Mimeo.com: Driven to Succeed Online
IT'S A compelling story just on its face. In 10 years, Mimeo.com went from being a business model on paper to an online print provider with more than 450 employees and nearly 300,000 square feet of manufacturing space spread across three strategically located production facilities. It has enjoyed an annualized revenue growth rate approaching 40 percent for the last eight of those years.
The underpinnings of that success are just as compelling. Some have already become part of the company's lore, such as setting "super efficiency" as the standard for all phases of its operations. As a result, jobs submitted as late as 10 p.m. can be delivered as early as 8:30 a.m. the next morning. Enabling that level of service by building its manufacturing capacity in close proximity to FedEx hubs has also been a key part of the plan from the start.
Efficient by Design
Mimeo.com remains an all-digital printing operation, but also has expanded beyond document production into the large-format and photo publishing arenas. Kitting and fulfillment are also part of its repertoire. Bulk mailing, however, is not and the company is very selective in its application of variable data printing capabilities.
The quest for process efficiency starts with using a Web-to-print workflow all but exclusively. From there, jobs are fed into a production platform built on a manufacturing mentality, with the products offered defined by unique SKUs and capabilities grouped into flexible manufacturing cells to optimize the production of each.
CEO Adam Slutsky believes labels such as "printer" or even "manufacturing operation" don't come close to adequately describing his company. Much of the value it offers is in the online user experience that Mimeo.com delivers, he says, including the confidence that the finished pieces customers receive will match what they compile, build and proof online. "We provide extensive Web-based technology tools that make it a painless experience for people to quickly and efficiently manage, print and distribute documents."
It's not splitting hairs to say the genesis of the company was a plan to provide a better user experience for getting a document printed, not to launch a printing company. According to David Uyttendaele, the company's chief technology officer and one of its co-founders, Mimeo.com was born of the founders' personal pain in getting their printing needs met. Specifically, the then-technology consultants found it difficult to get proposals and other documents printed out while working onsite at a client's facility.
The company was founded in December of 1998 and the service went live about a year later. "My job was to spend a year solving the problems of printing over the Internet," Uyttendaele recalls. That effort included creating a print driver for the Windows operating system that lets users simply print to Mimeo.com via a Website that enabled users to "build and proof" the document and place an order.
Its chief technology officer explains that what made, and continues to make, Mimeo.com unique is owning all of the pieces. It started with having technology on the front end to make printing painless, he says, but equally important was designing essentially a manufacturing facility for print situated right next to a FedEx hub.
Inherent in this business model is a need to balance providing customers with as much product flexibility as possible while ensuring the product can be efficiently manufactured. "Our approach is a little broader than Henry Ford's statement, 'We'll make a car in any color you want as long as it is black,' " Slutsky quips, "but we can't give them every color in the rainbow."
Adding a new product to the mix requires that:
• the product be integrated into both the production workflow and the Web-to-print interface;
• its parameters be optimized for production and processes refined to manufacture it efficiently; and
• both staff and clients receive training.
Because of the investment involved, there must be sufficient volume and recurring revenue associated with a new product offering for it to be added to Mimeo.com's catalog. Decisions have to be made about simpler requests such as adding new substrates, product sizes and finishing options, up to the big calls such as moving into photo publishing and large-format printing.
Manufactured to Order
The company's offerings can't be limitless, Slutsky notes. "If they were, we'd never be able to keep a standardized set of production capabilities within three different facilities. Part of our secret sauce is our ability to push customized inputs through a standardized production process which yields finished documents that are unique to a given order."
Memphis, TN, is home to the original and still largest production facility at 140,000 square feet. Next came an 80,000-square-foot plant in Newark, NJ, that began production in September of 2008, providing full redundancy for the capabilities of the Memphis operation. Within a year, a 60,000-square-foot facility in Emeryville, CA, came online. Rising demand fast-tracked the last expansion despite the recession, as the total number of orders processed jumped to more than 1.5 million in 2009, up from 215,754 the year before.
Part of Mimeo.com's manufacturing approach involves standardizing its equipment lineup whenever possible, which provides redundancy, buying power, and simplifies maintenance and manning. There are more than a dozen digital color presses, mainly Kodak NexPress and HP Indigo machines, installed across the organization and an even greater number of Xerox DocuTech monochrome devices. On the large-format digital printing side, HP DesignJet ink-jet printers drive production.
From there, work is fed into various finishing processes that are based on a flexible cell manufacturing concept, notes John Delbridge, COO. Organizing the equipment required to complete a specific task into near-line, self-contained work areas—as opposed to following the traditional assembly line model—has improved average cycle times by 16 percent, he says. The photo cell, for example, includes cutting, binding, gluing and other equipment required to produce a range of photo products.
It's fitting that Standard Finishing is one of Mimeo.com's preferred vendors, with the Standard Horizon name being on much of the folding (AFC-544AKT), trimming (HT-30), saddlestitching (StitchLiner 5500) and perfect binding (BQ-270 and BQ-470) equipment installed in the plants. It turns to On Demand Machinery for case binding solutions and works closely with Renz America to meet its automated punching needs. Among the other nameplates that can be found on equipment in the various flexible cells are Baum, Challenge Machinery, Duplo, GBC, MBO, Polar, Powis Parker, Stahl, Unibind and others.
Binding and finishing, along with kitting and shipping, are the last frontiers of printing process automation, according to Delbridge. Much of the equipment in these areas is yet to be connected directly to the company's workflow because vendors have been slow to implement connectivity, specifically via JDF, and there is little backward compatibility, explains its COO. He has seen some encouraging signs, though, such as the introduction of the JDF-compliant Horizon i2i bindery control system for automated job setup from a central console and interfacing to an MIS.
Keeping things humming within and across the three plants is the internally developed, proprietary Adaptive Document Assembly Process (ADAP) software. It uses algorithms to dynamically schedule production and route jobs based on delivery requirements and the workloads on individual pieces of equipment and plants.
Slutsky likens ADAP to being the "Intel Inside" for process automation at Mimeo.com, and the resulting super efficiency. Production workers don't interact with the system directly, but it does let them know what to work on next by managing the order of work in their job queues.
With the Internet being at the core of what the company does, it may be surprising to learn that Mimeo.com relies heavily on direct sales to build business. It targets medium-size ($25 million) up to very-large businesses with digital printing budgets ranging from $20,000 into the millions of dollars.
"It's not online advertising that's going to bring them in," Slutsky points out. "We spent millions testing it in one form or another (display ads, paid search, etc.). You can bring in a lot of business, but it tends to be transactional rather than recurring and too often not the kind of work we do, which is based more around complex documents, quick-turn needs and significant run lengths for digital printing. Online advertising, in our experience, pulls in more retail and SOHO (small office/home office) work, like an individual who wants to print a couple resumés," explains the company CEO.
Customer satisfaction is a big contributor to the company's organic growth because users recommend it to others and champion the service if they change jobs to an employer currently not using it.
"Everyone claims their customers love them, but there aren't a lot of companies that actually go out and measure it," observes Charlie Corr, vice president of corporate strategy. Mimeo.com quantifies customer satisfaction by using the Net Promoter Score (NPS) metric and scores in the 70th percentile, which is considered quite high, he notes. It scores at the level of companies like Apple and Amazon.
Forecast Calls for Growth
For the remainder of 2010, Slutsky hopes for worldwide economic stabilization leading to more organic growth in the company's current operations and expects a big upside from its geographic expansion into Western Europe. Entering the Asia Pacific market is perhaps a year or so further down the road, he adds.
Revenues will get an inherent boost from greater movement to color printing since it is a higher dollar sale. Slutsky also expects businesses to start differentiating their printed products more by utilizing more complex finishing options.
While the Mimeo.co.uk Website actually went live this past summer, there wasn't any local direct sales staff marketing it until recently. For now, customers are being offered a two-day printing and delivery service to anywhere in the United Kingdom and most of Western Europe. Production is being done in the United States. Construction of two plants—likely one in Germany and the other in the United Kingdom—is actively being considered to reduce costs and support overnight delivery.
Sales of Mimeo.com's large-format printing services are primarily to its existing customer base, but photo publishing has taken the company into the consumer sector through partnerships with services such as Snapfish and Kodak Gallery.
"That is a very distinct customer set," Corr explains. "We're working with the third parties who are the customer-facing piece and for whom we are the print production and distribution piece."
Photo publishing jobs are even shorter runs, averaging 1.7 copies, and have different binding demands than the document side of the business, he notes. It's a fast growing business because those companies are always looking for a new product or enhancement to differentiate what they offer, Corr adds.
Slutksy points out that this market was a natural fit because business activity, except for retail corporations, slows down during the holiday season, which is right when demand skyrockets for holiday cards, photo gift books and calendars. Mimeo.com is able to leverage the printing and logistics infrastructure it continues to develop for business clients to support the photo publishing market with the capacity required to meet seasonal demand, he says.
When a company has opened two plants in the past 18 months and has up to two more possibly in the works, one doesn't expect there to be much more in the way of investments on the horizon. However, Corr reports the firm is very interested in ink-jet web printing technology because the productivity and capital cost of the presses make them well suited to a centralized production model.
"If ink-jet web presses can provide us good enough quality at a lower cost, we like that," he says.
Slutsky concurs, adding that, "Ink-jet web printing is a different marketplace than other digital technologies, and it's going to be very good for us because we have enormous volume that comes through three funnels right now. We're really excited about the technology because it could be very disruptive in terms of our pricing." PI