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Dec 1, 2002 12:00 AM

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NAPL's (Paramus, NJ) Management Plus program has recognized graphic-arts companies' business excellence for more than 20 years. The two-part program requires entrants to first complete a comprehensive self-evaluation form, which requests details on the company's financial performance, internal control systems, marketing/sales plan, vendor relations, business planning, human resources, environmental concerns, quality control and community/industry affairs.

The second, optional step involves submitting the results to the annual Management Plus competition. Entries are judged on how well they rate in the above areas compared to companies of similar size. Merit, Silver and Gold winners are selected based on their score. The William K. Marrinan Hall of Fame Award is bestowed on companies that have won several Management Plus awards over successive years. Earlier this year, 35 companies were recognized at NAPL's annual Top Management Conference (see for more information).

AMERICAN PRINTER spoke with four of the 2001 winners to find out what it takes to be Management Plus material, and how they've applied their experiences in the program to achieve even greater success.

Newly introduced roll sheeting has helped capture more material costs. “All of these things drive up value-added sales per employee, to help us achieve what we're achieving,” says Branch, who notes that the company's sales per employee have risen about 25 percent on a value-added basis.

Turnover has been cut in half, due in large part to Branch-Smith's employee incentives. The printer spends about $2,000 per employee on training annually, which includes tuition reimbursement of up to $1,500 per year. A bonus plan bestows a cash award to all employees based on company profitability.


Branch notes that the printer utilizes innovations more typical for a web operation. The company reportedly had the first U.S. sheetfed installation of an ink.line ink-pumping system from Technotrans (Corona, CA). “We pump ink from drums, like a web operation, which has actually eliminated a lot of scrap ink that we would have thrown away,” explains the exec.

Branch says that because Branch-Smith is 90 percent four-color process, the system makes sense — and eliminates delivering ink manually to each of the printer's four Heidelberg Speedmaster 102s. Used ink is incinerated to make waste fuel.

To keep the company on track, the printer utilizes a five-year budgeted plan, which includes action plans to ensure follow-through of short- and long-term goals. True to Branch-Smith's commitment to the Baldrige program, the plan is constantly improved — management reviews the action plans every week, trends are reviewed monthly and the entire plan is reviewed in an annual strategic meeting.

For a company that has achieved so much, participating in the Management Plus program might seem like gravy. But for Branch, it was an opportunity to put the printer's success in perspective. “It looked like a good tool to work toward recognition for ourselves and understand how we stacked up according to the criteria,” notes the exec, who first heard of the program at the 1992 Top Management Conference.

A particularly helpful tool is the scorecard Management Plus participants receive — each section of the entry form has an established point value; points are awarded for each item checked off or noted. “There are a lot of ideas submitted in the criteria,” notes Branch. “If you can't check one off, then you know you're working against yourself in the scoring, and it's an opportunity to improve your operation.”

Participants have access to NAPL consultants and previous award winners to help identify how to improve their score and efficiency. Branch-Smith worked with NAPL marketing consultant Pam Conover to create a marketing plan. She helped the printer develop a mission statement — “Expert Solutions for Publishers” — which it also uses as a marketing tagline for advertising materials and the company website. Conover also helped the company brainstorm ideas for customer education.

Participation with various graphic-arts groups means Branch-Smith likes to contribute as much as it receives. Branch credits the company's NAPL relationship, however, with providing the extra edge: “It's been that broad connection to NAPL and its incredible source of information and talent that has made all of the difference.”

Hall of Fame: Lazer Inc.

Guided by customer needs but with a nose toward technological development, digital-services provider Lazer Inc. considers itself at the leading edge of the industry. The Hall of Fame winner, based in Rochester, NY, with facilities in Winston-Salem, NC, and Buffalo, NY, was founded in 1989 by fellow Management Plus winner Flower City Printing, Inc. (Rochester, NY) to meet the printer's needs for quality prepress work. Three years later, Lazer's management team decided to break away from Flower City to pursue Mac training and electronic-data storage and retrieval services.

Since then, the company has introduced digital photography, support for Hexachrome printing, custom digital-asset-management (DAM) solutions for corporations such as Kodak and Sara Lee, creative services for its packaging clients, a Web-development and interactive-media services group, and most recently, color-management services.

Believing that it was on the leading edge but wanting to validate that perception, Lazer entered the Management Plus program to determine how it stacked up against others in the industry. It was also attracted to NAPL's variety of resources, including the annual Top Management Conference, speakers, seminars and training programs. The company's perception proved accurate: It has won six Gold, one Silver and two Merit awards in the past nine years.

Investing in employees

What makes Lazer a perennial Management Plus winner? For one, it invests in its employees, to the tune of $1,100 per employee last year alone. “One of our philosophies has always been that our company's success is based on our employees' success,” notes Rosemarie Kesselring, vice president of administration. “By providing employees with training, it not only improves morale, but allows them to grow in the company and share what they've learned.”

In addition, Lazer offers a quarterly cash bonus, based on company sales and/or profitability, length of service and overall contribution. “They know how they can contribute to profitability. They all know that good quality controls, low rework, and high productivity and efficiency will help them increase the size of their bonus,” notes Kesselring. Employee participation is also encouraged in shaping Lazer's work environment. A voluntary safety committee has been responsible for creating an evacuation plan, installing additional outdoor lighting and organizing CPR and first-aid training. A recent ergonomics study resulted in improvements to each workstation, including wrist pads, foot rests and glare guards; an air-quality study was also performed. Kesselring says that the significant cost of these undertakings was duly noted by employees.

The company also has its eye on future employees. As Hall of Fame winner, it was given a scholarship to bestow on a school of its choosing — it selected RIT's College of Imaging Arts and Sciences, as well as the National Technical Institute for the Deaf (NTID). Several NTID students have worked at Lazer before in co-op positions; the company even once had an entire night shift successfully staffed by hearing-impaired students. Lazer also has a student freelance program and a “Shadow Day,” where students can follow a Lazer employee around to get an idea of what it's like to be doing the job day in and day out.

Lazer is not afraid to invest in its clients, and has even placed employees at customer locations. One customer service representative (CSR) works part-time out of an office at a North Carolina client's facility. In Rochester, a catalog designer works full time in a new customer's office. “She's on the scene so she can see exactly what their work process is and how we can help them,” CEO Ken McCurdy explains. The company also recently opened its nine-employee Buffalo office to be closer to a major customer and demonstrate the client's importance to Lazer's business.

“We're focused on establishing new accounts, but at the same time, we realize that a customer in the hand is worth more than one we have to go out and find,” says Lazer senior vice president Gary Stafford.

At the same time, Lazer recognizes the importance of not relying too heavily on just a few customers. McCurdy says he realized that, upon reading the question, “What percentage of your total sales do your top three customers comprise?” on the Management Plus self-evaluation form, Lazer had a strategic weakness in that it had concentrated more than 50 percent of its business in its top three clients. “We've hired two additional salespeople within the last year to offset that weakness,” the exec says.

To stay financially on course, Lazer performs, tracks and reviews cash planning weekly. It also does a monthly sales projection by client account, via a system devised by Stafford. CSRs are introduced early on in the customer relationship and, in fact, drive accounts. They input their monthly sales projection per account, providing Lazer with a guideline. For long-term planning, the company creates an annual budget. About a year ago, management reviewed how technical developments and clients' increasing move toward digital printing were going to affect revenue; priorities were then established for capital spending on new services.

Another future project involved lean manufacturing. McCurdy became interested in the concept because of the efficiencies it could offer Lazer clients. “We are always trying to find ways to provide value to customers, in many cases, by taking costs out of our processes,” he explains. “Lean manufacturing helps you eliminate activities that are not actually providing value to your customers.” The exec notes that although the concept is more popular in manufacturing than the graphic arts, it does offer promise to businesses like Lazer. It is just this kind of out-of-the-box thinking that has helped Lazer excel, and set the pace for its competitors and the industry at large.

Gold: Branch-Smith Printing

As a participant in the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Program, and an ISO 9001-registered company since 1996, Branch-Smith Printing Div. (Ft. Worth, TX) was well-prepared to submit its business practices for Management Plus scrutiny. The $10 million, 70-employee printer specializes in magazines, books, directories and catalogs, bringing sheetfed economics to traditional web-offset products. With this year's gold award, Branch-Smith has placed in the Management Plus winners' circle seven times, including three previous gold awards and three silver awards.

Since the company's founding 93 years ago, it has persevered against the odds, whether they be physical or financial. Company founder Aaron Smith, despite being born without arms, was a successful attorney and journalist before establishing Branch-Smith's predecessor company, Smith Printing, in 1910. The company purchased one of its own accounts, Southern Florist magazine, after it ceased publication during WWI due to economic pressures, turning it into a weekly. As the printer moved from letterpress to offset, it invested in new horticultural monthlies and established a publishing division. A major expansion in 1999 for the printing division included a move to CTP; a new eight-color press for two-sided, four-color process work (joining three fullsize presses); and bindery-equipment upgrades.

Fourth-generation chairman and CEO David Branch notes that the company has been in a major transformation since 1998. “We've not quite doubled sales since that time, which is remarkable in the face of the economy,” he says. The company has moved from a house-account, customer-service-based organization to one with an outside sales force.

Silver: Arbor Press

Arbor Press (Royal Oak, MI), a $9 million, 63-employee trade printer with web and sheetfed capabilities, produces applications ranging from annual reports and catalogs to coupons and inserts.

The printer has participated in the Management Plus program for nearly 20 years. According to president Jim Russell, the company first became involved in the program because its managers wanted to compare Arbor Press to industry leaders and because they were impressed with the wide spectrum of areas that participants were graded on.

Russell says Arbor Press uses feedback from the program to focus on areas deemed weak by the program scores — not only to improve its numbers in the next year's competition, but to advance its operations. The company also publicizes its participation in the program in its marketing efforts. “Since our clients are printers, mentioning the Management Plus program probably has more weight for us than it does for other printers,” Russell says.

In another effort to solidify its reputation for quality with clients, Arbor Press became ISO 9002 certified four years ago. Russell says a secondary reason to embark on the certification process was to foster continuous improvement and empower its staff. “We find that employees take more personal responsibility for quality now. They know the numbers,” Russell says.


Arbor Press offers several employee-incentive programs: Bonuses are correlated with how much money is saved by preventing revisions; the “Great Catch” program awards gift certificates to employees who catch an error that originated in another department; and the “Best Ideas” program encourages employees to initiate and implement cost/time-saving ideas. Its “CSR New Customer” program rewards CSRs with cash for acquiring new clients.

The company actively supports continuing education — it recently held a sales-training seminar in conjunction with four other printers, where consultant Terry Nagi was a presenter. Both Arbor Press employees and customers were in attendance. The printer also reimburses employees for completing job-related courses. Its sales staff, supervisors and press operators receive outside training on new technologies; prepress employees are sent for continuous training in new software developments.

Arbor Press relies on a written, three-year strategic plan that includes a one-year action plan. Every employee is invited to participate in developing the strategy, and the plan is reviewed quarterly. “That allows us to alter the plan as needed and keeps us focused on what the objectives are,” says Russell, who notes that the company has historically satisfied about 70 percent of the goals outlined in its annual strategic plan.

This year's strategy was tailored with the current economic decline in mind. Arbor Press has concentrated its efforts on building more volume with its current clients rather than going after new clients. “We've taken the approach that there is still a lot of meat on the bones of our existing customers,” Russell says.

The company measures customer satisfaction by meeting at least once annually with each of its key clients to discuss its performance. Every other year, the company participates in NAPL's EKG Competitive Improvement Program, which includes a customer survey. Russell notes that surveyed customers repeatedly cite Arbor Press' commitment to on-time delivery as a point of competitive distinction.

“We've always focused on on-time delivery — we ship about 99 percent of our jobs on time, and our customers recognize us for that,” he says.

Merit: Bloomington Offset Process, Inc.

Bloomington Offset Process, Inc. (BOPI) is a general-commercial shop headquartered in Bloomington, IL, with regional sales offices in Springfield, Peoria and Champaign, IL, Chicago and St. Louis. Founded in 1947, the 85-person company produces fine-art reprints, brochures, greeting cards, newsletters and mailers on its six-color MAN Roland 700 presses, its six-color HP Indigo UltraStream digital press and its Didde web press.

BOPI's strategic plan is divided into three segments: a one-year plan, a three-year plan and a five-year plan. Management is proactive about sharing its strategic goals with all employees, conducting open monthly meetings where the plan is reviewed in depth.

BOPI has participated in the Management Plus Program since 1986, and won its first Gold award in 1988. President and CEO Tom Mercier believes Management Plus has assisted the company in maintaining its future perspective. “It's helped us look beyond putting out the fires of today,” he says.

BOPI became ISO certified in December 2001. Paul Macfarlane, director of sales and marketing, explains that the company had been working toward establishing a business-improvement program similar to the ISO framework, so it decided to take a few extra steps and aim for certification.

“We decided that if we were going to implement all of these quality-control elements, we might as well tie it into something that's formal and recognized,” Macfarlane says. “We use ISO as a managing function of our strategic business and marketing plan. It's certainly helped improve quality — its standards provide a basis point that we work toward.”

Through ISO, BOPI conducts formal customer surveys a few times each year. It sends one of its own marketing coordinators out to clients to conduct independent, non-sales calls. BOPI also does phone surveys and includes satisfaction questionnaires with each sample pack it distributes. An online survey will soon be available on the printer's website.

Macfarlane believes the company's commitment to new-technology adoption differentiates it from competitors. “We try to stay at the leading edge of technology,” the exec notes. BOPI has gone entirely CTP, and its prepress department and pressroom are completely CIP4-compliant. MAN Roland's PECOM (Process Electronic Control for Organization and Management) digital production system links BOPI's prepress equipment and presses.

Macfarlane also credits BOPI personnel for allowing the company to stand out. “Technology is great, but what we have to do is take the technology and use it to make products better for clients. At BOPI, we are good at thinking for clients, and making the work better each time,” he says. “We no longer think of ourselves as just manufacturers — we are communications solutions providers. We have to have that mindset to get the maximum performance from our equipment.”

BOPI regularly sends production staff to NAPL- and GATF-sponsored training courses, while Macfarlane trains sales reps and CSRs in a program modeled after sales guru Séan McArdle's courses. One incentive program that BOPI offers is a bonus program that rewards sales reps and CSRs as a team. “The more work the sales staff brings in, the larger the bonus for the CSR,” Macfarlane explains. Since BOPI implemented the bonus program, “we've heard very little complaining about the amount of work coming in, or overtime hours that need to be worked,” he notes.