Retailers are shifting their shelf label and store sign production down to the local level to squeeze time and cost out of the process.
Moving the production of signs and tags to the corporate office level, or to the individual store, can mean a substantial cost savings, reduced employee labor and a higher degree of response time and sign integrity, retailers interviewed by SN said.
"Given the cost and time it takes to print signs and tags off-site, I don't see how, with the technology that's available today, you can not do [in-store printing] in the future," said Paul Gannon, vice president of information services at Shaw's Supermarkets, East Bridgewater, Mass.
About 35% of supermarket retailers are making the move to some degree of in-store printing, industry sources estimated. The majority are chains of more
than 50 stores, who are most able to justify the costs of investments in laser printers and compatible software for each store.
Francis Clark, store automation director at A&P, Montvale, N.J., estimates that retailers could save 50% to 70% by bringing printing functions in-house.
Other benefits cited by retailers who are using in-store printing include: more accurate signs; a quicker, more flexible opportunity to change prices, and neater presentation on the store floor.
The chance to substantially reduce costs, however, remains the most compelling reason retailers are making the $2,000- to $4,000-per-store investment to install printing.
"The bottom line is that it makes sense economically to do it," said John Deckard, public affairs manager at Safeway's Eastern division, Lanham, Md. "If you can do it right there at store level, you don't have to ship signs. It's a savings in a lot of ways."
Safeway, which will begin installing printers to create point-of-sale signs in stores by the end of the year, hopes to achieve reduced printing and shipping costs.
"If you have signs printed somewhere and they have to handle and ship them and you have to handle them again, that's not really a very efficient way to do things," he added. "If you can print signs right there at the store, and [employees] just have to take the signs and hang them, you're in much better shape."
Shaw's, which has been running in-store printers in all 87 of its stores for about a year, said it already is nearing a payback on its investment.
"The software runs on an in-store processor to actually print the labels," Shaw's Gannon said. "We transmit the information on both regular shelf tags as well as danglers down to the software. Each store has a laser printer that prints the tags.
"We tested our system for about four months to make sure it could handle situations such as resets, new stores and special programs," he added. "We needed to be sure it would work, not only in a regular situation, but also where instead of 1,000 tags being printed, we'd be looking at printing 10,000 to 30,000."
One of the main benefits Shaw's has found from using in-store printers is the ability to produce signs instantly. Gannon estimated Shaw's has eliminated two days in the production cycle by not having to rely on a third-party service bureau.
"You don't have to send information off-site to a separate printer and have that mailed down" to individual stores, he said. "Now the typical store might spend 20 to 30 minutes to print out a week's supply of 1,000 tags."
The real-time printing capabilities enable staff to catch and correct sign errors. "We've got an extra 48 hours," Gannon said. "That has given us time to build in additional control steps internally here."
Substantial benefits also have come from slashing production costs. "The cost of the printing is quite a bit less than what you pay with an outside service bureau," Gannon said. "We've seen at least a 50% decrease in the combined cost of producing the labels."
For Sobey's, Stellarton, Nova Scotia, a two-year-old in-store printing system has not only reduced costs but has improved the corporate office's reliability of its store signs' integrity as well.
"When the signage was being done by hand, half the time I think it probably wasn't being done," said Bradley Jardine, division vice president of management information systems. "So there is the consistency of the signage, and also the time savings are rather significant."
Sobey's has a Unix software system at each store that accepts information from the corporate office and prepares the signs and tags for printing.
Along with the speedier processing time, Sobey's has managed to make the reprinting of shelf signs, once a time-consuming task, a minor function.
"Reprinting is not a big issue. If somebody destroys a tag on a shelf or signs fall off, the store can immediately press a button and print a new sign out," Jardine said. "Shelf tags are extremely important because we use its bar code for ordering."
In-store printing may also lead to more benefits in the future, such as increased sales and upgrades in technology.
Sobey's Jardine said that with in-store printing, the quality of store signs has greatly improved. "The signs look good," he said. "You can do a lot with the fonts to make them really professional-looking. From that viewpoint, there definitely has been a big advantage."
Sobey's also considers in-store printing to be a natural first step toward such innovations as electronic shelf labels. "We've considered electronic tags," Jardine said. "It's very much related because the information we send down that is currently printed on the shelf tag would be the same information we'd send down for an electronic price tag.
"If we decide we definitely want to get into electronic price tags, we're partway there," he added.
Other retailers, such as Finast, Maple Heights, Ohio, and Pueblo Xtra International, Pompano Beach, Fla., are taking a smaller step by printing at a centralized store location and overnighting signs to stores: a concept that, despite some inefficiencies, gains the retailers a 20% to 40% savings.
Finast sees a centralized system as being the most cost-efficient system for now.
"We've done the analysis [of moving to individual-store basis], and we're comfortable with what we're doing now," said Greg Spragg, vice president of operations at Finast. The retailer does use in-store printers for replacement tags.
At Pueblo, "we produce our signs directly with a laser printer. We have a shop in our corporate offices. We produce all the signage and we send it all overnight," said Norma Dinero, advertising director.