In the print omnipresent quest for better, faster, and cheaper, print service providers (PSPs) often focus on output. Investing in new digital printers and finishing equipment nearly always transforms the workflow, moving the supplier one step further in its quest.
Though less physically tangible, software has a similarly transformative impact on a print business—whether it’s a solution that streamlines and automates prepress and production, or one that better manages workflow.
Software as a Service
Michael and Elizabeth Riley are the owners of Insignia Signs, based in Dayton, OH. “We’re a fairly small shop with six employees. We do about a half million a year in sales,” explains Michael Riley.
Six years ago, the Rileys invested in their first digital printer, a 36-inch wide entry-level solution. “We grew out of that almost immediately. So we added a five-foot wide printer, and then a second one.” Today, approximately 95 percent of the signs they produce are digitally printed by way of a Mimaki USA, Inc. JV33 and an Epson Stylus Pro GS6000.
Though Insignia Signs smartly invested in high-quality pressroom solutions, Riley admits that for too long the production workflow and the business management operations were inefficient.
“Our original job management system was old-fashioned paperwork,” he recalls. “We had two-part work orders—one copy traveled with the job, and one copy remained on file. It worked fairly well for our small shop. It was simple and basic, but it did what it was supposed to do.”
“As we’ve grown, and based on how we work—all our jobs are quick turnaround, typically in and out of the shop within 24 to 48 hours—we started running into trouble. When you’re dealing with something that’s handwritten in a fast timeframe, the two become mutually exclusive. Paperwork became a stumbling block,” he confides.
The Rileys set out in search of a remedy. “There aren’t a lot of shop management programs designed specifically for sign businesses,” explains Riley. “There are the larger, expensive solutions best suited for big commercial operations. Some have modules for digital printing, but we found that you still have to weed through a lot to get to the digital.”
As fate would have it—and after adjudicating a few modest-priced solutions, such as Tracker Systems, LLC’s Sign Tracker and EstiMate Software—Riley made the acquaintance of sign shop owner Kevin Kennington.
He gave Riley a head’s up on a new tool, which could prove an answer to Insignia’s business management dilemma—TechVOX, Inc.’s SignVOX, which the developer describes as a comprehensive solution designed expressly for the sign shop. Based in the cloud, the application may be accessed from any hardwired or mobile device. It assists in business management tasks related to human resources and customer relationship management (CRM).
When asked about the difference in operational efficiency pre- and post-SignVOX, Riley says, “it’s huge. Before, we had the paperwork and a separate Microsoft Excel program that we did our quoting in, and Intuit QuickBooks to bill. Then we’d handwrite our work orders, that paper would be hauled through the shop until the job got to billing, and then billing would try to decipher our chicken scratch on the work order and load it into QuickBooks.”
With SignVOX they now prepare the quote online and it automatically creates a work order, which is viewable on a smartphone or tablet. “Web-based was important for us, because now I can run my business from a laptop while sitting on the beach. We can actually take a vacation,” marvels Riley.
Insignia Signs pays $129 per month for the SignVOX solution, and the return on investment was immediate, according to Riley. “It gives us the information we were used to managing with our manual tracking system, but it’s all in one program. There’s no need for redundant data entry. There’s no chasing down paperwork on the shop floor. No one has to worry about reading someone else’s handwriting. From an efficiency standpoint, it’s huge. I’d say it’s eliminated the tail chasing by 50 percent,” he concludes.
Keith Nichols is a self-described “spreadsheet junkie”—so much so that he relied on them to manage the sign business he owns with his wife, Debbie. Located in Cypress, TX, inkDOTS Printing Solutions is six years old, but has evolved considerably since its debut.
“I had everything on spreadsheets and while they gave me a good idea of what our costs were, I realized that it was insufficient in one important way,” recalls Nichols.
“In our industry, a lot of people quote by the square foot, but obviously, it costs more to produce a three square foot job than it does a 300 square foot job. So I began to breakdown our costs in a five-tier plan, and while that was better, it still wasn’t giving us precise cost per job. Then, Cyrious Software came along.”
Nichols was immediately intrigued by Cyrious’ Control solution, created with the large format graphics shop in mind. He confides that the investment was beyond his budget until later in the year when he took advantage of a special trade show incentive.
“They shipped out the product to us and we got it installed and running in record time. It took me about two weeks to learn how to use the software and to input data about our materials and labor rates,” recalls Nichols. Before going live with the new system, Nichols smartly ran side-by-side comparisons—estimating and analyzing jobs the old way versus the new way.
Cyrious’ Control provides tools for helping businesses like inkDOTS better manage sales and marketing tasks, estimating, work orders, job tracking, and inventory—all the way through to invoicing and shipping.
Within a month of implementation at inkDOTS, the Cyrious software took the reins. “Immediately I noticed we weren’t charging enough on small jobs, and on the really big jobs we were actually charging a little too much,” explains Nichols. “For example, a large job that required 40 banners, all exactly the same? We may have offered a discount based on the efficiencies of scale.”
The Control solution also allowed inkDOTS to factor in discounts for churches, schools, and wholesale partners.
“Literally, with the click of a button, we’re able to see our margins instantaneously,” remarks Nichols. “It has totally changed the way we do business.”
That’s no understatement. Nichols recalls how a task like pricing and quoting a job used to unfold. “A request for pricing would come in, and we’d handwrite a work order. Then I’d use a spreadsheet and plug in all the variables, and that would generate the price. We’d type an email and send that out to the customer. If we got the job, we’d go back, turn the estimate into a work order, and rely on another spreadsheet for job tracking. Once the job was finished, then Debbie would invoice it. Half of the time, the prices weren’t on the work order, and we’d have to compare notes,” adds Nichols.
When he first considered the Cyrious Control option, Nichols estimated that it might save between one and three hours a day. He expected that it would pay for itself in less than a year. Now implemented, Nichols believes it saves the company five to six hours a day.
McCoy Ltd., LLC, of Torrington, CT, has remained a family-owned business since its founding in 1998. At the time, the business boasted a few single-color screen presses and two-color offset presses. Today, it has the luxury of a 65,000 square foot facility and a self-described arsenal of screen, offset, and digital print engines.
McCoy has gone through significant changes in recent years—notably, the methodology of printing. Andy Riberdy, president, McCoy, estimates that 60 percent of the jobs produced are done on digital printers, including a Hewlett-Packard (HP) Designjet 5000, an Epson Stylus Pro 10000, two HP Scitex TJ8500s, and an HP Scitex XP5300 UV printer.
The balance of the workload represents a fairly even split between screen and digital printing. “As opposed to five years ago when it was 60 percent offset, and the balance was split,” he recalls.
Multiple print platforms naturally create a workflow challenge for print businesses like McCoy. “Being involved in all those disciplines, you can imagine what happens. You buy a piece of equipment and that vendor has a RIP that it prefers, and some type of workflow, and all of the sudden, you end up with all this legacy equipment. Some may be based on Wasatch Computer Technology LLC. Another piece of equipment may be using Caldera or an ONYX Graphics, Inc. workflow.”
Last year, McCoy installed a new Inca Onset S40 UV inkjet with the help of Fujifilm North America Corporation’s Graphic Systems Division. “We decided to consolidate everything to one platform for digital and screen,” explains Riberdy.
Equipped with ColorGATE production software, the solution afforded McCoy a phenomenon it had long sought. “We wanted to be able to pull a proof and put it on any device in the shop, but there wasn’t the software to do it. Now, ten years later, it’s come to fruition. ColorGATE was worth every cent.”
In hindsight, so too was an investment in software to run the business. Riberdy decided to take a new approach, and invested in EFI Pace, which he says was compelling on several levels. It is browser based, platform independent, and the estimating module is robust. At press time, McCoy was in the process of implementing the solution’s scheduling module as well.
“EFI Pace is complete in scope. It offers everything from financial and accounting to estimating and CRM and it integrates with the Fiery XF application that sits in front of the VUTEk devices,” explains Marc Olin, SVP/GM, advanced professional printing software, EFI. “The benefit of that is seen when you create the job inside of your business software, and the job instructions follow the job all the way down to the people running the output device, who see the production schedule.”
To skeptics who think that level of cost analysis is unnecessary, and that it’s more important to look at overall profitability of the operation, Olin offers a caution. “In some cases, with a very small shop, they may be in a completely price-driven market, where the local economy determines the price they can charge for the product. Then, they may be less focused on individual job profitability. But that’s not a recipe for growth or for long-term success.”