Printing and Design Tips: September 2019, Issue #218

Delivery: The End of the Line

Your job has been at the printer for weeks. In fact, you reviewed the proof so long ago that you had almost forgotten the job is still in progress. You check your calendar and notice the delivery date is less than a week away. You’re done. Or, are you?

The truth is that a number of very important steps remain, and if you forget to address them, the end-game can be uncomfortable, or expensive.

A Case Study

I have three book titles at one printer at the moment for a husband-and-wife publishing team. I noticed a few days ago that they will be shipping shortly, so I contacted my clients for delivery information.

Fortunately I had already requested estimated delivery costs based on my client’s ZIP Code. Therefore, there would be no financial surprises for my clients. Beyond this I asked for a breakdown of delivery destinations. My clients have two book distributors, and they usually want copies delivered to their own house as well, so they can pass these out themselves. The book distributors handle requests from clients. They store the books, keep an inventory, and "pick and pack," which means they field requests from clients and then pack and ship the books.

I have learned from past experience that warehouses require specific packaging and labeling of books. Therefore, I asked my clients to get specifics from their distributors.

First of all, the distributors, being large businesses, have loading docks. What this means is that "skid-packed" cartons of books, which are shrink-wrapped into a single unit, can be unloaded from the delivery trucks and brought directly into the warehouse using forklifts and automated pallet-jacks. When you consider the fact that so many books (let’s say 20) are packed in so many cartons, and so many cartons are "brick-stacked" (stacked like bricks, overlapping each other for strength) on a skid, knowing how the fulfillment house wants to receive them is important.

Otherwise, if anything has to be re-done by hand, this could take a long time and cost a lot. The goal is to have one unit (a shrink-wrapped skid containing the proper number of books in cartons, weighing not more than a pre-defined amount each, and labeled accurately.

In this particular case, the warehouse manager asked for all cartons to be labeled with the publisher’s name, title of the book, weight of the box, ISBN number, and number of books per box. Stacked pallets could not exceed 40" x 48" x 48".

Let’s break this down. This will help you in your own print buying work (in this case for book printing work):

1. Since no barcoded pallet flag (label for the entire pallet) was required (I had asked), only the boxes would need labels.

2. The name of the publisher and title of the book can be found (by the printer doing the final packing as the completed books exit the bindery) on the cover and title page (for the title) and the copyright page (for the publisher).

3. The ISBN number can be found on the copyright page or the back cover (near the UPC barcode). It is a unique identifier for the book (10 or 13 numerals) or edition of the book (i.e., it changes when you print a second or third edition). The letters stand for International Standard Book Number.

4. The dimensions of the loaded pallets are pertinent because the wrapped pallets need to be stacked on shelves in the warehouse, with enough room for the other publishers’ skids of books and enough room for the forklift to take down the skids of books from the shelves.

All of this seems simple. That said, not too many years ago my fiancee and I used to do display installations for Chanel. Wrapped skids used to come to us weighing just under 1,000 pounds. We used pallet lifters, freight elevators, rolls of shrink wrapping film, and box cutters. It was hard, physical work. Therefore, even though your delivery information manifest may be just a few lines of type in an email, getting the information right will save you time and money.

Office Copies

In the case of my clients, their office copies are really more like home office copies. However, even though these are few compared to the bulk delivery to the distribution warehouse, they require hand work. My clients want 100 to 150 copies of each of three titles, depending on the specific books. So, in total, that’s just under 400 books. In my mind, that’s a small number. In boxes, it’s a lot of weight someone will have to drag out of the truck, one carton at a time, probably load on a hand-truck, and then bring into my clients’ home. Let’s say each book is 3 pounds (I just made that number up). The total weight would then be about 1200 pounds.

Now what makes this problematic is that it’s a residential delivery. Fortunately my clients live in a house. What if these were office copies for an organization? The boxes might need to be unloaded individually, packed on a hand-truck, brought up an elevator, and delivered to an office (again, hand-carried from the hand-truck one at a time).

So in your own (similar) work, it behooves you to be specific and accurate. As with the initial specification sheet, your delivery manifest is essentially a contract. The more specific and accurate you are, the better the results will be.

Who Pays?

On your specification sheet for your initial estimate, it is usually prudent to request the cost of delivery. If you don’t, you may see such wording as "FOB printer’s loading dock." This means you pay the freight carrier, and you’re responsible for any damage during transit. The printer’s liability ends at his loading dock. This is a good reason to have him choose the freight carrier and take responsibility for delivery all the way to your warehouse or office. As with everything else, get all of this in writing.

Provide Contact Information

Specifying the delivery address is not enough. It’s always wise to also include a phone number and a contact person at the delivery point. That’s because the freight handler may have multiple jobs loaded on his truck (which may even be as large as a semi: an 18-wheeler). Once the driver knows when he or she will be arriving, even if it’s an estimate, it’s usually very helpful for him or her to be able to call the warehouse and confirm the delivery time.

Be Proactive with Your Printer

In the case of my clients, the printer to whom I brokered the job offered a six-week to eight-week schedule following approval of proofs. This is because he had so many other jobs for other clients scheduled to print. About four weeks into the manufacturing phase (after the proof approval), I contacted the printer for the projected ship date. It turned out to be several weeks earlier than I had expected. Everything had gone well, presumably, not just for my client’s books but for the entire printing plant’s schedule.

Presumably, if I had said nothing I would have still received a call requesting delivery information. But I like to be proactive (and I encourage you to do the same). So about a week prior to the projected ship date (not the projected delivery date), I contacted my clients for the shipping information and the printer for confirmation of the schedule. I encourage you to take a similar approach. After all, if you know about the schedule early, and if you can give the printer all delivery information (and especially the carton labeling information as well) early, the process can run smoothly.

With a different client, who is printing another book at a different printer, I need to have the cartons themselves printed (not stick-on labels--called crack ‘n peel labels--affixed to each carton).

This client also uses fulfillment services for her job, but she contracts with a different warehouse with different packing and labeling requirements. In her case, the printer has to subcontract out the box printing and conversion work. Box printing and conversion (turning flat corrugated board into glued box forms that can be opened, taped, filled, and sealed) takes about a week. So in this case the client must provide all delivery information, labeling information, and box printing art much earlier in the process than in my other client’s situation.

What this means for you, in your own print buying work, is that you need to be alert, early, and proactive in collecting all of this information before the last few days of the job.

[Steven Waxman is a printing consultant. He teaches corporations how to save money buying printing, brokers printing services, and teaches prepress techniques. Steven has been in the printing industry for thirty-three years working as a writer, editor, print buyer, photographer, graphic designer, art director, and production manager.]