King Rex: Printing company’s founder and family keep innovating for six decades
By Kevin Gale
Rex 3 founder Julius Miller is 94, but that doesn’t stop him from embracing change.
His company recently spent $4.75 million on new technology, including a $4 million Heidelberg Speedmaster XL 106 press. It’s dubbed “The Superpress,” because it can print 18,000, 29-by-41-inch sheets of paper an hour.
It can provide 30 percent more output than the six presses it replaced, says CEO Steve Miller, and there are only four of its kind in the United States, the company says. It also cut waste by 30 percent.
Rex 3, which has 200 employees, is one of those companies you might not know about although you’ve probably seen its products. Among other things, the 100,000-square-foot plant in Sunrise manufactures product packaging such as folding cartons and pop-up displays, Topps sports collectible cards, and shipboard print and marketing materials for several international cruise line companies.
For nearly six decades, it has continued to broaden its services, investing heavily in software that automates processes and interacts with customer systems. A key part of the sustainability of Rex 3 was the launch of SproutLoud, an affiliated company that helps large brands engage with their distribution partners as well as with their local sales networks.
Meeting with Julius, his son (CEO Steve) and his nephew (COO Howard Shusterman) is a cross between meeting savvy business leaders and walking into a comedy club, given the ongoing banter.
“I’m an old-time photo engraver. I’m young, but I look old,” Julius says. “I’m just here to see if they show up every day.”
Julius, who sometimes entertains Steve and Howard with tales of his nonagenarian love life, was born in Poland and came to Miami via New York. His father-in-law taught him about photo engraving, a process that results in images for printing plates.
His first business started in 1956 on Northwest Sixth Street and Miami Avenue next to the Florida East Coast Railway tracks, which subsequently became the site of the Miami Arena. Rex Engraving was born in 1959, when he borrowed money from someone in Washington, D.C., whose business was called Rex. The longtime Miami home was along Northwest 20th Street. A good deal eventually led to the move to Sunrise, where Rex 3 has a 10-acre site.
Rex was able to accumulate an array of prestigious clients, such as advertising agencies (including Crispin Porter + Bogusky and Young & Rubicam), hotels, department stores and Fortune 500 companies, including American Express, Avon Products and AT&T.
Emphasizing technology and broadening services is a long-standing strategy. In the 2000s, it added a comprehensive technology division and software development department.
In 1972, Rex 3 says, it became the first company in Florida with digital scanning to do color separations, which is needed to create the multiple printing plates that add up to full color. In the 1980s, it opened a design, production and photography division. In the 1990s, it added mailing, distribution and fulfillment services.
SproutLoud launched in 2006 to offer custom marketing and brand management solutions. That includes social media, search engine optimization, email marketing, mobile websites, direct mail and event marketing.
SproutLoud offers a cloud-based channel marketing platform that helps brands in any vertical manage and govern their marketing campaigns and programs with the channel partners that sell their products or services. The channel partners can be local retailers, distributors, agents, sales representatives, dealers, value-added retailers, employees or franchises. Its CEO and managing partner is Howard’s son, Jared.
In 2009, Rex 3 developed software to successfully streamline print operations and logistics for some of South Florida’s largest cruise lines.
Rex 3 was the first U.S. company to develop and install a variable data services department to facilitate and automate the changing out of data and images to create personalized marketing material. “If someone went cruising because they liked food, we would show food shots in the marketing material that was mailed. If someone liked beaches, we would show beach shots,” Shusterman says.
The company engineers intricate product boxes for major clients at no cost with the idea of winning the printing business. “One of the biggest things we push is, we are a one-stop company,” Shusterman says. “It’s all done under one roof. That allows us to be more price-efficient.”
One of the most interesting aspects of Rex 3’s business is the Topps sports cards, which have gone well beyond the pack of cards with a piece of gum.
Customers can design cards using templates on Topps.com that includes their own photograph and the logo of their favorite team. The online orders flow through directly to Rex 3. A pack of eight cards is $9.99.
Topps Now cards commemorate dramatic sporting events, such as the Miami Marlins’ Ichiro Suzuki setting a record June 15 for the most combined hits in Japanese and U.S. baseball. Topps puts a 24-hour time limit on how long the $9.99 cards can be bought at that price. Rex 3 has highly tuned its manufacturing and fulfillment processes to ensure timely delivery for thousands of orders a month.
Then there are “relic” cards, which have embedded artifacts, such as a piece of a game uniform or piece of a basketball. They can sometimes be found in the aftermarket for $1,800 to $3,000 each. Each relic card is numbered, Shusterman says. “There is nothing fake about this.”
Shusterman picks up an autographed card with a piece of a bat embedded. It’s of former New York Yankees All-Star Don Mattingly, who now manages the Miami Marlins. Shusterman quips, “I actually would like to own this one myself.”