The business of printing may still be eating the trail of dust left behind by the digital age, but one St. Louis startup is aiming to make digital printing a viable strategy in a world dominated by Twitter. Based out of T-REx, Sleeve a Message has developed an up-to-the-minute printing process that enables coffee shops to keep their drink sleeve messaging timely and relevant.

Unlike most printing services, Sleeve a Message has no ordering minimum and has reduced the industry standard four week lead time down to only seven days. Orders can even come with variable prints, allowing multiple messages to be shipped per case. These innovations give business owners a greater range of flexibility when it comes to ordering time sensitive promotional coffee sleeves and coasters, saving them both time and money on inventory.

Sleeve a Message founder David Dresner said his inspiration for the company came from as far back as his childhood. “I was ten. I was at a hotel in California on vacation and we had ordered Chinese food,” said Dresner. “We had coffee cups on the table and I was wondering, ‘Why not put fortunes on the sleeve?’” Dresner said the idea stuck with ever since, even as he was in business school studying the news vendor dilemma — a problem in which the amount of newspaper inventory can be difficult to determine due to uncertain daily demand.

“Coffee sleeves suffer the same thing,” explained Dresner, pointing to Valentine’s Day promotions as one of the best examples. “You might sell 1,000 or 2,000, but they’re not relevant the next day. The only way to cure that is to print at the point of sale.”

Dresner’s answer to the dilemma is the Sleeve a Message centralized printer — the RumpleSleeveSkin, as he’s named it. The printer can produce 500 sleeves a minute and handle a variety of up to 20 different labels per box. It even keeps count of how many sleeves printed off, auto-ordering more when necessary while taking into account lead time. With more than 200 coffee shops and college campuses around the US already onbaord, the St. Louis company is set to sign up some major chains going into 2013, including Panera and Anheuser-Busch.

In the future Dresner plans to make the Sleeve a Message product into a “drinkable channel,” where business owners can schedule RSS feeds onto static packaging. The goal for Sleeve a Message is to bring its innovative printer into each cafe, giving business owners the power to disseminate live campaigns on the spot.

Sleeve a Message was responsible for setting up T-REx’s in-house cafe, Jurassic Perk, which caters to the startups operating out of the downtown coworking space. When asked about his affinity for puns, Dresner said it’s all part of the creative nature of his business. “We want to make people laugh, that was really my inspiration,” said Dresner. “When I’m in a coffee shop and see people lift up their coffee and read it and get a little smile, that joy lights me up. If I can make somebody laugh or smirk I feel like I’ve won.”

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