Miller Zell: Carving Out a Niche
Miller Zell, headquartered in Atlanta, Georgia, has had its fair share of ups and downs since it was founded in 1964, the most recent of which was severe weather in May 2021, which impacted the main Graphics Center facility where much of the print work is done. Fortunately, while the building was damaged, quick action on the part of the staff — from the executives down — meant that not only was no one hurt, but nearly all the equipment itself was spared.
This, notes Operations Manager Leslee Barker, is a perfect example of the Miller Zell culture — one of working together as a cohesive team, that gets things done — and done well — no matter what unexpected obstacles might crop up along the way. “It was a true come together moment,” Barker says. “Even if it wasn’t your department, everyone helped cover equipment and move things out of harm’s way, and even our trusted partners jumped in to help. It all comes back to spirit.”
Inroads into Retail
Miller Zell started off as a large-format print and graphics shop, which has evolved to cover a wide range of services including environment design and branding, prototyping, and procurement — and of course the print production of all of the signage, décor, POP, and POS those projects require. “We continue to evolve to make sure we can meet whatever our customers’ needs are,” Barker says. She notes that 10 years ago that included getting into the digital side of the business, and “it has not stopped yet on that front.”
From the beginning, a major niche that Miller Zell targeted and has been successful at has been the retail space. Barker says that part of the reason the company has been so successful in that niche has been the ability to provide whatever the client might need, be it procurement, installation, logistics, design, and, of course, print. She notes that it is important to the company to offer clients a single partner that looks at their entire space and brings comprehensive solutions. “One of the things that [founder] Sandy Miller used to say was that it’s not about us, it’s about getting what’s right for the client,” Barker says. That philosophy continues to inform every decision the company makes to this day.
When it comes to working with retail customers, Barker notes that what they are looking for really does span the gamut. Some, she says, only want help with building out a strategy, while others want “the entire package” to help them take the idea through to the finished, installed product. And that is what sets them apart from other printers targeting the retail space — the ability to pivot and provide whatever services are needed, even if print is taken off the table.
When working with retail brands, one thing Barker says is critical is getting the brand colors right. “Everything has to be pristine and perfect,” she says, and to that end, the shop is G7 certified, with a G7 master on the premises to keep a close eye on things and making sure the color stays correct throughout the entire run, ensuring nothing shifts and the color stays right even across different mediums.
“We have a vast knowledge of printing,” Barker says, which extends from the executive suite right down to the production floor, with one employee even reaching 55 years with Miller Zell. Others, she says, have been there for 20 or more years, while she herself has been with the company for 17 years. And, she notes, they bring all of that expertise to every job to ensure that it’s not only done as quickly as possible, but to the highest possible level of quality.
Right now, the Atlanta Graphic Center has large-format digital and screen printing capabilities along with various methods of finishing including the world’s only dual robotic routing arm. “We are always looking for the next big thing in production and evaluating additional services for our clients based on what will bring them value and efficiency. There are a few new and exciting offerings that we are currently researching” Barker adds.
The Impact of COVID-19
Like all print shops, Miller Zell was impacted by the ongoing pandemic, especially with so many customers in the retail space. Barker notes that despite what many might think, those customers still needed work done — the type of work just shifted. For example, she points out that they still needed a great deal of signage for things like social distancing, mask requirements, and more. These pieces included everything from floor graphics to window decals, and everything in between.
“Some of our normal work did pause at first,” Barker says, “but the incoming COVID-related work was an immediate need and those needs changed week-to-week. There might be nothing one day, but then a new government ordinance would require a whole new communication strategy for our clients the next,” she continues.
Giving Back to the Community
But through it all, Barker notes that the longevity and strength of the company comes back to the people, and the strong culture that Miller Zell has built through the years. One major component that has been part of the fabric of that culture from the beginning is a desire to give back to the community. The company has participated in everything from an annual charity golf tournament supporting breast cancer research and patient services, to various walks for causes such as Lupus or Alzheimer’s. It has also partnered with the local Boys Clubs for mentoring and worked with the fire department during the holidays on donation drives. Barker is proud of the work the company does to help enrich its community. “We want to leave the world a better place than when we started,” she says, which is a philosophy that has led them to 50-plus years of growth, overcoming challenges, and finding huge success. And it is one that will continue to serve them well for many years to come.