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Aug 1, 1997 12:00 AM

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How do you greet your customers? Like most printers, you probably roll out the red carpet and put up welcome signs. With a display of manners that would make your grandma blush with pride, you conduct comprehensive plant tours. You encourage print buyers to ask for help, knowing that this is part of the relationship-building process. Should any problems arise between you and your customer, you hope that a fair compromise can be achieved because you want to keep your customers.

What happens when a representative from one of your major suppliers comes to call? Chances are, the red carpet is not in sight. This could be a costly oversight. Depending on your average run length, paper, ink, plates, film chemistry and bindery, supplies can represent 50 percent of your total sales.

Needless to say, business of this magnitude should be based not on intimidation or fear, but on loyalty and honesty. There are several easy ways to improve the customer-vendor alliance. Start by establishing close ties with your vendors' sales and manufacturing personnel. If the sales rep is the only person invited to your plant, concerns may not be reaching the employees who are actually handling your orders. Remember that the people responsible for past problems are the ones closest to the solutions that will work for both parties.

One printer, for example, approached a plate manufacturer with specific packing requests. The plate manufacturer ignored these requests, frustrating the printer.

"In retrospect, we should have insisted that someone from the warehouse come out and look at our loading dock and storage rack," relates the printer. "Had this guy seen the problem, he probably would have taken care of it."

Employees, whether yours or someone else's, need to know how you use a product to make intelligent suggestions, present savings ideas and properly execute your requests. Don't rely on the salesperson to interpret your requests--go directly to the source.

"Partnering" with your vendors sounds like a great idea, but what does this actually mean? It's a buzzword that makes some buyers uncomfortable because it suggests they are surrendering some of their leveraging power.

If you become "partners," will the vendor still be motivated to provide competitive service? Buyers simply don't like to feel locked-in by not having major influence over a supplier. (This is especially true if the buyer likes a specific product more than the vendor's organization as a whole.) Rather than establishing an ill-defined partnership, some firms prefer to formalize their expectations in a policy statement as shown in Figure 1 on page 60. By spelling out the organization's expectations, the buyer can expect consistency from the vendor.

Figure 2 illustrates another useful form--important vendor information. Have you ever run out of ink, chemistry or paper after hours, wishing you had the home phone numbers of those who could help you out of your jam? Ask your vendors to help do some contingency planning. Make copies of your "emergency contact" list and remind supervisors to keep a copy at home, too.

Regardless of how much planning you do, inevitably something will go wrong. Use common sense--give your vendor a chance to fix the problem. It's unrealistic to expect perfection when asking suppliers to jump through burning hoops that are constantly in motion. Just as a customer will occasionally receive a few badly produced pieces, printers will sometimes find frozen chemistry, damaged paper and other defects.

Unfortunately, our long-term memory tends to accentuate the negative rather than the positive. How a business reacts to a problem and its' willingness to listen is what truly separates an outstanding company from a mediocre one. Don't forget to accentuate the positive. For excellent service, send a thank-you letter. Remember, rewarded behavior is repeated behavior.

Give your vendor a chance to make amends. An external complaint form can help you address any shortcomings. This form provides space for clearly detailing the problem as well as identifying who is accountable for resolving it. When you state the complaint, tell the truth without exaggerating or asking for what you don't deserve. Make it clear that you won't accept excuses or finger-pointing, but remember that nobody likes a bully. Keep a copy for your records and send copies to the vendor, accounts payable and the billing department.

If a problem can be measured, it can be solved. You also can use this form to record things such as the number of excessive static occurrences with a particular brand of paper or ink drying problems. The form also provides a paper trail for your accounting department. If a credit is due to your company because of a cost overrun, your accountant has the explanation at his or her fingertips. Logging exactly what happened helps ensure a timely refund.

Be aboveboard with your vendors. Pay your bills promptly. If you are among the "financially challenged," meet with your vendors' credit managers. Introduce them to your CEO. The more they know, the more they can help. Don't rely on your sales rep to communicate the situation.

As a practical matter, work with your vendors to establish proper reorder levels and quantities. Consider specifying and negotiating specific freight carriers. This can be particularly advantageous for such things as glue and specialty stock where shipping charges are not prepaid. Don't be afraid to ask for a different sales rep or driver. Make sure, however, that your vendor knows why you are requesting a certain change. Beware of accepting freebies. If you accept a free lunch or tickets to a sporting event, you may be reluctant to complain about poor service. Also, since perks generally are extended only to purchasing agents and supervisors, such favors can create resentment among the rest of your staff.

It's not easy for anyone who makes a living pounding the pavement--whether a printer or a vendor. Manufacturers drop distributors, mergers and acquisitions are commonplace and most people live with the threat of being "right-sized." Vendor's reps sometimes must endure the indignity of being the butt of jokes, too.

So, challenge your vendors. Keep them focused on your goals and remember that the road to increased profits is not through the hearts of your suppliers. Don't forget the golden rule. Treat your vendors with the same respect and courtesy you'd expect in return. You won't be disappointed.

* Receiving hours * After hours phone numbers, including home phone numbers of supervisors * Loading dock facilities * What items/quantities vendor is to stock, and your commitment to use them up if you change products * Policy regarding purchase orders: who is authorized to buy what How items are to be labeled and packed, including maximum and minimum skid dimensions * Are unannounced visits acceptable? * Frequency and timing of calls? * What quantities you will buy at any one time * Late penalties * Consignment supply policy * Which door to enter and is signing in required? * Escort required in any areas? * Number of days in which returned goods must be picked up * Number of days credits are to be issued unless formal arrangements are made * Notification of additional changes * Specific quality requirements * Official policy regarding gratuities

In 1940, Zeffie Kale purchased a pen ruling machine and, with no particular experience in that field, set up his one-man business in downtown Charlotte, NC.

Over time, Kale expanded the venture into a small handwork bindery, then known as the Kale Ruling and Binding Co. Kale's son, Lewis Kale, joined the company in 1947.

It wasn't until shortly after Lewis Kale's death, in 1972, that current management decided to change the name to Kale/Bindex, Inc. With Lewis Kale's sons, Norman Kale, president and Charley Kale, vice president/CEO, at the helm, Kale/Bindex, Inc. is probably the oldest continuously family owned and operated graphics arts finisher in the U.S.

"We are striving to build quality into the finished product from the beginning of the binding process," explains Charley Kale. "By doing this, we've built and are upholding a reputation for quality work with minimum problems."

After a fire destroyed the factory in 1965, the company moved to its present 30,000-sq.-ft. quarters in the Dilworth area, close to historical downtown Charlotte. There is a friendly atmosphere among management and the 35 employees, many of whom have been with the company for 10, 15, 20 or even 30 years. "Our staff is trained to spot trouble with a job before we start to run it," Kale comments.

Kale/Bindex followed the industry trend and entered the adhesive binding market more than 20 years ago with the acquisition of a simple single-clamp, free-standing perfect binder. This machine was soon outgrown and replaced with a Muller Martini Baby Pony, followed by a Pony 3000, and, finally a Star Perfect Binder, which is currently in operation.

Adhering to a progressive, yet prudent, expansion program, the company's adhesive binding volume now accounts for more than 50 percent of revenue. The finisher produces a wide range of adhesive-bound products, including hardcover books and RepKover lay-flat binding, the latter now increasingly popular for manuals and catalogs.

"Adhesive binding is basically a simple process of gathering, jogging, spine preparation, gluing and applying the cover," claims Charley Kale. "But it's all the variables that make it a complex operation--the type of paper (calendared, coated stock, thickness, etc.), type and material of cover, end-use of product, format and length of run. It's imperative we have equipment capable of responding well to all these variables.

"Of equal importance is operating ease and operators' acceptance. We believe that Muller Martini equipment has been designed with the operator in mind. After close to 60 years in business, we see that investing back into the best available equipment will keep us successful for many years to come," concludes Kale.

The most recent addition is the automated Muller Martini Normbinder line for processing at high speeds. The entire line is rated at 12,000 cycles per hour and incorporates several features developed to reduce setup time and increase the quality of the end product.

The Muller Martini Model 3690 gathering machine has 24 pockets, each fitted with ASAC automatic self-adjusting calipers, that detect missing or double signatures or inserts, and automatically compensate for variations in signature thickness. ASIR automatic signature image readers also scan and detect incorrectly loaded signatures. Both of these microprocessor-controlled systems are self-adjusting, with on-the-fly fine adjustments possible at any time during a run.

The rotary gathering principle assures that signatures are under positive control at all times, with accelerators that advance even light signatures to gathering chain speed. Sequential start-up and run-out of the feeders ensure that every book, from the first to the last, is complete.

The patented-paralleled closing clamps on the Normbinder firmly hold book blocks from 1U8 inch to 23U8 inches, without the need for spacers. Tight backbone and level cut-off are assured by pressing disks at the milling station.

The milling head and two separate backbone preparation stations are individually driven, individually height adjustable and can accommodate a wide choice of milling and backbone preparation tools.

Both glue pots have automatic glue level controls and temperature regulation, automatically shutting down the line in case of excessive fluctuation, to ensure uniform product quality.

Books are trimmed in line with the Muller Martini Zenith three-knife trimmer. At the heart of it is an interactive programmable logic controller. Size adjustments involving various functions, including head and foot trim, spine width, alignment, clamp pressure and transfer are fully motorized, requiring no more than pressing buttons and following read-out instructions on the control panel.

Pre-programming of these functions while the trimmer is running is possible. Cassette type, quick-change cutting tables and pressure pads take less than one minute to change. Automatic knife stroke control prevents spray and contributes to extended knife life.

"Having to process jobs with more widely fluctuating quantities and with lead times getting shorter, the time spent on makeready becomes critical," continues Norman Kale, who is in charge of plant operations. "On the Normbinder line, makeready takes less than 20 minutes" states Kale.

According to Kale, having to break into long runs to accommodate a rush job is no longer a problem. "We attribute this mainly to the automatic setup and pre-programming capability of the trimmer. The ASAC and ASIR features give us peace of mind, ensuring that only perfect books reach our customers," Kale concludes.