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Fulfillment: A New Service Frontier

(September 2007) posted on Mon Sep 24, 2007

These days, remaining competitive in the graphics market takes more than being fast and cheap. Fulfillment offers a new way to not only stay ahead, but also to stand out among the crowd.

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By Ben P. Rosenfield

The desire to satisfy leads printers to take care of some strange products. When is the right time to turn down a remarkable request? Henry says F.B. Johnston Graphics typically refuses to carry products that take up too much space, are hazardous, or pose some sort of risk. “We won’t chase just pure fulfillment business,” he adds. “If there’s no tie-in to printing or signage, or if a client comes to us just asking for fulfillment that won’t allow us to entertain their printing business, then we’ll reject that too.”

Challenges and remedies
Developing and growing a fulfillment department is not without its roadblocks. Depending on the level of service you plan to offer, you’ll need to look into shipping and freight options, warehousing, hardware and software, customer service, staffing, and more.

Training has been an issue at F.B. Johnston Graphics. Henry says the com¬pany makes a strong effort in educating the people in the fulfillment department about the needs of each customer. “How you handle a program for one customer is not the way you handle it for another,” he explains. “We have a fulfillment manager on staff, and he works very diligently to train his employees about clients’ needs. We also have what we call capabilities-assessment meetings about each client before we kit-pack a job to educate our fulfillment workers about that job.”

Pro-Screen needs to add people to its fulfillment department, but Leary says the employees who work hands-on with signage have trouble with the idea. They wonder whether new hires, people who are not producing signs, will really be generating money for the company.

“I have to make sure that department continues to grow, just like any department in my business, to keep up with demands,” he says. “I can tell you that they’re absolutely bringing in revenue for my company. Fulfillment solidifies pieces of business. That department will grow by at least two people this year.”

According to Gelsomino, the biggest push at Pratt is to continuously im-prove speed, efficiency, and quality, and to develop the ability to think ahead for its clients. He also cites staying ahead of the industry—being aware of how it’s moving and changing—as an ongoing goal. “We want to be ready when our clients say, ‘Hey, we’d like to try that,’ and tell them that we’ve already been thinking about it, we’ve even been practicing in our R&D labs, and we’re tuned in to what they just suggested may be their future,” he says.

Ramping up fulfillment services at Think Big Solutions put a damper on the company’s overall productivity. The company also discovered that it needed more space, better technology, and streamlined training. However, fulfillment is paying off for Think Big as it addresses those obstacles. “We see it as an area for growth and a current profit center,” Mason says, adding that the use of “better automated processes” will also help to jumpstart the shop’s efficiency and accommodate growth.

Fulfilling your potential
The move into fulfillment should not be taken lightly. Adding such a critical extension to your business can initially tax your resources, but if you plan ahead, offer only what you can handle, and present your new capabilities as part of an all-in-one package of services, fulfillment can become something that you and your customers will swear by.


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