Stamping It 'Personal' Direct-marketing service gives each product individual appeal.
Vertis Inc., Webcraft DMS, Chalfont, Pa.
At a glance
Averages three days of WIP inventory, a 33% decrease within last five years.
99.92% first-pass yield for all finished products.
Customer reject rate reduced 91% within last five years.
2000 Printing Industries of America "Best of the Best" Workplaces in America. When the U.S. government tells you the check is in the mail, you want to be sure it will be coming to the right name and address, not to mention for the right amount. Any mistake in the notice -- if, say, the name and the amount don't match -- could have an enormous political as well as financial cost. So when our favorite uncle promised rebate checks to taxpayers, the job of telling each of us what we would get was broken into five lots. Surely, the Government Printing Office reasoned, no one firm could handle all 125 million mailings alone, not when 90% of them would have to be produced and mailed in just under three weeks. But Webcraft, a direct-marketing service of Vertis Inc., wasn't about to let an opportunity slip. It bid on -- and was awarded -- the entire assignment. "We have the capacity and the horsepower to do everything," says David P. Colatriano, Webcraft group president, who explains that "everything" includes personalizing and customizing mailings at breakneck speed. "Webcraft is the epitome of a job shop," Colatriano says. "Everything we do is unique." Before Webcraft -- that is, before 1969 -- the industry standard for mailers involving multiple personalized pieces (envelope, letter, offer, etc.) was to print each piece separately and merge them later. The process was exceedingly painstaking and vulnerable to error. Webcraft founder Robert Katz changed all that by introducing the "in-line" approach, which essentially put all of the elements into one operation. The change is a textbook illustration of a "paradigm shift," requiring the creation of entirely new systems and processes. "In-line is the industry standard now," says Colatriano. "And we still have the leading edge." That leading edge means that the 530 employees of the 325,000-sq-ft Webcraft plant in Chalfont, Pa., along with their counterparts at smaller Webcraft manufacturing facilities in Bristol, Pa., and North Brunswick, N.J., are responsible for producing well over a billion pieces of mail each year, and not just in the U.S. Besides the government, customers include Ford Motor Co., General Motors Corp., DaimlerChrysler AG, Hallmark Cards Inc., MBNA Corp., and even the government of South Africa. Pedro Isaacs, a quality inspector for the South African government, explains that South African printers were unable to produce the country's census in the amount of time they were allotted. The government turned to Webcraft, which has handled census forms for the U.S. in the past. The result, according to Isaacs: "Two weeks. Ten million documents. Very good quality." The fruits of Webcraft's labor were flown from the Chalfont plant to Isaacs' homeland on four 747s over a one-week period in August, immediately upon completion of printing. "It's been very rushed but it all worked out," said Isaacs at the job's conclusion. Executives and employees of the Chalfont plant, which opened in 1986, delight in telling such stories of success despite daunting obstacles of logistics and time. The plant's clearly evident spirit and pride no doubt are among the principal reasons for its outstanding record of performance. "There is this culture of excellence," says Larry Keyser, controller. "We're focused on goals and it is assumed that we are going to hit them. It's not 'can we?' It's 'how we can.'" The answers to "how" come from all quarters. A training and promotion approach that emphasizes broad knowledge translates into a workforce with diverse experience. It is not enough here to simply master one's own part in the manufacturing process; it is expected that at the very least employees also understand and appreciate the functions that come before and after theirs. At every point, it is not unusual to find employees who have done the jobs of their colleagues. As a result, workers, managers, and executives are extraordinarily comfortable discussing details of operational functions outside their direct responsibilities. And that, in turn, leads to project teams in which each team member has the background necessary to make an informed contribution. "People from all different levels get involved in projects," says John R. Nicholas, director of human resources. "We include everybody. We don't just keep it at the manager level. It's a very inclusive plant." It's also an innovative plant. "To some degree it's paper and ink, and we're folding it," acknowledges Jeff Stanlaw, job planning and preparation manager for manufacturing. But the individual needs and ever-changing desires of customers, coupled with out-of-the-box thinking and team brainstorming on specific challenges, make the process anything but dull. "There's a certain sense of adventure," Stanlaw says. The adventure keeps employees engaged. "The company as a whole is not static," says Nicholas. "It's like working for multiple companies but you don't have to leave." The plant's creative services department is a dramatic case in point. Functioning in a manner not unlike a major advertising agency, the 23 members of the department help the plant win clients by creating concepts that stretch, and sometimes alter, existing marketing campaigns. "We are the partner with the client from the beginning of the process," says Donald Schoenleber, vice president, creative services. Sometimes, in fact, Webcraft's involvement begins even before the client knows it. Recognizing the creative thinking and practical knowledge that Webcraft's award-winning design team can bring to the process, savvy advertising agencies often seek the team's help in developing an idea that will be presented to the client and then, presumably, awarded to Webcraft for fulfillment. "We're a silent partner [with advertising agencies]," says Colatriano. Customers are not charged for the creative contributions, says James A. Edgington, director of operations. It is simply another means to win business, he explains, part of an ongoing approach in which all elements of the plant work together to explore "what ifs." "We're constantly in there measuring, monitoring and improving," says Mary Anne Cortez-Carp, corporate manager, creative services. And the plant's commitment to explore all avenues of service is not limited to headline accounts. Plant personnel boast that they respond with equal enthusiasm to every client, regardless of size or history with Webcraft. "We want to nurture emerging accounts," says Ronald M. Lovelace, group manager, manufacturing administration. "We never know which new customer will become our next big customer." In order to effectively promote and maintain such a climate of mutual cooperation, it helps if employees know each other well. Not surprisingly, "family" here is more than just a word. Edgington, who leads the plant today, is the son of Webcraft's first plant manager. His father, Lou, was in fact the first employee hired by founder Robert Katz in 1969. And Edgington's brother, Randy, is Webcraft vice president of sales. No wonder Webcraft has a sense of who it is and what it wants. "Communication is the key to our success," says James Edgington. "Everyone here understands our commitment, they understand our goals, they understand our passion. The simplest way I can put it is: They get it." Web-Exclusive Best Practices By Richard Osborne Benchmarking contact: Ronald M. Lovelace, [email protected], 215/997-5301. Safety In its early years, the Webcraft plant's safety performance was at a level that management found disappointing. Today the plant is a "Star" site in OSHA's Voluntary Protection Program. For the most recent year, the OSHA-reportable incident rate (work-related injuries and illnesses per 100 employees) was 2.9, a 37% decrease within the last five years. The OSHA reportable lost-workday rate (lost workdays per 100 employees) was 0.8, a 53% decrease within the last five years. The numbers are far superior to industry averages. How did it happen? "A groundswell of safety awareness," says John R. Nicholas, director of human resources. A team of a dozen employees, with only one management representative, put together a list of the key elements of the OSHA process. Every job was scrutinized for safety, and numerous new practices and procedures were put in place. First-time visitors to the plant, for example, now view a 10-minute safety video before venturing onto the plant floor. Other results include lockout-tagout programs, a safety committee for every department, and extraordinary employee empowerment; each employee has the right to shut off a machine if he or she feels it is not safe. "We have a motto here: Nothing is so important that it can't be done safely," says Nicholas. "And that is absolutely supported by the management and senior management." Employee development Every employee enjoys access to "Webcraft University," which coordinates an array of training and development programs. These include classroom, on-the-job, and mentor training. The plant has seven full-time trainers, all of whom have multifunctional experience. Training programs range from highly technical job-specific functions (such as imager operations) to broader programs for all employees (such as stress management and conflict resolution). Production employees participate in an average of 20 hours of formal classroom training every year, as well as 20 hours of formal on-the job training. New employees get an average 55 hours of classroom and on-the-job training. Dale Carnegie training has been used for employee development, and 35 employees are now graduates of the 12-week course. Other specific training includes programs offered by the Society for Service Professionals in Printing and the Graphic Arts Technical Foundation. A whopping 90% of production employees have multiple skill certifications. Quality The Webcraft plant was ISO-9001-certified in December 1997, and recently continued its registration following the initial three-year period. Some 36 "internal auditors" ensure that levels of quality performance continue. The auditors come from all levels of the organization, providing the bonus of cross-functional knowledge gains for the auditors themselves. Internal audits are conducted monthly, with every department covered at least twice a year. In addition, management reviews are held quarterly and department managers are required to perform self-appraisals to verify the effectiveness of actions taken to correct problems. A Quality Council also has been established, resulting in a marked decrease in the number of customer complaints. A thorough process is in place for managing internal and external customer problems and complaints, and for tracking them to closure. Webcraft has a 99.92% current first-pass yield for its direct-mail printed product, an 82.6% improvement over the last four years. The in-plant defect/fallout rate on all components is 167 ppm, a 91% reduction within the last five years.