BJ Ball Icon

BJ Ball has good news for printers: it has patented a system that means they need never run out of paper again – all while saving about 5% in the process.

Icon comprises three parts: digital papers, an online ordering portal and the industry’s first ‘auto-refill’ consignment model. The range of papers features certified substrates that have been tested and in most cases approved by original equipment manufacturers, says BJ Ball’s marketing & business development manager Tony Bertrand. That gives printers confidence that the products they buy are “designed to work in their machines”, which include HP Indigo, Konica Minolta, Canon, Ricoh and Lanier.

Paper can be ordered via an online portal, which retains billing and delivery details for future purchases. Customers can order and move stock, increase or decrease order sizes, add new products, check stock levels and look up all the information they need.

One customer, Printworks Australia owner Ben Freeman, appreciates the portal’s convenience. He doesn’t always have access to price books because he works remotely. The portal allows him to look up prices, input them into his system and prepare quotes for clients. He says Sydney-based Printworks is gradually switching over to the portal for all its paper needs in order to speed up ordering.

The portal works hand-in-hand with the third and final part of the Icon system, the i-consignment model, which automates the ordering process by letting BJ Ball know when printers need to restock.

BJ Ball begins by conducting an audit so it can get a feel for the printer’s paper requirements, including minimum and maximum stock levels. The merchant then installs racking at its customers’ plants and deposits stock. Instead of waiting for deliveries, printers have immediate access to as much or as little stock as they need, and can start using it straight away. The paper remains BJ Ball’s property until printers start to consume it.

The i-consignment model automatically orders a top-up from the BJ Ball trucks once stock falls to a predetermined minimum. The stock is replenished to a predetermined maximum, unless customers alter the order size through the portal. The i-consignment model offers improvements on the traditional delivery process, which involves the time-consuming process of receipting goods, putting them away and doing reconciliation. Bertrand says it puts printers in control of their inventories.

One obvious benefit is that printers no longer need to wait for deliveries for urgent jobs. End clients increasingly expect “quicker, better, cheaper” deliveries from printers – but that’s difficult to do when you don’t have enough stock or the right stock on hand.

Thanks to i-consignment, printers are able to approach quick-turnaround work with greater confidence, according to BJ Ball.

Working smarter

Bertrand says that to describe Icon as simply a just-in-time inventory management system would be selling it short. He says it’s a complete package that combines inventory control and quality digital substrates with a convenient ordering system that ensures printers have sufficient stock and the correct stock for the application – all while minimising costs. “Put simply, Icon is smart business,” he says.

The system ends printers’ age-old frustration of paying for stock they don’t use, so there are no more open packs of stock “gathering dust on shelves and never to be used again”. Bertrand estimates that printers with a turnover of $1 million to $1.5 million could save up to $50,000 per year by switching to Icon, or about 5% of their turnover.

The savings come from eliminating stock redundancy and lowering working capital costs. Freeman agrees. He says the combination of reduced monthly invoicing and better inventory control “would easily make a 5% saving”.

Icon is free for customers to install. However, printers aren’t forced to order from BJ Ball just because they have the Icon racking in their factories. Bertrand says the company respects the customer’s freedom to choose where they source their paper. Icon is about offering printers “the best products and the best system to manage them”, he adds.

Icon is patented technology and Bertrand is not aware of any other suppliers that provide an integrated platform. However, clever online portals and inventory management systems are of little use if the paper being handled is not up to standard. Bertrand tells ProPrint that Icon’s range of digital papers includes world-first products that can open up market opportunities for printers.

One example is Icon Diecut Solutions, which comprises a range of eight HP-certified pre-diecut products, such as wine boxes, golf ball boxes and door hangers. This provides printers with a more economical way of personalising products. Another standout product is the Silk-HD range. Freeman says the range has opened up opportunities in producing short-run books for art college clients who want a classy stock. Using Silk-HD has also improved the firm’s digital printing productivity and reduced downtime, he says.

Proof is in the pudding

Icon was officially launched at PacPrint in May, two months after being introduced to customers. The first beta user was Acorn Press, in the Sydney suburb of Brookvale. Managing director Craig Foley told ProPrint in May: “It is like BJ Ball having part of their factory in my plant.”

He said Acorn was using the Icon range on its Fuji Xerox 800 digital press and that BJ Ball was now its sole supplier of digital grades. “We jumped on board with BJ Ball when the Icon system came in. It is easy – it takes my mind off it.”

Bertrand told ProPrint shortly after PacPrint that BJ Ball had increased its Icon targets for 2013. That came after the merchant exceeded its expectations at the trade show by registering more than 100 visitors.

“Comments from many attendees at PacPrint were that this will add significant benefits to their business, not to mention save them money and deliver greater efficiencies,” he said at the time.

“We were pleasantly surprised how many attendees took the time to contact us during and post PacPrint to tell us that this was a fantastic service – and sign up of course,” he said.

“We received well over 100 registrations with many more potential customers that are currently testing the solution. Conversion rates are in line with our registrations and this has been very pleasing.”

An exciting road ahead

Bertrand says there are now more than 150 Icon users spread throughout all Australian states and New Zealand. Icon has significantly improved their cashflow, because instead of having to order in bulk, they can now pay on a pack-by-pack basis, he adds.

“It takes a lot of the bother and worry away from our customers. It’s not a silver bullet, but it’s certainly a step in the right direction for our customers. What customers love about Icon is its simplicity. It’s easy. Customers like easy. It’s easy to deal with us, easy to use the portal and it’s an easy process. What we’ve recognised – and we’ve used this tagline – is that Icon equals smart business,” he says.

“The Icon system includes an inventory management workflow tool, so not only does it apply to what we do in the printing industry, but it can apply to many other industries as well.”

Bertrand says some foreign suppliers have shown interest in licensing the Icon system. However, none of the interest has been solid – and BJ Ball hasn’t pushed it, because its focus for now is on serving the Australasian market rather than looking to other regions or industries, he adds.

“We haven’t established any firm plans, but we certainly believe there are opportunities within new markets, and potentially new countries. Who knows the future?”

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