By Mike Marcantonio, CEO, Alliance Franchise Brands
The printing and graphics communications industries have seen more technological advances in the past 10 years than in the half-century previous; much of it driven by the speed with which business and industry operate. The growth of online communications that empowers information-seeking buyers and quickly introduces them to sellers has driven print and graphics producers to respond with increased speed and flexibility – while finding ways for their business clients to control their expenses. These technological advances have also helped progressive print services providers to control their own costs, thereby making them much more efficient and competitive.
According to market research and strategic consulting firm InfoTrends, the total costs associated with printed business communications (e.g. sourcing, procurement and management) average 1-3 percent of a company’s annual top line revenue. Many soft costs, such as ineffective brand management and waste due to obsolescence are often overlooked. For businesses of all sizes, print-related expenses present a key opportunity for cost reduction and process improvement.
Answering the Call
Consolidation within the printing industry, pressure on pricing, and growth among internet print providers are forces that drove us to seek new avenues to secure long-term stability and growth.
What we know: The printing industry has some boundaries that are well defined, and the path to success has been to outperform competitors by getting a bigger share of existing demand. For us to find opportunities, we set a deliberate course to expand our markets with diversified products and services to meet or create new demand.
Alliance Franchise Brands is a franchise network of nearly 600 marketing, print and graphics communications companies across North America with two divisions. The Marketing and Print Division supports five brands: Allegra, American Speedy Printing and Insty- Prints in the United States and Speedy Printing and Zippy Print in Canada.
In our Sign and Graphics Division, the company supports three brands in North America and the United Kingdom: Image360, Signs by Tomorrow and Signs Now.
Our strategy to differentiate our franchise members from competitors is for them to become true sales-driven solutions providers who, among other key enablers are supported by best-in-class technology.
Enter WorkStream, our one-of-a-kind technology platform that fully integrates sophisticated e-commerce, business management and workflow automation technologies, all driving the kinds of efficiencies needed to stay a step ahead of market demands.
Providing competitive advantages to our franchise network means having a mindset of “fearless innovation” and securing supplier partners who understand our vision, perhaps having to look at their own models a bit differently to accommodate a franchise network like ours.
An essential element of the platform is its open architecture which allows one component to seamlessly interact and “talk” with the others. They include:
• An advanced and scalable cloud-based management information system (MIS) with intuitive interface and integrated CRM that is robust and scalable
• A world-class e-commerce storefront technology with front-end (MIS) and back-end (automation workflow) integrations
• A prepress portal for streamlined job processing and production automation that reduces errors and allows for faster online proofing, collaboration and approval cycles with clients.
• Integration with accounting software for further efficiency and real-time financial information and key performance indicators
Testing and Rollout
After more than a year of research and needs/cost analysis, WorkStream is now in alpha testing with the corporate-owned locations in the Alliance Franchise Brands’ Marketing & Print Division. We rely heavily on these centers to be our proving ground for each of the technologies along with marketing programs and value-added services. Until now, this level of technology sophistication has been unavailable to print services providers in our category, so the migration to WorkStream represents a significant change in the way that we do business.
Due to the demand for a robust, modern e-commerce solution and its readiness, the WorkStream e-commerce component will be offered to early adopters in our network prior to the full scale availability of the total platform.
Though much of the WorkStream technology will be transparent to our end clients, they will benefit in multiple time- and cost-efficiencies. A tangible advantage, however, lies in this e-commerce solution.
Corporate print buyers will see savings with their own branded sites by maintaining centralized control over branding; empowering local or regional personnel to customize content; reducing the time it takes to get printed materials or promotional products in the hands of their marketing and sales teams; and centralizing and tracking usage and purchases for improved budgeting and cost containment.
Once all of the components are fully tested internally and connected, the widespread rollout of WorkStream will position franchise members with unprecedented value and exclusivity in the marketplace.
Our strategy to reduce the time associated with estimating, order entry and production activities through automation and shift it to client service allows both our franchise members and their clients to work on their businesses rather than in them. With a sales-driven model, our network provides greater value through consultation, understanding what clients are trying to accomplish to propose solutions that help them achieve a goal or solve a problem.
A printing business is a complicated one. WorkStream will fundamentally change the nature of ours, from client management through operations and workflow. The platform, cost-prohibitive for an independent printing company to replicate, will give our franchise members a competitive edge and the ability to restructure their businesses for increased profitability and long-term growth.
Moreover, the connectivity of the technology package and standardization of information input and collection will allow us to manage large amounts of data more effectively, better define best practices and apply them across our network.
We see a huge opportunity for independent printers to join our network and enable long-range stability in this ever-changing industry that has important history and tradition. It’s an exciting time to have new technologies play such a prominent role in its future.