One of those this year Printing PrintingBrian Hite, inducted into the s / RIT Printing Industry Hall of Fame, is nothing new to the printing industry, although his journey to where he is today – principal and co-founder of Image Options, headquartered in Foothill Ranch, Calif. – was anything but a forehand.
His story begins when he was a teenager, getting dropped off by his stepfather to make service calls on air conditioning (AC) units. From there he started installing air conditioning units in Honda’s. “At the time, regulations did not allow certain cars to enter the United States with air conditioning – something to do with accessories,” he recalls. Paid on commission, he became proficient at it, able to complete over 20 cars a day with a teammate, establishing Hite’s willingness to work hard to do a job well done early on.
The next stop on his trip was to meet his high school girlfriend who, after dating for a few years, became his wife. While dating, he helped his father renovate the family home by doing carpentry, framing and roofing work. Hite soon discovered he was good at it, and his future stepfather offered him a full-time job as a show carpenter, which turned out to be Hite’s entry point into the world of trade show graphics, although he doesn’t know it yet.
Unsurprisingly, Hite turned out to be a hard worker with a willingness to learn, so he eventually started helping out in various other departments, including graphic production for the exhibitions the company was creating. He discovered a real talent for it and was mentored by a man who ran the department at the time as well as a fine arts professor who helped out on a part-time basis, giving Hite the knowledge he needed to be successful. in the world of graphic arts.
Ultimately, Hite worked there for five years before moving to an exhibition company that produced graphics to the next level, where he continued to hone his skills and knowledge. He had the opportunity to travel several times, each time learning new aspects of the world of manufacturing, exhibition and graphics, until in 1998, motivated by the desire to stay more near his home and spending more time with his kids, Hite co-founded Image Options.
Together with his partner, Tim Bennett, the original company focused almost exclusively on manufacturing and exhibition graphics, including the design, production and installation of trade show graphics, creating a strong network. of customers.
A motivation for success
For Hite, success went beyond just growing the business; he also wanted to share this success with his family and felt the sales, production and installation roles he was managing took him away from home more often than he really wanted.
“But it was a very seasonal business,” says Hite, “and there were long periods with reduced work. So we have focused heavily on the retail market, where there is a new program every three to six weeks.
Image Options, he notes, was still doing manufacturing work for agency clients, but it was a gradual return to the event space that began his career in graphic design, returning first to to trade shows, then eventually shifting to supporting large-scale events such as as annual user group conferences for some of the biggest names in the tech space.
From there, Image Options has continued to expand over the years into new types of print production, adding products such as commercial interior spaces, wall coverings, and environmental graphic design. Then COVID-19 happened.
“When the pandemic hit, we lost all of our exhibit and event work overnight. So we switched to personal protective equipment (PPE) and worked on face shields, acrylic screens for hospitals and first responders, etc. We’ve done a lot of transaction shields for places like Disneyland, as well as medical and dental offices. And that was a good percentage of the drop in printing. “
While the numbers were still dropping, it wasn’t as bad as it could have been, he notes, although in the first quarter of 2021, when the market was inundated with stores offering PPE work, business has started to slow down again. Thus, Hite refocused on environmental work, collaborating with top architects and designers, as well as some of the nation’s top contractors to design interior spaces – which continued to increase, despite the pandemic – in addition to produce and install all graphics for these new refreshed spaces.
“And now we’re starting to see a slow comeback in the exhibition and event space,” he says. “The third and fourth quarters will be stronger in this market. We’re still doing the environmental work, and we have quite a few projects online for that, including retail spaces for some luxury brands, which have fallen but haven’t disappeared like some of the other accounts.
Hite is convinced of the future of Image Options, which now has 110 employees, up from 160 before COVID, and is looking to hire more people again. Finding quality salespeople has been a challenge, he admits, but he quickly credits his employees for the success the company has enjoyed over the years.
“Our people are everything,” he says. “If I didn’t have the quality and skill level of employees that we have, we wouldn’t be successful at all. Many have been with us for over 15 years.
When it comes to large-format printing equipment, Hite notes that Image Options is primarily an EFI store, closely followed by Epson equipment, including another 16-footer. large format printer, he just placed an order for this year. Image Options also performs beta testing for EFI and Epson, putting the latest innovations in printing technology to the test and giving feedback on what works and what doesn’t before the machines are deployed more widely. . What particularly draws him to EFI printers, Hite says, is their versatility – they can produce a very wide range of jobs, on a wide range of substrates, and can do short or medium runs without missing a beat.
What does the next chapter bring?
While Hite is still heavily involved in Image Options strategy, he has also spent more time in recent years working to support the industry as a whole through organizations like PRINTING United Alliance (formerly SGIA). Hite also sits on the boards of several industry publications and has participated in a number of printer group discussions, helping to impart his knowledge of the graphics industry and educate the next generation.
“I just try to work with people, and especially to help startups,” notes Hite. “I can fill in what they lack in the knowledge base, and with what they don’t even know they don’t know. If I knew what I know today when I started, I would be in a very different position.
“The simple act of giving back and a willingness to help others in need has been key to Image Options’ success,” he continues. “I see it continues.”
Brian Hite is a gentle giant, proclaims Rich Thompson, president of Pompano Beach, Florida-based AdGraphics. “Most of us can only aspire to achieve the level of greatness that Brian has already reached. His accomplishments revolve around what the rest of us only dream of. To meet him, you’d never know – he’s one of the nicest, kindest, most generous, and humble people you’ll ever meet.
“Her sincerity and honesty are at the heart of her being, and her balance of intelligence and common sense is a rare trait,” adds Thompson. “There are few people in our industry that I hold in high regard [like] I do Brian.
Hite has two daughters, both in their twenties, two grandchildren with whom he enjoys spending time, as well as his “grand-puppies” who come to visit him with his grandchildren. He also enjoys golf, sea fishing and shooting.
Additionally, Hite really enjoys spending time with other business owners in the printing industry, viewing them as friends as well as co-workers. “Some of my best friends are other business owners, vendors, and other people I’ve met through SGIA,” he notes.
“Brian went from being an industry acquaintance to a good personal friend, due to his intelligence and willingness to share information to help others,” said Terry Corman, owner of Firehouse in Indianapolis. “To his credit, he has retained his great sense of humor and personal warmth after his years of experience through the ups and downs of the printing industry. Brian is an industry leader in every sense of the word.
That said, Hite has no plans to slow down anytime soon. He will continue to help guide Image Options’ growth into new markets – housewares and rigid thermal sublimation are two areas he has explored – while remaining involved in industry associations and other educational opportunities. Hite will also continue to mentor the next generation at all times and strive to exceed their own high expectations and strong work ethic that have marked their entire professional life.
And his induction in 2021 Printing fingerprints/ RIT Printing Industry Hall of Fame is a testament to how hard work and willingness to lend a helping hand pays off.