Software Integration Is Key to Mastering Fulfillment and Warehousing
The word for today is integration. It comes into play quite frequently in the world of printing when dealing with people, machines, software and processes. Any kink in the network is keenly felt throughout a workflow, whether it’s on paper, in a spreadsheet or on the production room floor.
One aspect of operations that often lacks the press clippings of its inkjet digital printing cousin is the back end of operations—the fulfillment/warehousing component. It is very much at the mercy of a quality customer interface (Web-to-print storefronts), as well as an in-house management information system (MIS) to process and populate jobs, which needs to play nicely with fulfillment software.
Some companies have taken the ability to warehouse and fulfill items for third-party recipients to a sophisticated art form, buoyed by the use of the aforementioned software. Case in point is Gilson Graphics of Grand Rapids, MI. It provides a variety of warehousing and fulfillment options, from light assembly to sophisticated inventory management. In addition to printed materials and swatch samples, Gilson stores and distributes retail products, apparel, prizes and incentives from its 200,000-square-foot distribution center.
Gilson Graphics offers picking/packing, assembling and kitting, procure/process/pay functions, along with pick up and drop shipping. On a more granular level, the firm can process rebate programs and check management, bolstered by tiered security levels for high-dollar items, all the while providing real-time inventory and usage reporting.
Gilson’s clients consist of retail establishments with multiple locations, manufacturing entities where it supports sales and dealership networks with just-in-time fulfillment of materials, and the service industry (consultants, CPA firms) with global satellites. The software infrastructure supporting the fulfillment operation includes EFI’s PrintStream, integrated with EFI Pace, and front ended by several Web-to-print solutions, including Gilson’s proprietary Mindwire and Pageflex Storefront.
Specialized Software Provides Results
The upshot has been a reduction in customer service time for Gilson, easier overall management and an improved notification system. According to Jeff Palmitier, executive vice president, PrintStream is one of the few warehouse management software options on the market that isn’t geared toward fulfilling a company’s own product.
“Very few [software packages] allow you to do warehouse management for a variety of 50 to 60 customers,” he says.
Likewise, the days of long print runs and warehousing reams of sales or advertising literature (for example) have given way to just-in-time fulfillment, forcing companies to enhance their print-on-demand workflows. Tony Maravolo, customer service manager for Gilson Graphics, notes that PrintStream has eliminated a number of pain points. The integration of MIS and the fulfillment software components has consolidated a lot of the time-consuming, front-end processes (estimate, job ticket, prepress file prep) that has greatly reduced turn times for some short-run publishing titles.
The software is not a cure-all panacea; Palmitier points out that users still have to devise a workflow that can, quite frankly, become quite complex. One Gilson customer that uses the Mindwire Web-to-print interface has close to 10,000 items on its site, half of which are print-on-demand products. Gilson Graphics’ percentage of sales related to offset has dropped 20 percent in the past few years, much of it garnered by digital printing.
“PrintStream provides the base tool set to enable those sophisticated workflows, but you still need a lot of programming and intellectual capital to make those workflows actually work,” he says. “Since we have these tools now, we just have to ask ourselves, ‘How do we make it work for this particular application, for this particular client?’ ”
Rehg Group Inc. of Marietta, GA, better known as RGI, has provided fulfillment services for the past 10 years, a product of client demand from the construction/housing vertical. The $15 million performer, which sees a good deal of work coming through corporate B2B storefronts, operates with a 35,000-square-foot warehouse space. In addition to fulfillment, RGI provides printing, marketing, promotional materials and lead generation.
Richard Burd, integrated solutions director for RGI, notes that many of the firm’s clients fall under roughly 15 vertical markets. When RGI initially embarked into fulfillment services, it relied on a software solution that was a bit oversized for its needs. RGI followed a similar path to achieve its EFI Pace/PrintStream integration. It has, on average, 2,500 cart orders per month that come in through Web-based front ends—particularly Online Print Solutions (OPS). As much as 98 percent of orders that RGI executes from its warehouse, from the fulfillment solution, are client-placed.
“We wanted to get our warehouse and fulfillment application/enterprise solution connected with MIS, so PrintStream was a natural fit for us,” Burd says. “Our goal was to better streamline the workflow and have fewer touches between order and execution. By consolidating our invoices for fulfillment, we can generate a single invoice for our clients. We also have the opportunity to customize those invoices. It provides an excellent way to capture data that feeds into Pace, so we have all of the information we need to customize our reporting within Pace.”
One of the many advantages to the Pace/PrintStream connectivity, according to Burd, is the built-in auditing that allows RGI to monitor information from the warehouse regarding freight charges. “Every company will have negotiated freight costs with FedEx, UPS and DHL that are substantially lower than clients will ever get, because we’re shipping so much,” Burd notes. “So it allows us to have different costs and price points based on individual client volumes with freight costs, to capture our actual (cost) versus estimate. We’ve found that to be a useful tool.”
Freight monitoring only begins to drill down into the benefits offered in the integration, which provides access to reporting on multiple, different fronts. In addition to the PrintStream reports, Rehg Group is able to use the PaceStation inquiries in ePace to create powerful reports that provide data to POD jobs that come in from digital storefronts.
“From this integration, a customer is able to place a single order for warehoused fulfillment materials, as well as any POD items they have,” notes Michael Smith, systems manager. “When this order passes through the integration it ends in Pace with a fully created job, complete with the production job plan for the POD item, ready and waiting to be scheduled. Because of this, we have the ability to audit, report and review not just freight costs and charges but production information as well, such as on a per customer basis.”
Regardless of the integrated system that’s utilized, Burd warns that there is no such thing as a perfect platform. Most solutions have their shortcomings, so it’s important to find a combination that best serves your specific purposes.
“It was a reasonably smooth integration,” he says. “It’s taken us 12-16 months to get to this point, so the process can have its share of bumps. But we worked through them fairly rapidly.”
On the specialization front, Yunker Industries, of Lake Geneva, WI, is a leading graphics and decor manufacturer serving fast food restaurants, convenience stores, big-box and specialty retailers. It offers an integrated level of in-house services ranging from design to wide-format printing, to complete store installations.
Among its solutions designed to simplify the marketing fulfillment process, streamline in-store execution and reduce cost is the Yunker Online Inventory Portal Program. This Web-based, automated system is designed to help retailers save money and improve the performance for those retailers that drive the order and reorder process of retail graphics to the store level.
Yunker Industries processes upwards of 1,000 small parcel carrier (FedEx, UPS) shipments per day for less than truckload (LTL) transportation with other trucking services. In order to improve processes in its workflow, the company obtained EFI’s Pace MIS with SmartLinc Process Shipper as an integrated solution. Steve Haley, vice president of IT and process development, said the goal was to find a complete system—estimating, accounting, printing, shipping and fulfillment—that could eliminate the inefficiencies in its former systems.
“Our previous process had multiple paths to set up shipments, the tracking information was not available in real-time, and customer service had to scan .CSV files daily to make sure shipments actually went out,” Haley notes. “This was especially problematic if shipments spanned more than one day. In addition, there were many back-and-forth calls between customer service and shipping to get answers to simple questions for customers. Also, the securing of tracking numbers from the carriers could take as much as 24 hours, an unacceptable delay for our customers.”
SmartLinc Process Shipper has paved the way to Yunker saving 40 hours per week in customer service time, a 50 percent improvement in the processing of large batch distribution lists and a 200 percent improvement in shipping throughput. Batch processing previously consisted of validating shipping labels when there were about 50 to 100 accumulated, and two other workers would cross-check them with an address spreadsheet. That time-consuming process, which created a landmine field of potential errors, is now done automatically within Process Shipper.
One of the benefits of using Process Shipper is that personnel can work from a single station with all of the required information at their fingertips, as opposed to using multiple systems at various locations within the plant. Haley notes that data flows seamlessly between EFI Pace and SmartLinc Process Shipper, and the integration has helped Yunker elevate its fulfillment game.
“This has truly revolutionized our shipping process, made everyone’s lives much easier, and enabled us to be ultra-responsive to customer requirements and inquiries,” Haley adds. PI