Well, here we are, deep in the midst of an economic recession, the worst economy in nearly three decades. Unemployment rates are through the roof, a new administration is in Washington, and I am here to talk to about a Major Purchase! Wait!!! Before you turn the page or click your mouse, let me explain. We have learned throughout time that with every downturn there's an upturn. When that upturn arrives, will you and your mailing operation be prepared? Regardless of the economy that we have been handed, we know that we must press on. Customers and clients are still expecting their communications delivered on time. Like Newman famously said, "The Mail Never Stops!" The bottom line is your business relies on monthly communications with customers through transactional documents and interaction with potential customers through marketing mailings. It is your responsibility to develop quality mail production processes to facilitate these communications on time, every time.

What constitutes a major purchase or investment? That is up to broad interpretation. A major purchase for a high volume mailer might be a new line of high speed printers or converting a sea of swing-arm inserters to a fleet of high speed intelligent inserting systems. For smaller mailers or printers that are trying to enter the direct mail market, a major purchase could be the conversion from table top inserters to mid-range inserting platforms that will greatly expand production capabilities. Even though every company's own definition of a major purchase may differ greatly, preparing for any type of major purchase requires forethought and planning. To help you take advantage of the new production capabilities that will come from your major purchase, think about these five P's before you sign on the dotted line.

POWER [n]: a source or means of supplying energy; especially: ELECTRICITY

Often overlooked in the early stages of a production upgrade is the additional power load that will be generated by the addition of new equipment to your facility. Remember, you are not going to de-install your old equipment and have your new up and running over the weekend! But being prepared for the new power demands will help to get your new production line up and running. Verify that your building's wiring, your U.P.S. (Uninterruptible Power Supply) system and your generator can handle the additional load of your new equipment in addition to all your existing equipment. Should you fire up your new equipment only to knock out the lights on the other side of the wall, you are not going to be smiling at your shiny new purchase for long! An important consideration is that many of today's high speed production systems rely on Three Phase power. Make sure that three phase power is available in your facility or find out what it would cost to have the electric company run it into your building. This cost MUST be calculated into your budget when looking at any equipment upgrade.

PEOPLE [n] plural: human beings making up a group or assembly or linked by a common interest

Create an "upgrade" team with those that will be involved in handling the addition of new equipment. Involve members of all interested departments in this team; facilities, purchasing, hardware, software, and most importantly, operators. Share your ideas with members of the team and be receptive to their input. Everyone must be on the same page with the same long term goals in order to have a successful operation. Ask operators what features they would like to see with the new equipment and what they need in new equipment to help the team and the company be successful.

Another benefit of involving operators will be the morale boost, giving them a sense of pride from having their ideas considered. Early communication is much better than dropping a new piece of equipment on their floor with an instruction booklet saying, "Make Mail!" Early and consistent support for new equipment will help your team transition successfully and make the most of your investment.

PROCESSES [n] : a series of actions or operations conducing to an end; ESPECIALLY: a continuous operation or treatment especially in manufacture

Evaluate your production workflow and your operational area. Chances are, your upgrade will greatly increase the speed and efficiency of your operation, but can your operation handle the increase in capabilities while maintaining efficiency? Do you have the space for extra materials that you will need to keep these new machines running at full capacity? Do you have clearly marked paths in and around your equipment with no bottle necks or clutter? Maybe you will need to take down a wall or rotate a printer line to be more efficient.

Talk to your vendors. Their expertise can provide insight into a better configuration for your systems and their experience from setting up many production facilities can benefit your operations. Utilize your partner vendors' knowledge to see how they would orient your new equipment. Your production processes need to be reviewed and modified to compensate for any changes that you will be making.

PLANNING [n] : the act or process of making or carrying out plans; SPECFICALLY: the establishment of goals, policies, and procedures for a social or economic unit

Create your own internal Project Plan to share with your vendors. Highlight your dates and milestones and work from there. Setting expectations early with your vendors is the best start to achieving your goal of a more successful operation. It is important that your staff receives the necessary training on the equipment with opportunities to become acclimated with the systems. Training, testing, and learning all take time. Build in a few weeks of buffer for your operators, splitting work between new and old systems. Every day they run the new equipment, they will gain confidence and speed in their jobs. Error recovery, start up, shut down....these all improve with time as operators become more comfortable. The importance of involving operators early in the procurement process will really show its value in this area!

Planning on the financial side is also very important to your long term success. Whether this major purchase will be a cash expense or a capital expenditure, you will want to plan for the impact of such a significant purchase through a cost-benefit analysis. Look not only at your initial ROI, but your ROI + years! Take into account the additional capacity you will gain with your new equipment. How many more clients can you now take on? How much can you in-source? These numbers are not going to be evident until your new center is up and running at full speed, but consider the possibilities for the future based on the new major purchase that you are making today.

PREVENTION [n] a: to be in readiness for (as an occasion) b: to meet or satisfy in advance c: to act ahead of

Test! Test! Test! Before flipping the switch to live production, ensure that everyone is 100% comfortable with the new equipment. Your production chain will only run as fast and as efficiently as your weakest link. To prevent delays, test the full production processes prior to going live. To prevent production stoppages due to unforeseen integration problems, maintain a few pieces of your existing equipment as a failsafe. This not only makes everyone feel a little more at ease with all the new equipment, but it will also allow you to take on a few additional jobs that you couldn't afford to run before!

Create mailing templates. Gather all the department heads that perform mailings (marketing, billing, and accounting) and give them a few different templates that they can use for mailings. Why you ask? The destination address, the return address, and company logos...if they are all in or around the same location, you'll need only one envelope design. Buying only one style of envelope will save you money. Using the same envelope for various print jobs will also make your new production machine a lot happier, providing the consistent quality output that you expect!

Power, People, Processes, Planning, and Prevention are 5 of the most important factors to analyze when considering a major purchasing decision: The Five P's of a Major Purchase! Consider these factors carefully and you will be on your way to producing mail with your new investment in production capabilities.

They may seem a bit generic at first, but overlook one of the P's and you will quickly be behind schedule and over budget; two things that no one wants to happen during a major purchase!

Ryan Pillar is the Project Manager at Kern, Inc. For more information, please visit www.kerninc.com.