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IPMA 2013 Conference: Bayside Blockbuster

With information-packed sessions, a well-stocked vendor exhibit and fantastic networking opportunities, last month's In-Plant Printing and Mailing Association conference, on the shore of the San Francisco Bay, was one of the best events of the year.

July 2013 By Bob Neubauer
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In the Hall of Fame of great conferences (if there were such a thing) it would be tough to beat June's In-Plant Printing and Mailing Association (IPMA) conference. The location, on the outskirts of San Francisco, was excellent; the weather was sunny and pleasant throughout; the lineup of speakers and topics was among the best ever, with a nearly overwhelming amount of useful, timely information presented; and the evening boat cruise on the San Francisco Bay provided that combination of stunning views and friendly fraternization often sought but rarely achieved.

Almost 135 in-plant managers from all corners of the country gathered at IPMA's "Gateway to the Future" conference, the largest in-plant event of the year. A mix of returning veterans and excited newcomers, they mingled and got to know each other at Sunday's opening reception, and that networking continued throughout the four-day event. Speakers included some of the biggest names in the printing industry, such as Howie Fenton and Barb Pellow, as well as more than a dozen in-plant managers who shared their experiences and tips for success.

The conference culminated with the annual awards banquet, where dozens of in-plants were honored for their accomplishments, and the winners of the In-Print Best of Show awards were revealed: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and Washington State University, both first-time winners and long-time participants.

Association Initiatives

At the IPMA business lunch on Wednesday, the IPMA board discussed the state of the association with members. Membership is up to 508 from 485 in 2012. Conference attendance was at 133 this year, down from last year's 149, but even with 2011 attendance.

Benchmarking to Improve Performance

Returning to the IPMA conference this year, NAPL Senior Consultant Howie Fenton enlightened managers with one of his most popular presentations to date. Noting that organizations are approached daily by outsourcing providers who tell them printing is not their “core competency” and that the in-plant’s prices are not competitive, Fenton implored managers to prepare for this argument by making the opposite assertion.

“This is your core competency, and you’re as good as anyone else at doing it,” he proclaimed. You must be ready to prove this, however, by benchmarking—measuring and comparing your performance with others, he said. Benchmarking demonstrates your commitment to management by numbers and continuous process improvement, he said, and it can prove your in-plant’s competitiveness and value.

Fenton went on to list a number of possible things in-plants can benchmark: sales growth, sales per employee, on-time delivery, competitive pricing, equipment utilization rates, etc. The most important analysis you can do, he said, was a make vs. buy analysis, in which you list all work done in-house in a one-year period, calculate your total cost of operation and then compare this with the cost to buy that work outside.

He noted that some benchmarking results are used to help you manage the business and aren’t for reporting to management, such as staff salaries and equipment utilization rates. Of this last benchmark, he said that a utilization rate of 40 to 60 percent is standard; anything less is not competitive, and managers should talk to their vendors about trading that equipment in for a less expensive model so your utilization rate increases.

Employee salaries at in-plants tend to be higher than at commercial shops (from 15 to 50 percent), he observed, so managers should look into reducing staff through early retirements, automation, cross-training and using more on-call and student help. The trend, he said, is to staff for less than mid-range volume, and use on-call help when it gets busy.

The industry standard sales per employee amount is $123,000, Fenton said, with industry leaders at the $164,000 level. If you can show that your in-plant is right at the industry standard, he said, “That’s a powerful statement.”

Fenton stressed the importance of listening to the voice of your customer through surveys, focus groups or meetings. But he cautioned that all surveys should be actionable.

“Don’t measure it if you can’t act on it, or it doesn’t prove your competency,” he said. Showing that 80 percent of customers are happy is nice, but what can you do with that? Instead, ask them how much printing they are buying from the in-plant vs. from outside; or what services they would like the in-plant to add.






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