The Point Of Promotions


From square-barreled pencils to spring-loaded ballpoint pens, Shepenco has been the writing on the wall for clients seeking quality writing instruments since 1933. The Shelbyville, Tennessee-based supplier finishes pencils and pens with custom flair and with an eye on exceeding customer expectations. But how hard can that be? They’re just pencils, right?

And yet, says Shepenco President Dan Townes, “The most challenging area for us is trying to manage or anticipate customer and end-user expectations. We make efforts to effectively and accurately communicate with our customers to provide information they need to understand what the end product or result will be. But this is much easier to say than do.”

Shepenco’s primary operations involve pencil decorating and finishing, which includes assembly. Pencils are purchased finished or unfinished, and they are bought as parts of the whole: barrel, ferrule and eraser. For the pens, Townes says, all but one style are acquired as finished product.

Townes says customers who order products with a specific PMS color in mind often believe the finished item will look exactly as it does in a coated-stock book. But, he says, “It ain’t gonna happen, and we do our best to advise this. One can specify the same PMS color on several different products and the color on each product will vary slightly. This happens due to the absorbency or porosity of the particular material.”

To help mitigate any surprises, Shepenco team members are quick to mention the variation early in the conversation. “We also advise that we mix our imprinting inks (lacquers) with the PMS formulas stated.  The colors are measured to the stated specs, weighed for accuracy and mixed properly. And we remind folks that the manner a color appears on a computer screen is determined by the resolution of the device’s screen.”

Townes gives credit to education offered by industry groups such as PPAI and ASI for helping distributors understand the color process.

With any color issue essentially resolved, Townes says the supplier’s greatest asset for distributors is its ability to assemble pencils onsite, allowing Shepenco greater flexibility to assist with custom style needs. “This also allows us greater inventory flexibility during busy seasons and with rush orders,” he  says.

“We discovered that, with many orders, the orders were spending more time on the administrative floor than the shop floor. When you want to use speed as a competitive advantage, spending two and a half days handling the paper while leaving two and a half days to produce, print and fulfill the order presents a challenge.”

Townes says the team has alleviated the issue by using different software for order processing and by outsourcing some order-entry and art needs. “With the combination of these two efforts, plus the greatest of our assets—our people and their abilities—we now have four to four and a half days with orders on the shop floor; we can have an order on our shop floor ready to be produced in less than 100 minutes.  

“This is the mode of the bell curve, not the mean,” adds Townes. “Yet, our next goal is to have every order on the shop floor in half a day or less. This appears to be realistic and attainable without riots and polysyllabic profanities in our office. … Well, without riots anyway.”


Read on to learn how pencils are customized, from order placement to packing for shipment.

1 When an order is received from a distributor, a quick quality check is performed and artwork is submitted. When the artwork is completed, an electronic proof is sent to the distributor. Once the artwork is approved, it is archived with a copy of the original purchase order, and a screen or screens are made for printing.

2  The screen is placed with the production ticket for the order,  and both are moved to a staging area where they wait to be assigned to a machine.

The production manager assigns the orders to the appropriate printing machine. An expediter pulls the stock for use on the order, which is then taken to the machine for printing. When the order is set up, the operator shows a printed item to the operator at the adjacent machine who will sign off that the order is correct. 

4  The operator sets up the screen or screens to the machine and prints the order. Upon completion of the printing, the order is picked up by an expediter. The expediter reviews the order and a sample of the job. If they are correct, then the order is taken to the shipping room.

5  In the shipping room, the paperwork is reviewed, the proper shipping method is verified, and a random sample from the order is pulled and compared to the layout attached. This is the final step in checking for errors before the order leaves the facility. 


About Shepenco

How many different types of pencils/writing instruments do you produce on site? We have the ability to produce 2,558 different types of pencils and pens in our facility.

What are your top three items among promotional clients? Pencils, pens and pencils.

Founding date: 1933

Principals: Dan Townes, president; Jim Foldy, VP production; Daniel Townes, COO; Alex Moltz, director of sales and marketing

Size of production facility: 36,000 square feet

Number of employees: 36

Notable accomplishments: A or A+ rated supplier in SAGE; five star-rated supplier in ASI; ASI Distributor Choice winner in our product category 14 out of 16 years; founding member of Promotional Products Association of the Mid-South (PPAMS); founding member/donor PPCEF; 38-year sponsor/donor for a local child development center

Do your employees require any specialized training or certification to operate machinery or manufacture/finish products in your facility? Employees who operate tow motors are required by law to be certified. Air compressors must be certified with a boiler certification. The most specialized training our employees have really requires no training. The specialized skill, which is innate to them, is that they give a damn. They care about their work, the people they work with and about doing a great job. I do not believe one is able to teach this specialized skill. Individuals possess it or they don’t.


Jen Alexander is  associate editor of PPB.

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