Well-Schooled in Printing: Chicago Loop Studio Wins SpeedPro Project of the Year
SpeedPro Chicago Loop (SPCL) celebrated its fourth anniversary last April and what better gift than SpeedPro’s Project of the Year Award?
SpeedPro Chicago Loop (SPCL) celebrated its fourth anniversary last April and what better gift than SpeedPro’s Project of the Year Award? The studio won for its refresh and rebrand of The British International School of Chicago, a private K–12 institution with two campuses in the city—Lincoln Park and a newer one in the South Loop. The British School and SPCL have an established relationship, as the British School was one of SPCL’s first customers.
The refresh and beautification project was the result of a capital investment project following a security review of the two campuses. One of its goals was to help protect students as the campuses are in well-trafficked areas. For the Lincoln Park campus, the school’s security consultant recommended that the 60 classroom window panels and nearly 2,000 square feet of glass be treated with a film to reduce visibility to passersby. The window graphics were designed not only for security, but for branding purposes, as well.
“We did a series of window perfs, and because it's such a well-trafficked area, branding was obviously something that they wanted to take into consideration, bringing visibility to the school,” says Eric Lazar, owner of SpeedPro Chicago Loop. The British School has pretty strict branding guidelines, but, adds Lazar, “they do think outside the box.” Many of the window graphics were based on student artwork which was digitized for printing on perforated vinyl. Student artwork was also used for wall murals and staircase graphics.
Environmental graphics are a huge and growing print application, and SPCL produced extensive interior and exterior imagery for both campuses. Playing on the international nature of the British School student body, SPCL produced a 30-by-10-foot world map using magnetic wall materials from Visual Magnetics.
“The idea is that it would be interactive,” says Lazar. “We then added anti-graffiti lamination and did some cutouts to engage the students.” If a student was from, say, France, the student could take a little magnetic star and use it to show where France was.
Wall and floor graphics were designed to reinforce the school’s core values, highlight its academic partnerships (such as with MIT and the Juilliard School), recognize student achievements, and communicate a positive environment to visiting parents. These interior graphics also included various whimsically designed murals for the “early learning” corridor, a two-level contour-cut stairwell graphic, several small murals in stairwell landings, two sets of floor graphics, and a dimensional PVC sign treated with a sparkled laminate.
The South Loop campus, located in a more residential area, required a more conservative approach to its graphics. The exterior in particular posed an installation challenge, comprising 4,700 square feet of windows spanning two floors. Access to the second floor required maneuvering around a large stairway located below a major set of windows.
Inside the South Loop campus, SPCL designed a flexible wayfinding/room-naming system that could be easily swapped out. “They didn’t want to do permanent signage in the classrooms for each of the teachers, so we used Visual Magnetics materials,” says Lazar. Printed magnetic panels could be easily moved if a teacher changed rooms, and new ones could be printed as additional faculty came on board.
Throughout the process, Lazar and his team were aware that they were serving dual purposes, as the campus graphics also need to serve as a recruitment tool for the parents of prospective students. “They’re doing tours, and when they bring parents in, it’s got to be a special place,” adds Lazar. “The graphics are very much a marketing tool.”
A key to the success of the project was the close relationship that SPCL has with the British School. “They are as great a client as you could possibly get,” says Lazar. “They’re really fantastic to work with.”
SPCL has grown rapidly in four years, despite—or perhaps because of—the fact that Lazar, like many SpeedPro franchise owners, doesn’t have a background in the printing industry.
“I served eight years in the Marine Corps,” he says. “I was a trained as an Arabic translator, but I worked in intelligence for an electronic warfare squadron.” After his hitch was up, he spent 13 years in broadcast television in the Chicago area. “I spent the last five years as a regional sales manager for a group of TV stations,” he says. In 2008, he started a mobile technology company, which was eventually acquired, and then the company that bought it was itself acquired. “In the course of seven years, the company was basically purchased three times,” he says. He took a year off to decide his next step and talked to business brokers to vet potential opportunities. “I spent a year talking to three different business brokers and strangely the only commonality between what they were recommending was the printing industry,” he says. Specifically, they suggested SpeedPro.
Lazar was lukewarm to the idea at first, but as he investigated the SpeedPro franchise opportunity, the more he started to like their culture and the niche they were in, especially the B2B nature of the business.
SPCL has averaged around six or seven employees, and scales up or down with independent contractors as he needs them.
SPCL is located near McCormick Place and thus gets a lot of trade show graphics work. The company also does a lot of work for local Chicago businesses and the city itself, including graphics for the 2016 and 2017 Chi-Town Rising, Chicago’s New Year’s Eve celebration. He has also done high-profile work for Laurence Gartel, “the father of digital art” who launched the Art Basel Miami Beach “art cars” exhibition. “We did a project with him for the Art Basel Festival two years ago, wrapping some cars and testing out some new materials,” says Lazar.
Lazar chalks up his success with SPCL to his tendency to think not like a printer. “We take a much more agency-esque approach,” he says. “We’re looking for something that is really focused on ‘surface impact’—how do we engage your client? What do we do to drive ROI, whether it’s brand recognition or driving dollars or social engagement? I think that's a differentiator, and that’s really the lens that we look at everything through.”
He also makes certain to keep an eye on new technologies. “My worst fear is that all the outside glass is going to turn to LED and we’re going to be out of business,” he says.