Blood Is Thicker Than Ink at Family-Run Action Mailers, A Direct Mail Specialist
Philadelphia has a reputation, mostly garnered through professional sports and the still-growing list of “Rocky” movies, as a gritty, blue-collar town that grants no free passes and will knock you down just as quickly as it picks you up. But lost in the “love hard and hate hard” façade is the tightly woven family unit, which goes beyond the “us versus them” credo. Here, friends are family, and family is blood.
The family-owned business still represents bustling enterprise, and within the tall shadows cast by the City of Brotherly Love lies a prime example of what can be accomplished when all of its members contribute. Action Mailers, of Aston, Pennsylvania, has thrived for more than 40 years serving the non-profit and commercial sectors with full-service direct marketing and direct mail production.
At the helm of Action Mailers sits President Dan Dobbin, who took the reins from his father James, the company founder. Dan’s wife, Kathy, serves as vice president at the 300 full- and part-time employee operation. Dan’s brother runs the warehouse and his sister oversees the accounting department. Both of the Dobbin daughters work there as well, as have several nieces and nephews in the past.
For those who do not get along well with family members, Action Mailers is not the place for them. But for people for whom family is everything, it is a rewarding experience that goes well beyond income statements and corporate balance sheets.
“I worked for my father. He was not only a good father, but also a mentor and a friend,” Dan Dobbin says. “That’s something I cherished, because not everybody can experience working with their dad. To be able to see him on a daily basis and learn from him … I was very lucky.
“We might be family, but everyone still has to pull their own weight and be professional,” he adds. “However, the down side — because we’re family members — is being able to step away from the business; it’s as if we’re never 100 percent away from work. Sometimes [relatives] will think, ‘Oh, I can just talk to Dan about it when I get home tonight.’ It can be never ending.”
Loyalty is a hallmark of Action Mailers. Longstanding employees have logged 25 to 35 years, and many customers are drawn to the firm’s commitment to focus on its core direct mail offerings. But that’s not to say the Dobbin clan isn’t looking ahead to the future and how it can augment that product portfolio without surrendering its identity.
Non-profit organizations comprise about 65 percent of the company’s client base, while commercial entities ranging from sales, insurance, mortgage and banking cover the balance. When James Dobbin and Ed Dougherty acquired the business in 1972, commercial accounts comprised the lion’s share of the business. As time passed, Dan Dobbin saw value in flipping the script. Non-profits offered more consistency with their mailings — monthly programs, renewal letters, steady work that wouldn’t go away. There will always be non-profit entities.
However, one of the challenges of serving this space is that project managers at non-profits tend to rotate and, as a result, Action Mailers often deals with people who are highly unfamiliar with the printing and production process. Over time, the company has honed its mentoring abilities and can deftly guide customers from start to finish.
Roughly five years ago, Action Mailers embarked on the research phase of high-speed production inkjet printing, poring over the available offerings and determining what the technology could mean for customers. Initially, the company decided that it was not ready to install a continuous-feed color inkjet device and instead opted to upgrade its monochrome inkjet capabilities. That led to the acquisition of a high-speed InfoPrint 5000 MP system from Ricoh Americas in 2013.
Consequently, when Dobbin and Co. ultimately determined that Action Mailers was ready for full-color inkjet, Ricoh and its InfoPrint 5000 GP continuous-feed inkjet press was the choice.
“It’s a solid platform, relatively easy to use,” notes Bob Kolva, director of data and imaging operations at Action Mailers. “The interfaces are not much different than the toner boxes. Ricoh also did a great job of supporting us in the beginning, which allowed us to take the time to learn how our customers would respond to it.
“Our color inkjet printing capabilities have allowed us to win back jobs that we had lost before due to timing issues,” he adds. “Now we don’t have to pressure customers to get their letter copy prepared and their forms in on time. Some clients struggle with that. So, by being able to do the composition and the art at the same time, we save as much as a week or 10 days on their out-to-market time.”
The company had previously purchased color printing from other print providers, which would then arrive at Action Mailers for the laser personalization. Now the color forms are completed and personalized in-house on the InfoPrint 5000 GP. With a year under its belt, Dan Dobbin was satisfied enough with the results that he placed an order for an additional InfoPrint 5000 GP press, which is slated to arrive this month for a March startup.
According to Dobbin, the redundancy will take pressure off the other machines. “We won’t have to rotate back and forth; we can run multiple forms,” he says. “We do a lot of match mail, so we can print letters on one machine and replies on another. And by getting everything at once, it takes pressure off the folding and inserting departments.”
The current Ricoh InfoPrint 50000 GP press bolstered annual production footage by about 38 million feet — an additional 20 percent to its annual output, which came in at 191 million. Action Mailers has not been aggressive in selling the new machine to its full client base. Instead, select customers were chosen as the printer went through the learning process. With the second Ricoh Info-Print 5000 GP en route, Dobbin has little doubt the full-color production inkjet presses will enable his company to sell wider and deeper with Action Mailers’ existing book of business.
Kolva notes that the next area of focus for Action Mailers will likely be the finishing end in order to accommodate the influx of added inkjet printing capacity. Action Mailers installed an integrated Standard Hunkeler/Horizon roll-to-sheet solution with chip-out and in-line folding in 2011 to complement a Standard Hunkeler roll-to-sheet system acquired in 2009, but more upgrades are needed.
Action Mailers takes a measured approach to new technology adoption. “We’re constantly looking at new technologies…things other companies our size aren’t investing in or even taking time out to test,” Kolva says. “It’s an ongoing process as part of our growth strategy.”
The company operates in a 100,000-square-foot facility, where it produces between 800,000 and 1.4 million mail pieces per day. In terms of mailing capabilities, Action Mailers offers coin, plastic card and magnet affixing, spot gluing and plow folding. On the laser printing end, the firm utilizes Canon Océ 7650 and 8750 devices.
The addition of the Ricoh presses, which reduces turnaround times in getting jobs into the mailstream and enables more flexibility when it comes to making eleventh-hour changes, is part of the entire value proposition Action Mailers offers in an effort to help customers leverage the maximum from their mailing spend. Kolva points out the company also provides clients with a comprehensive analysis, exploring U.S. Postal Service discounts and possible commingling and co-palletization options.
“The new Ricoh printers allow us to get a better control on customer versioning, which provides them larger mail quantities and deeper discounts with the Post Office,” he says. “Because we’re able to do forms versioning on-the-fly, we control some of their print costs for them — now they’re not paying for forms version changes, not paying for plates and all of the added expenses that come with having more than one form version.” Part of demonstrating loyalty entails not charging clients for every mistake they make in the process. Flexibility and being able to adjust in real-time matter to Action Mailers and its customers. That, according to Kolva, is not always the case with the larger direct mail providers.
From Kolva’s perspective, working in a family dynamic (his son is an employee as well) reduces complexities and, in the case of Action Mailers, provides a straighter line to the corner office when it comes time to make decisions. It’s not only a family atmosphere, it’s an exciting and energetic place to work.
The top execs at Action Mailers refuse to take their eyes off the ball, which gives them an even better chance of knocking it out of the park.
“We can’t lose sight of our core business,” Dobbin maintains. “At the same time, we realized the need to evolve into new processes like our Ricoh color inkjet capabilities, which still stays within the core. That gives our clients greater opportunities, and allows us to improve on what we can do for them.” PI