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Online fulfillment

Apr 1, 2005 12:00 AM


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Print On Demand

We don’t think of ourselves as a printer, but as a communications provider," says dik Bolger, executive officer of Bolger Vision Beyond Print, a 200-employee, $26 million printer in Minneapolis. "Printing, along with everything else we do, is a tool to help in communications," he adds.

dik’s father, John Bolger, founded the company in 1934. dik’s mother, Genevieve, was the first woman to receive the PIA/Lewis Memorial Graphic Arts Executive of the Year award in 1986 (previously called the "Man of the Year" award, dik notes) for her leadership as Bolger’s president and in numerous associations. dik and his brother Charles have built on the company’s offset printing base to offer a full range of services from design through fulfillment via a homegrown online customer interface. Since bringing its fulfillment operation online, Bolger has experienced rapid growth, recently purchasing a print-on-demand (POD) operation that added 60 employees.

A one-stop shop
Bolger runs a Heidelberg pressroom with one 40-inch, six-color CD press with the CPtronic console, automatic plate loading, a coating tower with extended delivery and a Grafix drying system; three 40-inch Speedmasters (two, four and six-color) with features including perfecting, Alcolor dampening, infrared drying, and continuous feed and delivery; and a 20.5-inch GTO with Royce recirculators and a Weko powder sprayer. The shop’s POD department is housed in a separate facility with mailing and fulfillment. Operating from the same front-end equipment as the pressroom, Bolger’s POD houses two small-format Heidelberg presses and, from Xerox, a new DocuColor 8000 production printer, a DocuColor 6060, a DocuTech 6135 monochrome printer, and a DocuTech 65 for personalization and variable-data printing.

In prepress, Bolger runs the Creo Brisque 4 digital front end and Creo Lotem 400v and 800v platesetters. dik says many customers specifically request proofs from the department’s Kodak Approval XP4 proofer. The shop also runs customer proofs on several Epson inkjets using EFI’s Best RIP software. The department uses an HP 2500CP color proofer and an HP Impoproof 1050x2 for double-sided mockups. A Fuji PictroProof provides composition proofs. Additionally, a Mac-based PSM RIP v.8 is used for the POD department’s small-format equipment.

Bolger also runs a full-service bindery and a mailing department. In its fulfillment operation, Bolger uses Domino inkjet mailing systems, two Bell+Howell inserters, and the Bolger Real Time Fulfillment System—an online tool for printed inventory ordering and management with customized reporting.

Team players
Charles and dik run a team-oriented business, with each major client’s customer service group including CSRs and salespeople, as well as art directors and designers from 180° Creative, a company under the Bolger umbrella. Says dik, "We put together teams that learn to understand clients as well as or better than the clients do themselves." In addition to print and fulfillment, the teams provide strategic marketing development, branding, design, multimedia products, Web site development and digital asset management.

"We’re a believer that Web sites are the way printing is going to go," says dik. Currently, about 10 percent of Bolger’s work comes in via the Net. The print jobs range from business cards to brochures, sometimes incorporating variable-data printing and kit building. With approximately 80 percent of its revenues coming from the pressroom, much of Bolger’s fulfillment work involves combining customers’ printed inventory with variable-data print pieces, CDs and novelty items. According to Dik, the shop mails about two million pieces per month. Much of the mailing work and all of the fulfillment comes in via the Net.

"Fulfillment is a science of its own," says dik. "I used to think it was warehousing. It isn’t." Seeking to serve as one platform for customers’ full communications services, four years ago, dik asked IT director Greg Pease to start integrating their services by bringing the fulfillment department online.

"We started with fulfillment because we felt it was the area that was moving most rapidly to the Internet," says Pease. "Typically, proprietary systems make it hard for companies to break out of their environment and assist their customers. Our biggest challenge has been to integrate with our EFI Hagen system." Pease credits print industry vendors’ recent trend toward open systems collaboration with enabling his team to develop solutions for Bolger customers. "In recent years, vendors have carved out small niches in the marketplace, such as print management via the Internet or specialized mailing programs," he says. "But we felt that those niche applications would be unsuccessful with our corporate customers."

To do things correctly, Bolger needed one platform for all the communications services it offers. "We can’t assist our corporate clients unless we can get information from every element of our partnership with them in a rapid manner, enabling us to respond to their needs," Pease says.

Bridging diverse systems
Pease and his team built an open, Web-based platform, then began to add capabilities. The Bolger Real Time Fulfillment System is divided into three phases of operations: ordering, production and posting. "We’ve identified all of the events in the organization and divided them into these three areas," Pease explains.

For each regular fulfillment customer, Bolger’s IT team builds an individual Web interface that is linked to the customer’s own Intranet site. It provides the client with real-time access to a database of its inventory at Bolger, jobs in production and invoices. Clients access a catalog of previous jobs and customizable templates, and their print jobs automatically route to the prepress department for output on the appropriate machine.

New print jobs coming in via the online system are produced using Bolger’s traditional methods. Reprints, however, have a much shorter cycle. "Even if they’re printed on the large machines, the job cycle is on an hourly basis," says Pease. Regardless of the type of job being ordered, the online customer has one interface and one shopping cart. The Bolger system also can incorporate the client’s marketing budget to aid in expense tracking.

Workers in the fulfillment department use wireless scanners to track each item—whether it’s a pallet of printing or a bundle of kit items—by barcode as it travels via conveyor from one work area to another. "We’re managing all of our products in this cycle using automated data collection interfaces," says Pease. Bolger’s application imposes external reporting and data collection mechanisms on the Hagen system to make job information available to customers in real time.

"Large clients need information on where their projects are," says dik. Pease notes that all of Bolger’s jobs are tracked in the online system, with CSRs providing information to customers who are not using the online interface.

The payoff
"Bolger wasn’t running this type of business four years ago," Pease says. "It’s been fun to work with the Bolgers, who’ve had the moxie to take a chance on doing this. It was gutsy for a company of this size." Since implementing the Bolger Real Time Fulfillment System, dik says the company has more than doubled its revenue and expects continued growth. Visit Bolger Vision Beyond Print online at www.bolgerinc.com.


Denise Kapel is the managing editor of AMERICAN PRINTER. Contact her at dkapel@primediabusiness.com.