This year our newly named Imaging Innovator of the Year Award goes to Vista Color Imaging, Inc. of Cleveland, OH. Each year this publication bestows the honor on an outstanding imager that has attracted the attention of the industry suppliers and peers because the operation is "something special."
Known as Vista Color Lab since 1970, the company can be categorized as a graphics display and digital photo company with a rich history. It's one of just a few former photo labs that has been able to fly with the digital times and survive while still keeping the business in the family. It took business acumen to propel it into today's large-graphic display markets.Vista's new digital flatbed printer the Durst Rho 205/8W.
Paul E. Gallo, CEO, still sits at his father's desk, where his father's nameplate (Paul B. Gallo) remains mounted on the front (the elder Gallo passed away in 1987). It's a running joke among the employees that the production and administrative areas of the more-than-100-year-old factory-style building have been remodeled, while Pete's office (his nickname to avoid confusion with his father) remains in a time warp: It's the same as when his father was making collages with black-and-white photos of movie stars and colorizing them.
The 77,000-square-foot building is looking quite modern inside, particularly the 34,000 square feet occupied by Vista Color. Gallo describes his business today as "a digital imaging company that creates and produces graphics for the trade show and convention industry; we also service ad agencies, the retail market, corporate accounts and museums." Kevin C. Vesely, president of Vista Color, labels the business as "a large-format graphics supplier that primarily services the trade show industry and museum graphics."
A Colorful Heritage
Paul B. Gallo emigrated from Cuba in the '20s and, with two other sons, started Gallo Displays, a business that carries on today with the same name but under employee ownership. During the Depression, there weren't many conventions and trade shows, but signs were still required. Gallo would hand-paint signs, especially movie theater lobby cards for the film noir stars of the '30s and '40s.Image of one of the guitars that were wrapped with vinyl graphics and displayed around the city of Cleveland.
Following World War II, the number of trade shows began to grow. At that time, Cleveland was the headquarters for a significant number of Fortune 500 companies, and Paul Gallo and his sons became involved in the design and production of trade shows, mostly for local manufacturers (they also retained the theatrical lobby card business). Soon Loews Theater promoters were sending Gallo negatives and black-and-white photos, and he became the expert at collages and at airbrushing, colorizing and applying glitter to photographs.
Loews then started requesting prints from black-and-white darkrooms. By the mid-'60s, Gallo added color services, primarily servicing Gallo Displays. Next he hired a professional photographer, resulting in the official formation of Vista Color in 1970.
This reporter first met Paul B. Gallo at the APCL (now APCI) convention that was being held in Las Vegas in 1982 at the MGM Grand Hotel (now Bally's). Some may remember the Vista Color-created Hollywood Hall of Fame on the hotel's lower level. APCL visitors would always ask who created the nostalgic display. This little bit of Vista history is vital because it documents how the new Vista Color Imaging segues into today's digital display world.
Enter Colonel Gallo
After pre-med school, Pete Gallo was working at Gallo Displays to earn money for medical school. "I wanted to go on to med school, but I didn't have the money, and I was 1A, prime for the draft," he recalls. "As a result of the Vietnam buildup, I enlisted in the Air Force."Paul E. "Pete" Gallo, son of Vista founder and current CEO.
When Colonel Gallo retired from the US Air Force in 1983 after 20 years of service, he found himself once more working with his brothers at Gallo Displays. Since he had worked for NASA in Cleveland as an exhibit specialist, traveling all over the country to set up big city fairs and museum installations, he knew a little about displays, but nothing about photography or printing.
When their father became ill, the brothers knew that someone had to run Vista Color or it would be shut down, so Pete Gallo took on the challenge. "Between 1985 and 1990 I immersed myself in learning what this was all about-I've never been sorry," recalls Gallo. He credits APCI meetings and fellow members for giving him the most help. "I learned to network within the industry," he says. Gallo singles out Larry Capodilupo of ICL Imaging in Boston for teaching him to analyze and watch the numbers, and Bob Goldblatt for teaching him to learn his business inside and out to better serve his employees and clients.
Gallo also participated in the DPI Association and embarked on a digital flight path during the 1990s to become a producer of wide-format digital photos and inkjet graphics. However, Pete Gallo knew he needed help. That help came in 1994 from Kevin Vesely, who was working at Mid-Town Imaging Color Lab. There was no hesitation from either Gallo or Vesely: They shared a common business vision that would propel Vista Color into the digital millennium.
Vesely's first thought when he came onboard was: "The business needed a lot of organizational changes before it could grow-there was no real manager, no clear vision for the steps that needed to be taken to get actively involved in digital."
Gallo knew it was critical that he take the dive into digital, and he started with an Encad NovaJet 36-inch DOD printer. As for other products, Vesely and Gallo aggressively analyzed their markets and came to the conclusion that photographic output was still the finest and best value. "We selected the CSI LightJet 5000 digital photo printer because of the quality of work our clients demanded and still do," explains Vesely. "The price at the time was almost prohibitive, but looking back, it was a good deal because of its return on the dollar." Gallo and Vesely also liked the idea of getting its technicians out of the darkroom and into the daylight.