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Instead of printing single, high-volume runs of their decorative stationery, this booming online retailer has adopted the new model, where products are printed on-demand at print facilities across the country. In turn, the company saves money, operates more efficiently and provides a seamless process to the buyers of their high-end products.
"We focus our business on three pillars: design, customer focus and quality," explains Mak Azadi, chief operations officer at Tiny Prints, "and we rely on our vendors to help us support a positive customer experience." While the company works with several different printers, each is selected based on their expertise in digital technology and commitment to quality. "Everything we print is done on HP Indigos, and where these machines are located is very important to us."
This distribute-then-print model is growing, thanks to a slew of cost savings, efficiencies and timeliness enjoyed by customers and printers alike. Here's how it works: a customer orders print collateral. That order is sent to the printer, who distributes the electronic file to any number of print facilities based on factors such as final destination, capacity and print equipment. The document is printed at one or multiple destinations, and is then sent to the end customer. It's a behind-the-scenes whirlwind that happens in an instant.
At Tiny Prints, the distribute-then-print model emerged as part of an effort to reduce overall costs and deliver orders more quickly, particularly as their customer base expanded around the country. "By reducing the number of zones that we have to cross, we're able to decrease shipping costs and get products into our customers' hands much faster," says Azadi, "and obviously eliminating cross-country deliveries has a huge and positive environmental impact."
Technology has played an integral role in making a distribute then-print model possible. Sophisticated color management tools ensure that products printed in one facility match those printed in another (see story on page 10 of the electronic magazine). The Internet has enabled digital proofing, so clients don't need to be on the floor of a local printing company to ensure that the end product meets their expectations. Automated communications allow instantaneous monitoring of available capacity, so that jobs can be shuffled around the country to accommodate surges in production volume. "
Anybody can purchase a few digital machines and call themselves a digital printer," says Aaron Grohs, executive vice president of Sales and Marketing, Consolidated Graphics. "What matters today is the ability to create an integrated system of machinery in a variety of locations that can meet the needs of growing businesses. It requires ongoing training, investments in technology and complex back-end management systems that keep the process moving."
"Today, we select which printer a job will be sent based partly on capacity and location, but we maintain confidence in the quality of that finished product as the result of a system of checks and balances," says Azadi.
From a printers' perspective, cyclicality has been an issue that they know all too well. Distribute then-print enables printers to maximize available capacity by accessing all facilities for jobs that were once limited to local machinery. This eases the pressures of peak seasons and softens the stresses of slower seasons.
For Tiny Prints, the model is a key part of their business, and one that they believe differentiates printers with a national presence from local shops. Though the company has managed to replace a large number of manual processes with new technology, Tiny Prints maintains a human element in their order cycle. "While we can fulfill many more orders by automating large parts of the process, we still manage to have a personal touch through our designers who review every order before it gets printed," Azadi says. "Ultimately, we want our customers to get a product more quickly and at a higher quality than they anticipated."