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Sep 1, 1999 12:00 AM

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In 1983--long before outsourcing and downsizing came into vogue in the corporate world --Roland Garcia was running the in-plant printing operation at Burger King headquarters in Miami. Then Burger King top management decided that printing wasn't part of its core business and would be outsourced.

As a 15-year Burger King middle management employee, Garcia qualified for a franchise, but the printer couldn't see himself flipping burgers. Instead, he negotiated essentially the same financial package as a prospective franchisee and applied it to a printing operation. To help him start the business, Burger King gave Garcia a three-year printing contract. Today, Original Impressions --the printing company founded by Roland and Maria Garcia in 1983 with 12 employees--has grown to more than 170 employees and nearly $19 million in 1998 sales. Now a Printing Arts America company, the printer retains Burger King as a major client.

"Key to the success of Original Impressions," says Garcia, "is that design and print belong together. More than 90 percent of our work comes in through the design department, which boasts 28 Macintoshes. More than just a printer, we are a full-service graphics house. "Original Impressions is staffed and equipped to start with the concept, apply the graphics, print, bind, mail, even hold in a managed inventory warehouse, and fulfill," continues Garcia. The firm routinely prints everything from directories and annual reports to business cards for a wide range of South Florida customers.

In Miami, where Spanish is the lingua franca in much of the city, businesses with multiple-language capabilities are the norm. But at Original Impressions, the concept is taken one step further. Many advertising and promotion campaigns are multilingual, beginning with the original design. Original Impressions, therefore, offers staff translation capabilities in German, Japanese, Italian and French, as well as the expected English and Spanish. Staffers from Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Columbia, Cuba, Ecuador, El Salvador, France, Germany, Honduras, Jamaica, Japan, Mexico, Peru and Venezuela are available to ensure that translations are true to the local dialect and usage.

The Original Impressions focus on design is evident in its lobby, which is decorated with the Garcias' vast collection of antiques and advertising memorabilia. An antique desk serves the receptionist, and a radio from the 1950s plays music for those waiting. In Garcia's office, a collection of antique toy automobiles serves as a backdrop for meeting and servicing customers.

While the Garcias are justifiably proud of their accumulated antiques, they and their staff also pride themselves on the ability to respond quickly to customer requirements. That focus was tested in 1992 when Hurricane Andrew scored a direct hit on Original Impressions. Although the storm blew off the doors and took out the air conditioning, employees quickly got one press up and running.

Trailers were brought in from Jacksonville, almost 350 miles away, to serve as offices, design studio and darkroom. Many employees worked in their own garages to keep their part of the business intact. Not until eight months after Andrew was the company at full force again under one roof.

"Customer responsiveness is still the keystone of the Original Impressions business," says Marcia Garcia, who directs the firm's customer service operation. "When someone wants to do a marketing program, we are equipped to handle a million names and addresses. We mail a great deal of what we print, and nearly one-third of our sales comes from mailing. We do literature and product fulfillment routinely for a dozen companies. Personalization is done with Mail Merge out of Microsoft Word feeding two Gestetners."

The Original Impressions operation is housed in four buildings in southwestern Miami. The main building includes the design studios, the pressroom and bindery, and administrative offices. The remaining three buildings are essentially warehouse fulfillment centers in which finished printing is stored until it can be shipped to the actual end user. In the case of Burger King and other customers, Original Impressions sends collateral material for each promotional campaign to franchisees around the world. The FedEx driver serving the printer picks up 5,000 shipments per month, UPS averages from 600 to 700 per day, and the monthly postage bill averages $40,000!

An extensive fulfillment business, by its nature, demands a comprehensive and capable computer system. To manage its business, the Garcias use the print management system from Programmed Solutions (Norwalk, CT). The system consists of some 80 networked personal computers, ranging from Pentium 133s to the latest machines available. Original Impressions made the move from its previous computer system to the Programmed Solutions software in 1994 after years of frustration with being constrained to only a few available reports. Says Carlos Nino, the Original Impressions certified network engineer (CNE) who installed and manages the system, "Our old system required us to pay the software developer every time we wanted a new report to manage our business. We had no freedom, and our monthly support fees seemed exorbitant in view of the service we were getting."

Nino adds, "Today our computer system is key to managing a very complex business that is much more than just printing. The Programmed Solutions printing management system has enabled us to reduce our bad debts by bringing slow paying customers to our attention."

The flexibility of the system also enables the Original Impressions staff to perform estimates more efficiently. "In hand work and design, especially," says Nino, "the system helps us set standards by letting us compare the same functions over and over again. "By using the system, we have found that people are not always working the areas in which we thought they were," adds Nino. "That allows us to adjust costs accordingly." The Miami printer also uses its system to accumulate costs and develop estimates in the creative design area, where work is difficult to track.

Despite the total involvement of the staff in the print business management system, "we are just skimming the surface of what the system can do," claims Nino. "Every day we get a new perspective on the information available by creating custom reports."

Points out Garcia, "At most printers, quality and price are givens. We compete on the basis of service and our ability to provide more than just printing. As we diversify our business, the ability to manage it must be enhanced. By adopting a flexible computer system, we are well-positioned to respond to our customers."