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Mailing/Fulfillment Resources -- Posting Positive Results

November 2005
Many printing companies are running profitable mailing and fulfillment operations as part of their evolution into full-service graphic communications solutions providers. The printers who are still evaluating whether these service offerings make sense for their organizations, however, may need a little guidance in making that all-important assessment, notes National Association of Printing Leadership (NAPL) associate consultant Clint Bolte, president of Clint Bolte & Associates and author of the NAPL book How Fulfillment Services Drive Print Volume.

"When done correctly, mailing and fulfillment can be a lucrative profit center for printers," Bolte advises. "However, these are areas where customers' tolerance for missteps is extremely low. Mailing and fulfillment has a definite learning curve that printers must respect when they're developing and implementing their programs."

As NAPL research has shown, a printing company that rushes headlong into a full-blown fulfillment program without the proper knowledge base and infrastructure runs a double risk. The offending company can lose not only fulfillment sales but also print sales, since a majority of a printer's fulfillment customers are print customers, as well. Therefore, printers should take the time to do their homework and call on a range of experts for input, including consultants specializing in mailing and/or fulfillment, software vendors, materials handling companies and trade associations.

Both fulfillment and mailing are client-driven, and customers' needs in these areas range from basic to complex. It's important, therefore, that printers not take on jobs they can't execute properly.

"Given the variation in the kinds of fulfillment and mailing services clients are seeking, a printer might be able to handle the first five or six jobs from a customer just fine," Bolte advises. "Then something pops up that it's not sure how to handle. When that happens, it's important not to bluff. Be extremely aware of the services you can reliably provide and those you cannot."

A printer considering venturing into fulfillment would be well-served by understanding the three basic types of fulfillment and the opportunities and challenges inherent in each, notes fulfillment and mailing expert Pete Basiliere, author of the new book, Diversifying With Mailing & Fulfillment Services: Unlocking Hidden Profit Potential. In the book, which provides a comprehensive guide to developing and implementing profitable mailing and fulfillment services, Basiliere defines the three main fulfillment types as follows:

* Finished goods storage involves printed and/or bound items that will be delivered to customers or to another supplier over time. This service often deals with items that are produced in large quantities that the client knows it will use eventually. Typically, to save money through more efficient printing, bindery and possibly manual assembly operations, the customer orders the items and agrees via a purchase order or contract to take and pay for the balance of the job over time. The storage offering may or may not include print management programs.

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