Johnnie’s Office Systems: Getting Personal with Variable Data Printing29 Aug, 2005 By: Darrell Amy imageSource
Johnnie’s Office Systems: Getting Personal with Variable Data Printing
Similar to the office equipment
industry, business owners in the commercial printing industry face profit
pressure as offset printing becomes more of a commodity.
So when an opportunity arose for a large job to print variable data, which
basically requires assembling a print job from a variety of sources, Paul
Nystrom, vice president of Waco, Texas-based AMA Nystrom Printing, knew he had
to take a shot at it. The only problem was Nystrom was unsure if his more than
40-year-old company had the necessary capabilities to handle it.
Typically, the company ran color printing of direct mail, special interest
magazines, corporate brochures, and annual reports. It had limited short run
copy capabilities and did not produce digital documents. Variable data printing
was an entirely new venture for AMA.
“The fact that we weren’t invested in any big way in copy equipment or variable
data software turned out to be a blessing,” Nystrom recalled. “We were able to
research just about everything we could find that might be a solution to do this
The bid required printing 1,300 booklets per day for a financial services
company. The booklets were 40 pages thick and included variable data based on
the specific products and state that the client was located in. For example,
booklets for customers in different states required different terms and
One of the first people he called was Bill Gibson, a solutions specialist for
Temple, Texas-based Johnnie’s Office Systems, Inc., an authorized Toshiba,
Muratec and Duplo office solutions dealer. Gibson had been consistently calling
AMA for several years, but had been unsuccessful in attempting to upgrade AMA’s
office copier equipment. So he was surprised when Nystrom began asking about
printing variable data.
AMA’s issue was not only printing more than 1,000 booklets daily, but the books
had to be bound and mailed within three days. The reason that the project was
out to bid was that the previous provider had not been able to meet the
three-day standard. To make the project even more challenging, the booklets
included custom ID cards, a magnet, stickers, and color documents that needed to
be inserted into the booklet.
In addition, specific information for each customer, such as their names and
addresses, needed to be printed on forms throughout the booklet. In fact, there
were over 120 different data fields for each customer. Two key concepts of
variable data printing are:
1. Print/Data Streams
Back office databases generate a stream of data. This data is used to drive the
variable data printing engine. If the data contains a name and address, this can
be printed anywhere in the document. Or, if that data contains product
information, the system might pull in the appropriate MSDS sheet along with the
2. Conditional Logic
Based on the contents of the data, the VDP system can take different actions.
For example, if the state is Florida, then the system prints a PDF file with the
legal terms and conditions for Florida. If the state is California, the system
uses the California PDF. Another example is invoices. If the invoice is past
due, then the system attaches a letter explaining the past due charges.
Gibson quickly realized that this was an opportunity much bigger than upgrading
AMA’s office copier.
“The first thing I did was to call the solutions department of our hardware
provider, Toshiba,” Gibson explained.
The regional solutions manager at Toshiba recommended an initial Web meeting
with Prism Software (www.prism-software.com), makers of DocForm, a variable data
and electronic forms application. During the Web meeting, Prism Software showed
how the booklets could be quickly created and assembled based on the data sent
from the client.
“During the presentation of the software I was immediately sold because of its
user friendliness,” Nystrom said. “I could see how it could drive what we needed
Over the following months, Prism, Toshiba and Johnnie’s collaborated to design a
solution to print the booklets, and Nystrom was eventually awarded the $2
The Custom Solution
To print the books, AMA leased Prism Software’s DocForm package and three
Toshiba (www.copiers.toshiba.com) e-STUDIO900 90 page-per-minute MFPs from
Johnnies Office Systems. This application can generate over 500,000 impressions
Every night, the financial services company uploads a data file to AMA’s FTP
(File Transfer Protocol) server. FTP is a common way of transferring files over
the Internet. The data file is a list of all of the customer’s new business. It
includes approximately 120 different pieces of information on each person that
will be receiving a booklet.
The next morning, Nystrom’s staff logs into the FTP server to retrieve the data
file. The first step is to run the data through SmartSoft’s (www.smartsoft.com)
Smart Addresser 2020. This is a commercial mailing software package that
pre-sorts and CASS certifies the addresses in the data stream (Learn more about
CASS at http://www.usps.com/ncsc/addressservices/certprograms/cass.htm).
AMA already owned the Smart Addresser 2020 software. By pre-sorting and
certifying the addresses, Nystrom is able to get preferred pricing on postage.
Next, an employee runs the data through DataCard 9000 (www.datacard.com), an ID
card system that creates plastic ID cards. These cards were mounted on an 8 ½ X
11 sheet to insert into the booklets.
At the same time, the sorted data is then input into the DocForm software. Based
on the product information, state and customer information, the DocForm software
pulls the appropriate content into the document.
Content is pulled from a warehouse of over 100 PDF documents. The DocForm
software calls in the correct PDFs based on the customer’s data and the program
then overlays data onto the PDFs. The assembled content is then printed across
the three Toshiba MFPs.
The application uses all eight paper supplies. Some of the pages in the document
have to be imaged on pre-printed color documents that are run in bulk on AMA’s
“Being able to pull from eight paper sources was a critical part of our needs,”
One page is printed on a 110lb letter size sheet that includes a 3 mil sticker
and an 8 mil magnet. The booklets are output in offset stacks. Finally, the ID
cards are inserted into the booklets before they are spiral bound and inserted
into envelopes and mailed.
“Implementing the solution required a lot of custom configuration to the copiers
and the software,” Gibson said.
Toshiba’s Solutions Group sent an engineer on site for two weeks to build the
application. Johnnie’s network support staff division, along with Gibson and
Johnnie’s President Adam Guillen, were involved daily with the test runs to
insure success. Prism Software also provided extensive support.
“We worked closely with Adam Guillen from Johnnie’s to determine the best
configuration for AMA,” explained Prism Partner Manager Janice Rager. “We had
numerous conference calls and DocForm product demonstrations with Paul Nystrom
and his team. Collectively, we were able to walk through every step of the
project, which enabled us to envision every possible scenario, from workflow of
the documents to the proper Toshiba devices and configurations. Kevin Waltman, a
senior technical engineer with our company, flew out to Waco to assist AMA on
their client presentation.”
Guillen believes that the reason this and other solutions projects he has been
involved in have been successful is collaboration. He advises dealers to
collaborate with its partner companies and the end user as much as possible. The
executive staff of AMA Nystrom designated a manager for the project.
“Communication with the project manager is critical,” he explained. “Without the
support of a project manager and the executives taking ownership of the job, the
process of implementation will struggle.
“It is also important to understand the expectations of the end user and do
everything to meet those expectations,” he added. “The new workflow process must
also be embraced by the staff. I have found that proper training is the most
effective way to gain acceptance.”
The system has been up and running smoothly for over three months now.
“We set up a format and use the automated features of the program so it executes
automatically every day,” Nystrom said. “The initial setup is complex, but the
daily use is easy. We had been told that programming for this booklet by the
previous vendor had taken over 400 hours. We are able to accomplish the same
work in less than 80 hours.”
Nystrom estimates his revenue has increased by 40 percent.
“The profit margins on the variable data printing are much healthier than our
regular commercial printing because of the specialized nature of the product,”
he said. “With this technology, we can handle virtually any application where a
company needs a custom booklet for a new client.”
AMA has already attracted a new job printing franchisee manuals for a national
company. In a similar fashion, this client uploads print files to AMA’s FTP
site. The files are then printed, inserted in binders and shipped to the new
“I’ve tried other things that were high tech and stubbed my toe,” Nystrom said,
“This project, as large as it was, has gone according to our concepts, which
Things have gone well for Johnnie’s as well. The dealership has installed two
more variable data printing systems since AMA Nystrom.
“We have undergone a tremendous transformation over the past two years,” Guillen
said. “The solutions business has allowed us to become partners with our
customers in developing workflow solutions that will enhance every facet of
“The solutions business, however, is not an easy transformation,” he added. “It
has required a lot of investment of time and money to provide on-going training
for our staff.”
The solutions business has allowed Johnnie’s to grow over the past two years
with the most significant growth coming this year. By bundling hardware,
software and professional services, the dealership has differentiated itself
from the traditional copier dealer model.
“This business is finally becoming fun again and allows us to be creative in
implementing systems,” Guillen said. “The creativity needed to satisfy our
customers’ needs give us a lot of personal satisfaction.”
Adam Guillen, president of Johnnie’s Office Systems, Inc., a 50-year-old
independent dealership in Temple, Texas, discussed his views on the emerging
imageSource: When did
you first start selling document management software?
Adam Guillen: We started selling software three years ago. I lost a sale
to a friend due to an eCopy solution and that infuriated me. I didn’t blame my
friend, but I did blame my own ignorance. I was already researching the imaging
industry when this happened and decided to take the leap.
IS: How is the document solutions business changing your dealership?
AG: I equate the change similar to going from a black and white
television to a HD color television. The staff of our company is seeing the
advantages in our solutions suite of products and understands our need to
reinvest. They know we are planning for their future and the future of our
industry. It is energizing for our sales staff to see their own personal
benefits of larger ticket sales and better commissions. We are now eating our
own cooking by implementing the automated solutions we sell. Our own internal
staff is amazed at the solution products we sell.
IS: What have you learned?
AG: We have learned to listen intently. We are trying to stay aware of
business processes while we are at appointments. It is amazing what you can
learn about a customer’s operation by watching staff walk around with paperwork
in their hands. I have also learned that we can increase our business by
educating our current work force, not increasing it. You should hire smart.
IS: Where do you see your dealership going with the solutions business in
the next three years?
AG: I see a more solutions educated internal staff from clerical and
administration to service and sales. We will also have a couple of CDIAs. I also
see solutions becoming half of our dealership and doubling our current business.
I see a lot of HD televisions…
Darrell Amy is the president
of Dealer Marketing Systems (www.dealermarketingsystems.com), an organization
dedicated to helping office equipment dealers succeed in the document solutions
business with sales training, direct marketing and consulting services. Contact
him at email@example.com or 501.626.4110.