Narrow Web Profile: Digital Dogma SLO

By Steve Katz, Editor | May 31, 2013

The digital printing specialist has embraced California’s wine label market.

The SLO in Digital Dogma SLO stands for San Luis Obispo, the California location for the offshoot of Digital Dogma, the all-digital label converter located downstate in Santa Fe Springs. Company co-founder and vice president Matt Walsh likes to refer to San Luis Obispo and the surrounding region as “God’s Country,” and a visit to the area makes you see why – perfect weather, paired with immaculate mountain and Pacific Ocean views.

The story of Digital Dogma SLO picks up where the 2009 Label & Narrow Web profile on Digital Dogma left off. Toward the end of the story, while discussing the company’s future, Walsh said that he and partner Paul Mulcahey were “toying with the idea of opening another location.” Walsh said he wasn’t sure where the new entity might be – he was thinking maybe a surrounding state, or in Northern California – and he emphasized that the wine market was definitely not something they wanted to get into.

What a difference a few years makes. Within San Luis Obispo County is Paso Robles Wine Country – the fastest growing wine region in California. And it turns out that “God’s Country” is a pretty spectacular location to dedicate to wine label manufacturing, which is exactly what Digital Dogma SLO does. It is a completely different business model than its parent company, and as food gets paired with wine, it’s showing how perfectly paired digital label printing is with the wine label market.

As the original Digital Dogma grew, Walsh and Mulcahey upgraded their equipment. They began their operation in 2003 with an HP Indigo ws4000, and two years later added a ws4050. The company believes digital print technology is the present and future of the industry, and prides itself on being up-to-date with the most efficient machinery. “It’s our technology that drives the company,” Walsh says. “And it’s always been our focus to be innovative and on top of our equipment and software. Everything we’re doing, we’re trying to take fewer steps to get there, with better equipment to produce the highest quality labels.”

In 2009, the company acquired a ws6000, which tested the capacity of the 7,500 square foot facility in Southern California. “We have always looked at Digital Dogma as a well-oiled machine in terms of the production process and technologies we use, but we have a fairly small facility down there, and the 6000 would have been difficult to fit into our location in Santa Fe Springs,” Walsh says. So when the 6000 arrived, it was decided that the company’s first press, the ws4000, would be the press to start up Digital Dogma SLO. (Despite the space limitations,  the Santa Fe Springs location added an HP Indigo 6600 in April 2012.)

The AB Graphic Digicon Series 2 finishing
SLO’s 3300 square foot manufacturing facility is impressive looking – a lobby showcasing its wine label innovations gives way to a gleaming pressroom that would impress the most discerning print buyer. The room showcases the two pieces of equipment the company relies on – Digital Dogma’s original HP Indigo ws4000 and a brand new Digicon Series 2 finishing machine from AB Graphic International.

As a dedicated wine label specialist, Digital Dogma SLO’s labels are generally not simple jobs, and the equipment used is ideal for meeting the complex wine label requirements of its customers.

“Our press kicks out quality stuff, but the biggest issue here is the converting. It’s a much more difficult process – you have hot stamping, embossing, spot varnish – and we’re doing two and sometimes three passes, with all kinds of special effects. The key to our success is the ABG converting unit – it’s amazing how well it works for us,” Walsh says.

The company offers customers 4-color process plus three additional colors, foils, embossing, varnishing, and both laser and traditional (flexible) diecutting. While the SLO location is not equipped with a laser diecutter, Santa Fe Springs is. Being in such close proximity is an advantage, as SLO can easily and quickly transport product downstate to incorporate laser diecutting.

As effective as Digital Dogma SLO’s equipment is, an equally integral component is the person Walsh and Mulcahey tapped to head the San Luis Obispo operation. Enter Phil Stockwell, general manager at SLO, whose blend of printing, graphic design and wine label experience makes him an invaluable asset.

From left, Brian Wells, Phil Stockwell and Matt Walsh
Stockwell worked for a major, national label and packaging company’s California wine label business for 18 years as both customer service and prepress manager. He brings to Digital Dogma SLO not just print industry and wine market experience, but also graphic design talent and know-how, as well as an extensive list of contacts.

“In the time I’ve spent in the region’s wine label business, I’ve gotten to know some of the winemakers well and really learned the business and what these customers want,” Stockwell says. “Working with Digital Dogma has been second nature to me. I have experience with a lot of these short run, boutique wineries – not only doing artwork for them, but using almost every printing process you can think of – old letterpress, flexo, offset – it’s all I’ve done, so I’m relatively comfortable.”

Stockwell has been with Digital Dogma SLO from its start, which was in the fall of 2012. In addition to him, there’s digital press operator Brian Wells and two salespeople. Walsh and Mulcahey provide sales and when-needed technical support from Santa Fe Springs.

With just a handful people, the operation is taking off. Walsh explains: “I do a lot of quotes out of the Santa Fe facility, Phil has his own set of customers within the area’s winery community, and our salespeople had accounts they brought in. We started slow, but it’s growing in the right direction, at the trajectory we want. Phil is busy,” Walsh jokes. “But it’s also a lot of fun.”

Concierge Service
More than any other label, a wine label is a work of art, and Phil Stockwell’s ability as an artist is key to the services the company provides.

“We like to get orders with label designs that are complete, but for a lot of them, Phil is working to design the labels. With the majority of our jobs, he is having to modify them in some way – his ability to do this is a real strength,” Walsh says.

According to Walsh and Stockwell, there is not another digital label printer within 200 miles of San Luis Obispo. And the benefits of digital allow the company to offer “concierge” service.

“I’ll go and see them at their winery instead of having them come here,” Stockwell explains. “I can take my laptop and do proofs right at their facility – I can give them a quote in ten minutes. It’s this concierge-type service that they like.”

The wine label customer can be discerning, and Digital Dogma SLO sets itself apart by offering personalized service, with oftentimes the challenge of introducing customers to a new printing technology. “A lot of our new customers are previously having their labels printed flexo or offset, but many people are becoming educated in digital,” Stockwell says.

The wine brand owner stands apart from label customers in other industries. Stockwell explains: “Winemakers are often people that have had success in other businesses. They are professional, but they are also farmers. When you meet them, conducting business is very relationship-oriented. It is not so cut-and-dry like you might find in other print sales.

“It’s neat to have smart, professional customers that really care about their product,” he says. “And when you show them that same level of care that goes into the labels we are supplying them with, it builds our reputation and generates more sales.”
Adds Walsh, “I can see how it may be difficult for a label customer dealing with the many layers you might find in a big printing company. With us, Phil can work personally with our customers and can design and print a label in a very short period of time.”

The gleaming SLO plant equipped with the AB Graphic
Digicon Series 2 finishing unit and the HP Indigo ws4000
digital label press.
Converting the discerning customer
Wineries view their labels as an extension of themselves, so a high quality label is paramount. With that said, price and turnaround times are still very important.

Digital Dogma SLO is enjoying the captive market of the region. Apart from wine, they also do a fair share of olive oil labels, which are a seamless fit as olives share a similar grow cycle with grapes.

“There’s not a lot of industry around here, so our business is wine, olive oil, and also some high-end beauty products,” Stockwell says. “When you learn your business and see how important the converting side is, you then look at the profitability of the converting side and how it enhances the label. Our customers appreciate the label’s enhancements from the converting as well as the print quality they’re getting.”

Wine label customers appreciate cost savings too. “People are always trying to save money, and that brings another opportunity to capitalize on digital’s advantages,” Walsh says. “We can show them how they can save 15-20% on their labels and also get them quicker. Some of the printers around here tell them six weeks, while we can turn the same job around in six days.”

Digital Dogma SLO prides itself on its transparency – being honest and open with customers about costs and price structures, which is useful in explaining where savings can be found over competing print processes. And taking care of customers with a personal touch is paying off.  “We took good care of our first customers, and they told five people, and those five told five more. Word of mouth has been great,” Walsh says.

“With wineries,” Stockwell adds, “these guys are buddies, and they are always looking to help each other out. There is a lot of camaraderie, and they share the same passion.

“Guys that have done digital printing before, they’re easy,” Stockwell says. “They’re also local and want to support the local community. They know the technology and know what it can do for them. The one’s that have only done traditional flexo or offset, they’re a bit scared to go digital. That’s why we run a press proof, and I match it to what they’ve done before. Then they say, ‘Well, that wasn’t so bad’. Once you get them to see that they’re basically getting the same thing, just through a different process, they get on board.”

One of General Manager and
Graphic Artist Phil Stockwell’s original
wine label designs.

Some customers are real picky about their colors, says Stockwell. “But we’re able to take their flexo spot colors and special mixed colors and match it with CMYK. They kind of go, ‘Wow’. I get a lot of satisfaction from converting the traditional guys over to the technology.”

According to Walsh, being able to quickly and easily provide press proofs is critical to winning new business. “It’s a major benefit of digital,” he says. “Customers can bring in a DVD, and we can print them a press proof in 20 minutes.”

In addition to being able to improve upon quality and turnaround time, digital technology is helping to lower flat costs. “Running flexo, you have plate charges, rotary hot stamps and male and female embossing units – and you can get into thousands and thousands of dollars in setup costs. One customer was paying over ten thousand dollars in prep work alone to place his order. Sure, it was a large order, but we were able to run his labels for around $2,000 in charges for that same job,” Walsh says.

The wine market is time sensitive, with growing cycles and bottling dates. Stockwell knows the market and it’s cyclical nature. He says, “A lot of these wine guys have bottling dates that they’ve committed to, so my commitment to myself is to not miss any of those dates, even if we’re working 16 hours or I’m here until 2 AM – whatever it takes to get the job done.”

It’s said when it comes to making great wine, it’s all in the grapes. For Digital Dogma SLO, they’ve discovered what makes a great wine label operation – a strategic location in a captive market, a high quality product, personalized service and the right technology.
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