Media, Printing & Graphics  June 3, 2024

The Digital Frontier CEO not afraid of a full plate

Sara Schaeffner, the owner and CEO of The Digital Frontier, is not afraid of biting off a lot more than most of us could chew.

Two years after entering the entrepreneurial ranks by acquiring The Digital Frontier in 2020, she completed her second acquisition in 2022. Between 2021 and 2023, her parent company, Blue Vista LLC, saw estimated revenues rise a whopping 56%, approaching $4 million annually.

“I really wasn’t looking for an acquisition,” she said of the 2021 move that saw GraphX and Boulder’s legendary Photocraft come under the Blue Vista umbrella, and Rosario Custom Framing come on as an in-house affiliate. “But now we’re really poised to take things to the next level.”

Her friends now call her “the queen of printing,” but the funny thing is, Schaeffner didn’t have any prior experience in the field. Fortunately, she said, almost all of the staff from The Digital Frontier stayed on, including the owner who stayed on site for several months.

The GraphX acquisition was too good to ignore, she said, as they also had a focus on large-format printing, while there was little overlap in the respective customer bases.

“Large-format printing is a huge part of our business: trade show graphics, wall interiors, floor graphics, large-format signage. We really run the whole gamut,” Schaeffner said. “We have a number of partners with national branding (contracts). We can make this a seamless experience.”

Of course small-format printing is an important contributor, as it was for both companies before the merger, bringing a “full breadth of capability,” Schaeffner said. Photocraft, specializing in fine art printing, brings in another set of consumers, but having that expertise around also helps with sales to the corporate customers. Custom framing, a necessary component of fine art printing, also brings a large amount of foot traffic into the shop at 510 Burbank St. in Broomfield, close to access to both Highways 36 and 287.

“It was a harder acquisition than the first. A lot of things went wrong. Just randomly,” Schaeffner said. “Another thing was we merged the companies, and moved both companies at the same time. It was a lot to bite off at once. (But) now I can say confidently it was an excellent merger.”

While most of that astounding growth came as a direct result of the acquisition, there was a slight contraction of revenues before organic growth started rolling downhill. Because Digital Frontier and GraphX were in the same business, almost all of the merged company’s equipment is duplicated, allowing for quick turnaround and the ability to easily absorb large orders on the fly, Schaeffner said.

And Schaeffner is used to taking things on the fly.

Originally working in Boston, she was CEO of a firm in the Dallas area, when a short-term offer brought her to Colorado. So she was moving her family of two young boys, as well as her mother’s home, single handedly, knowing she was going to have to find another gig in short order.

Oh, and in the process she was finishing her MBA.

“You don’t need an MBA to be an entrepreneur,” she said. But she did meet a lot of entrepreneurial folk while pursuing the degree.

“The idea of being an entrepreneur was very new. But it has turned out to be the best business decision I’ve ever made in my life.”

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