Wild on the Edge
Wild Blue grows with its customer base, outsourcing less than one percent of business.
With a 48,000-square-foot facility, 60 employees, and big name clients like the Green Bay Packers, The Hershey Company, and Unilever, it might be surprising that Wild Blue started in 1999 with a single Roland printer. That sole printer – one of the first wide-format machines in the region, according to VP and Co-Principal Will Van Epern – set the Wisconsin-based company on a path of rapid growth.
As the company gained clients, they added space and printers. Today, they run 12 wide-format digital presses. “Early on, we found that not only did we need the ability to print large, but we also needed to create content, so we started adding on designers to design for large-format printing,” Van Epern says. From there, Wild Blue added fabrication, finishing, installation, and branched out into video, motion graphics, photography, and virtual reality, to name just a few capabilities.
As time passed, Wild Blue viewed the business as a full-service “solutions provider” instead of solely a large-format print shop. The goal was to meet every client’s need. “We grew through customer requests and our attitude to never say ‘no’ to a project. If it’s possible, we will take it on and figure out how to get it done,” he adds.
Less than one percent of Wild Blue’s business is outsourced. They discovered early on that it wasn’t their thing, which became a big driver for expansion. “We found we couldn’t control the speed or the quality, and we built the Wild Blue brand on both of those things. We need to be able to manage the timing and quality control throughout the entire process,” Van Epern explains.
Things in this industry are constantly changing, even during a project, so it’s allowed us to be more nimble and adapt to those changes more rapidly,
he adds. Production runs smoothly throughout the large facility via a combination of software and human tracking systems. Van Epern says they haven’t found an out-of-the-box workflow software that functions as a single tool for all facets of their business, so they developed their own custom job tracking software. Two team members are in charge of “traffic,” making sure each job moves fluently through the creative, production, and installation processes.
With a focus on constructing experiential spaces – often in retail environments – wide-format digital print is still an important component of Wild Blue’s business, though the company has expanded into other related areas in an effort to meet clients’ needs. While 80 percent of growth decisions are based on customer demand, the remainder are rooted in Wild Blue’s desire to be on the cutting edge. Virtual reality, for use as an e-commerce tool, is a recent investment. Using cameras that can track people’s emotions through facial expressions is another.
“If we think there is a future in something, we invest, and add another tool to our toolbox,” Van Epern explains. “We’re always looking for trends in the industry, like in the virtual space. Even before our customers are asking for something, we like to have it developed so we can bring the idea to our customers, rather than waiting for them to ask us for it.”
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