Graphic Success in Riverside

In less than 10 years, Precision Color Graphics has built a client base that extends up and down the East Coast and as far west as California

The location—the Riverside section of northeast Wilmington —isn’t exactly picturesque, but Simon Cranny says it’s ideal for his business, Precision Color Graphics.

His shop, a converted warehouse originally built for a heating and air conditioning company, is tucked away on Todds Lane, a couple of blocks east of Northeast Boulevard, a few long home runs from the site of the old Wilmington Ballpark, where the original Blue Rocks played from 1940 to 1952.

“When we were renovating [in 2013], some people were telling us the area was dangerous, that we’d have to put in roll-down doors over our entrance,” Cranny says. “We ran out of money for the doors, but we put in lights and cameras for security.”

As Cranny points out, for a regional business, the location couldn’t be much better. With I-495 a mile away, it’s just a 20-minute drive to the Philadelphia Airport or downtown Newark.

Precision Color Graphics was founded in 2007 as a short-run digital print/copy, large format and banner production operation, with its shop at the foot of Wilmington’s Seventh Street Peninsula. The business survived a personal crisis—Cranny’s massive heart attack on July 1, 2008, suffered while he was jogging in Rockford Park—and the recession of 2008-09 before expanding into the larger production and custom display and installation operation housed on Todds Lane.

The defining moment—the project “that kind of gave me my street cred,” Cranny says—was production and installation of the 114- by 22-foot mural extolling Wilmington’s musical heritage. It wraps around the second and third floors of the former Delaware State University building at the corner of Sixth and Market streets.

Cranny, 50, a native of Ireland, moved to the United States when he was 24. He expected to stay in Wilmington with his brother for a couple of weeks before heading to Boston with some rugby-playing friends to do some asbestos-removal work. But he went to a party at O’Friel’s, where his brother worked, met the woman he would marry and, except for a six-month stay in London, has been here pretty much ever since.

Having studied accounting in Ireland, he landed a job handling the books for Color Repro, one of the many color print shops that served the city’s bustling advertising/marketing/graphics design community in the 1990s. It didn’t take long for him to find that the front end of the business—meeting customers, taking orders, making prints and beating the constant deadlines—was more exciting than crunching numbers.

A native of Ireland, Simon Cranny came to the U.S. 26 years ago. (Photo courtesy of Brett Schoen/One Light Imaging)

A native of Ireland, Simon Cranny came to the U.S. 26 years ago.
(Photo courtesy of Brett Schoen/One Light Imaging)

“It gave me a bit of a buzz doing that kind of stuff,” he says.

Cranny had been working at Color Repro for a couple of years when a colleague opened a new print shop, MetroColor, and he switched to the new business. In 2003, Parcels Inc., a larger printing and delivery operation, bought out MetroColor. Cranny stayed with Parcels for four years before striking out on his own.

Having worked downtown for nearly 20 years, he had hoped to locate Precision Color there because he would be closer to many of his clients. But the space he needed—both for the shop and to store his vehicles—just wasn’t available.

“We had 3,000 square feet [at our first location] and now we have 10,000,” he says. In addition, he has 6,000 square feet of parking space, enough to accommodate a bucket truck, two delivery vehicles, the installers’ van and dumpsters.

While the neighborhood has the somewhat grungy look you might expect in an industrial area that’s home to a traditional print shop, a commercial frame shop, a trucking company, a truck rental business and a stone veneer manufacturer, Cranny had the Precision Color Graphics workplace designed to be warm and inviting while paying homage to its earlier uses.

Wooden trusses, weighing 22,000 pounds each, support the roof, and the valves and piping for the sprinkler system stand to the right of the main entrance. Bright red and lime green paint brighten the concrete block walls in the work area and new windows high on the rear walls bring in more light.

“It’s a nicer way to spend your day,” Cranny says, adding that six of his eight fulltime employees have been with the business for at least five years.

Spread around the shop are examples of work for easily-recognized clients—the University of Delaware, Wilmington University, WSFS Bank and the Delaware Lottery. But those big local names are just a fraction of the company’s workload.

The convenient location, coupled with the contacts Cranny has made during his 20-plus years in the business, have enabled Precision Color to build a client base that extends up and down the East Coast—and as far west as California. (The company also has a satellite office in Chicago—one that focuses on trial board displays and audiovisual setups for law firms in the Windy City.)

How did that happen?

“There’s a price and trust advantage,” Cranny explains. “We had done signage, wall murals and displays for a commercial kitchen business in New Jersey. They were taking over a facility in California, and they called and said, ‘we know what you’ve done for us in New Jersey. Can you match that out here?’”

Light pole banners at Christiana Care's Wilmington campus, an example of banner stiching with Precision Color Graphics' industrial-grade Singer sewing machine. (Photo courtesy of Brett Schoen/One Light Imaging)

Light pole banners at Christiana Care’s Wilmington campus, an example of banner
stiching with Precision Color Graphics’ industrial-grade Singer sewing machine.
(Photo courtesy of Brett Schoen/One Light Imaging)

He could indeed. In fact, with the equipment in his shop, Cranny feels he can match almost any competitor.

A flatbed printer can handle pieces of up to 8 by 10 feet on just about any surface imaginable, including acrylic, vinyl, wood, blinds and foam core. Four 60-inch large-format printers produce images on a wide variety of media, from standard paper to backlit and eco-friendly materials.

A CNC router (the letters stand for “computer numerical control”) enables custom cutting of signage and display pieces into virtually any shape the client desires.

Not every piece of equipment is of recent vintage. Printing and installing banners makes up a significant portion of the company’s work, and the stitching for many of those banners is accomplished with an industrial-grade Singer sewing machine, made in Germany in 1947, the same year the shop was built.

Another of Precision Color’s relatively new services is printing and installing car wraps. In addition to wrapping vehicles owned by local businesses, Precision Color makes wraps for Carvertise, the three-year-old Wilmington business that recruits commuters to have their cars wrapped for several months at a time as part of marketing campaigns for regional businesses.

“Simon is great. His shop is high quality and always delivers on time,” says Greg Star, Carvertise co-founder.

As part of their arrangement, Cranny lets Carvertise’s wrap team use his shop’s heated car bay for weekend installations. “We’re getting really good at it,” Star says. “We’ve gone from taking an hour and a half to complete a wrap down to half an hour.”

When Carvertise is working on a campaign outside the region, Precision Color prints the wraps and ships them to the destination, where Carvertise uses its employees or subcontractors to complete the installation.

Star also praises Cranny as a mentor. “He’s been super helpful, not only in providing services but also in talking to us about how the printing industry works,” he says.

Now firmly established in his new location, Cranny says Precision Color has plenty of opportunity to grow. Right now, he’s operating with a single shift, and he’d love to hear that printing equipment humming for twice as long each day.

“The goal is to go to two shifts,” he says. “To spend a lot on machinery and turn it off at 6 o’clock, it just breaks your heart.”

So, what do you think? Please comment below.