Estimable Assistance

There's no question estimating software has made life immeasurably easier, more efficient and more profitable for wide-format print professionals everywhere.

But when it comes to choosing estimating software, every shop is different. Some want estimating functions and not a whole lot more, while others seek software solutions that can provide total shop management capabilities, from estimating to accounting, inventory control, sales tracking, production management, and marketing.

Cyrious Control

Cyrious Control software is the choice of Digitech Graphics Group, a Lakeland, FL shop specializing in wide-format products from trade show displays and graphics to vehicle wraps, wall murals, environmental graphics, and standard wide-format posters.

General manager Jay Boatright selected the software for its total shop management program. "We were looking to consolidate three software tools into one," he recalls of the decision reached 15 months ago. "The three were estimating and quoting, accounts payable and production management."

In addition to providing those capabilities, the software also aids Digitech in sales tracking and marketing. Boatright reports that until they began using the software, he and his colleagues didn't realize exactly how they would be able to use the data the software gathered. "Now we have a great wealth of data on our clients and potential clients, which we can use for more efficient marketing," he says.

Cyrious Control has helped Digitech in other ways as well. Before the shop began using the software, it took three months to get new salespeople up to speed on handling their own quotes. Today, that process has been compressed to about 30 days, because the software makes it easier to teach new sales staff how to quote.

Another key benefit has been greatly enhanced operational reporting, which has helped cut effort and money. "I can stay at my desk all day and still know what's going on in terms of sales, production and design and accounts receivable," Boatright says. "It has allowed us to keep track of our costs and cut down on waste drastically. It made us really examine our pricing, based on material usage and waste.

"[Cyrious Control was] hands down the best product we found for the money."

Also benefiting from Cyrious Control is SignTex Imaging, a shop that produces billboards, banners, and stadium graphics in the Houston suburb of Tombal, TX. General manager Terri Kline used Cyrious Control at FastSigns, her previous employer, and brought it over to SignTex in April 2008, two months before the shop began using it.

Currently, Cyrious Control is being used at SignTex Imaging only for estimating. But the shop is "now getting into the production terminals of the software," Kline says, and likely will begin using the product for bookkeeping and billing functions as well.

"I liked the ease of it," Kline notes of her decision to recommend Cyrious to her new employer at SignTex Imaging. "It covers everything. It asks all the right questions, so you don't forget to ask customers the questions you need to ask, and don't forget to enter the right information."

The previous software SignTex Imaging used was "terrible," Kline recalls. It lacked security features to prevent unauthorized users from tapping into the program and entering changes that no one could track. By contrast, Cyrious Control requires all users to have passwords to enter the software program. "It will log the activity if you withdraw or deposit money in its activity log, so activities can be checked later," Kline says.

The estimating function supplies a number of conveniences, she adds. Each of SignTex Imaging's customers is what she calls "price unique." The program will list the wholesale price of a product, then provide the unique markups for each customer.

Kline believes Cyrious Control offers "everything you need in a software program. When I worked at FastSigns, it did everything from our accounting to our marketing."

PrintPoint

At Buettner Printing in the Milwaukee suburb of Butler, WI, president Fred Buettner Jr. tried a number of programs, finally choosing PrintPoint Version 5.2. He found it was the easiest program to use, and also the easiest to adjust to from his own personal way of estimating. "I used to figure everything by hand," he says. "And I knew exactly where I was going and what I was doing with PrintPoint."

The shop uses PrintPoint not only for estimating its wide-format printing output, but also its offset printing of business cards, envelopes, letterhead and color brochures. In the wide-format print arena, Buettner says, he creates a template of popular sizes like 24 by 36, can click on the template, and access pricing he uses for each of his clients.

"It's a program very easy to adjust," he says. "Even though you may have set prices, you can always go in and change the prices, even right in the middle of a job."

In addition to using PrintPoint for estimating, Buettner also occasionally utilizes the software for accounts receivable functions. He plans to eventually use PrintPoint for all his accounting functions, replacing another accounting program that's harder to use.

In addition, he has found PrintPoint can help him gain insights into his shop's inventory usage and equipment productivity, as well as helping avoid costly mistakes.

"I know how much I've used, and how frequently I've used it," he says of certain types of materials. "As a result, I know what I'm using and can get a better buy next time I see a supplier offering a discount on that particular stock."

The software can also tell him which presses he's running most, and what types of jobs he is running on those presses. "I know who's purchasing what and at any given time," he says. "I can see where I need to focus, what machines are providing the greatest output, and even which machines I may eventually be able to eliminate."

PrintPoint also saves time, money and the need to requote by catching mistakes before they're made. For example, the software allows a user to enter specs for each individual printer, and will alert him or her if the job falls outside those configurations.

"If you have a 24-inch wide image, you're printing on 24-inch paper and you need margins, it will alert you not to print on that paper," Buettner says. "It definitely makes you more profitable when you don't have to rerun jobs."

Buettner believes acquiring PrintPoint is the single best investment he's made in his business in its 24-year history, due to the software's outstanding ability to automate business functions and catch mistakes before they're made. "And if you need any support at all, you just call them and they take care of you in real time during that call," he adds. "They're very good that way. It's excellent customer care."

Just as enthusiastic about PrintPoint 5.2 is Lisa Brooks, manager of estimating for Brooks Litho & Digital Group in Amityville, NY. The 21-year-old shop was launched by Lisa's father David Brooks in 1988, and later introduced the first digital press on Long Island. Its focus is trade show, retail store and office signage, according to Lisa Brooks.

Of PrintPoint, she says, "It's fantastic. It really streamlined our job tracking and estimating. We can use one program to do everything: job tracking, fully automated estimating, client database, vendor/supplier database, paper inventory and job costing."

Like Buettner, Brooks found PrintPoint was very easy to set up and featured a manual that was detailed but easy to follow. Also like those at Buettner Printing, employees at Brooks Litho & Digital Group formerly tackled estimating by hand. With PrintPoint, Brooks was able to consolidate job functions and move people who formerly handled estimating into other posts, because the program handled estimating so well.

When users need tech support, Brooks says, the software maker often logs on to users' systems to determine exactly how the problem manifests itself on screen.

"They log right onto your system, view the problem, and if they can take control they will fix it," Brooks says. "For a fairly simple issue, you won't wait longer than the length of a 15-minute phone call to have something addressed," Brooks calls PrintPoint "a saving grace for our company," adding, "You can really do everything. I don't think there's anything I could add they haven't added."

Monarch

At Costa Mesa, CA-based Primary Color Systems Corp., the favored estimating product is Monarch Version 11, which operations manager Steve Rowe and colleagues began using for litho printing in June 2007 and for wide- format printing in October 2007.

"It's put some consistency in our estimating, and has given us the ability to project our inventory needs and manage inventory more effectively," Rowe says.

Once Primary Color Systems employees got used to the wide-format estimating module, they found Monarch comparatively easy to use, but not as easy to use as they believe it will eventually become. "The wide-format estimating module is not exactly what we need," Rowe says.

"It needs further enhancement, so we've had to introduce some work-arounds in order to achieve the results we require. Those make it more difficult to us, but if we get the enhancements, it will be easier to use."

Estimating functions are 100 percent accurate, as long as users create their standards and lay the appropriate groundwork, which is entirely within their control, Rowe adds. "It's a work in progress, as far as fine tuning our estimating standards," he says. "Our company overall is just starting to reap the benefits of having a fully integrated estimating production and accounting system."

 

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