Special Section Mailing & Fulfillment -- Mailing Increases Printer's Bottom Line
By Mary Ann Bennett
One of the hottest business trends of 2004 is the move many printers are making to bring mailing and fulfillment services into their line of offerings for their clients. Whether through acquisition, partnering, expansion or a combination, the trend is on an exciting upswing and there appears to be no end in sight.
However, careful planning should be utilized before progressing down this path. It has already been shown that moving headfirst into this new venture without diligent attention can lead to a waste of time, money and effort for everyone involved.
Step 1: Develop a Strategic Plan for Mailing.
A common practice in developing a strategic plan is to identify your company's SWOTs: Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats.
Strength: Printers already have the essentials of the basic process in place. Printers commonly take in a customer's information (files, artwork, data, etc.), place that information on paper, package up the printed pieces and then deliver the finished product with supporting documentation (packing slip) to a designated place. To add mailing to this process, the printer simply needs to add addressing to the information they already place on the printed piece, package the pieces according to USPS specs and deliver the finished product to the mail acceptance dock along with supporting documentation (mailing statement).
Weakness: Lack of knowledge of the USPS. For most of us, the USPS is simply part of our everyday lives. Mail is interwoven into the fabric of America and the processing of mail that goes on behind the scenes is something that is seldom, if ever, a point of concern. In actuality, the USPS is one of the most technologically advanced institutions in the world. Printers need to take significant steps to bring better understanding of this concept to their company and clients.
Opportunity: Ability to provide turn-key service from "concept to doorstep" for your print customers.
Threat: Financial exposure. An improperly prepared mailing can result in the loss of money, reputation and the client.
Step 2: Increase Your Knowledge of the USPS.
The USPS is in the business of moving mail. None of its facilities are designed to store or warehouse mail. Therefore, they must get mail in and out—through the system—as quickly as possible. Every postal program, every piece of equipment, every requirement is designed to facilitate the efficient and accurate movement of mail from the acceptance dock to the mailbox.
The USPS internal processing costs are as low as $4 per thousand letters. And they can be as high as $44 to $46 per million if the mailpieces cannot be processed on their automated equipment. The biggest postage discounts are made available by the USPS to mailings that are prepared for processing on their fastest pieces of equipment: delivery point barcode letter sorters.
Step 3: Develop a Mailpiece Design Process.
The mailpiece design and planning process is a series of decisions that represent a balance between the purpose of the mailing and the potential postage costs.
A client may need a letter-sized mailpiece to successfully convey their message, but would prefer to pay the lower postcard rates. However, you may delight the very same client by pointing out that properly designed letter-size mailpieces can qualify for additional automation discounts.
Step 4. Purchase Mailing Software.
(This subject is covered at length in "Leveraging Your Mailing Software.")
Step 5: Acquire Mailroom Equipment.
Capital investment will be required for a few pieces of equipment if you want to put the pieces you print into the mailstream. Addressing, inserting, bundling, strapping, metering—the list of new purchases can get lengthy or you may be able to simply retrofit equipment you already have on your production floor. Caution: carefully research the maintenance/service provided by equipment manufacturers in your area of the country. Talk to other users; better yet, visit other users and ask to see the equipment in action before making a decision to purchase.
Step 6: Educate Your Internal Staff.
Particularly that one salesperson who can never say no to a customer. Your salespeople and your CSRs need to become aware of the risks associated with the responsibility of moving the pieces you print for a client into the USPS mailstream. One program that is highly recommended is the USPS Mailpiece Quality Control Certification course. After completing this course, you will better understand the acceptance requirements of the USPS as they relate to mailpiece design.
In addition, you will have enough understanding of the requirements of the presorted mailing process to analyze discount and payment options for your clients. You will also learn how to consult reference materials to help make your job easier.
Step 7: Modify Procedures For Billing and Proposals.
There are charges specific to each mailing process and the range can be dramatic—well worth the research time and effort. Clearly identify what mail related services you can provide to your customer and your cost. Can you afford to offer the service and perform the presort? Will the costs be passed straight through to the customer or will you treat them as a value-added service and absorb the costs?
Mailing industry rule of thumb: Do not bill for postage.
The USPS will not allow a mailing to be dropped at an acceptance dock unless the money is there to cover the total postage for the mailing. Consider giving this responsibility to your CSRs—the job does not move onto the mailing production phase unless the money is in the postage account.
Make postage a separate line-item on your invoices. Carefully research the postage discounts that can be claimed from a customer's mailing list for the class and category that they intend to mail at before writing a proposal. Postage presort discounts are based on quantity and density of addresses going to geographic areas by ZIP codes. Take a mailing list of 10,000 addresses distributed across the nation, for example. Presort discounts will be small (if any) compared to a list of 10,000 addresses going to a few ZIP codes.
Step 8: Get Informed, Get Involved.
Mailers of today need to get involved, get informed and make their voices heard. This investment of your time and effort is critical to the successful growth and development of the mailing industry.
Mary Ann Bennett is president and CEO of The Bennett Group, and has 28 years of experience that have focused on education, production and marketing for the mailing and printing industries.