Print and mail shop owners may generally view themselves as fulfillment providers, and there is some truth to that belief. They do fulfill on print and mail jobs, and complete the occasional pick and pack or kitting and assembly project.
Still, there are several significant differences between print and mail shops and committed fulfillment providers. Understanding these differences can help a print and mail shop determine if they are truly ready and able to add fulfillment services to their operations.
Print and mail projects are often job-based, which results in start-and-finish work with many customers, though some may be longer in term.
Fulfillment customers are long-term engagements by necessity. They don’t want to incur the cost and hassle of repeatedly moving their inventory and so they rarely switch providers. Fulfillment projects often have an ongoing nature with many activities happening as a result of end-user demand, which scales over time.
For print and mail shops, pricing is on a job basis and is market driven. Customers have many providers to choose from and often will seek the cheapest option possible.
Fulfillment pricing is process driven and includes warehousing, inventory management, processing, production shipping, and returns handling fees. The system is driven less by the market than by the demands of the individual project.
Print and mail will typically invoice on a job-by-job basis.
Fulfillment services are invoiced on a periodic basis, often monthly.
Print and mail shops have days to complete an order.
Fulfillment processes occur daily as the various demands are presented.
Print and mail companies work from artwork and mailing lists.
Fulfillment operations will scale, build and ship to an ever-changing group of recipients.
Print and mail shops need to assure the satisfaction of the person or company which hired the work.
Fulfillment companies need to satisfy both their client and the person receiving the items, assuring that the order was produced and filled accurately.
Management Information Systems
A print and mail MIS should include a robust yet flexible scheduling system that assures all staff and equipment are utilized to their fullest potential.
A fulfillment software must have a robust order intake and fulfillment processing component, as well as warehouse management system since processing requirements change daily.
Print and mail shops need enough space to for their administrative operations, production area(s), and supplies inventory, as well as significant power capabilities to run their machines.
Fulfillment businesses require owned or rented space which can scale large enough to warehouse client inventory and processes orders and returns. This space often requires a security system to protect the warehoused items.
Print and mail shops primarily manage supplies inventory, which is fairly generic and often quick to restock.
Fulfillment adds the variable of managing a customer’s inventory, which is unique and may require a lengthy restocking time. In addition, some clients’ accounting systems may require API integration and require cycle counts.
Returns are not an operational process for print and mail shops.
Fulfillment services need to address returns, including inspecting returned items for damage, restocking and inventory management.
Whether you are a print and mail shop considering adding fulfillment services or the other way around, understanding their different processes and resource requirements allows you to plan more effectively and make informed decisions.