Data Drives An All-Digital Press Conversion at Jet Mail Services
For a case study into how far embracing digital technology can take a printing company from a conventional beginning to an entirely new way of doing things, consider the story of Jet Mail Services.
Originally a lettershop, Jet Mail Services has grown organically and by acquisition into a $20 million company that employs 60 people. Established in 1993, the company will mark its 25th anniversary in January.
It operates from a 65,000-sq.-ft. print manufacturing plant in Hudson, Mass., about 20 miles from Boston, with fulfillment and distribution centers in New York, Miami, Chicago, Los Angeles and London. Jet Mail Services is part of a worldwide network courier service managed by International Bonded Courier Inc. (IBC), an express logistics company that delivers more than 50 million international pieces per year to 230 countries.
John Kohler, CFO, describes Jet Mail Services as a marketing production company that does business in four principal “quadrants”: marketing; print; fulfillment; and distribution. All of these activities are data-driven, but at Jet Mail Services, the phrase denotes more than just data processing: it goes to the heart of the company’s business model.
We Deal in Rich Data
This is because data, conveyed in one form or another, is what today’s print customers primarily are buying when they invest in multichannel communications programs from companies like Jet Mail Services. “Data isn’t just names and addresses anymore,” says Stephen Smith, director of technology and fulfillment. It’s marketing intelligence that can be harnessed to print for the targeted, response-producing outcomes that customers expect.
“Rich data,” adds John Kohler, is what they want, and rich data - curated by an eight-member IT team - is what the company gives them in “refined and targeted” outreaches with print as the delivery mechanism. Precision targeting is the key to making bigger impacts with smaller mailings - a value proposition, he notes, that customers understand and are willing to buy into.
Fading is the “spray and pray mentality” that used to justify mailing 100,000 pieces to get a 1% or 2% response, says Ed Kohler, founder and CEO. Now, as at least one Jet Mail Services customer has discovered, a data-driven mailing of just 2,500 pieces can draw a 30% response when the addressing and the content are exactly on the mark.
According to Ed Kohler, this is why the printed piece, “rather than dying,” is getting fresh appreciation as a partner to social media and other channels that marketers rely on. He says that Jet Mail Services’ most successful campaigns for its clients in the pharmaceutical, financial, education, non-profit, franchise and automotive verticals have blended print and non-print elements in this way.
Clients also can turn to Jet Mail Services for strategic and marketing consultation, graphic design, intelligent mailpiece delivery tracking, international fulfillment, e-commerce and Web-to-print (W2P) portals. Making everything easy to access in one place is the idea behind The Marketing Resource Center, a Software as a Servive (SaaS) platform for customer support that the company has operated since 2014.
Here, says Smith, clients enjoy the convenience of tying the services they need into “one user experience” that optimizes the efficiency of their sourcing.
For example, companies with large field sales forces - some Jet Mail Services customers have thousands of sales personnel - can obtain sales kits in the quantities they need and then get “an abundance of reports” about the progress of the orders. Franchisors can use the platform to assure uniform brand management delivery of materials to franchise locations. With its help, brand managers overseeing product launches can be certain that samples and collateral materials will be consistent everywhere they’re shipped.
What The Marketing Resource Center enables customers to do, explains Ed Kohler, is to concentrate on their core businesses instead of fretting over the details of the marketing services they are using. Dealing with customers through the platform also has been a learning experience for Jet Mail Services. Smith points out, for example, that assisting pharmaceutical customers with regulatory compliance and data security has led to know-how that the company can apply to projects for other clients.
Open APIs and a mix of self-developed and commercial software connect input from the platform and its W2P portals to the plant’s production workflow. This kind of automation not only streamlines the production of print - it helps Jet Mail Services to sell more of it. Smith says, for example, that many users of the platform have set up thresholds that trigger automatic reorders when quantities in stock reach a certain point.
Inkjet Device Replaces Offset Presses
Ed Kohler reveals that about 40% of the company’s revenue comes from print, which drives activity in the other three quadrants. One hundred percent of production in the print quadrant is digital, augmented by the recent installation of Jet Mail Services’ first production inkjet sheetfed press. A Konica Minolta AccurioJet KM-1 went into operation at the Hudson plant on Sept. 14, a week after the pressroom had said a final goodbye to its offset equipment: two- and four-color presses and related plating and proofing units.
Any bittersweet feelings over the loss of the old iron were outweighed by the excitement of launching into full digital production - a transition made necessary, says Ed Kohler, by the company’s increasing shift to data-driven direct mail and the tight turnarounds its customers were insisting on. Vinny Piazza, director of print operations, says pressroom personnel welcomed the change and looked forward to learning the new technologies that the AccurioJet KM-1 would introduce them to.
Kohler thinks that the AccurioJet KM-1’s digital inkjet process will lower cost per impression to a point where the company can produce 70% of its volume on it and the battery of 10 Konica Minolta bizhub PRESS and bizhub PRO toner printers it joins in the digital press department. (The remaining 30%, consisting of very long runs, will be outsourced to offset partners.) Production inkjet, notes Piazza, will allow Jet Mail Services to be more cost-competitive against other printing operations with different print technology.
After about a month of ramp-up to full production, says Piazza, the AccurioJet KM-1 was ready for whatever types of jobs its six-up (23x29.5˝) format could accommodate. Most of its workload since then has consisted of data-driven direct mail along with marketing collateral and other commercial jobs. Output on a B2+ sheet is 3,000 sph.
Art of One-Upmanship
Piazza contends that a big advantage of the AccurioJet KM-1’s generous format size is that it lets him impose additional 8 1⁄2x11˝ and 14˝ mail pieces on the sheet. He points out that printing even one extra image up can yield a significant cost savings in a long run.
Besides direct mail, sales kit contents in lots of 500 to 1,000 have also run well on the new inkjet press. According to Piazza, light packaging is another application that shows promise on the AccurioJet KM-1, which can handle stocks up to 24-pt. Ed Kohler says, for example, that a digital press suitable for packaging could come in handy for the Jet Mail Services client that prints candy wrappers by the millions.
Kohler also values the 1,200x1,200 dpi AccurioJet KM-1 for its ability to print variably, which he sees as well attuned to the company’s shift from static to data-driven printing. Its UV curing capability satisfies two crucial requirements for a company that processes direct mail on the large scale and continuous schedule that Jet Mail Services does: speed to market and durability in the mailstream.
The LED-UV/USPS Connection
Piazza notes that with instant drying, courtesy of the Accurio-Jet KM-1’s LED-UV array, mailpieces come off the press “USPS ready” without requiring any additional treatment. This is in contrast, says Ed Kohler, to the company’s former sheetfed offset production, in which post-coating was needed to protect the pieces against scuffing - a time-consuming step for a production department that often has only until the end of the day to print and mail jobs it received that morning.
Digital presswork isn’t the only aspect of production in which Jet Mail Services has made significant investments. It also has installed additional Pitney Bowes FlowMaster inserters, a Duplo digital finishing system, software for prepress and postpress automation and, last year, an EFI H1625 LED wide-format printer. This 64˝ device is used to produce point-of-sale materials, banners, yard signs and other items that John Kohler calls “a great complement” to the other kinds of printing the company does.
Because so much of what Jet Mail Services produces comes off the presses either in long runs or in smaller batches that add up to large volumes, logistics and distribution are as essential to success as data management and production. At the Hudson plant, fulfillment capabilities are robust.
It’s All in the Delivery
With its 2,200 pallet positions, the automated warehouse ships thousands of packages, domestic and international, per day. The company maintains its own fleet of box trucks and vans for local delivery, and it has relationships with all of the major freight carriers. Customers in need of international distribution through the IBC network can arrange it at The Marketing Resource Center.
Mail capacity runs from three to four million pieces per week, facilitated by an on-site U.S. Postal Service (USPS) facility and its two employees. Jet Mail Services is a USPS Business Alliance Partner and a USPS Pre-Qualified Wholesaler for international mail. The latter designation, held by only a few business mailers, certifies that the company has been vetted for full compliance with all USPS mail preparation and data requirements.
Shifting to data-driven, all-digital production remains a move that many printing businesses aren’t yet prepared to make, but it already seems routine at Jet Mail Services despite the fact that the “all-digital” part of the picture is only a couple of months old. Ed Kohler notes that while offset may have been a mainstay of operations for a long time, there was a “different mindset” separating offset from the digital, preventing a cohesive print department focusing on data-driven print marketing.
Both were means to an end, and now that the company has added production inkjet to its toolkit in the form of the Konica Minolta AccurioJet KM-1, it has a complete set of the capabilities that give it the most confidence. “We always felt that we were better at digital,” Kohler concludes.