About noon on Sunday, The Christian Science Monitor's national delivery improvement project will take a giant leap forward.
That's when the first copies of Monday's Monitor will roll off the press at our new printing location in Harvey, Ill. There, at a plant owned by Blue Island Newspaper Printing, the papers will stream down the conveyor, pass through the labeling and strapping machines, and board trucks bound for airports and postal centers across 14 states.
Blue Island will become the Monitor's third print site, providing a Midwest point of origin for about a quarter of the copies distributed each day. The change is designed to shorten the travel time to Midwestern readers - an important step toward more-consistent delivery in many areas.
The Monitor's production and distribution team has been impressed by the print quality and the work ethic they've seen at the family-owned and operated plant.
The new plant will serve subscribers in Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota, North and South Dakota, Nebraska, Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, Kentucky, and Tennessee, as well as parts of Arkansas and West Virginia.
However, readers may not see better delivery right away. Skilled as the Blue Island pressmen and mailers are, they will be producing the Monitor - with its exacting color and labeling requirements - under deadline conditions for the first time. We hope readers will bear with us in the first few weeks, as the new production and distribution team strives to reach peak efficiency.
During that time, it's possible that readers may experience some temporary delivery problems. If the difficulties persist, please call the Monitor's delivery hot line at 800- 678-3218.
Another big step will come on May 29, when Western printing operations shift from Phoenix, Ariz., to Redwood City, Calif. From this more-central location, travel times up and down the West Coast will be improved, with the same goal - more consistent delivery. And, in the next few weeks, a new charter flight will begin carrying papers down the Eastern Seaboard from the third plant, in Norwood, Mass.
These changes are only one component of the Monitor's long-term project to improve its delivery network and establish morning doorstep service in major cities.
Another major component is the reestablishment of customer-service operations at our Boston headquarters. Since 1987, customer calls, billing, and delivery problems have been handled by an outside fulfillment company. With the added complexities involved in morning delivery, the Monitor will need to bring this work in-house.
This presents us with two major undertakings: installing a state-of-the-art computer database system to contain all the delivery and account data of Monitor customers - a nine-month project in itself - and hiring the customer-service team to answer calls and operate the system. Both projects are proceeding as quickly as possible.
Until those efforts are complete, the addition of new morning-delivery areas can proceed only slowly. With service already in place in the Boston area and in Manhattan, we've added a small section of Los Angeles and New York's Westchester County in recent months. Areas of Washington, D.C., are on the docket for this summer. At each step, our expanded distribution and customer service staffs are gaining valuable experience in working with local delivery companies.
By our current reckoning, customer service will return to Boston in October, and that will allow us to add new morning-delivery areas at a faster pace throughout 2001.
It's a long road, with many unknown twists and turns still ahead. But we know where we're going - to better service for thousands of Monitor readers across the country. And come Sunday, in Harvey, Ill., the first trucks will be pulling out.
(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society