Local firm pioneers printing via Internet

Quick: A Hunt Valley company uses the Internet to drastically cut the time needed to print business stationery and other materials.

June 22, 1999|By Shanon D. Murray | Shanon D. Murray,SUN STAFF

Imagine joining a new company and, on your first day of work, ordering new business cards directly from the printer via your computer.

This is possible if your company is a client of worldnetpress inc., a Hunt Valley printing company. worldnetpress is striving to be the first full-service printing company that has "a paperless" way of processing orders.

The printing industry is no stranger to high-technology innovations. The fax machine changed how printing companies obtain orders, a process traditionally handled by traveling salesmen. Now the Internet is revolutionizing the industry further -- and worldnetpress is at the forefront, according to industry experts.

The company designs and develops a secured Web site for each of its clients, which allows them to order business cards, marketing brochures and other materials.

"We have a small sales staff and a huge development staff. There aren't many printing companies that hire computer programmers," said Kenneth H. Wahler, the company's founder, president and chief executive officer.

"This is off the radar of the printing industry," he said.

After working for traditional printing companies for 15 years, Wahler, 38, said he founded worldnetpress after he realized the "inefficient" way "corporations buy materials and how printing companies sell them."

"worldnetpress is early in the game," said Art Stowe, president of the Printing Industries of Maryland, a trade group in Timonium. "We're in the communications industry. We have to be on the Internet.

"There's no fighting it. It's coming."

The $100 billion printing sector is the third-largest industry in the United States. According to Stowe, the 850 commercial printers in Maryland employ 30,000 workers, making the industry the largest manufacturing sector in the state.

In December, worldnetpress, then named Paramount Group, relocated from a 1,500-square-foot office with two workers to a 20,000-square-foot office with warehouse space and 12 employees.

When he first started pitching his company, "people looked at me like I had 12 heads," Wahler said. "But I knew that thing called the Internet would change the printing industry."

worldnetpress has seven clients -- including Johnson & Johnson, Cunard Lines Ltd. and Pfizer Inc. -- and had 1998 revenue of $1.6 million. Projected revenue for 1999 is $5 million, Wahler said.

worldnetpress develops a Web site for each of its clients, where, for example, a Cunard employee could view all the cruise line's menus or postcards in stock. The employee could then order what was needed. worldnetpress receives the order over the Internet, and the order is usually filled the same day.

The process benefits the clients' bottom lines because it decreases their inventory of printed materials, Wahler said.

worldnetpress' closest competitor is iprint.com, an Internet printing company in Redwood City, Calif., that began in 1997. The company prints business products and specialty items.

iprint.com specializes primarily in small volume, short-run orders for its clientele of mostly small business owners and consumers, but it does have larger accounts with some corporate clients, said Eric Atwood, a spokesman for the company.

The other chief difference between the two companies is the California firm outsources its printing jobs, while worldnetpress does its printing in-house, thanks to last week's arrival of a chromapress, a $500,000 digital printer the size of a refrigerator.

The new press allows worldnetpress to customize orders -- such as business cards -- with a few key strokes vs. manually changing the printing press, as is necessary now.

A six-week job with a traditional printing company now takes about two days, Wahler said.

worldnetpress' chromapress is the only one in Maryland, said Bob Barbera, senior business manager for Agfa of New Jersey, the printer's only supplier. Fewer than 100 have been sold in North America, and fewer than 450 worldwide.

"Only a few people are linking it to Internet, maybe a half a dozen in North America," Barbera said. "worldnetpress is unique in our eyes. It's more like a communications company and document manager than a printing company."

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