Spotlight: Ward Stewart of StickerYou
This summer, Canadian e-comm startup and customized die-cut sticker company StickerYou opened its first retail location in Toronto, describing it as the world’s largest sticker store. Here, Ward Stewart, Director of Production Operation, shares how he helped implement smart workplace management that resulted in substantial production efficiency.
PA: Can you tell us about StickerYou?
WS: StickerYou is an innovative company that produces custom die-cut sticky products, including stickers, labels, decals, temporary tattoos, iron-on transfers, badges and patches. Customers can use our online stickermaker to create custom stickers and other products in any size, any shape and any quantity, or they can work with our design team to create the perfect design for their needs. StickerYou was the first company in the world to offer the ability to customize stickers – and later, temporary tattoos – online. What really makes us special is that we offer customers the ability to customize the design with no minimum order. It’s a revolutionary concept for the printing industry.
Our production capabilities cover a large range of wide-format and narrow-web printing, flatbed and laser cutting, small-format print/cut and specialty services for finishing, such as merrowing for patches, laminating for a variety of product offering and laser cutting for patches/badges. Supporting StickerYou’s production quality is our complete design, production art and QC team. [We] use a variety of software programs and our own internal programs for order processing, file production/management, QC, fulfilment and shipping.
PA: Since joining last year, you oversaw changes that have doubled label capacity and resulted in a 60-percent reduction in late orders. How did you accomplish this?
WS: The number one goal was to create a new production vision. I like to refer to it as a TEAM effort, in which TEAM stands for Targeted Effort Among Members. Initially, we needed to change the culture within the department from that of a startup to a full-fledged production operation managed by key personnel. I recruited more full-time skilled personnel, rather than continuing with a majority staff of part-time operators, which had presented many challenges to smooth daily operations. Over the next 60 days, the primary focus was to identify a few things: Whether the production management structure supported the company’s current and projected future needs; what the production department already did well; and which members of the existing staff were ready to take on leadership roles.
We moved from a traditional production management style with one individual in charge to a team of three key production staff managing the day-to-day in print operations (for pre-production needs, such as QC, order management, file preparation/adjustments, shipping and KPI reporting), print production (departments that handle the daily execution of printed orders, scheduling staff over rotating shifts and production planning with department leads), and technical services (managing all equipment to prevent extended downtime, monitoring daily equipment performance, improving production knowledge of software and equipment use and identifying future equipment needs/purchases).
Next, we implemented a dedicated fulfilment and shipping department to monitor order quality, counts and to meet on-time shipping. From there, we stopped moving staff through multiple departments and had them focus on one key function instead, which improved daily efficiencies by more than 20 percent. We improved our knowledge of equipment capabilities, particularly around print speed, cutting time and daily staff performance by department, giving us greater insight on how to process orders, the amount of labour required per shift, and what role automation could play in each department as we grow. As well, we refined our daily production meetings to focus on lean manufacturing principles that look at waste and real-time order management to meet the diverse demands placed on scheduling and staff management. This has impacted customer satisfaction by improving print quality and dropping the number of late orders from almost 28 percent down to 0 percent daily.
PA: How is the state of the print industry?
WS: It’s in a period of constant transition. A lot of what is happening in terms of equipment and material development is based on how to make things faster, of better quality and customized to the market’s changing desires. What will drive this in the future is customer service, even more so than price. At a certain point, you can’t make things more cheaply — the added value for consumers will be their experience with the company, and a major part of that is their experience with customer service. It will be as much about how they get the product as the quality of the product itself.
PA: Why do you think customization resonates with today’s consumers?
WS: I think there are many reasons for this, but for the label and sticker industry specifically, I think customization resonates because it allows consumers of every level of business development to order professional-grade products to individual specifications. Previously, traditional printing didn’t have much space for businesses that weren’t printing thousands per order. It was a choice of high minimum orders and being stuck with an expensive invoice and more product than needed, or nothing at all. Customized stickers and labels are extraordinarily useful tools for businesses, both for marking product and for marketing purposes. There should be affordable options. Offering any size, any shape and any quantity is a revolutionary concept for the traditional business model, and it allows consumers at every level to get what they need for a reasonable price. People recognize the value in it.
PA: What are some of the biggest challenges you see in the industry?
WS: Some of the biggest challenges in the printing industry are turnaround time, environmental concerns, product cost, and innovating new customizable products. Printing companies can combat these challenges by keeping prices at a level that satisfies both the consumer’s and business’s appetite to buy, positioning print as a complementary component to digital by demonstrating a solid ROI and highlighting the fact that most audiences better retain information if they receive it in printed communication. As for environmental concerns, moving to a customizable product offering while continually innovating or refining products can be a step in the right direction and help alleviate concerns.
Building strong partnerships with product and equipment vendors is also key, as is developing our collective knowledge of market needs through research. By keeping an eye on what might be coming next for the print industry, you can devise plans to adapt to future shifts and changes in the industry.
PA: In this competitive landscape, how can printing companies stay agile and profitable?
WS: By paying attention to new technologies and new ways of doing things, this can help satisfy the needs and wants of your customer base efficiently. Being willing to experiment is important, as is paying attention to what your customers are buying and why. This will inform how you can better meet their needs.
PA: Why do you think print continues to be relevant in a digital future?
WS: The belief that print is dying is no longer an accurate assessment of the industry and probably won’t be true for many years, if at all! Consumers and businesses of all sizes will always rely in some form or another on printed communications due to the changing buying habits of the purchasing market.
Even with the growth of online shopping, consumers or businesses are always in need of hard copy products, whether that’s a sticker, packaging or a piece of mail. What will continue to change is the technology and materials used to print those items and the order size (quantities) printed for each order. Based on what we’re seeing from our new retail store, consumers want to use/buy printed matter that is offered in a customizable option, created with their own design and at quantities they desire in an on demand basis with faster turnaround. Print will clearly evolve, but I don’t think it will ever die!
A condensed version of this Q&A was originally published in the November 2019 issue of PrintAction, now available online.
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