Fastenal Speeds Up Its Production Cycle

For nearly 15 years, industrial and construction supplies marketer Fastenal has manually updated its annual Big Blue catalog. But the ballooning page count of the Winona, MN-based cataloger’s book — reaching 1,800 pages this year — meant that inputting the vast amounts of pricing, descriptive, and visual data was tedious, not to mention prone to error.

So last year Fastenal hooked up with Cambridge, MA-based Banta Integrated Media (a division of the cataloger’s Menasha, WI-based printer, Banta Corp.) to implement an automated design software and a digital asset management (DAM) system. Fastenal used the system to create its 2002 catalog, which began mailing in February.

“Increasing efficiency through a shorter catalog production cycle was the first concern,” says Fastenal marketing manager Darrell Bates. Other goals included improving accuracy and making it easier to repurpose material, all of which together would save the cataloger money.

Repurposing with purpose

The DAM system, which includes a database and a repository, holds all components for the catalog pages, which are created using QuarkXPress, says Banta Integrated Media vice president/general manager John Sisson. Storing graphics, copy, and various SKU information in the database allows Fastenal to reuse images and descriptions from catalog to catalog without having to rekey them. Eventually, the IT team at Fastenal will repurpose the information for the Web as well, “though that was not one of our primary goals,” says Bates.

Banta implemented its Autoprice software system to help keep prices accurate. The software links documents to any external database information by assigning “placeholders” for text or pictures in the Quark files. Each placeholder is associated with a value that can easily be replaced with updates to the file.

Implementing Fastenal’s system and training its staff was challenging, since the cataloger offers more than 100,000 SKUs and the database had to be created from scratch. “We deconstructed all of the Quark pages in order to design the Page Sprayer software [Banta’s page-building program] while at the same time we were creating the database from which we would work,” explains Sisson. All told, the process took roughly six months.

To shorten the catalog production cycle, Fastenal wanted to shift the responsibility of product input from the designers to the product managers. “We used to spend six to eight months preparing the annual catalog, with product managers submitting product information to designers for input,” Bates says. Now Fastenal has an interface through which the product managers input the information directly into the database. Page Sprayer then places the data on page, leaving the designers to worry about graphics and presentation.

Bates and Sisson expect catalog production time to drop from eight months in 2001 and six months in 2002 to four months next year, now that the trial run of 2002 and the training are completed. Sisson estimates that on average catalogers can expect to save approximately 30% of catalog production time by using a tailored DAM system. The Banta system costs about $185,000 for 25 users, plus annual fees for technical support and system upgrades.

More benefits to come

The DAM system has enabled Fastenal to keep the design staff for the Big Blue catalog at its current size — four full-time workers and two part-timers. Before implementing the system, Bates says, the company was going to have to hire more designers to keep up with the expanding number of products carried and catalog pages required.

Bates also reports several ancillary benefits that Fastenal had not banked on, such as the ability to produce its monthly circular more efficiently and to create regional supplements and smaller targeted books aimed at market niches.

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