From Obsolete to Outstanding
The Prince William County Print Shop was not meeting its annual revenue goals. Hampered by aging equipment, inefficient workflow processes, no upper-level support, and a general lack of awareness of its services and capabilities, the in-plant was slowly sinking toward obsolescence. Hoping to turn the situation around, the county looked to the private sector for a young, enthusiastic manager with ideas and ambition. Mercedes Matthews accepted the challenge.
“They wanted me to come in and give it some life,” explains Matthews, who has done exactly that since becoming supervisor three years ago. She has been able to upgrade equipment, generate new business, improve product quality, and infuse the struggling department with hope — along with much-needed revenue. Since she started, impressions have increased 77%, and print jobs have risen 117%.
In one of the Woodbridge, Va., shop’s most recent victories, it was chosen by the county over an outside provider to print all 330,000 ballots for the general election in November, a high security job with rigorous quality demands.
This transformation has not been easy, though, Matthews attests. Getting long-time employees who were set in their ways to embrace change was a big challenge. But also, as a young, African American woman coming into a government position from the private sector, Matthews felt she was not taken seriously at first. Her staff had been there much longer, and some of them felt they deserved the supervisor position.
Matthews had to build their trust, leading by example to get them on board with her plans. And while she has had many successes, she’s felt, as many African American managers do, that she has been looked at differently because of her color, and has had to work a little harder to get people to pay attention to her ideas than an older, male manager would have had to. Still, she tries to shrug it off.
“At the end of the day, I can’t let that bother me,” she insists. Besides, hard work is in her nature. “Being a young supervisor, I work hard,” she affirms. “I’m not just about talk. I’m about getting results.”
When Matthews arrived at Prince William County from Genesis International Management Group, she knew she faced an uphill battle. Not only did she have to bring in new business so the five-employee shop could meet its revenue goals, she had to inspire her staff to work harder — a staff that seemed surprised and perhaps a little resentful when they learned she was their new supervisor. She made it clear the shop was not going to continue in the same old rut and that things were going to change. Not everyone was on board at first.
After observing how the shop ran for a while, she asked employees what they wanted. New equipment, they said, and an open house to show customers what they could do. To prepare, Matthews had them clean up the shop and get rid of old, unnecessary machines. Over time, she was able to bring in new equipment, like a Duplo DC-618 slitter/cutter/creaser, a Nuarc FT26V3UPNS Ultra-Plus Flip-Top platemaker, and an Epson SureColor T-Series wide-format printer. She also made changes to the way jobs flowed through the shop to add efficiency.
To help promote the Print Shop and give it more of an identity, Matthews branded it, printing new business cards that included details of the shop’s capabilities. She designed and printed a mailer touting the shop’s new slogan: “One Stop Print Shop.” She tried to be open with employees, explaining what she was doing to improve the in-plant, and letting them see she was willing to do the hard work.
“The only way change is going to happen is if you show them,” she says. “I tell them I’m doing this for them. I just want to make sure that, at the end of the day, they have the stability.”
She stressed to employees that only by trying harder and improving would the shop be able to survive. That meant taking in new work and never turning anyone away.
“I push my employees to work to ‘yes,’” she says. “You’ve got to let [customers] know that you can do it. If you don’t, they’re going to go to the next [printer].”
To ensure that didn’t happen, Matthews began meeting with county departments to show them what the Print Shop could do. She visited each department, introduced herself, showed them samples, and made sure they understood the Print Shop had a new manager who was making changes and was committed to their satisfaction.
She quickly made a depressing discovery.
“A lot of county employees aren’t aware of the Print Shop,” she says. Over the past three years she has made great strides toward changing that, bringing in customers that had never used the in-plant, such as the county credit union.
“They always outsourced their work,” Matthews says. “I sat down with the manager and … really hashed it out and talked about things that he wants to do, and what we can provide.”
As a result, the in-plant started printing the credit union’s quarterly newsletter. She’s talked other customers into doing mailers after showing them samples of the in-plant’s work. Many customers have been particularly pleased to learn of Matthews’ graphic design background, and she has been able to improve the look of their printed pieces as a result. She tries to share her design knowledge with her staff.
“When I’m designing, I make sure all of my employees see what I’m doing,” she says. She’s installed PhotoShop and Illustrator on their computers so they can learn design and print layout as well. “I try to make sure they know everything I know,” she says. Matthews’ efforts have paid off in new work for the in-plant, like mailers, maps, infographics, tourism books, coloring books, and stickers that it had not done previously. The Print Shop is also designing posters for COVID-19.
“We started doing a lot of booklets for the schools,” she adds, such as football programs.
Presidential Election Ballots
Perhaps the most high-profile new job has been the printing of 330,000 ballots for the general election. This came about after the outside vendor that printed ballots for last year’s election made an error. The Print Shop was asked to quickly reprint the ballots, which it did flawlessly using every one of its digital printers: a Xerox Color 1000i, a Xerox D125, and a Heidelberg Digimaster. The job was completed within two hours, greatly impressing Matthews’ boss.
As a result, the Print Shop was asked to print 55,000 ballots for the June election. As the November election neared, the county decided to entrust the in-plant with printing all ballots for the general election. They are being printed on 70-lb. paper at 300 dpi, and it’s crucial that not a single ballot has a streak, speck, or other blemish, which will be detected by the scanning machines used to count votes.
“It will throw out the whole ballot,” Matthews says. The shop is testing batches of printed ballots on a scanner to make sure there are no problems. It’s taking this job very seriously.
“We’re going to have a sensitive document, a very high-security document, in our house, and we want to make sure everything is properly taken care of,” Matthews says. “We have all types of security,”
Matthews is proud the Print Shop is able to play such an important part in a national election that will decide the future of the country.
“I’m excited to know that we can help out,” she says. “This is another reason why you keep the Print Shop.”
Though the planned open house had to be canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Matthews is moving ahead with other initiatives. The shop intends to add a digital storefront to make it easier for customers to order printing. And she is looking to upgrade the shop’s digital presses, possibly with a production inkjet press. She has watched virtual demos of the Xerox Baltoro HF inkjet press and been impressed.
The in-plant’s status has certainly improved since her arrival, and her networking efforts around the county have brought the shop new recognition. Still, Matthews sometimes feels she lives in a different world than some of her coworkers.
When Black Lives Matter protests erupted around the country after the murder of George Floyd by police, she was deeply troubled, yet her concerns weren’t reflected by everyone. She wishes others would be more respectful of how she and other black people feel about the situation.
“I want you to be aware of my culture,” she says.
Though her challenges as a young, female, minority manager continue, she remains passionate about her job and the difference she is making for the Print Shop and for Prince William County.
“I love my job,” she declares. “I’ve never had a bad day in the three years I’ve been here.”
Bob has served as editor of In-plant Impressions 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 nearly 170 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, co-sponsored by IPMA and In-plant Impressions.