"Adding Fulfillment Makes Sense"
[Column #22, 10/96]

Fulfillment and Mailing: the Caboose of Finishing?

Just when you think you've extended the definition of a full-service finisher as far as it can go, the market changes again, and you need to add one more capability. Fulfillment, for example, is the latest capability finishers are adding to their rosters.

If you think about it, it makes good economic sense for the finisher to perform fulfillment. In fact, my company recently landed a nice piece of business from a large cataloger precisely because we provided this service. In addition to binding and mailing the initial catalogs, fulfillment for the job included inserting, packing and phasing mailings of the catalogs.

Not only was our bindery quote competitive, we proved we could save the customer thousands of dollars by reducing postage costs and eliminating the cost of shipping to a mailing house. Since we have a large warehouse space, we sold them on having us store the catalogs for future orders; thereby, eliminating the cost of having to ship the material to a dedicated fulfillment house. And, after analyzing their mailing list, we itemized several ways they could take full advantage of postal discounts, which significantly reduced postage and handling expenses.

While fulfillment has different meanings in different industries, it's most commonly used by finishers to mean storing and mailing products directly to end-users, after the initial job has been bound and mailed, as new orders come in.

That's the simple definition. In fact, fulfillment is much more than storing and shipping; there are many technical aspects to full-service fulfillment.

Inventory management. An efficient inventory tracking system is one component. It is not unusual for a fulfillment operation to store dozens, even hundreds, of different items, bound catalog, CD-ROM discs and packaging sleeves, registration card, shipping carton, etc., for a client. Often processed daily, orders must be filled on an individual basis as they come in; some requiring all of the materials, others only a few. A good fulfillment operation needs a well-organized storage and retrieval system that monitors quantities, replenishes stock when necessary and allows fast and easy access to ensure delivery deadlines are met.

On-line communications. Another important fulfillment-related capability is communicating efficiently with the customer. Often, after the initial job has been printed, bound and mailed, we are asked to deal directly with the client for subsequent mailings. Our online capabilities enable clients to easily and instantly transmit, via modem or the Internet, lists of names to whom the next batch of material is to be mailed. As we retrieve stored items from our warehousing area, we can subtract them from the client's inventory totals. When our customers call, as they invariably do, to ask us how many of their client's books or catalogs are in inventory, we can always give them an immediate and exact answer. To publishers, having access to precise inventory information can translate into big savings. Recently, a publisher wanted to insert a promotional card in all his remaining catalogs for a final mailing. We were able to give him an exact inventory count, so he could print only the number of cards he needed.

Inkjet labeling. Most fulfillment houses have addressing equipment that's designed to label outbound material using pressure-sensitive, adhesive labels. Due to their size limitations, labels restrict the amount of information that can be printed on them. Inkjetting equipment, on the other hand, allows more space and flexibility in printing marketing messages on fulfilled mail. It eliminates the cost of labels and it provides clients with the opportunity to tailor other marketing offers to their most qualified prospects; namely, customers who have already purchased their product or service.

At Bindagraphics, we've mounted a customized, computerized inkjet system onto our mailing line. Packages are automatically positioned on the conveyor belt and, as they pass under the inkjet printer, they are inkjetted with the address as well as any other information, text or image, the client wishes to print directly on the material.

Mailing. A good fulfillment operation should also include comprehensive mailing services. Today, computers drive most equipment, keeping production costs down by streamlining and automating work that in the past required hand processing. Finishers that have combined fulfillment and mailing operations offer other obvious advantages. They can help clients take full advantage of the many U.S. Postal Service discounts. For instance, my company, certified by the Postal Service for in-plant load and direct shipment deliveries, recently saved a large catalog publisher a ton of money in postage costs. After running a computer analysis of costs to mail his 150,000 catalogs, each one weighing over four pounds, we determined the cheapest rate at which the catalogs could be mailed. We also cut costs by shipping them directly to the proper bulk mail center. Previously, the publisher was unaware of the fact that he could receive a discount by delivering to bulk mail centers. In the end, we saved the $60,000 in postage and handling.

Under one roof. Combining finishing and fulfillment under one roof has other side-benefits. By eliminating shipping between plants and product idle time, production cycles are considerably shortened. Exceedingly tight schedules can be met by putting products into inkjetting and mail processing operations the minute they come out of the bindery.

A full-service finisher-one that performs fulfillment and mailing services-will often provide other adjunct services, such as media replication and machine insertion into packaging, catalogs or periodicals.

Finally, a full-service finisher can be an invaluable asset to a printer bidding on an account that requires fulfillment. At Bindagraphics, we had a recent occasion to help one printer land a sizable account because he could offer our fulfillment services and expertise as an integral part of his capabilities. We joined the customer in early client meetings to design a fulfillment strategy that satisfied the customer's unique needs. By relying on our expertise, the printer and his rep didn't have to waste time getting up to speed on all the technical details entailed in fulfillment and mailing services.

Printers must evaluate the cost-benefits and ease of integrating a finisher into their existing operations before making a decision to offer this vertical service. Printers have found that the benefits of using a finisher who provides fulfillment outweigh the costs. Increasingly, clients look to their printers to provide a full-range of print-related services, including fulfillment and mailing, to compress production times and reap the benefits inherent in sole-sourcing.

Perhaps, since my company added fulfillment and mailing capabilities, we can finally say there's nothing more a finisher could possibly offer. I'm sure time will prove me wrong.