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Fulfillment House Workflow

Where does your print job go after your commercial printer has completed production, carton packed all copies of your printed product, and shipped it out the door?

Here are some thoughts and descriptions that will help you determine and communicate your delivery, warehousing, and fulfillment needs.

Office Copies, Mail Copies, and Warehousing

Two of my print brokering clients will serve as good examples of post-printing activities. Client A and B both receive sample copies of their respective textbooks. The printers either deliver or ship these copies directly to the business offices of my two clients. These are more for office use than for approval, but the samples do give my clients a chance to see the finished books prior to the warehouse delivery or mail drop (delivery to the Post Office for mailing). In both cases, my clients usually request only a few hundred office copies.

Client A usually has the printer mail about 1,600 copies of the textbook directly to a list of active subscribers. For many years the printer has slipped a letter under the front cover of each book (a letter printed and provided by my client), addressed a carrier sheet (a piece of paper with the recipient's address and my client's postal indicia to allow for payment of USPS postage), and polybagged the book and carrier sheet prior to delivering the 1,600 copies to the Post Office along with all relevant USPS forms, documents, and fees.

The inkjet addressing process, as well as the preparation for mailing and the completion of postal forms, comprise what is referred to as “mailshop” work. This year my client plans to forego the carrier sheets and print addresses directly on the books prior to the polybagging process. This lowers the price a few hundred dollars, but primarily it ensures that if any polybags are torn open by accident during shipping, the address will not be lost.

In contrast, Client B has a contract with an off-site warehouse it shares with a number of other clients. In this case the book printer delivers 5,000 to 10,000 books (depending on my client's needs each year) directly to this warehouse. When my client's clients order copies of the textbook the printer has just produced, the warehouse receives and processes the orders, handles all financial transactions, and then sends the books directly to subscribers. My client therefore does not need to store, inventory, or pack and mail the textbooks when subscribers request copies. (This may or may not save my client money, but it does save time, and it allows my client to focus on its core competencies: education rather than warehousing.)

So this pretty much covers all options: delivery of samples; mailing of books by the printer or warehouse; and storage, inventory, and fulfillment by the warehouse. On paper, this looks simple, but in reality we're talking about huge buildings full of printed products. The books all need to be accounted for, and then they need to be delivered to clients at the proper time via the most economical shipping method. Then all fees for the books and all shipping costs must be paid and recorded.

And this is just the best of all possible scenarios. Books get damaged. Bindings sometimes fail (perhaps the hot melt glue doesn't hold the pages), and clients return the books for replacement or credit. Therefore, customer service procedures must be in place to ensure the satisfaction of all clients.

Fortunately, all of this is now computerized, and in some cases (not specifically for my two print brokering clients—Clients A and B) the ordering of books can be done over the Internet (consider Amazon's e-commerce workflow as an example).

Consider All Options, and Put Your Workflow in Writing

First of all, it's important to take into consideration all of the options noted above for the disposition of printed books, brochures, or other products produced by your commercial printers or book printers. In each case, some of these activities may not apply. For instance, you may not need mailshop services. Perhaps you will only need periodic deliveries of books from your warehouse. Or perhaps your commercial printer can store and fulfill the copies.

In any case, it's wise to consider all the steps, review their costs, and state all responsibilities in writing to be shared with the printer, mailshop, and warehouse. Be mindful of the extra and reasonable costs. For instance, each month a warehouse or printer will charge you for not only mailing copies of your products to your clients but also just for storing the books at their facility and maintaining an accurate inventory. After all, your printed books (or other products) take up space, and the warehouse or printer must ensure the safe storage of your products. Put everything in writing so all deliveries go to the correct vendors and so there's no confusion as to who is responsible for each step in the overall process.

What is “FOB”?

Depending on where you look, this means either “free on board” or “freight on board.” Either way, what is really means is where responsibility for the printed product and ownership of the printed product exchange hands, from the printer to you.

For instance, “FOB, printer's loading dock” implies that once the books have been printed, cartoned, brick-packed on a skid, and then wrapped in plastic sheeting, the cost of moving this skid to your office or warehouse is borne by you (through a shipping company you have chosen or through your own trucking service). In contrast, many local printers will note “FOB client's loading dock,” in which case the books aren't your responsibility until they arrive at your office or warehouse, and the cost for shipping is then included in the total printer's estimate.

But just to be sure, it's always wise to review all documents with your printer, mailshop, and warehouse.


[Steven Waxman is a printing consultant. He teaches corporations how to save money buying printing, brokers printing services, and teaches prepress techniques. Steven has been in the printing industry for thirty-three years working as a writer, editor, print buyer, photographer, graphic designer, art director, and production manager.]

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