Most in-plants have seen a drastic drop in print work over the past 17 months. IPI data shows 74% of in-plants lost revenue between March 2020 and Feb. 2021, with sales down an average of 7.9%.
To make up for these pandemic losses, in-plants are looking for new types of work to keep them busy. For a number of them, fulfillment and shipping services have become a growing source of revenue. As one of the few departments still on-site during a time of intense telecommuting, in-plants are perfectly positioned to package and ship needed items to remote workers, students, and outside customers.
“If you had asked me a year ago if I thought I was going to make $100,000 in shipping profit, I’d have told you you were out of your mind,” laughs Steve Burdette, Mail Services manager at The University of Texas at Austin Document Services.
That’s how much he expects his department to pull in by the end of the year just from packaging and shipping materials for campus departments.
“We’re doing a lot more pick-and-pack fulfillment of departments’ inventory,” he reports. “I can’t tell you how many T-shirts we’ve folded.”
His staff is shipping certificates and service awards to university employees, bundling mail and shipping it to employees’ homes, sending boxes of items to students, and much more.
“Everything that used to be done in person is now being done through the mail,” he notes.
The in-plant is in charge of packaging computers and computer parts and shipping them to university employees working from home, including some working internationally. The shop also keeps an inventory of books for some departments and ships them when orders come in.
After adding UT-branded promotional items to its e‑commerce site early in the pandemic, Document Services saw a big uptick in orders of these items from students who came to the site to buy course packs. The in-plant pulls these items from its inventory, and packages and ships them.
Other in-plants are also doing a brisk business in fulfillment and shipping. When last year’s commencement was forced to go virtual, University of Nebraska-Lincoln (UNL) Printing and Mail Services was put in charge of packing and shipping 3,800 boxes to graduates filled with items like mortar board caps, tassels, honor medallions, confetti launchers, pennants, postcards, alumni pins, decals, and letters from the chancellor and dean. The in-plant sourced the boxes and printed them, then staff inserted the materials, applied a decorative outer label, and shipped them to students.
This high-profile job brought attention to the in-plant’s fulfillment services and has led to numerous other such jobs. As events were canceled, departments started sending out gift boxes as part of their recruitment programs. They relied on the in-plant to source the gifts, develop the packaging and printing, and pack and ship the boxes to prospective students. Director John Yerger expects the gift packing to continue even as faculty, staff, and students return to campus this fall.
Departments also turn to Printing and Mail Services when they need to send supplies to employees working in regional offices.
“Whatever materials they needed to have at that regional office … we’re taking care of that packaging and shipping out for them,” says Yerger.
Last year, he says, fulfillment and shipping generated about $100,000 in additional revenue.
“It’s a great offering. It doesn’t cost you anything. You’ve already got people there, and we’re professional at handling those type of materials,” Yerger points out.
Beyond generating revenue, providing these necessary fulfillment services also enhances the in-plant’s value.
“It’s another reason why we’re here. We do things that people don’t want to do,” he says.
In Sacramento, Calif., when all classes went virtual in 2020 at Sacramento State, the in-plant stepped in to help ship materials to students.
“Since they weren’t able to do an in-person orientation, they did orientation virtually, and then we shipped 8,000 boxes to students,” says Laura Lockett, director of University Print & Mail. Inside the boxes were backpacks stuffed with planners and other student support information. In-plant staff worked with the orientation team to fill 32 pallets worth of boxes. In December, they filled and shipped another 2,500 backpacks.
In March, the in-plant packed 1,500 boxes that were sent to high-dollar donors in support of the university’s “On The Rise” fundraising campaign. Inside the boxes were plastic champagne flutes, a chocolate champagne bottle, flower seed confetti, jelly beans, a puzzle, a note card set, and a thank you from the university president.
“This box was basically a way to say ‘thank you,’” Lockett says.
To support the university’s drive-thru commencement ceremony (called “CARmencement”), the in-plant filled 5,500 boxes (designed by the shop’s designer) with programs, stoles, stickers, pennants, alumni pins, and other items. The in-plant also works with the school’s Information Resources & Technology department to ship laptops, webcams, and other tech to students who need it.
“It’s certainly been something that has added to our revenue stream,” notes Lockett.
Beyond adding revenue, Yerger says fulfillment has also benefited UNL’s in-plant in other ways: it’s opened the door to new sales in the in-plant’s promotional products division; brought in additional printing jobs; kept his bindery and mail staff busy while moving the burden of this work from departmental customers; and improved the university’s image because of the in-plant’s professional packaging materials and printed boxes.
“It’s an inexpensive way to expand your business,” Yerger concludes.
Related story: Course Pack Sales Jump, Keeping Texas In-plant in the Black