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Interview with Chelby Cota, Matt Redbear and Ken Huizenga on estimating for Digital Embellishments

Kevin Abergel: All right guys. So we are started. So Simon do you wanna introduce yourself really quickly and and kind of lead off the discussion for us? Simon Eccles: Okay, I'm Simon Eccles. I'm a journalist and I'm in the UK at the moment where it's five o'clock and it's very hot here today. I have been a writer for many years and I'm also was once an estimator. So hopefully I know a little bit about it. Kevin Abergel: Chelby do you want to kinda introduce yourself and give us kind of your background and then we'll go to Ken and Matt, and that way we can have an understanding of everybody's background. Chelby Cota: Yeah, I'm Chelby Cota. I have previously been in the printing industry as an estimator for about nine years. So currently doing something different, but just fresh out of estimating and had the digital embellishment for five of those nine years or something close to that. Kevin Abergel: Thank you very much. Chelby. Ken, how about you? Ken Huizenga: Well, my name's Ken Huizenga. I worked with very closely with Kevin and Matt. Ken Huizenga: I was in the operations side of things for quite a few years. Consider myself fairly knowledgeable on embellishment. Sort of taught Chelby a lot of what she knows , and then she took it and ran with it. So she's the estimator extraordinaire. And hopefully I have some answers to the questions that you have. Kevin Abergel: Okay. Thank you very much. Ken Matt, how about you? Matt Redbear: Okay. Matt Redbear and I do work with Kevin and Ken as well. And my day job is at blue ocean press. So I do creative design and I'm an actual machine operator for the MGI JV3DS. Kevin Abergel: And I think it's important, Matt here, cuz Matt is very often in the room when the project is being decided and quoted. Kevin Abergel: So he has a very unique perspective because he helps, I think sell a lot of the jobs on the digital embellishment press and, and can help talk to that. Simon Eccles: I've got a short list of questions. If anyone wants to add anything as you go along with your experience, that's fine. But the first question and I, I guess we ought to go more or less in the order we've just been introduced is do you, do you handle the estimating differently for embellishment or is it just part of the, the whole job process? Simon Eccles: And I guess then also depends on whether you're doing what you're offering. If you're offering a full print and embellishment process, or you're offering just sprint finishing, which, which somebody else we talked to earlier in the week was doing. Chelby Cota: Well, we did both. And so I would say personally, I feel like the estimating for the embellishment was completely different than what you would estimate or what we were estimating, just a regular print job. So yes. you want me to elaborate further on that? Simon Eccles: Were you Simon Eccles: estimating using software for both the print and the embellishment and was it within the same job? Chelby Cota: It was something entirely different. So we had a print estimating software and then used kind of a Excel worksheet with built in calculations or pricing. Chelby Cota: And you kind of filled in the blanks for microns for the thickness, the percentage of the coverage, the color of the foils, because that varied in pricing. And the size of sheet that you're running through the press. So completely different. And it was only handled by, you know, there was five estimators and only two of the people handled the digital embellishment estimating just because it was a little more complex. Simon Eccles: Okay. Might come back to that, ken, are you involved in estimating? Ken Huizenga: I was I had to help fine tune those factors behind the Excel spreadsheet. We had to take a look at what real waste was what, what needed to be calculated and what didn't. Ken Huizenga: I, I wanted to simplify things. Often they try and micromanage the data that they're putting into the spreadsheet and I, and I wanted to make it simpler. I mean, if, if we're running basically 12, 18 sheets, we know the longest that our foil pulls are gonna be 18 inches and foil is not a very expensive part of embellishment. Ken Huizenga: When you break it down, you could be looking at six to 10 cents a sheet. So to, to further cut that down because you might only need foil on half seems sort of pointless in the big picture. So because only a couple of people seem to be able to grasp it in the estimating department. My job was to make it as easy as possible and to get into a ball cart. Right. Remember, we're trying to estimate here and not, not necessarily nail it. So I was fine tuning it over time. Simon Eccles: Okay. I mean, you're talking about material costs there, how was labor? labor's always a, a job preparation is always a big factor in estimating that and is different to the way printing works. Simon Eccles: So how had you set that up or what did you do about it. Ken Huizenga: Well, as far as machine rate and the labor itself, it was pretty standard comparatively to the other pieces of equipment we had in the shop that was, there was no serious brain surgery behind that part, where it could get a little bit more complicated wasn't coverage. Ken Huizenga: Cause obviously varnish is a big consumable. So, we often had them guess at low, medium and high be in the estimating department. And typically I have to be honest, if we did our job right, and sold the less is more approach to how embellishment is effective. We were often finding ourselves less than what we had in our spreadsheet for low. We would have a, let's just say 20% in the spreadsheet, and then we would get done with the job and look at the calculator on the MGI and often find out we were running one to 2% coverage on some items. So there was quite a bit of profit built into the average and still came out quite affordable for most customers. Kevin Abergel: How about you, Matt? Matt Redbear: Okay, well, I'm kind of in the same ballpark with Ken. There was, there's a lot more generalization we do estimating is kind of a module plugin to enterprise. And so they, they feed all this information in there. There's kind of low, medium and high a little bit, and a whole lot, you know, there's different levels, different steps of coverage, consumables, that type of thing, but it's really generalized. Matt Redbear: When it comes to the MGI, it's usually as a completely separate line item to the total estimate, but it's considered completely separately. Because it's not only, it's not only the sheet size and we don't really even go by coverage. If, if they're putting on a ton of varnish or just a smattering of varnish, it's, it's the same price it's based on passes. Matt Redbear: How many passes it goes through, what is the sheet size? Is there foil? Is there no foil? We don't even have an upcharge for holographic foil, which is you, as we all know, is considerably more expensive than the staple foil like silver or gold, which they sell in such a volume that you get at a pretty good rate. Matt Redbear: But then when you get to holographic, you get to lots of dots, you get to the clear sheets the see through. Types of films. There's no upcharge. It's just, is there foil or is there not foil? Is there varnish? Is there not varnish? How big is this sheet? One of the things, one of the challenges we have is that whether or not it goes through the MGI, depends on how it's finished just because of the nature of the varnish itself. Matt Redbear: It's got to go through the horizon smart slitter. You can't clamp it down on a polar cutter. You just can't. I mean, you're gonna smash it. You're gonna squash the foil. You're gonna ruin the job. So it has to go in a sheet fed digital cutter that is going to give you really good creases and really clean cuts and not smash what you've just put on it as far as embellishment goes. Matt Redbear: So there's a lot of considerations before and after for handling that create additional line items and upcharges. Matt Redbear: The other thing that we're finding a roadblock to that we have to stop and think about is using uncoated stocks for creating estimates on uncoated stocks. Matt Redbear: An estimator wouldn't know how that stock is gonna react to foil and varnish or that it has to go through the machine two times. You know, I've got an example. I actually did this today. It's I had to lay down this black type and not all of it gets varnish or foil, but this is you probably can't see it in this light here. It's classic crest, solar white. It's a very porous paper. I mean, this stuff will soak up water like a sponge and there's no coated surface. It's considered a digital stock so it will go through the iGen very nicely, but when you try to put foil and varnish on top of that, it not only takes on the texture of the paper, which could be desirable in some ways. Matt Redbear: But if, if you want a smooth job, like you would normally get off this machine, you've gotta get creative and there's no way an estimator is gonna know how to do that or software. There's just, I, I don't know of any way. That you could build that into an estimating software. Maybe there is, but just to let you know what we came up with actually turned out quite, quite beautiful. Kevin Abergel: I'm not sure how many people know who have these kinds of equipment, how to do that, by the way, a lot of people just steer clear from uncoated. I don't think a lot of 'em are as experimental as as you guys have ocean press when it comes to taking on jobs like that. But that's, that's pretty cool. Matt Redbear: Yeah. But, and this is a heavier varnish. This is 58 plus 58. It went through two times. Yeah. Lay down the varnish and then I run it back through, I lay down the varnish and then the foil on top. And I make sure I got my registration marks on the edge here. Sure. So that the machine will read it exactly every time and it worked out beautifully. Matt Redbear: And the only reason we do it is cuz customer requests it. That's the stock they want to use. And that's the, the style of embellishment that they want on it. They, they don't want flat foil, they want raised stuff. Kevin Abergel: so Matt, do you think there's a lot of education that needs to go to the to the estimators on what the limitations are of the equipment? Matt Redbear: Yeah. And, and that could be a A manual or a book all in itself because different stocks you're gonna react different ways. It's gonna react differently on an Evo than it is on a JV3DS because they use two different types of varnish, two different types of, of lamps to set that. And they're going through the machines at different speeds. Matt Redbear: You've got all these variables that you wouldn't really know. So maybe, maybe it would be enough to just generalize in an estimator. Step up that if it requires a specialty stock like that, that a live proof must be done before the estimation continues forward with the feedback from the operator on how to get it to work. Ken Huizenga: I agree. And I, I think that one of the reasons that Chelby got really good at it is because she didn't take my word for it. She kept asking, well, why won't it work? So I would. often give her the sample. I would show her why it wouldn't work. And that, that I think was a invaluable resource for her. Cause she could then explain to the customer exactly why it wouldn't work. Ken Huizenga: Not cuz Ken said, because this is what it would look like and why it won't lend itself well to a good finished product. Ken Huizenga: Yeah. We've gotten very accustomed to running a live proof from beginning to end here all the way from pre-press all the way up to finishing. Just to cover our butts so that we don't get any unexpected surprises. Matt Redbear: Yeah. In, in the midst of doing the job or to get in the middle of it and find out that we can't do it. And then we have to disappoint the customer and cancel the job and eat the stock. And the time that we spent in setting it up. So maybe there's a whole list of things that need to be developed that you create a stopping point in the estimating system, and then it goes to the operator, or it goes to a consultant who knows, and then you get that proper experienced feedback and then decide whether or not to go with the live proof or not to actual run some and see, which is the beauty of the digital. Matt Redbear: You know, process, you can just do it. And then progress forward from there. And we do that with a lot of our customers. We just get to that stopping point make, then that's what we're doing with what I just showed you. Make sure it's gonna work. Make sure the customer likes it, make a sample, leave it at the front desk for them to pick up, look, see, feel, and hold. Matt Redbear: And then if they like it, we move forward from that point on and generate pricing. Simon Eccles: This sounds like you are obviously learning from experience. But what then do you do about it, Chelby and Matt for do you make a note? Okay, this paper will worked in a certain way. So in six months time, when you get it again and you've forgotten know, have you got notes on it, or can you enter that into the Excel spreadsheet or, or whatever you're using? Chelby Cota: Face stays in the brain. there were no, which I would be a good thing or a bad thing, but I think that it typically, in my opinion, when we did something out of the box that we didn't think was gonna work, that did end up working, it wasn't something that I quickly forgot about. And I think that, that something to what Matt said that there's so many variables is also why we had just two designated people doing the embellishment estimating because there. Chelby Cota: Too many, if this, then that situations and it did have to go on a different press to cut or, you know, a different machine to cut and to fold. And don't forget about this. And it was just a lot for the excavators who, you know, to remember so, to, to designate a couple of people to doing that was probably the only way it was ever gonna get done and estimated correctly, Simon Eccles: Matt, just at the beginning, you, you mentioned used enterprise, what did you mean by that? Is that software ? Matt Redbear: No, it's. it's the name of a software and it's, you know, think of it as your house software, where you enter all the jobs, all the customer information, each job is created. Matt Redbear: All the files are uploaded into the system. It creates this whole world of where the jobs live. So we have all the jobs folders. We have all the customer information all the data, which machines you get used, and then it generates all the statistics, time used. You enter how much time you spend on everything, you know, it's daily operating software. And it has that estimating capability built into Kevin Abergel: Not specifically for embellishment. You kind of had to work around it. Matt Redbear: It's basically for any business whatsoever. And this is tailored for print shops. Simon Eccles: I mean, both Chelby and Matt , you are not using off the shelf print estimating software for embellishment. Simon Eccles: Chelby used Excel and you are using this adaptive enterprise Matt. Is that because there's nothing out there or you didn't want it, or... Matt Redbear: it's what we already use and it's just another line item, another section built into it, where they put in another machine, another process, and then they click on that and then it adds it to the estimate, and it just adds everything together. Simon Eccles: A plugin just for embellishment that would plug into anybody's estimating system... Does that sound attractive? Ken Huizenga: I think that the software companies have been really weak in the estimating cover of coverage. The click model works and most of the software, the offset side of things works well and all the software, but when it comes to percent of coverage and you're measuring consumables, most of 'em were pretty weak at that. We found that there was no formula we could put in, it was gonna quite work as well. Ken Huizenga: And also the complexities of the multi multiple pass, right? Most your offset presses are one side, maybe two or one pass perfecting, or the, the, in the case of a toner base machine, it's one duplex sheet. It comes out it's done when you're having to do four or five and six passes of a product literally all your expenses can increase by as much as six times. Ken Huizenga: So then you're pulling the machine over in your estimating as a press that's that's gonna be enlisted in your estimate six times. So that doesn't bode real well to a, to a simple and easy to understand estimate. Ken Huizenga: Coverage is a different animal. I mean, even on the ink jet side of things, I got a feeling that the software companies are responding a little bit better now because of a wide format and ink consumption in that area. And some of, some of this may, may marry up, and it's gonna be quite helpful probably to not even the embellishment community, but to the inkjet community. Kevin Abergel: Guys, I have one question cuz the heart of the story that we're writing is about the creation of this, this new market for the pricing of digital embellishment. So in the early days when you guys first invested in the machine, I think a lot of people were selling it at market bearable, which is, you know, it costs this much to do a die it's $500 to do this job traditional. Kevin Abergel: So I'm gonna sell it for $500. And what we've seen is as more and more people got this type of technology the pricing has kind of created its own little niche. Can you guys talk a little bit about that? If you saw the price kind of find its own home and not necessarily sell it, what traditional embellishment were? Chelby Cota: Well, I don't, yeah. I don't think. Can't remember all the way back to the early days, but I'm sure we did some beginning pricing like that, but I think it. In the market in itself, it's not comparable to a die. Cuz you can't get a die for 25 people's names, you can't do the variable that the machine can do. Chelby Cota: So I mean it's easy to sell it as a its own little completely different. So yeah, you might be comparing to somebody who's buying a foil die. But this product that you're gonna get from us, isn't a foil die product. It's a, you know, raised foil. It could be, you could do 10 sheets. If you wanted to do 10 sheets or you can do. A thousand sheet. Kevin Abergel: So your clients knew they, it was a digital process. There was no, there was no hiding that it was, you're not charging for, for the same setup fees as a traditional, the clients knew you were doing this on a digital machine. Chelby Cota: We made, yeah, we made sure they knew it was a digital press, just because it was so unique. . Ken Huizenga: Tell 'em a little bit about one of the casinos that you were able to have some success with and as far as pricing and how you helped them to understand the benefits of going that direction and those direction. Chelby Cota: Yeah. So as we all know, casinos make money and they like to spend the money too. Chelby Cota: Especially those VIP events to get those high spenders. So those were literally perfect jobs because there were never more than, you know, a couple of thousand if that and they always wanted to go all out do the fancy foil holographic foil was their favorite. They had jobs that had like six passes you know, three on one side, three on the other digital variable names. Chelby Cota: And variable numbering and stuff like that. So they truly used the product like exactly how we wanted them to use. Maybe even a little bit more than what we wanted to use we got a little complicated with keeping the variable data all in line, going through six times and then getting cut and scored and pulled. Chelby Cota: It, it got a little crazy sometimes, but yeah, they, they really understood. I mean, we had to help them understand cuz at first they were like cover this whole picture in varnish. That's what we want. And I'm like, that's not really the best use of this technology. You know, it's not to put a block of, of UV on it. Chelby Cota: It's you can do. And so we, we did a lot of. What they would send me is their artwork. Even if it was just in like the beginning stages. And they'd say, what do you think would look best? We want, we're thinking foil and UV for this project. So I would go to Ken and say, what do you think about, you know, I was thinking this, this and this. Chelby Cota: And I would go get in our pre-press people too. And so they kind of gave us once. They kind of understood that they weren't what they were asking for wasn't gonna make it look amazing or worth the money that they were gonna put into it. They kind of started trusting us to just say, okay, look, we're gonna do foil on these areas, UV on these areas and it'll look amazing and they kind of just let us run with it. Kevin Abergel: Oh, great example. Simon Eccles: Were you then going and working with their designers and saying, well, this is how you set it up. And this is how you do layers in Photoshop or whatever they were doing to create the embellishment layers or, or is your, you might need to, to add to the, what, what they said they wanted to do when you made it work. Chelby Cota: yeah, we really just made it work. We never really, I don't know if it's because we didn't take the time to train the clients or it just is a extra complex layer, but we really did a lot, actually, all of the backend work, we would ask for people's native files. You know, complete PDFs and all the native files so that we could do all the work to it as the layers that we needed. Chelby Cota: And I think it worked out better because then we didn't have to fix people's files that they thought they were making. Correct. Cuz a lot of times they weren't doing it the right way anyways, so we really did the work. . And honestly, now that I'm like saying it out loud, it probably, it was the right path to go. Chelby Cota: But we didn't have two times the work to undo what they did and do what it needed to be. Ken Huizenga: On the other, other element, there was, they were casinos were great for getting us artwork at the last second. So we didn't have a whole lot of time to go back and forth. We knew their deadline wasn't gonna change. Ken Huizenga: Cuz we could see when the event was on the artwork that they sent. So as much as we wanted to go back and teach them the right way to do it. They were just constantly up against the gun. So that was a pain point we could help them with. And I think it had also endeared not only a more expensive product to the company we worked for, but also to them, because it made them look, look good within their own organization. Simon Eccles: What then did they do for visualization or proofing were, were you sending them digital proofs off the jet varnish? Because you can do one or two or did they just look at the screen and say, okay, that bit of you know, purple or whatever is gonna be metallic did they have to imagine, or did you actually show them anything? Chelby Cota: Yeah, I mean, 90% of the time, it was like we needed to turn this project that had six passes around in three days. Like from start to finish, there was no time for proofs other than PDF proofs. Chelby Cota: And just saying anything, a magenta is gonna be foil and or UV. There were a few events like their new year's Eve. They're very special. Like they wanted to go all out for these events that they would send us some preliminary artwork ahead of time and we would give it to them. But They, they just trusted that we would do what was best and that it would look good. Chelby Cota: And it always came out good. So , Ken Huizenga: I think it was so much better than any other printer could do that when they got the finished product, rarely were they ever disappointed? There was always some bling or some extra touch to it that set it apart from everything else. So if some of it is trust, but just some of it is the end product is freaking awesome. Chelby Cota: But as a, a general rule, like the casino was an exception. I think we tried to do physical proof for anything that had UV or foil on it, just because not everybody really fully understood what it was gonna look like. And it kind of, even if somebody was on the fence, it kind of sold the job by itself, if they were able to like grab their piece and touch it and feel it and be like, wow, this looks amazing. So and I, I would say for, for that kind of stuff, it would be the safest to do proofs. Yep. Physical proofs. Simon Eccles: Okay. And that's one of the beauty of digital embellishment in that you're not committing yourself like making a die and the, the customer thinks, oh, I don't like that. At least they can change the artwork before the before the final job. Chelby Cota: Exactly. Kevin Abergel: If you had one magic wand when it came to the estimating system, what would you do? Like if you had the magic wand you had one wish what would your recommendation be? Ken Huizenga: It's easy for me, I would say. And I see a standard estimating system and a three dimensional ability to view proofs online. I think those are two huge ones. Chelby Cota: Yeah. That proof to be able to do a proof online where they could, you know, kind of turn it and see that it would have a raised effect here. Chelby Cota: That would've solved a lot of kind of pain points that sure we experienced. Yeah. And making the estimating easier would have saved my own personal pain points. Simon Eccles: There are three packaging previewing systems is Esko. And that there's one called IC3d that both cost a considerable amount. You mean talking a thousand dollars a month or something like that? You know, they, they will preview foils on packaging and all the really fancy effects the packaging guys are using. Simon Eccles: So , it does exist, but companies like yours is that the sort of price you think it's worth paying? Just so the customers can see the fruit. Yeah. I say it is $12,000 a year. Plus I think with the Esko system, you've gotta have an prepress system there as well. Ken Huizenga: Yeah. If you're asking if that's too much. Yeah. That's way too much. Simon Eccles: Yeah. Okay. Simon Eccles: It's just exactly what you think it is. Chelby Cota: physical printing out a physical proof, would be cheaper . Kevin Abergel: That's a good point. Matt Redbear: That's why we did that for a lot of customers. And that was just. It would a total live proof job from beginning to end all the way up to the table cutters and, you know finishers and all that stuff. Matt Redbear: Because our clients, our, a lot of our clients wouldn't have done well with the visualizer because they want exactly the way they want it. Kevin Abergel: if you had a magic wand for your estimation, what would it be? Matt Redbear: I don't know that I have one. I just need to know that I can run it the way that it needs to be run based on what the customer requires. I honestly don't think I have any magic wand. Ken Huizenga: I just think it's important to get to know your customer too. Ken Huizenga: If they're not willing to pay a hundred dollars for a, a proof, a hard, a hard proof, they're probably not gonna wanna pay for an em job. So it's important to get to know your customer and find out what kind of budget they have, because if that, if that's holding them up, they're probably not gonna be a long term embellished customer. Simon Eccles: I mean, that, that's great for as long as embellishment is a, a selling point that nobody else has got. How long do you think you'll be able to charge a premium for a very embellishment? Ken Huizenga: I think you'll always be able to charge a premium for it, even if you're, even if somebody comes into your market as competition, there's gonna be a higher machine costs for them now, then you may have gambled on four or five years ago. So if anything, it's probably gonna increase in value than decrease. And I think we're looking at at least at least five years down the road before there's so much competition that the price gets driven down. Simon Eccles: And we, we also, perhaps one last question then I'll let you go. Just going back to what Chelby was saying about making the customers artwork work for the casino. So you helping the customers in the casinos to make sure their artwork work and is gonna output hopefully first time correctly. Simon Eccles: Is that a common thing or are you getting artwork coming in that works more or less first time with a bit of tweaking and how do you cost or estimate for that? Chelby Cota: We always assumed that nobody was gonna send in their artwork correctly , which was 99.9% true, but we did have a graphic, graphic design, like pre-press charge built in to any job that we did for Embellishment. Ken Huizenga: We call it file intervention, but yeah, we just made sure to include it. Matt Redbear: yeah, same here. We have a, we have a line item for, you know, pre-press setup and you know, that's gonna include, you know, 15 minutes of pre-press time. So if you can deal with it and work with it within that amount of time, otherwise we give the, the customer the opportunity to fix it, which... as Chelby notes, 99% of the time, probably 99.9% of the time, they're not gonna know how to fix it, or they're not gonna be able to fix it correctly. So we basically give them the opportunity. They'll try to fix it, they won't fix it. Then we offer to fix it for an additional line charge, and then they'll hand it off to me. I'll let them know how long it took. Matt Redbear: Even if it took four hours. You know, we had four hours of, of design time because I I'll tell you I've had to take 28 page documents and strip them all apart and rip all those pages to pieces and reassemble everything. And that takes a lot of time to put that back together in layers because we have to output basically two separate files, one for the digital print and one for the MGI. Simon Eccles: is there a way of educating the designers the creatives to get it right first time? Or is it just easier to fix it? Matt Redbear: They, they need to sit in a classroom for a week or two and go through this intensive because there's a lot to it. Matt Redbear: And if you've never worked in pre-press for a year, at least like, like deep in the trenches. You're getting files from everybody and everything for, for every machine and every type of output, and you'll see every mistake and every problem and you have to fix everything. So it's that level of intensity that you know, a lot of, they don't, a lot of people don't even know how to do a spot, color separation. They're just so used to RGB on the internet or C M YK for print. So going beyond that, you know, requires quite a bit of education. Kevin Abergel: Call taktiful. We offer that as a service and Matt is actually one of our instructors on how to do that. So that's a, that's a service that Matt is actually offering for designers right now. All right, guys. Well, listen, I wanted to thank all of you Chelby, Ken, Matt, and Simon for your time. Kevin Abergel: Today thought this was really helpful and I wanted to thank everybody for a really wonderful discussion. I, I learned a lot.

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