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On-site bar code labeling system puts pillow manufacturer's labeling nightmares to rest

Decorite pillow labeling systemDecorite, Inc., a leading manufacturer of decorator pillows, stocked hundreds of preprinted law tags to label in excess of 1,000 different stock-keeping units (SKUs). With the increase in demand for UPC bar coding, compounded by the unpredictability of the home fashion design market, Decorite's vice president of operations, Grady Jones, went searching for a more cost-efficient method of labeling.

Mr. Jones contacted Weber Marking Systems, Inc. (Arlington Heights, IL) and discovered the firm could supply Decorite with an on-site labeling system that offered on-demand printing capabilities with advanced bar coding and software features. Weber's 81 Series thermal-transfer label printer, exclusive Legitronic® labeling software and Tyvek® tag material enhance Decorite's labeling operation by picking up where preprinted labels leave off.

The highs and lows of preprinted labels

For many years, Ashland, VA-based Decorite had been purchasing tag material preprinted with standard law label information, including the Federal Requirement Registration Number, Under Penalty Of Law statement and Registry Number.

For established pillow orders from Decorite's larger customers – like JC Penney, L.L. Bean, Dillard's and Burlington Coat Factory – other information was preprinted on law tags as well, such as material contents information and product descriptions.

"Buying preprinted labels for our large, fixed orders is extremely economical for us," says Mr. Jones, who adds that Decorite's business follows the 80/20 rule. "Eighty percent of our stock sold comes from 20 percent of our SKUs."

That leaves 80 percent of the SKUs accounting for the rest of Decorite's business, which includes orders from trade shows, small retailers and furniture stores, as well as shipments for seasonal and theme pillows. The depth of this product line is excellent for Decorite's sales, but has proven to be a labeling nightmare.

Before utilizing an on-demand labeling system to manage these smaller runs, Decorite increased its already extensive label inventory by adding several versions of preprinted law tags with blank data fields. SKU numbers, catalog numbers and material contents information were hand-stamped onto the blank areas of the tag. The labor was time-consuming and costly, plus the results were unreliable.

Bar coding demands flexibility

Manufacturing decorator pillows since 1951, Decorite has seen many changes in the retail industry. The latest is UPC bar coding. "The ability to exchange information is so important, and we need that flexibility in our business," asserts Mr. Jones.

In the past, only a few of Decorite's customers required bar-coded products. To accommodate these demands, Decorite added to its label inventory once again with preprinted, pressure-sensitive UPC bar code labels that were manually applied to the backs of the law tags. Two labels per pillow not only expanded Decorite's label inventory, but also increased labor costs and slowed production.

As the demand for bar codes grew from other customers, Decorite felt the urgency for a flexible labeling system that would permit 100 percent bar coding.

The marriage of preprinted and on-site labeling

By combining preprinted labels and Weber's on-site labeling system, Decorite was able to customize an operation that best suited its needs.

"Both labeling methods offer separate advantages, and we found it in our best interest to capitalize on all of them," says Mr. Jones. "By purchasing large volumes of preprinted labels for our bigger customers' orders, we save money. By labeling our small runs on-site, we reduce inventory, labor costs and the risk of label obsolescence. Again, we save money."

The on-site thermal-transfer labeling system from Weber also maximizes Decorite's bar coding capabilities by allowing the company to print a UPC code for every pillow, no matter how small the run. This meets Decorite's goal of 100 percent bar coding.

"We do it [bar code labeling] in response to customer requests, but it also allows us to capture information that we couldn't before; information that helps us improve inventory tracking and customer response times," says Mr. Jones. He also states that the bar codes will play a major role in Decorite's future, as current plans predict bar-coded inventory and work-in-process, with everything being tracked by bar code scanners.

Decorite also is developing Electronic Data Interchange (EDI) transactions, like Advance Ship Notices (ASNs), with some retailer customers.

Weber's on-site labeling system at work

The cornerstone of Decorite's on-site labeling system, as with all Weber systems, is the Legitronic® labeling software. The DOS-based, IBM-compatible package offers What-You-See-Is-What-You-Get (WYSIWYG) display screens and straightforward prompts for easy formatting and designing of labels, including bar codes, text and graphic images.

"Weber's software package is extremely user-friendly and easy to learn," comments Mr. Jones. "The WYSIWYG features make it simple to operate, even for our operators who aren't computer literate."

The company also liked the fact that the labeling software was compatible with its other existing software packages. Decorite has accumulated a very large Lotus 1-2-3® file that houses order information for each of its 1,000-plus SKUs, and with a simple batch program written by Weber, the labeling software can interface with Decorite's entire customer data base. Because customer information only needs to be entered once, one employee can handle the maintenance of the data base, which greatly reduces the risk of error.

Reducing errors is vital when printing UPC bar codes for retailers. "Some of our customers impose heavy charge-backs for improperly coded UPC bar codes," says Mr. Jones. "That's why it's so important that we only have to key in the bar code data once and Weber's software can do the rest."

When a batch of labels needs to be printed for an order, an operator simply accesses the labeling software on the PC and enters the pillow's SKU number to bring up all the necessary label information: the SKU number, catalog number, percentages of material contents, a product description and even the UPC bar code, which previously had to be preprinted separately. With the label format on the screen, the operator can verify the label data and, if necessary, edit it before printing.

In addition to pulling information from the data base, Decorite operators can directly input data into the labeling software to create and print a single label for a sample pillow, which is a successful selling method that Decorite frequently uses at trade shows or when approaching a potential customer.

The other aspect to Decorite's on-site system is Weber's 81 Series thermal-transfer printer. It offers excellent print quality of variable text and UPC bar codes on Weber's durable Tyvek® tag material.

Weber preprints the tags with standard law information at its manufacturing facility and ships them to Decorite, where the variable information is then printed on-site. This method maximizes the speed of the 81 Series printer. After the variable information is printed on the tag and separated by the printer's cutter mechanism, operators take the loose tags to the sewing room where they are attached as the cover of the pillow is being sewn.

The company's new labeling system now requires the stocking of only one generic law tag to label 80 percent of its SKUs. This streamlines Decorite's inventory while producing high-quality results that are faster and far more dependable than stamping.

"The on-site system allows us to get more information on one label with fewer people involved," concludes Mr. Jones. "Also, by helping trim my preprinted label inventory and reducing label obsolescence, the system has paid for itself within six months."

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