Every year it’s a struggle to get the country’s largest in-plants to send us their sales and employee data for our annual ranking of the largest in-plants. Most ignore our first (and second, and third) reminders. Some turn us down flat, not interested in letting anyone know how large they are. (I can think of several with more than 50 employees that have never appeared on our lists.) Others put off responding until it’s too late (and then ask me to add them later).
As a result, our rankings are not as complete as they could be. Still, they offer a fairly good snapshot of the companies and organizations that value having an in-house printing operation. The fact that they devote significant resources to these in-plants shows that they’re quite pleased with the benefits and savings they’re getting in return.
Close observers of our list may notice, however, the absence of two notable in-plants this year, both victims of some poor company decisions. These large, well-run in-plants spent decades carefully documenting the savings and other benefits they brought to their companies, yet when commercial printers told their management they could save them money, the companies believed them over their own managers.
It’s a familiar story, I know, this eagerness of upper management to trust outsiders (who have a vested interest in the outcome) rather than the data collected by their own employees — data based on actual print jobs and operational costs, not on estimates and speculation.
In one case, after the retirement of the in-plant’s long-time manager, the company’s new senior management decided to do another audit of the operation. Who did they turn to? An unbiased, experienced consultant perhaps? Nope, a commercial printing firm, licking its lips in anticipation of this new business.
Never mind that the in-plant was generating a surplus through insourcing, and turning this money back to the company as profit, the commercial printer (to no one’s amazement, I’m sure) determined that it could save the company money. So in one fell swoop, the decades-old in-plant was gone.
“It seems like someone just didn’t want to have the responsibility of the operation and found an easy way out,” a former employee of the in-plant told me.
The other big-name in-plant missing from our list also had a successful insourcing business and generated substantial profits for its parent company. This apparently annoyed a large commercial printer, which no doubt hounded the company’s top brass for years about the glorious savings it claimed it could bring. No matter that the in-plant was a model operation, well respected in the industry; it was not part of the company’s “core business,” the commercial printer harped, and upper management finally listened.
These companies are soon in for a shock. We spoke with the former manager of a large in-plant who went through the exact same experience a decade ago. He was retained by his company to oversee print procurement (from the same commercial printer that had shut down his shop) so is perfectly positioned to compare the service level of each.
Since switching to a commercial printer, he told us, he has seen countless delivery problems and unexpected courier fees. Mistakes, like duplicated print runs, are prevalent. Communicating with the vendor is difficult, compared with how easy it was for customers to get in touch with the in-plant. He says his company is treated like just another customer, compared to the personalized, drop-everything-and-get-it-done service the in-plant provided.
What’s more, he noted, outsourcing the in-plant didn’t get the company out of the printing business; it still needs a staff of print experts to manage the vendor. Overall, he said — speaking as one who has experienced it both ways — departments in the company are getting worse service since the in-plant was replaced with a commercial vendor.
Fortunately, the in-plants in our rankings work for organizations that appreciate the advantages and savings they bring. We hope they won’t have to learn the hard way how good they have it.
Bob has served as editor of In-plant Graphics since October of 1994. Prior to that he served for three years as managing editor of Printing Impressions, a commercial printing publication. Mr. Neubauer is very active in the U.S. in-plant industry. He attends all the major in-plant conferences and has visited more than 130 in-plant operations around the world. He has given presentations to numerous in-plant groups in the U.S., Canada and Australia, including the Association of College and University Printers and the In-plant Printing and Mailing Association. He also coordinates the annual In-Print contest, cosponsored by IPMA and In-plant Graphics.