How I Got the Job: Pam Richards
Color Gamut Digital Imaging’s owner on moving into a brand-new facility, partnering with another PSP, and what it takes to be an on-demand business.
So, what’s a normal day at Color Gamut look like for you?
Busy and relentless. Our facility in Henderson goes to 24-hour shifts quite regularly to meet the demands of the Las Vegas convention and tradeshow market. Being an “on-demand” large-format printer means no matter what is asked of us, or when it is asked, we will rise to the occasion and get the project done. Simply staying overnight and completing a project on time is only part of our responsibility. In addition to getting it done on time, we must make sure the project is done correctly and to the satisfaction of our standards. This is especially true when we take on a project that requires us to deliver in the morning for an opening show because the window for failure disappears. At this point there are no more opportunities to fix or reprint anything. The tradeshow is going to open with or without the completion of our project, and if it’s not up and perfect before the attendees arrive, we’ve failed.
So, what does this mean for my day-to-day activities? My mornings begin before the sun rises. I’m answering calls, putting out fires, and attending to clients. My evenings are much of the same; I’m
pretty much at it all the time. However, it’s not just me. We’ve built a great staff over the last 15 years who I trust, which really helps shoulder the load. I love doing what I do. Without sounding too cliché, if you find something that you love to do, figure out a way to make a career out of it. Regarding the workload, we are truly blessed to have had the success we’ve had. The truth is, every day is a new day and you get out what you put in. Sometimes it feels like there just aren’t enough hours in the day. Did I mention we opened a new shop in Denver? [Editor’s note: Read on for more information on OCG Denver.]
What were you doing before Color Gamut? How did you get involved in the world of wide format?
I started out in Florida working in banking and later I moved to accounting for a plastics company. In 1990 (30 years ago), they branched off and opened a printing house. They would hand paint billboards and digitally print on a Vutek 801 for the paper billboards. They then purchased some 1630 printers. If I remember correctly, these machines were around 6 dpi and went up to 8 dpi. I look back on those capabilities today and laugh, but back then 8 dpi was cutting-edge technology. To put it in perspective, prior to those machines, the company was using an overhead projector to display an image on a blank vinyl, and they hired airbrush artists to paint signs and banners. Care to guess the turnaround time on a hand-painted banner? Anyway, I worked for that company in accounting and eventually purchasing where I started learning all about the materials and products we sold. This was so interesting to me and the knowledge I’ve gained over the years about roll and rigid substrates has proved invaluable. Years and years later they made me the VP of the company and I’ve never looked back. After working in Florida, I became the national sales manager for a large-format print company based out of Indianapolis. This is when I switched gears from the production and administrative side of the business and entered the world of sales. A few years later, I knew I had what it would take to go into business for myself and I founded Color Gamut in 2004. I guess you would say I got a late start in life.
How did you find your niche in Las Vegas?
Since the beginning, we knew it would take growth to survive in this market. We knew we wouldn’t survive with a seven- employee staff, 7000 square feet, and two machines. We needed a better
workload in a saturated market, which meant that right out of the gate we needed to take a risk. You see, back then we were printing mainly banners and billboards on solvent-based, roll-to-roll machines, which everyone else was doing for cents on the dollar. It wasn’t that we didn’t have enough work, it was the work we were doing had a low profit margin. We knew that in order to grow we would need to take on work that we were not accustom to.
Thus began the era of print direct and the flatbed printer. The rigid substrate side of the business hadn’t really taken off yet. In 2006, we bought our first flatbed printer, which was a risk because this side of the business was still in its early stages and faced a lot of adversity. Everyone wanted to print on pressure sensitive and apply that to rigid, and there was a significant push against the flatbed machines in our market. The naysayers said the quality of print and apply process was superior to that of the flatbed printers; if it isn’t broke, don’t fix it. In part, this was true. Obviously it depends on what machine you are using in the print and apply process, but yes, some of them were better than what we had. In the end, the flatbed dominated the print industry because while the quality was still not perfect, it was very good. The print and apply process went to the wayside because we could produce a quality product at half the cost by eliminating time and labor. As we got better, our turnaround times were faster, and the demand was higher. This led to a second flatbed and eventually a third. Out of this ability to print high-quality graphics at unprecedented turnaround times, our niche was born. Gone were the days of the Monday through Friday, 9 to 5. We were now working ‘round the clock and our risk had paid off.
What makes Color Gamut unique among Sin City’s tradeshow competition?
Las Vegas is a fast-moving town and very different from other locations. This town does not sleep. You must equip your facility to do the same. Supporting the convention business makes it unique with so many convention and conference centers from one end of the strip to the other. Today, the on-demand part of the business is common practice. I think most companies here know if you want to succeed you not only need the machinery, but you also need a special team willing and capable of handling our capricious industry. Over the last 15 years we’ve really developed and mastered our craft, and we understand that complacency is the enemy of success. We continue to push the envelope of what is possible in our industry and we stand behind everything we produce. That’s what makes us unique: dedication and follow through.
You recently moved into a brand-new facility in Henderson, Nevada. [I was lucky enough to tour the facility before ISA Expo in 2019, and the site is impressive!] What lessons have you learned from the building and moving process?
Two lessons. When we laid the building plans out on paper we said, “This is more space than we will ever need.” First lesson: there is never enough room. We designed our facility from the ground up and
we took into consideration the growing pains from our last facility. We allotted extra room for more machines and left large areas of the warehouse empty for growth. One year later, we’ve filled the print rooms with printers, added more cutters, and filled the warehouse with frames. Second lesson: You don’t need to see the whole staircase to take the first step, and I hope we never have to do that again. Planning often goes awry and let me tell you that’s exactly what happened to us. We know, from our projections, when we’re going to be busy and when we have time to make improvements. So, obviously, we knew that we had to plan this move during our slower period. Well, let’s just say that didn’t happen. We planned our move in two phases and just when we were ready to execute phase one, the builders notified us that the new building didn’t have power and they were a month behind on getting it to us. Next were electrical hang-ups, then foundation leveling, and on and on. In the end it worked itself out, but the process was daunting to say the least.
Can you talk about why you partnered with Brian Adam, president and owner of Olympus Group and Big Picture Editorial Advisory Board member, to launch OCG Denver, as well as the process of opening a print shop in another state?
Denver was an up-and-coming part of our convention business, but Denver had its challenges for us. We needed to find a way to continue to service this market, and it was becoming apparent that printing and shipping from Vegas wasn’t a viable solution. So, when an opportunity presented itself, we decided to partner with Brian, whom we had already been in business with for four or five years. I contacted him about targeting the Denver market locally and he was all in. It’s been a great relationship overall and a great decision to work with him.
As far as the process is concerned, we decided to model OCG after Color Gamut and Olympus. Both companies are run very much alike. Brian and I flew to Denver and we held a few days of interviews. We were able to find an amazing group of team members in a short amount of time and from there it was all Olympus Group. They flew their staff in and out to set up and train until OCG was up and running, and let me tell you, that group hit the ground running. I can’t say enough great things about Brian, Olympus Group, and our new venture, OCG.
What’s the most challenging part of your job?
There are no challenges only opportunities.
When we visited in 2019, you mentioned donating extra fabrics to the Humane Society so they can create pillows for the sheltered animals’ cages. How important is sustainability and philanthropy to you and your shop?
Very important. Actually, we found another resource for our scrap material in a company here in Vegas called Klothes for Kids (K4K). K4K is a nonprofit founded by a 14-year-old, Nijel Murray. Nijel’s family is involved in the foster care system here in Las Vegas and their story is amazing. As Nijel’s family would foster children, these kids would leave with clothes that were either too big or too small for them, and they were carrying them around in a plastic trash bag. Nijel’s parents did what they could by rushing out and buying new clothes, but Nijel could tell that his parents were stressed out about having to purchase clothes for these kids, and at 14 he decided to do something about it. He started his own non-profit that provides these kids, who have had a really tough time in life, a duffle bag full of clothes to get them going. When we heard this story, we thought what an opportunity to help the environment and a great cause. So, our sewing team gathered up all of our scrap cloth and started making duffle bags. Once we had the bags, we contacted Nijel and told him we wanted to help. We explained to him the challenges we have with throwing away waste and we wanted to make these for him in our free time. K4K loved the bags and we are set up to run him some more when he runs out. Great story, great kid, and a great cause. #ItTakesAVillage.
Where do you see the soft signage market in the next five years? And how will it affect your offerings?
It’s anyone’s guess, but we’re pushing our strengths, on- demand. We want to see a soft signage market with a quality turnaround time of under three hours from graphics to shipping. As we get better, our turnaround times get faster, and the demand gets higher. I expect the industry to follow suit. On-demand is what we do best so we aim to be a leader in the market.
What are your interests outside of work and do they ever cross over into your professional life?
Outside of work... I’m not sure there is much outside of work when the company you own is what you love.
This interview with Pam was completed pre-pandemic. I’ve asked her to give an update on her business:
I was on a returning full flight from Denver to Las Vegas March 10 when they announced over the intercom that March Madness in Vegas was officially canceled. Eighty percent of all passengers were headed to Las Vegas to cheer on their family or friend’s college basketball team. We do not need to be reminded what was to follow within the next two weeks. We had 80 employees and zero business; what could we do? We went from printing tradeshow graphics to making masks and shields to help support hospitals, emergency shelters, family members, and friends. Today, our normal day is planning for the weeks to come and helping our city reopen to the new normal. We are printing awareness signs, floor stickers, hanging signs, and more. Working in today’s world means signs everywhere in every facility and not just your own. We need to remind ourselves every chance we get to stand six feet apart, wash our hands, and stay healthy. Heading back to the convention center, hopefully very soon, will mean carrying a bigger bag for the masks, hand sanitizers, and gloves. We must do what needs to be done and understand we’re all in this together, and together we will succeed.