Serving San Francisco With Pride
Salla Vaerma-Jadlos refuses to live in fear.
"It seems to me this in-plant business has this fear. People are always scared, thinking, 'Are they outsourcing us?' " observes the manager of ReproMail for the City and County of San Francisco. "That's not the way to live. I refuse to do that. If it comes, it comes. Let's see."
Not that she thinks it will come any time soon. Having spent the past 21 years at the in-plant, Vaerma-Jadlos has seen both good and bad times, and if anything, the shop is on a rebound right now. After going from 28 employees a decade or so ago, down to nine full-timers plus a few temps, the in-plant is finally hiring again. Seven new employees have just been hired, with two more expected this month, bringing the staff up to 18.
The influx may have something to do with the new money flowing into the "City by the Bay" from the tech industry as companies clamor for city properties, filling the city's coffers with tax revenue. But Vaerma-Jadlos thinks there's another important reason too.
"I think they do see our value, and they know that we do a good job," she maintains. "It makes sense to keep us here and make sure that we have enough resources to do what we have to do."
Making Its Move
The upturn started two years ago when ReproMail moved into a new facility—a storefront operation in the heart of San Francisco. Originally located in the basement of the city's Beaux-Arts City Hall, the shop was forced into temporary quarters in 1994 due to refurbishing projects to repair damage from the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake. "Temporary" lasted 18 years. Again, the tech industry played a part in its fate when Twitter moved into its building at 10th and Market.
"They tweeted us out," jokes Vaerma-Jadlos, her Finnish accent still apparent 24 years after moving to the U.S.
Though it's a bit smaller, the new 10,500-square-foot facility—just a 15-minute walk from City Hall—is much nicer, she says. Black-and-white production printing, most of the bindery equipment and the mail room are on the first floor, and color production, smaller bindery gear and offices are on the second.
The move gave the in-plant a chance to modernize its equipment mix. It got rid of its offset presses and the HP Indigo digital press it purchased in 2000, and added a Xerox Color 1000 to handle flyers, brochures, newsletters, post cards, posters and annual reports for city offices. A Canon Océ CS650 also helps in this task.
For black-and-white jobs like construction bid packages, tax bills, forms, budget books and health department notices, the in-plant added a Xerox Nuvera 120 with tape binding, which joined its Canon Océ VarioPrint 6250. Monochrome work makes up 70 percent of the shop's volume, Vaerma-Jadlos estimates. Jobs flow into the in-plant through its Printer Presence Web-to-print system, which it has had since 2002.
The in-plant also handles mainframe printing using two continuous-feed IBM printers, though Vaerma-Jadlos is actively encouraging agencies to stop printing green bar reports. Clicks have dropped from two million three years ago to 650,000 currently. Most check printing has moved to a pair of Troy MICR printers the shop added for this purpose.
Mainframe printing is a legacy from ReproMail's years of reporting to the Department of Technology (DT), an experience Vaerma-Jadlos describes in less-than-flattering terms. During the tough budget years around 2008, she says, DT showed its indifference to the in-plant.
"As the budget cuts came, Technology did not feel that we were really important at all, so they got all our positions," she recalls. That's when her staff dropped to nine, supported by a crew of temporary employees.
She eventually appealed to City Administrator Ed Lee (now mayor) and was able to get ReproMail moved under General Services in 2011, which she feels is a better fit.
In addition to printing, the in-plant's mailing operation provides a great service to the city, she says. Her drivers pick up mail from departments, and the in-plant processes it and sorts it for postal discounts, saving money for the city and county. Long-run jobs, like a recent 200,000-piece assessed property value mailing, are printed and mailed with ease.
Business has been strong at the in-plant. A chargeback operation, last year it recovered $7.3 million. (Its budget was $6.8 million.) This year, she says, it's on track to bring in $7.1 million.
High Satisfaction Rate
Customers, she says, are very pleased with the in-plant's services. Customer surveys have yielded a 99 percent satisfaction rate.
"Customer service is really number one," she says. "It's the most important thing."
She credits her employees for their dedication to customers and notes that their strong familiarity with the jobs being ordered by city departments is an asset to the city. When the staff at those departments changes, the in-plant remembers which jobs they need and is happy to offer advice.
"I feel that our staff is just very, very good," she lauds. "Lots of hard workers."
They have a strong pride in what they do, too.
"I like the fact that they keep the shop clean," she observes. "If you have a clean place, things will stay in order."
Running an in-plant in a large city like San Francisco does have a few complications, she admits. Her drivers sometimes have to deal with streets blocked by demonstrations.
"In San Francisco there's demonstrations quite often," she observes.
And at times the sidewalks outside the in-plant are blocked by encampments of homeless people, their belongings piled in carts—not exactly an enticement for visiting customers. But it's all part of working in a city, says an unfazed Vaerma-Jadlos, who regularly bicycles through city traffic to work.
Vaerma-Jadlos is planning several equipment upgrades in the year ahead: a new folder, stitcher, labeling machine and postal sorter are all in her sights. She is confident about the in-plant's future and looks forward to serving the city and county of San Francisco for many years to come.
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.