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One on One with Ken Garner, CEO and President of MFSA

May 27, 2011
Ken Garner is CEO and President of the Mailing & Fulfillment Service Association (MFSA). Prior to November 2008, for 33 years Garner had been with United Litho, an operating division within The Sheridan Group. For the last 15 years, he served as president and COO, and was most recently vice president of business development for Sheridan Magazine Services.

MFSA is the national trade association for the mailing and fulfillment services industry. For more than 90 years MFSA has been working to improve the business environment for mailing and fulfillment companies and to provide opportunities for the learning and professional development of the managers of these companies.

MFSA provides instant postal information, periodicals, business surveys, and manuals unique to the industry, networking opportunities, excellent low cost insurance, and management education and information. The association is comprised of more than 600 companies, most located in the USA and Canada.

With a changing economy, and new customer demands challenging every segment of the graphic communications industry, what key trends do you believe will impact the mailing and fulfillment industries over the next five years?

There are two primary realities that I believe will impact the futures of mail service providers and commercial printers. First, the consolidation that has characterized the mailing and printing industries over the past several years will continue as long as the relationship between supply and demand remains unbalanced. The overabundance of supply has led to an environment characterized by hypercompetition and commoditization. This dynamic is forcing many companies to re-engineer their value propositions with many expanding their menu of products and services to become more of a “marketing services provider.”

A by-product of this dynamic is another trend that I have labeled “convergence;” that is, the ultimate elimination of the distinctive differences that formerly defined commercial printers and mail service providers. Much of this has already occurred as commercial printers developed in-house mailing capabilities and mail service providers moved into offering printing capabilities. And, some of both these market segments have added fulfillment capabilities to supplement their respective service offerings.

To me, the longer term implications of these trends is that, in an effort to escape from the trap of commoditization, a shorter list of suppliers may find themselves crowding a redefined market space. However, regardless of economic trends, some business management realities never change. Long-term business success depends on creating a sustainable competitive advantage by developing an intimate understanding of your customers’ wants, needs and expectations and satisfying those needs in a way that positively differentiates you from your competition. While many of MFSA’s members who specialize in fulfillment enjoyed success during the recent recession, they are not immune from this business reality.

Responding to the increased interest in sustainability, does a uniform method exist for evaluating mailing and fulfillment services companies that claim an environmental commitment?

Businesses have finally recognized that a commitment to environmental sustainability must be an integral part of their operations and strategy, and MFSA members are no exceptions. As a result, members recently led the development of MFSA’s first Sustainability Accreditation program that audits and verifies compliance with accepted sustainability practices. In addition, articles dealing with “green issues” frequently populate the content of our member publications. Our conference programs often include presentations on sustainability by industry experts. And, we have established an affinity partnership with a consultant that specializes in environmental consulting.

As mailing and fulfillment pros continue to move through the economic recovery, how are their business models for success changing?

Again, many mail service providers are still trying to escape the trap of commoditization by reexamining the relevance of their value propositions and are considering multiple options to expand their menu of product and service offerings. Most of our fulfillment-focused members are in a better competitive position to consider only incremental changes and improvements to their value propositions.

We constantly emphasize the need for all members to continuously monitor customer satisfaction and investigate how their customers’ needs and expectations are changing. Any potential changes to a company’s competitive position must be carefully considered, based on solid market research and hard data. Change simply for the sake of change is a recipe for failure.

We also emphasize the necessity of solid business management disciplines because, at the end of the day, it’s all about cash flow. Making your business more complex by expanding your service offerings without the benefit of a solid foundation of disciplined business management practices including business planning, sales, marketing, and financial management is another quick route to failure.

With commercial printers seeking to diversify their customer offerings by adding mailing and fulfillment services, in addition to investigating the Mailing & Fulfillment Center at GRAPH EXPO, what advice would you offer them?

I would advise them to invest in a MFSA membership! But seriously, they need to do their homework. From my personal experience as a printer, I tell those who are considering adding mailing capabilities that they need to understand mailing is likely to represent the most complex part of their service offerings tomanage. Mailing is highly dynamic and ever changing with a continuous stream of rule and regulation changes rolling out of Postal headquarters. The rules that govern mail entry are complex and require constant oversight.

Fulfillment operations are becoming more complex as well. The profitable expansion into product fulfillment has required consideration of multiple additional services. Technology continues to impact fulfillment operations as social and mobile media influence how data is collected and utilized.

Lastly, I would also advise them to take advantage of the outstanding consulting and educational content offered by their supplier partners as a value added feature.

Source: NPES.



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