Documenting the changing dynamics of fulfillment demands is often achieved by holding quarterly business reviews (QBRs). These vital meetings allow the fulfillment staff and the client to review on-time shipments, dock-to-stock time, “autopsies” on recent start-ups or kitting projects, as well as hearing plans for other seasonal expectations.
A panel of printers that provide various fulfillment services discussed several “lessons learned.” They reminded the newcomers that fulfillment is a long sales process that is not project-oriented but rather relationship-based with annuity type services rendered. Top management is often involved with the fulfillment sale.
When asked to name the two or three keys factors to profitable fulfillment operations, each panelist spoke of the basics. Greg Johnson of the Johnson Group highlighted the benefit of having a conscientious person in charge of inventory to assure that the printer-owned finished goods (overrun product not yet charged to the client) are isolated from client-owned products. Otherwise, the printer-owned product can easily be given away! Jim Wicklander emphasized “timely information and communications” both with employees as well as the client, while Rick Schildgen, President of CL Graphics, acknowledged the need for on-going training to keep employees current.
When asked what changes he would make if he had it to do over again, Wicklander answered, “Don’t take any employee for granted. Prepare job descriptions and train thoroughly.” Wicklander prophetically concluded the lively panel discussion by stating, “He who controls the assets (digital) controls fulfillment. There is no choice – you must get into fulfillment!”
Classic Graphics of North Carolina developed a formidable expertise in mastering large-scale kitting projects. Manufacturing Vice President Bill Kwiatkowski described how his management team eats a kitting elephant, i.e., one bite at a time. They begin by listing every component of the client’s kits on a master spreadsheet. By studying common elements, a series of sub-kits to be assembled become apparent. As these sub-kits feed back into the assembly of larger or final kits, the group tracks filler material needed to protect certain kitting elements. Their use of flow charts helps train their army of temporary employees. These charts also provide quick and easy visual reference in the midst of kitting versions and exceptions.
Anyone familiar with kitting projects knows that surprises are to be expected. Kwiatkowski said that the original kitting plan is prepared by the operations team and is then presented to him and other employees for challenge and contingency planning.
Since many kits are comprised of a dozen or more components, a sample of each kit is prepared and compared against the detailed kitting ticket approved by the client. To assure accuracy and completeness of each kit, it is also weighed to ensure that it equals that of the sample. If a component is left out or an extra one slips in, the weight would be off. Other secrets of smooth flow are the use of shrink-wrapping to minimize hand counting and the clear identification of product and quantities. “During kit production,” Kwiatkowski commented, “Observe the process and rearrange people by moving the slowest to the front of the line and the fastest toward the end of the line.”
Rynn Johnson, Vice President of Sales for the Johnson Group, spoke on getting sales people involved in the fulfillment sales process. The salesperson is expected to ‘open the door’ because clients with multiple channels of sales distribution are prime candidates for fulfillment service.”
The Johnson Group found that including the start up costs as part of the monthly management fee has been well received by their clients. And because each fulfillment proposal is unique, the fulfillment contract will also be unique. Johnson cautioned however, that clients do not like to read more than a two-page contract.
The Johnson Group attributes its success in selling fulfillment services to the company commitment and vision, their solution-minded sales team, menu of services and implementation toolbox.
The keynote speaker was Dan O’Rourke, editor of two publications pertinent to this conference; Mailing Systems Technology and Parcel Shipping & Distribution. Although his publications are primarily supported by the mailing industry, O’Rourke sees a positive trend for printers and mailers to work together in solving clients’ distribution problems. With the continued growth in direct mail marketing, personalization in print and electronic messaging, the print/mail merger is inevitable.
Mary Ann Bennett of the Bennett Group, offered several tips in selecting a mailing applications software vendor including 1) one that handles all aspects of mailing list maintenance including duplicate records identification and multiple formats; 2) offers quality customer service; 3) supplies PAVE for presorting to claim greatest discounts available; 4) offers users groups and/or on-line forums; 5) has strong alliances with mail hardware vendors; and 6) has substantial client references.
Pat Peick, 3M Product Manager for USPS’ recently approved repositionable notes product, described the series of tests by USPS for including “sticky notes” on the outside of direct marketing pieces. This is a prime example of the Postal Service’s efforts to help improve response rates for direct marketing projects. Peick emphasized, “Design the note to take advantage of buyer behavior. People remove the note and put it on their phone or computer as a reminder for future action.”
The three key design elements are 1) the offer or event, 2) the identity or brand, and 3) the phone number or website so the prospect can place the order. In addition to experiencing response rates from 4-17% per project, clients are finding that the repositionable notes continue to draw responses 3 to 4 months after the mailing date.
Regardless of the printer’s size and the complexity of the value-added operation, this conference hammered home a few basics shared by the industry’s leaders: 1) be thorough in your planning, 2) empower the key employees and train them well, 3) don’t micro-manage but stay involved via project contingency critiques, and 4) document mutual expectations in a contract.