have a building, I’m paying the rent every month, and I’m paying my people. Is business down? Yes. But not all change is bad. Some is exciting, opening up new avenues to help move my business forward.”
PIP Livingston NJ is offers a one-stop solution for many local businesses. In addition, it’s found ways to utilize its existing equipment to meet new demands in areas it never expected to go.
Since taking over the company, Solotoff has found the confidence needed to push forward with new technologies, allowing the business to acclimate during a changing and unpredictable year. dps
May2021, DPS Magazine