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Exploring the Range of opportunity

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Born on the Cuyuna Iron Range, a Brainerd-based business built on a printing legacy evolved without leaving its identity behind.

Since 1968, the company formerly known as Range Printing and now simply as Range, has been part of the lakes area.

The marketing/communications firm reports it has survived changing times by changing. It still prints with ink and paper, but has also gone well beyond that.

The caretakers of the current company point to the Sundquist family founders for foresight in investments in the innovative tools. Those investments helped the company thrive and adapt to new technology allowing present-day Range to grow from print and direct mail to social media and beyond, such as personalized marketing messages directed to consumers with links to an interactive online content.

Unique quick response or QR codes, those now ubiquitous black and white squares read by smartphones, make highly tailored offers from businesses to consumers possible.

For the business client, the benefit comes in directing content the end customer is interested in receiving and tracking where marketing dollars are working most effectively.

Shawn Sundquist, Range president, said digital printing allows the company more flexible in matching the right service and product to the right person at the right time.

“That’s a big part of what we bring to the table, adding that marketing side of things,” Sundquist said. “The digital side of things has made us much more ambidextrous.”

Range added its own marketing team capable of creating multi-media ad campaigns from concept to execution whether that’s on paper, in a catalog or via a website. The company invested heavily in equipment that allows it to customize to client’s needs.

The work combines the efforts of staff who come up with ideas like Ann Smallman, senior vice president of marketing, and Sundquist who works to execute the concept in production.

“What’s interesting with the change in social media, it had an impact on the print industry but what’s funny is it’s starting to go back the other way,” Smallman said. “We are seeing a rise in direct mail because the competition in the email space is so great. For businesses, social media like Facebook are less of a channel.”

Post cards and direct mail are reaching customers again, although now often with links to websites allowing companies to get their message out to customers using personalized web addresses or PURLs.

Smallman said for her the Sundquist family influence through Range’s history as a commercial printer is also “the legacy of forward thinking and innovation and willingness to try new things.”

Range now offers to act as the marketing department for other, often much larger companies. Some of Range’s largest growth areas are in California, Massachusetts and Texas. The work may include designing and publishing internal newsletters or lifestyle publications for large corporations with tens of thousands of employees.

Smallman said Range is able to compete for jobs with larger competitors because they may benefit from being underestimated. She said the smaller Range’s competitive edge comes in an ability to be nimble and respond quickly.

With a core customer base here, Sundquist said Range is able to take the time that’s necessary to open doors to big national clients.

“We couldn’t go fish for the whale without having this base on the local level,” Sundquist said.

And locally, the benefit is expected to come as jobs are created and retained here as the company grows, said Paul Niccum, Range CEO.

Smallman and Niccum were Midwest natives who returned here after living in Texas.

“What excited me about Range was ... it touched a lot of different media,” Niccum said. “As much as we rely on print, print will always be a component of it, but it’s not going to be the single source. And that’s why we got involved in the distribution center.”

In the last 12 months, Range took up first 20,000 square feet at the Northern Pacific Center in Brainerd to create a fulfillment distribution Center, allowing Range to ship items for clients. Recently, the company expanded that space to 30,000 square feet. Clients include California-based USSports, Nike Sports Camps, which hosted more than 50,000 campers in 2011, and Culver, a Boston-based education organization.

“What that means to the community here is, now, because of so many digital and so many cross media, we are able to grow the local community here and we can ship anywhere,” Niccum said. “We have a client that’s in California that is going to be a large piece of our business starting in January and one in St. Cloud where we are going to be their in-house print shop.”

In the future, the company expects job growth in information technology such as web developers, creative designers and the warehouse from packaging to call center.

Niccum said the forecast for the company’s workforce is a growth of 20 to 30 percent in the next couple of years. From a year ago to the forecast for the end of 2013, Range anticipates almost 100 percent growth for the company.

The area’s growth and addition of Costco and Olive Garden help as the company looks to attract new employees to fill those positions.

Range’s brochure talks about its employees and showcases its people, even the passion they have for activities and causes outside the workplace. Niccum said that difference resonated with clients.

Community service is also part of Range’s workplace. Range is also a publisher, including its widely recognized in-house product Lake Country Journal Magazine.

With the business evolution, work that was largely based on individual transactions in the past is now moving to a contractual basis, where Range is able to sign contracts with national clients and then gain from tens of thousands of brochure orders, for example, from individual stores.

For Radco Truck Accessory Center, Baxter, Range developed the promotional give-away campaign, created and printed a “scratch and win” card for the August 2012 Game Fair and the Minnesota State Fair and programmed the website where people could find out what they won, as well as created banners and posters with its large format print capability.

While some have wondered if the print industry would make the evolution, Sundquist said the example is there in other industries people thought would vanish as times changed.

“Everybody said the railroads were going to go away when other modes of transportation came into play and they are stronger than they’ve ever been,” Sundquist said. “You just need to adapt, change.”

RENEE RICHARDSON, senior reporter, may be reached at 855-5852 or Follow on Twitter at

Renee Richardson
Richardson is a Pacelli High School graduate from Austin, Minn., who earned an applied science degree from the University of Minnesota, Waseca, with an emphasis in horse management. She worked extensively in the resort industry. She received an associate’s degree from Central Lakes College, where she was editor of the Westbank Journal student newspaper, as well as a summer intern at the Dispatch. She graduated from St. Cloud State University summa cum laude with a bachelor’s degree in mass communications and interned at the St. Cloud Times covering business while attending SCSU. She's been with the Brainerd Dispatch since 1996.
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