Rooms at the Top

Wide-format imaging professionals who make plan room services available to their clients often report reaping different benefits from the software. And many wide-format pros also use different strategies in charging customers for plan room services.

In the pages to follow we examine the approaches of several wide-format shops when it comes to using, benefiting from and pricing plan room software services.

IDEAL PlanRoom

Satisfied users of IDEAL PlanRoom include ABS Repro, a Fort Washington, PA-based blueprinter with two Philadelphia area shops focused on the construction trade.

"At the time we selected it at the end of 2003, IDEAL had one of the most comprehensive solutions available," says chief operating officer Jeff Markovitz. "They're reprographers themselves. They understood the requirement the software has to meet, both for themselves and their clients. They had software that made sense for both our clients in the construction trade, and for us who have to use, operate and update it."

Another reason for choosing IDEAL PlanRoom, Markovitz says, was that it was evident IDEAL would remain a partner with ABS Repro, working with the reprographer to help build out the application over time. "We looked at all major plan rooms, and it was the clear choice for an independent reprographer," he says.

Markovitz praises IDEAL PlanRoom for giving ABS Repro's clients 24/7 access to all their projects, as well as providing "exceptional granularity" to both ABS Repro and its clients on all projects. The software tracks every activity on the plan room, enabling clients to monitor what was sent, and to whom and when. IDEAL PlanRoom also permits the tracking of full details on any bid in progress, as well as how subcontractors are using the plan room on their projects. "It's instantaneous, up to date, and keeps them informed in a way they wouldn't be otherwise," Markovitz says.

Also benefiting ABS Repro is the fact IDEAL PlanRoom permits the company to brand the plan room as its own, and to customize it to meet specific client needs.

"It is easy to navigate and easy to use," he says. "But because the application provides a huge number of tools for clients, it does take them time to familiarize themselves with all the different ways it can be of benefit. And we are very active in providing training and support to all our clients to ensure they get maximum benefit."

ABS Repro provides on-site training for individuals and groups, and also delivers support by both phone and Internet. In no time at all, clients are up to speed, and are able to view, order and download drawings, Markovitz says.

The training essentially provides clients with awareness of the plan room software's advanced features. The goal of ABS Repro is to make clients aware those tools are part of the software for their benefit. "It's not a question of teaching them how to use them, but showing them how they can benefit from them," Markovitz comments.

Finally, IDEAL PlanRoom offers something that ABS Repro found nowhere else: the availability of customization for individual clients. In other words, the reprographer can tailor its plan room offerings to meet the needs of a specific client. As a result, Markovitz adds, "I'm not saddled with a one-size-fits-all solution."

Other Plan Room Software

Meanwhile, as an ARC Company, Georgia Blueprint uses ARC's proprietary PlanWell software for its plan room services. "We use it as a document management tool to manage our workflow and make it easier for our clients to distribute their documents," says Dan Stephens, region president for imaging technologies + Georgia Blue with the Alpharetta, GA-based 230-employee, 100-year-old shop focused of wide-format color.

"It's real user friendly, with lots of components that allow for bidding documents."

Georgia Blueprint's PlanWell administrator John McEntyre says the software helps the company standardize operations by centralizing all its locations through document management.

"If we place an order, we can determine exactly what we sent out," he says. "If we get a call a couple weeks later as to what we sent out, we have a strong tracking system of what was sent out and when."

Also using PlanWell is MBC Precision Imaging, Inc., a 36-year-old Columbia, MD shop that was family owned and operated until being acquired by ARC in March 2007. MBC Precision Imaging has 16 locations and focuses on large-format printing, with color graphics departments and certified graphic artists on staff.

PlanWell software, says digital imaging specialist Melissa Smith, allowed her company to transition from a wide-format printer into a technology leader. "Our clients don't appear to be looking for the cheapest price points, but they do seek solutions to meet crucial deadlines accurately," she says. "We're proud to have those solutions. And we have gone from being just a printer to being our clients' partner."

Cushing Company in Chicago embraces a different type of software, says executive vice-president Joe Cushing. The 80-year-old full-service printing company with a reputation for on-site services chooses ReproMax DFS/PDM, Cushing reports.

"We did a thorough research of the market, and it was the clear cut winner," he says. "And it was one of the most thorough research efforts our staff has done."
The Cushing Company researchers particularly appreciated the fact that ReproMax is versatile, open-ended and can be expanded via seamless upgrades.

Pricing Strategies

ABS Repro's Markovitz believes if a service is offered at no charge to clients, the company making the offer is essentially signaling the service has no value.

To the contrary, he says, online plan room, digital file processing, and other digital services all offer tremendous value to clients. Unfortunately, many of the bigger chains of repro companies have been leading pricing trends downward, he says.

"The most unimaginative way to compete in the market is on price," he observes. "And it's a foolish strategy because you hollow out the market for everyone, making any victory phyrric. What we have always tried to do is put together a package of pricing for our clients that recognizes the value of the services we provide, while staying profitable...and competitive on prices. This is even more important during this transition from paper to digital output, and is compounded by the current economic conditions."

ABS Repro works with its clients to determine their specific needs, how they will use the plan room and what services they deem most essential. The company then structures its plan room prices in a way that meets the needs of both parties, and presents the proposed charges to the clients. For some clients pricing will be offered on an ala carte basis, and for other clients pricing will be presented as a comprehensive package. "We make sure we know what they need and don't need, so they get maximum benefit for every dollar they spend," Markovitz says.

Cushing Company, meantime, offers three components of pricing. One is an annual subscription for a client portal, the second a monthly maintenance for upgrades and unlimited licenses, also covering the cost of redundant storage, Cushing says.

"The third is where people say, ‘Please post these live and index them,'" he adds. "They can upload themselves with no charge, or use Cushing to upload, index and perhaps for the file conversion—for a per sheet fee."

At MBC Precision Imaging, Smith reports her company has a standard package price that covers specific basic features of the plan room, and a "Professional Package" covering all the bells and whistles for a higher price. Before pricing is established for any client, MBC Precision Imaging conducts a thorough client assessment. "In a competitive situation, we do negotiate, but we never offer the service for free," Smith adds. "That's because we realize there is a value associated with it."

Georgia Blueprint's McEntyre says his shop bases the prices of its plan room services on the documents clients have in the system. "We'll charge your for holding these documents on file; they're taking up storage space on our servers," he says. "We charge by document. The more features they need from the system, the more cost is added...features might include BidCaster, instant print, instant download."

Georgia Blueprint turns these features on to provide added support to clients, McEntyre says. The shop can help its clients handle their bid distribution and document distribution, saving them money on this facet of their business. "And we can do it in a more cost-effective manner than they are doing it now," he concludes.