Major Upgrade Helps Modern Woodmen In-plant Better Serve Members
Modern Woodmen of America, a member-owned fraternal financial services organization, has a mission to provide its members with financial security to foster quality family life and strengthen communities. Modern Woodmen’s in-plant provides its customers with a similar standard of expert service, support and loyalty.
“Here in the print center we take care of our customers, those within the company, in a way that is aligned with Modern Woodmen’s overall mission,” says John Oliger, Print Services manager, emphasizing the in-plant’s insider advantage. “We can accommodate last-minute rush jobs, develop custom products and provide value-added services that they wouldn’t get [elsewhere].”
A major equipment installation ongoing at the in-plant over the last year is further bolstering familial ties through increased efficiency, product innovation and cost savings passed on to the parent.
Touching Lives, Securing Futures
The company name is grounded in symbolism rather than literal wood; it’s a reference to a church sermon parable that founder Joseph Cullen Root heard describing pioneers blazing paths and clearing forests to build homes and safe, secure lives in a shared society. Root envisioned Modern Woodmen as a means to help families clear financial obstacles to a good life when he founded the organization in Lyons, Iowa, in 1883.
Today, Modern Woodmen operates out of Rock Island, Ill. The organization’s offerings include life insurance, annuities and fraternal member benefits, along with investments and other insurance and banking products that are offered through its wholly owned subsidiaries. Its approximately 1,600 representatives serve 750,000 members in 47 states.
The company’s niche is “small-town USA,” says Oliger. “Our agents are embedded in communities. They know who’s having a baby. They know the local schools, and they get involved in their communities through Modern Woodmen’s volunteer, social and educational programs. It’s part of our commitment to give back.”
‘We Do Just About Anything’
Oliger oversees a full-service print shop with 17 employees.
“We do just about anything and everything here,” he boasts, listing typical products such as banners, posters, business cards, invoices, pocket folders, postcards and brochures. “We print about 25 million items per year.”
The in-plant operates out of a 54,000-sq.-ft. building located just a few blocks away from corporate headquarters. In addition to Print Services, the space also houses the Mail and Distribution Center with a staff of 13.
“Printing and shipping used to be combined into one department here, with a separate data center in the home office that handled most of the transactional printing and related mailing services,” Oliger explains. “Management decided to move transactional printing over into the print shop and also moved those mail services to merge them with shipping here. It has all worked out very well.”
A Major Upgrade
The in-plant’s recent investment in new equipment and technology has also been a success. According to Oliger, the time was right for a major update. Modern Woodmen has had in-house printing capabilities since 1905 and has been in its current location since the building was erected 31 years ago.
“30 years later, our equipment — some of it still original — was understandably outdated, slow and breaking down,” Oliger reports. “We had converted to digital a number of years ago and were operating a Xerox iGen, which served its purpose well, but it was time to look at other arrangements.”
The in-plant also had an HP Indigo 7600. Oliger determined that replacing the iGen with a second HP Indigo — a refurbished 7r — would be more cost-effective.
“We took a plan to management that explained that we could change our digital component and save considerable money, and then would use that savings to update bindery equipment and wide-format capabilities,” he says. Management was extremely receptive, he notes, and has always been supportive.
“We’re given a lot of trust, and we don’t take that for granted,” Oliger says. “We showed that not only could the upgrade take care of our needs for the next five to 10 years, especially on the bindery side, but that we could also increase capacity on digital side. We used to be compartmentalized with our old digital setup, whereas now we can move jobs back and forth easily between the HPs.”
Oliger estimates that the digital moves are saving the company a quarter of a million dollars a year. The installation of a Xerox Versant 3100, planned for September and intended to meet additional needs for 8.5x11˝ digital color, will complete the transformation.
Wide-Format Brings ‘Significant Cost Savings’
For wide-format work, the in-plant had an Epson Stylus Pro 9900, but added an HP Scitex FB750 flatbed printer, which has enabled considerable growth.
“Everyone we talked to about wide-format had a ‘if you buy it, they will come’ mentality, and we found that to be true,” Oliger says. “We’ve also achieved significant cost savings.” He offers examples:
- “Our national secretary needed wall artwork. He had some picturesque shots of Maine (taken by his daughter, an amateur photographer) that we printed. Now her work hangs in his office and looks beautiful, at a fraction of what was originally budgeted. It was a win for everyone.”
- “We can now produce the 100-200 canvas wall displays with personalized congratulatory messages that we use to recognize our fraternal award winners in-house for about half the cost.”
- “We needed two kiosk signs for a sales conference. If we outsourced them, the out-of-pocket cost to us would have been $1,000, [or] $500 per sign. We were able to produce both signs here at less than half that cost, and the savings were passed on to the requesting home office department.”
- Modern Woodmen owns the naming rights for a minor league ballpark and now prints many of its own signs and banners associated with the sponsorship. It also prints metal signs for its own bank, saving thousands of dollars compared to outsourcing.
“A tough part about wide format is trying to get your arms around pricing,” Oliger points out. “We still have much to learn, but our staff has been great at trying new substrates and materials, and then figuring out various price points for each.”
Digital Envelope Printing
The in-plant is also saving time and money thanks to a new OKI C931e digital color printer with an envelope feeder.
“Previously, for personalized stationery, we would have to take the time to make a plate and send it to the press,” he says. “Now it’s all digital. Nobody touches anything.” Since installing the unit last fall, the in-plant has printed 250,000 envelopes, often turning them around in a day.
Agents can order envelopes and many other products through the company’s Web2Print marketing portal.
“We’re adding items every month — we added bank items and posters, and we’re working on bank deposit tickets,” Oliger says. “It saves a lot of time, reducing standard turnaround from five to 10 days to two days.”
Upgrades to the bindery were also timely. “We had an old Muller Martini bookletmaker and stitcher that were at least 30 years old and had become very mechanically challenged,” says Oliger. New Duplo 600i and 150i bookletmakers (along with a Duplo perfect binder, Duplo card cutter and Baum pile feed folder) operate at greater speeds in a quarter of the footprint, he notes.
A few bindery projects are still outsourced and pocket folders are converted off-site. To serve the community, the in-plant insources work from nonprofits.
“Historically, we’ve always done in-kind printing for nonprofits as well as other jobs for them at a discounted rate,” Oliger says.
The in-plant still runs a pair of sheetfed offset presses: a four-color Heidelberg 74 Speedmaster and a smaller two-color Heidelberg Printmaster, which is used for large runs of work such as envelopes, bookmarks and pocket folders.
“We recently ran a job of 40,000 folders each with a 16-page booklet stitched inside the folder,” Oliger says. “We order envelopes up to a half million at a time, so we started printing on paper in-house, and then having the already-printed envelopes converted off site, improving quality and lowering cost.”
After working at Modern Woodmen in the early 1980s, Oliger moved into banking for 15 years and then to a print distributor for 10 years before returning “home.” He much prefers it in the in-plant.
“After seeing more of the corporate world out there, I know this is the place for me,” he says. “It’s like working for family.”