First Impression Group in Eagan, Minnesota is a large-format print warehouse that offers web-2-print, fulfillment, and mailing capabilities, helping organizations produce and deliver on their marketing strategies. For over 30 years it has been one of the largest print fulfillment warehouses in the Twin Cities market.
As First Impression has grown, they, like other growing businesses, worked to identify and address inefficiencies in order to maintain customer satisfaction and improve their bottom line.
First Impression, through its traditional iron presses, digital, wide-format signage, in-house lettershop mailings, and fulfillments, create what it calls “Pick Packs.” These are customized materials for individual clients, which typically include “shells”—printed material that will later be populated with variable data. These include brochures or business postcards with standard client branding that will later have specific information added, such as special promotions. These shells need to be tracked, stored, and accessed when needed.
“We might print 50,000 brochures for the client, but they may ask us to store 10,000 for later use,” says Mark Ballard, owner of First Impression. “We started running into issues in terms of inventory accuracy, which was not boding well for us and that’s just not how we operate.”
Until very recently, First Impression tracked inventory manually using paper slips at the various stations throughout its warehouse. Completing these slips and doing so accurately was time consuming, took employees out of their workflow, and was, despite best efforts, prone to human error.
And even when corrected, errors in the printing process could lead to inventory inaccuracies—which in turn led to losses significant enough that Ballard and his team knew they had to address the problem.
All of the manually entered data became part of First Impression’s covalent system, which tracks company functions including time spent on jobs and accounting. This system can only be as accurate as the information inputted.
First Impression considered barcoding and barcode scanners as a potential solution, but this revealed another layer of complexity: Each barcode only contained only so many data fields. With some client kits containing as many as 30 items, this meant that even a single client could require several barcodes…which in turn introduced another opportunity for human error—scanning and updating through the correct barcodes for a specific project.
While the general solution was there, it needed some refining. Enter TracerPlus.
Ballard contacted Enterprise Print Management Solutions (EPMS), who put him in contact with Rich Riedman of Riedman Workflow Design, an EPMS integrator, warehouse inventory expert, and longtime partner of Portable Technology Solutions (PTS).
“We got TracerPlus on the line and brainstormed. They’ve always been easy to work with. They get it,” said Riedman.
TracerPlus, PTS’s mobile software solution for barcode and RFID data capture, offered a solution, but some configuration work would be necessary to fully address First Impression’s inventory tracking issues.
“We worked with TracerPlus and EPMS to work through a solution before bringing it to First Impression,” said Riedman.
What was needed was to allow barcoding to parse more detailed information per client. Thanks to the existing configuration capabilities of TracerPlus, that solution was easily attained.
“We were able to accomplish this through the flexibility of the software and were able to completely meet the client’s desired workflow by simply reconfiguring the form,” said Howard Heckman, Senior Developer at PTS. “We built out our existing form to perform barcode parsing to pull out the material number and location into individual fields on the mobile TracerPlus form.”
What this meant was one barcode per client, resulting in fewer opportunities for human error and a more efficient process.
After testing the new configuration, Riedman presented it to Ballard at First Impression.
The benefits of the configurations for First Impression include increased efficiency for all aspects of their business. Together, Ballard and Riedman have calculated early ROI figures broken down by process: They have measured a 20% improvement for “put away,” which is the process of securing incoming materials into inventory, including data entry. There has been a 22% increase in productivity for “picking operations”—retrieving a product from inventory to prepare for packaging and shipment. And when it comes to physical inventory management, they have measured a 15% increase in efficiency, a measure of accurately tracking the use of paper and necessary corrections to actual inventory usage.
Overall, First Impression is already seeing an estimated annual savings of more than $70,000, a figure that will continue to grow as the process continues to improve.
“Our savings on labor costs is all money to the bottom line,” Ballard reported. “You can almost consider it another revenue stream because it’s revenue we didn’t have before.”
“Our fulfillment area has never been a great revenue stream because it’s labor intensive and it was just taking longer to do the fulfillment than what we could charge,” Ballard added. He went on to explain that this was based on what competitors were charging for the same tasks. What was once a cost of doing business began adding to company profits as soon as TracerPlus was implemented.
“That’s a big impact for TracerPlus—to turn it into a money-maker area,” said Ballard. “It was,” he summed up, “time well invested. We are really pleased with how things turned out.” Ballard says at least once a week he hears from an employee who says this was a great idea.
The results of switching to TracerPlus are still playing out for all involved. First Impression is building off the success by using the detailed data now available to develop a dashboard for their customers, making it possible for clients to see the status of their projects in real time.
“It holds us accountable as a company because now you’re opening the book. You get to see where we are at with all of your projects and we are okay with that, because we are that good,” said Ballard.
These additional efforts, Ballard added, result in fewer calls to check on projects, which adds to the efficiency improvements. “This all morphed off of the barcode and TracerPlus and has pushed us in the right direction.”
“This project was a perfect example of how TracerPlus doesn’t lock a user down to a workflow that they must adjust to,” said Heckman. “Most mobile applications would have forced the user to adjust their own process to meet how the application works, rather than adjust the application to how the process works.”
Riedman continues to work with First Impression to further enhance their barcode and TracerPlus experience and can take those changes to other clients who face similar challenges. “We keep adding enhancements, but everyone gets the enhancement,” added Riedman.
As Ballard put it, “If you don’t keep up with technology, you will get left behind.” First Impression Group is a leader in their industry. With TracerPlus and PTS, they’re not only keeping up—they are experiencing higher customer satisfaction, faster delivery of products, improved employee experience, increased efficiency, and a new revenue stream.