Printing company marks four decades of change


One local business has been evolving for 40 years.

Since it was founded in 1979, the business model at Allegra Marketing Print Mail has undergone several transitions in order to grow and remain competitive in the print and marketing industry.

The company has transitioned from a quick print and graphic design center to a full-service web-to-print, large format print provider, specializing in online, digital and strategic marketing.

The Grand Rapids-based center provides an array of marketing, print, design, apparel, signage, promotional product needs and mailing services to local businesses and nonprofit organizations in West Michigan.

Ron and Bev Vetter founded Allegra Marketing Print Mail. The business is locally owned and is a member of the Alliance Franchise Brands. One of the franchise brands is Allegra. There are about 300 Allegra locations in the country, and Allegra Marketing Print Mail is the largest in the state.

Eric Vetter has been the president of Allegra Marketing Print Mail for over 20 years. He said when the company was founded in 1979, it was simply a quick printing company where people could walk in and order their printing while they waited. He said they worked with businesses, churches, individuals and nonprofit organizations. Most of the things that were printed then were black and white brochures, booklets, Christmas cards and wedding invitations, among other products. Eric Vetter said initially they used typesetting to print.

“They didn’t have desktop computers to create files,” he said. “They had typesetting … and you would type in your text in commands. It was very complicated. You would (then) print it out and hope that it was in the right position because you (couldn’t) see it on the screen. You had to give a command to make it bold and when you printed it out you would hope that you got it in the right position.”

As time went on, Allegra Marketing Print Mail started using four-color (cyan, magenta, yellow and black) printing. The center also began using digital printing and large format printing.

Vetter said the change in the print industry was always apparent.

“In the print industry, ever since we have been in it, it wasn’t like a light bulb went off and we decided to change, it was right there in (our) face because the world (was) changing,” he said. “When the first Macintosh computers came out (we) could see the potential for it and said, ‘Oh, jeez, I think we need to get one of those if we don’t want to get left behind in this world.’

“You have to embrace the change in technology. When the digital printing devices came out and they can do things for less money than an offset press, you could see it, that the world is changing here and if you want to remain relevant to your clients, then you need to upgrade and pay attention to what your clients’ needs are as you are doing business.”

With the rapid change in the printing industry, the company began focusing on businesses and nonprofits, moving away from the consumer market. It expanded services to include printing of binders, business forms, door hangers, flyers, newsletters, folders, manuals, business cards, calendars, envelopes, labels, notepads and postcards, among other things. Also, the company changed its model. Instead of customers going to Allegra, its employees now meet at the clients’ location.

In the 1990s, Allegra Marketing Print Mail got into the direct mailing business, which allowed the company to mail printed products to their clients.

“We address the mail (and) we sort it to get postal discounts for our clients,” Vetter said. “If you do the sorting for the post office, the post office charges a lower postal rate (because) in a sense, you are doing part of the work that they do. If you sort it, put it into trays, then it saves them time and then they give you a discount on your postage when you do that. Instead of paying 55 cents per mail, you might even pay 28 cents or less than 20 cents in some cases.

“Now direct mail is getting more popular. The digital media is getting more saturated. You get so many emails in your (inbox), you delete them before you can even look at them. With direct mail, at least you are going to see it. You can throw it out, but you can’t delete it. You are going to see it for sure.”

In the early 2000s, Allegra Marketing Print Mail added marketing to its services, which also include website creation and cross-channel marketing campaigns.

“The cross-channel marketing campaigns include print and an online digital element that is coordinated at the same time for more effective marketing,” Vetter said. “When you can market on more than one channel, your response rate generally will increase. We are doing a lot of cross-channel marketing with the new media and what print is — the old media.”

The growth of Allegra Marketing Print Mail is not only the result of adjusting to the changing industry; the company also has acquired four West Michigan printing companies along the way. The company once had five locations in the area, but Vetter said it now is consolidated to one location where all the printing and design work is done in-house.

As a member of the Alliance Franchise Brands, Vetter said they assist with marketing support, financial benchmark studies and purchasing contracts with companies.

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