Bellak Color – Making Magic in Miami

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Printing Impressions Magazine / February 2009

By Erik Cagle / Senior Editor

Manny Fernandez Sr. has that deep vocal tone and rolling Cuban accent that is so captivating, it makes you wish he’d talk all day. But it’s the story, and not the voice behind the owner of Bellak Color in Miami, that proves most memorable.

Fernandez’s tale is one of a Caribbean transplant who relied on his own two hands to stir up dust and mold it into a cement foundation, from which Bellak Color arose from the small color separations business it was when he joined in 1967 to the $10+ million performer it is today.

Incredibly, on the very first day Fernandez was on the job, he stated an ambitious goal. He wanted to purchase the company.

Fernandez was 20 years old; he had turned 20 that day. His wife was pregnant. He had little money and no work experience outside of making separations. That didn’t stop him from approaching shop owner Lazlo Bellak to not only ask for a job, but to one day take the helm of Bellak’s company.

Bellak was a celebrity from the table tennis circuit who, in the 1920s and 1930s, had gained international renown as “The Clown Prince of Table Tennis,” winning 21 medals at the World Championships for his native Hungary. He made a career out of keeping his eyes on the ball.

Fernandez would succeed him by keeping his eyes on the prize.

“I fell in love with the fact that with four colors, you can do so many things,” Fernandez recalls. “I started talking to him. Bellak didn’t have any family, just his wife. I told him that if he taught me the business, I could help grow it to become a real company. And, if we accomplished that, could I then buy it from him?”

Moxie and Ambition

Bellak agreed, perhaps amused or impressed by the youngster’s moxie and ambition. After all, the closing of the sale wasn’t imminent, and Bellak—who died in 2006—might have assumed that the long learning curve would throw off young Fernandez’s grand scheme.

“I asked him how long it would take to learn everything, and he said 20 years,” Fernandez recalls. “I responded, ‘I don’t have any money, but 20 years I do have. Let’s do it. Give me the opportunity and you won’t regret it.’ ”

Twenty years later, Bellak sold the company to Fernandez, with no regrets. In turn, Fernandez has transformed Bellak Color into a high-quality sheetfed offset printing operation. He is surrounded by his family: sons Manny Jr. and Neil; daughter Naylette; and son-in-law Luis Soublette —all of whom are vital to the company’s fortunes.

Manny Jr. has posted $3.5 million in sales while compiling an impressive client roster. Naylette has coordinated with vendors and clients alike to aid the development of Bellak’s latest success.

The company has forged a solid reputation as a publication and catalog printer, and also serves corporate clients, as well as marketing and advertising agencies. Still, there’s no dearth of competition in The Magic City, and Fernandez wanted Bellak to extend its geographic reach beyond South Florida.

“Miami is a shark- infested-water type of marketplace,” notes Luis Soublette, VP of operations. “There are 50 printers here offering the same services, and all of them have virtually identical equipment capabilities. We’ve been able to differentiate ourselves, and that has really sustained us in this really rough economic time.”

Bellak Color has managed to develop a niche with cold foiling. The company installed a six-color, 40? Mitsubishi Diamond 3000LX sheetfed press with a UV coater and an in-line cold foiling unit, which complements an eight-color, 40? Diamond 3000R perfector with coater and a five-color, 20? Heidelberg Speedmaster.

Having in-line UV coating capabilities was a major bonus, but integrated cold foiling was a mark of distinction for the printer.

“There are a lot of companies out there that want to do hot foil stamping or are doing work on foil board,” Soublette notes. “This eliminates those off-line processes and expensive foil board. We can do the whole process in-line as a spot foil, as opposed to foil board, where you have to use primer and white opaque to mask out the foil, then use four-color process.

“We thought the in-line foil unit would differentiate us from other printers. We were very strong in publications, but wanted to stand out from the point of view of agencies, marketing firms and wholesalers.”

Spreading the News

Since the foiling press didn’t go live until early 2008, Bellak Color is still going through the process of spreading the word among potential clients. Soublette adds that one of the bigger challenges is showing the design community how it can incorporate foil into its concepts. But the printer is currently negotiating with potential customers outside the Miami marketplace, and extending its reach to places like Atlanta, New York, Chicago and other cities along the East Coast.

Fernandez was so enamored with the new press and its signature capability that he decided to add a new wrinkle to Bellak by developing a Web-based trade printing portal, FoilMania. The Website targets printers, brokers, designers, photographers, publishers and design agencies that seek foil-enhanced general commercial products ranging from flyers, business cards and brochures to mailers, menus and door hangers.

Since Bellak doesn’t have a national reputation, let alone a natural link to foil printing, the printer’s corporate brain trust came up with a name that spurred a “go crazy with foil kind of thing,” notes Neil Fernandez, vice president of sales for FoilMania. The younger Fernandez points out that the opportunities for gang-run printing of general commercial products with the added wrinkle of in-line foiling will allow his family’s company to address a wide-open niche.

“Printers, brokers, wholesalers and end users lack options for product that they can upgrade to beyond four-over-four UV work,” he says. “We’re trying to take foil and make it affordable to the masses. Our initial marketing effort was very significant; we sent tens of thousands of mailers to wholesalers across the country. The interest is there, but the educational process remains as our biggest obstacle.”

From a production perspective, lack of space is one of the few obstacles that Bellak Color has encountered. Its 60 employees operate within a 30,000-square-foot facility, so it pays to be economical with space allotment. For example, Manny Fernandez Sr. is a big fan of his new MBO Super-KTZ K-800 combination folder, equipped with an in-line Palamides bundler, because of its small footprint and high productivity.

“In our building, space is very important to us,” Fernandez notes. “We also want equipment that is productive and well-built. We can fold 16-page signatures at speeds of 12,000 sheets an hour with only one operator. This folder is unbelievable. It just runs and runs without stopping. It is probably one of the smartest investments I’ve ever made in all my years of business.”

Bellak Color also operates three other MBO folders, a pair of Perfections, one of which is automated with the Navigator touchscreen control system. The company also recently added a 10-pocket Muller Martini Pantera perfect binder to its finishing stable.

In addition to establishing the FoilMania brand, Bellak Color is exploring breaking into the world of direct marketing, especially since the company has printing and mailing capabilities under one roof. “The direct marketing industry lacks a printing method in which they can really attract someone’s attention, and I think that’s something we can offer,” Soublette says.

While the printer continues to work on marketing its capabilities, the short-term goals are to sell the new press capacity and make it through a difficult economy that has already claimed about a half-dozen printers in South Florida. And, while relationships are key in any economic climate—but particularly critical in a poor one—Soublette feels the work Bellak Color produces stands on its own.

“Due to the equipment we have, people come to us out of loyalty, but also because they can get the best price for a great product,” he says. “Moving forward in 2009, our goal is to operate the most technologically advanced equipment possible, so that we can differentiate ourselves and stay ahead of the pack.” PI

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