SIGN WAVE

Taking control of sign and shelf-tag printing operations is giving retailers an edge, allowing for more responsive pricing decisions while cutting costs and making better use of labor."We want to take the costs out of distributing anything -- that's the name of the game," said Bob Graham, director of store systems at Smart & Final, Vernon, Calif. "It makes sense to send [sign] information electronically

Taking control of sign and shelf-tag printing operations is giving retailers an edge, allowing for more responsive pricing decisions while cutting costs and making better use of labor.

"We want to take the costs out of distributing anything -- that's the name of the game," said Bob Graham, director of store systems at Smart & Final, Vernon, Calif. "It makes sense to send [sign] information electronically and have the bulk of the work printed at the store level."

In-store printing "is the future," added Patrick Kennedy, who handles software support for Nob Hill Stores, Gilroy, Calif. "You really have to do it to cut costs."

Savings and improved efficiencies can be achieved from automating sign and tag printing, and bringing the process to the store level enables optimum response time, retailers said. Among the benefits are:

Reduced lead times: Retailers can make a price-change decision at the corporate level during the day and see newly created tags on their store shelves by nightfall.

Labor savings: Automating the printing of signs improves employee productivity, from the store manager to the corporate-level designer.

Increased integrity and appearance: Printing signs and tags from the same processor that serves the point-of-sale ensures price unity from the checkout to the signs in the aisles. Uniform, computer-generated tags also enhance a store's appearance.

One of the most valued benefits of moving printing in-house is reduced sign production time, which allows retailers to respond to competitor prices or market changes promptly.

The potential of quicker response is spurring retailers supplied by Certified Grocers of California, Los Angeles, to move printing to the store level.

"The reduced lead time is where the savings are," said Marty Simmons, manager of retail automation at Certified. "The savings they get is by being ahead on their pricing, instead of waiting for me to mail them their labels."

G&R Felpausch Co., Hastings, Mich., has cut its lead time from a week to less than a day by moving its sign and shelf-tag printing to the store level.

"We make a price decision on Monday, send the maintenance to the store that same day, the batch gets applied, tags are printed and the stores do the price changes that night," said Michael Hubert, director of management information systems.

"We're looking at less than 24 hours' lead time from a decision on a price change to an implemented price change," he added.

Felpausch previously used its wholesaler, Spartan Stores, Grand Rapids, Mich., to supply shelf tags. "After we made a pricing decision, we had to communicate with our wholesaler, who would update files, print tags and mail them to our stores.

Automating sign and shelf-tag production also improves labor productivity, retailers said. For Nob Hill Stores, automated printing freed the corporate-level art department from the task of creating store signs each week.

"Automating that part of the program made sign printing more efficient and freed up more time for them to do more artistic work, such as in-store banners," Kennedy said.

Reider's Stop-N-Shop, a five-store independent based in Solon, Ohio, has replaced handwritten signs with corporate-level computerized printing.

"We used to have one of the employees do signs for all stores by hand," said Larry Durdon, data processing manager. "What that employee would put out in a week I can now do in a day."

In-store printing also reduces the waste resulting from volume sign production by a wholesaler or third-party company. "One size doesn't fit all in a corporate printing program," Felpausch's Hubert said. "One store might want six full-page signs for a display and another one might just want a half-page."

Computerized sign production also improves the quality of shelf signs and tags by replacing informal handwritten signs with consistently designed materials.

"The appearance of our stores is beautiful because of this system," said Reider's Durdon. "Our produce signs not only identify what the item is and how much it costs per pound, but we also tell the customer nutritional information. That feature will be coming soon to our meat signs.

"It gives some unity to the signs," added Nob Hill's Kennedy. "We're able to do some shading on the tags to make them more appealing to the eye."

Along with improving sign appearance, computerized printing helps ensure pricing integrity throughout the store, Kennedy said. "[Sign data] is no longer transposed from what employees read on a paper to what they write on a sign; price data comes down from our main system."

Smart & Final views in-store printing of shelf tags as a key component in its fight to maintain price accuracy. The retailer's tags are printed directly from the POS, Graham said. "Tags are just the start. That's what builds the confidence between the customer and the front end, and we want that accuracy."