What comes to mind when you think about high-tech mass production, automation, and robotics? Chances are coupons and printing presses may not cross your mind. Gone are the days when Johannes Gutenberg labored over rolls of paper and ink. Today robotics and automation have revolutionized printing and made mass production possible. The paper and ink are still around, but the mind behind the machines is technology.
Take for instance the Valpak coupons that come in your mail every month. Sure we’ve all used a coupon or two from our “Blue Envelope of Savings” to drive down grocery bills, eat at that upscale restaurant down the street, or attend a local gig, but have you ever thought about the technology behind these money savers?
Indeed, there is a world of robotics, automation and technology at play that makes a colossal enterprise of this magnitude operate seamlessly. Valpak is a direct marketing company that has redefined print manufacturing. The company which is currently owned by Cox Enterprises Inc. was established in 1968 in Clearwater, FL by Terry Loebel (pronounced as label). The Center which is now located in Saint Petersburg, FL represents the convergence of technical expertise from around the globe.
From a small garage operation, Valpak has evolved to a state-of-the-art high-tech manufacturing facility. The brain behind the brass is clearly automation technology. This next generation “computer-controlled factory of tomorrow” is housed within a 440,000 sq. ft facility that can fit 13 Boeing 747s. Construction of the new Valpak Manufacturing Center (VMC) in 2007 has allowed the company to cut back operating costs, and streamline manufacturing and automation processes from four days to four hours. The VMC is a showcase of print automation with high-performance plate transfer systems that move along the ceiling, print roll buffers, collation systems and high density storage systems. Referred as “the Lexus or the Cadillac of presses,” these machines move at 2000ft per minute, and can create 100,000 impressions or coupons in an hour.
Within this gigantic scale of operations, customers still occupy a central role. Marsha Strickhouser, public relations manager at the corporate office in St. Petersburg, FL says the goal is to reach out to consumers via mail, phone, computer, or online advertising. “Whatever be the channel we want to be the first to be there for our customers in saving money where they can.” The company currently operates 180 franchises in North America which includes the United States and Canada, and has 54,000 businesses across the country that advertises in the blue envelope each year.
Despite stiff market conditions, success seems seamless at Valpak. The company boasts of a high “open rate”, in that nine out of ten people that receive the Valpak envelope actually open it. Another component of Valpak’s ongoing success lies in its firm commitment to research, combined with a direct marketing strategy which allows businesses to automatically detect/track the origin of the coupon to Valpak’s Blue Envelope of Savings. For the past 42 years, Valpak has conducted various research using Claritas, Simmons, Nielson, Scarborough and some of the major research companies to identify its customer base. It puts a lot of time and effort behind the scenes to match the needs of customers with coupons that best serve their needs, behavior/patterns, and spending habits. The rewards are enormous. Strickhouser says “The money we invest upfront helps our franchises in the frontlines to reach out to customers, and in turn helps us get more advertisers who want to do business with us.”
Valpak not only sits at the forefront of latest cutting-edge automation technology, but is premier in integrating new technology through the use of mobile platforms, or dot com products. Want an ice cream sundae in the middle of the night? There’s an app for that! For the past 14 years the company has been offering mobile coupons that can easily be downloaded using smart phones. Within the last year, it has launched four apps for the Palm Prix, iPhone, BlackBerry and the Droid which has made it easier and faster for customers to find what they’re looking for. “We feel our 42 years of experience, combined with latest research-based tactics and the construction of the new VMC has enabled us to stay ahead of the competition and enabled us to try on new things” Strickhouser said.
Campers watch Valpak robots at work
Valpak stands tall in exercising corporate responsibility, and has garnered numerous awards over the years. In 2009, Valpak received three industry certifications, certifying its paper is from forests that use sustainable practices. Most recently, it won an award from the local Florida Power Company, as well as a philanthropic award last summer for community-based initiatives such as building homes for Habitat for Humanity. Other community-related programs include partnership with the United Way campaign and the Pinellas Education Foundation.
Valpak has also been one of FLATE’s strategic partners in facilitating the “Made in Florida” industry tours that have given nearly 300 middle and high school students as well as educators throughout Hillsborough, Pinellas and Manatee counties an opportunity to witness its high-tech manufacturing operations. The tours have been an essential factor in showcasing “the integration of various skill-sets in a manufacturing facility, intricacies of manufacturing processes, and how everything is inter-connected.” The MIF tours have also served as a vehicle in underlining the importance of science, technology, mathematics, and engineering in securing high-wage, high-skill jobs. In January, 2010 the VMC also hosted FLATE’s National Visiting Committee meeting, and the National Association of Manufacturers Skills Certification System roundtable discussion.
For more information on Valpak, contact Marsha Strickhouser at email@example.com/visit www.valpak.com. For information on the “Made in Florida” industry tours contact Dr. Marilyn Barger or Dave Gula at 813.259.6577, or visit www.madeinflorida.org. You can also read a full transcript of the interview with Marsha by following us on Facebook.
Watch this manufacturing process video from Valpak.com
The State of Florida has the third largest population in country, with an official 2010 estimate of 19 million persons and approximately 50% of the population is in the civilian labor force (9,000,000).
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FLATE’s administrative core is a partnership between St.Petersburg College, the College of Engineering at the University of South Florida and Hillsborough Community College. The Center is housed at Hillsborough Community College on its Brandon Campus under the leadership of Campus President, Dr. Nancee Sorenson. It occupies 1500 square feet of office space and shares the laboratory resources of the manufacturing /engineering technology program.
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