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Mailing basics

Sep 1, 2006 12:00 AM


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You're a successful small commercial printer. You do it all: design, print, assemble, and send jobs to the mail house. Wait, why are you sending jobs to a mail house? Running mailing equipment is not the difficult part. It's the required postal knowledge that makes a mail house seem like the best choice.

But like most printers, you're not comfortable outsourcing the final part of the job to someone else, especially when deadlines are involved. There's the control factor, and of course there's the “What happens when something goes wrong?” factor. I know that you most likely have your own issues with outsourcing to a mail house, so I probably don't need to detail those woes. Mail house issues aside, there's money to be made in the mailing business, especially when you consider that much of what you're already printing is destined for the mailbox.

Making the commitment

Obviously, 100 percent of what is mailed is printed — and according to some experts, about 65 percent of what gets printed gets mailed. But a 2005 Mailing Systems Technology (MailingSystemsmag.com) survey found that only about nine percent of printers in the United States offer in-house mailing services. (That's why mail houses are so busy!) And as some mail houses add printing capabilities, you might find yourself competing with them.

Getting into mailing requires the same level of commitment that got your business where it is today. Being in the mailing business does not mean simply offering the service when a request arises. It means that your marketing efforts will be directed towards mailing, your salespeople and CSR's will sell it as a product (not a convenience) and your production staff will know how to prepare it properly. It's a long-term effort, not a “let's see how it goes” project.

Tabbers, labelers, conveyors and inserters

Before evaluating equipment, determine what services you want to offer. Most mailing jobs consist of database work, assembly, addressing and delivery. The main question is: What do you want to mail?

You have three options:

  • Offer everything, on the theory that if you invest in the equipment, customers will materialize.
  • Survey the jobs you are already doing, or have done previously, and start by offering only those services.
  • Focus on a certain market, such as financial seminar letters, and tailor your equipment and marketing in that direction.

Because database work and addressing will be a part of every job, there are only a few optional services. Depending on the work you want to do, you might also need a tabber (for sealing self-mailers), labeler (for applying stamps and scratch-offs) or an inserter (for envelope mailings).

Address printing is the bread-and-butter of mailing. You can address the piece while it's being printed, typically using a copier, laser printer or digital press and variable data software. Doing the addressing on the fly is a fast way to handle postcards and letters, but might impose certain substrate restrictions, particularly if you're using a copier or laser printer.

Many printers prefer to address direct mail pieces after the printing process because it offers greater flexibility —there's no telling what customers will ask you to send out. Consider fixed-head printers rather than shuttle-head systems. A fixed-head system has a limited print height capacity, usually only enough to fill the size of an address block, but runs faster and is less prone to breakdown because of the simplicity of design. Fixed-head systems generally offer more versatile material handling and require fewer adjustments than the more sensitive shuttle-head printers. Speed is just one factor to consider — the range of material you want to print on also should guide your addressing equipment choice.

Tabbing equipment is offered in tabletop and floor models. Combination tabletop systems can do both tabs and stamps, but a floor model typically is the better choice. Floor models can run inline with a fixed-head address printer and can apply more than one tab in a single pass. Most can easily apply scratch-off labels, stamps and even Post-it Notes. In the world of direct marketing, this capability might provide a competitive advantage.

Conveyors are one of the most overlooked parts of the equipment setup. Inkjet isn't an instant-dry process — because these machines run at high speed, a good conveyor will help keep the pieces separated until they are stacked at the end. This is crucial for glossy and coated stocks. Dryers are available inline and as part of a conveyor, as is fast-drying ink. You'll probably need a combination of both to handle what your customers will throw at you. New UV inks can print on a variety of stocks including plastic, but you'll need a UV drying system to cure the ink.

Custom options abound for inserting machines — a good sales rep will research your particular application prior to making a recommendation. Although there are machines that can handle many different applications, it's always best to test an inserter running the material and envelopes you'll be using. Consider the duty cycles of the machine; some tabletop models might be too small to afford a reasonable ROI.

Software considerations

Mailing software can qualify you for lower postage rates by verifying the addresses in a mailing list, sorting them according to postal rules, and coding them for barcode printing. It is not as simple as sorting the addresses by ZIP code in Excel and then using the barcode font in Windows to print a barcode.

Mailing software must be PAVE- and CASS-certified. A cheap software package can produce automation-compatible mailings, and it might even look like an intuitive, easy to use program. But are upgrades available? Can it do NCOA address updating in real time? If you needed to produce a palletized mailing, do a drop ship or a saturation mailing, can you upgrade to those features or do you need to change software? Also, what is the deduplication feature like? Most shops can search a customer's database for exact duplicates and purge them, but most duplicate entries are not a character-for-character match. By offering a strong deduplication process to your customers, you'll have another competitive advantage.

Don't skimp on staffing

Here's where many start-up mailers get into trouble. They want to borrow employees from another department, or split the responsibilities among key staff members. But setting up an address printer and then pulling someone from bindery to baby-sit it will not ensure the accuracy of the mailing.

The person or persons that will be running the mailing jobs needs to be just as committed as you are. They can't be distracted by 10 other bindery jobs that must go out that day. Your mailing supervisor will need to be trained on all aspects of the process from database setup through delivery. If you don't have a candidate for the job on your current staff and don't want to hire another full-timer, consider creating a part-time position with a focus on mailing.

Postal requirements can be daunting, but there are many sources of help. Start with the USPS — join your local Postal Customer Council (PCC). Other mailers' advice and experience, combined with direct communication with the USPS, can resolve many questions.

Market your services

Take every opportunity to let people know you now offer mailing. You'll be amazed at the response, especially from your current customers. Small commercial printers can post signs at their customer service counters. Put a flyer in your monthly statements, change your business cards, declare your commitment to mailing. But most of all, do your own direct mail. It's a safe way to gain experience, and anybody who responds to a direct mail ad for direct mail won't be a tough sell.

Review old job files — a permit imprint in the top right corner is a sure sign of a potential mailing customer. Call your biggest customers. Ask them about the mailings they do. You might find that you only get some of their printing, and the rest goes to shops that can do both. If your customer contact is not in the marketing department, ask for that contact person and follow through.

Once you've done your homework on your current customers, you'll gain confidence in your commitment to mailing services. There's plenty to learn along the way, but careful planning will minimize surprises.

Editor's note: For mailing products and related services, see pages 52-57.


Steve Voecks owned and operated his own printing and mailing company in California for 16 years. He is the former chairman of the Mailing Services Group of the National Assn. of Quick Printers. Contact him via www.mailright.com.



Inkjet addressing shifts toward high-end mailing systems

In 2005, sales of inkjet mail printers showed higher growth than expected, due in part to aggressive hardware price reductions by manufacturers to drive up unit sales. Discounting by large manufacturers has made it more difficult for smaller manufacturers to gain share and has caused them to shift their attention to developing higher-end systems, with six to 12 inkjet heads per printer, mostly incorporated into mail tables targeted at mail/lettershops.

Mail tables are much more expensive than the tabletop units and, because there is not one dominant manufacturer, tend to be a more lucrative market. According to Marco Boer, consulting partner at I.T. Strategies, “In the U.S., lettershops have shown high interest in this new generation of mail tables, and a solid economy is encouraging many to consider upgrading their equipment for the first time in years.”

The North American market accounts for an estimated two-thirds of the unit volume shipped worldwide in 2005 and showed almost double the growth of the European market. According to Boer, “Overall mail piece volume for direct mail is up four percent [10 billion pieces] from 2003 to 2005 according to the U.S. Postal Service's annual report. That's a significant amount of pieces, which drove the need for higher productivity mailtables benefiting virtually every mailtable printer manufacturer.”

For 2006, I.T. Strategies is projecting that worldwide organic growth will be three to five percent, tracking the growth of the worldwide economy and indicating that the mail printer market is starting to reach maturity. Technology development will continue to drive opportunities. Inkjet printhead systems are becoming more capable and, in some ways, easier to deploy as inkjet head technology suppliers incorporate more turnkey electronics into their offerings. There are indications that inkjet mail table vendors are leveraging these benefits and are exploring new application areas outside mailing as they look to future growth. Boer notes, “The future looks bright for mail table inkjet print systems, with some users upgrading from tabletop to more capable mail table systems. Perhaps some day we will see mail table printer vendors offer folding carton print systems to a completely different market than they currently sell to.”

See www.it-strategies.com.



Mailing seminars at Graph Expo

The Mailing & Fulfillment Service Association (MFSA) (www.mfsanet.org) will present six seminars at Graph Expo in Chicago (October 15-18):

  • Mailing services: the final frontier? The business proposition for offering mailing services.
  • Talking postal — the basics of dealing with the Postal Service.
  • Moving your eggs into more baskets — diversification with mailing and fulfillment services.
  • Avoiding design disaster — using mailpiece design to maximize postage discounts.
  • Printing smart — The blueprint of a winning VDP strategy.
  • How to get started in fulfillment.

The show also features a Mailing & Fulfillment Center with more than 40 exhibitors, occupying more than 30,000 net sq. ft. For complete show details, see www.graphexpo.com.



Mailing-Related Products

Alternative to print-and-apply labels
DataLase (Cheshire, England) has launched CASEMARK, a new cost-effective label replacement solution for outer case secondary packaging. It requires no inks, ribbons or applicators, is virtually maintenance-free and reportedly achieves almost 100 percent production uptime. It delivers a verifiable barcode online and direct-to-carton. The non-contact laser imaging process allows for late pack customization at any point in the packaging line or within the retail chain, eliminating the need for expensive reprints.

CASEMARK is a fully integrated system and replaces the conventional shelf adhesive, thermal transfer printed labels and the large character inkjet printing applied to outer cases. It appies a robust, inert inorganic coating onto the specific label area of the outer case as the packaging is produced. On the final production line, a computer-controlled low-level energy beam emitted from an industrial CO2 marking laser writes the required label data onto the mark area, causing a color change reaction to the coating from white to black.

See www.datalase.com.
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Barcode plug-in

Instant Barcode, an Enfocus (Encino, CA) plug-in that allows users to create, verify, fix and read barcodes directly within Adobe Illustrator, is available for download online at www.enfocus.com. Instant Barcode supports the most commonly used barcode systems, including EAN-8, ISSN and ISBN for easy integration.

The plug-in automatically verifies that barcodes are accurate and provides warnings when they don't meet correct parameters. The preflighting capabilities enable users to check a wide range of parameters, such as barcode types, height, scaling, overprint setting and color use. It also allows users to save preflight profiles for reuse at a later stage.

See www.enfocus.com.
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Order sales leads automatically

USADATA's (New York) Leads Integration Module lets users integrate lead ordering into any Web-to-print or digital storefront application. Users specify their target geography and demographics, get their count and choose the quantity of records to order. Automating the order process cuts costs while reducing turnaround times.

See www.usadata.com.
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Smooth the postal rate transition

Window Book (Cambridge, MA) has announced a “2007 Rate Analysis Service” to assist mailers in preparing for the upcoming postal rate changes. This service utilizes Mail.dat files for analysis, calculates the new rates where possible and provides mailers with a comparison. It is designed to assist mailers with the information they need to improve management of their postage funds in preparation for the new rates.

See www.windowbook.com.
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Integrated software package

SynTel (Jonesboro, AR) and XLPrint (Santa Monica, CA) have combined their premier software packages to produce a one-stop form processing and mail management solution. The two companies have integrated SynTel's Automail package into XLPrint's Paris Document Composition and Print Management tool to provide a one-stop solution to design, print and mail certify any business document. This leads to lower production costs for financial mail items such as invoices, as well as the rapidly growing 1:1, personalized mail applications.

See www.syntelllc.com and www.xlprint.com.
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Web services and data feeds

Printable Technologies announces the availability of four Web Services and four Data Feeds that reportedly minimize the need for manual data entry into corporate ERP or CRM applications and print MIS or fulfillment solutions. Web Services are callable routines which can be implemented to extract data on demand to create a job ticket or packing slip. With a Data Feed, data are extracted from the PrintOne database and then made available in an XML format for import by other applications.

The new Web Services include Create Packing Slip, Manage Inventory, Create Invoice and Order Status. The new Data Feeds include Sales Work Order Feed, Job Ticket Feed, Packing Slip Feed and ÜberFeed, which provides all the data from every order that was placed through a single PrintOne Store during a 24-hour period. Included are item details, “ship to” and “bill to” detail, order status, cost center, credit card authorization information and information about the variable data input for each record. All the other feeds are subsets of the ÜberFeed.

See www.printable.com.
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Improve mailing lists

BCC Software (Rochester, NY) recently received United States Postal Service certification as an NCOA Full Service Provider. NCOA accesses the USPS Change of Address database to update addresses of customers who have moved — improving deliverability and reducing printing and postage costs. Same-day turnarounds, low rates and customer support are available to users of BCC's Mail Manager 2010 software, or via the free, downloadable Data Services Manager.

See www.bccsoftware.com.
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Improve your prospects

ValueScore is a new marketing scoring tool from AccuData (Fort Myers, FL) that is said to make it easier to identify the highest quality prospects on your prospect list. ValuScore allows users to leverage AccuData's corporate database of consumer corporate behavior, helping users to maximize response and profit by separating prospects according to their financial risk. For example, users can omit targets that previously had low payment and conversion rates.

Once the tool has separated a list, ranging from high to low profit potential, users can select which of the sections they would like to market to. Users can include ValueScore on any test list order or add it to their house or prospect file through AccuData's data enhancement services.

See www.accudata.com.
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Software upgrade

Atlas Software (Milford, CT) has released PrintShop Mail 5.2. The latest version of the company's variable-data printing solution is extended with a publication function to send documents to a PrintShop Web server instead of a printer or RIP. It boasts a low training threshold.

See www.atlassoftware.com.
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Custom envelopes

VistaPrint Ltd. (Hamilton, Bermuda) offers customized envelopes in sizes A2 for postcards and #10 for letterhead. The envelopes are completely customizable with full-color printing on the front and back, as well as a variety of options for security tints, including company name. Customers can place an order as a matching production to letterhead or postcards and can receive 100 full-color envelopes for less than $25.

See www.vistaprint.com.
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Database mangement

Mailnet Services (Franklin, TN) helps business manage data to generate sales, build awareness and track customer behavior through its Internet-based list hygiene product, Listcleanup.com, the first to provide list cleaning via the Internet. Services include move update, address standardization, telephone append and business or consumer database enhancement.

See www.listcleanup.com.
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An association for mailers

MFSA (Alexandria, VA) is a national trade association for the mailing and fulfillment services industry. With more than 80 years of experience, the association offers instant postal information, surveys and other research, insurance, and ongoing educational opportunities. The association is made up of more than 700 companies, most of which are located in the United States and Canada. Regular members are in the mailing services, product fulfillment or literature fulfillment business; there also is a supplier membership category.

See www.mfsanet.org.
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Automation software

Ricoh Corp.'s (Philadelphia) DOT AutoMail software simplifies mass mailing by incorporating several different tasks into one seamless function. The software is capable of presorting files, certifying the accuracy of addresses, adding barcode information, calculating postage fees and printing all necessary USPS documentation in one step. Based on the number of pages in each envelope, AutoMail calculates the weight of each piece, assigns postage fees accordingly, generates any necessary postal reports and prints all manifests needed for shipping.

See www.ricoh-usa.com.
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Imposition software upgrade

Kodak (Rochester, NY) Preps 5.2 imposition software automatically generates 2/5 interleaved barcodes. Printed as a control mark in the trim area of signatures, the barcodes indicate how pages are to be put together during the binding and construction process.

See www.kodak.com.
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New delivery indicator

MAILERS+4 from Melissa Data (Rancho Santa Margarita, CA) is a CASS-certified postal software package that gives mail managers everything they need for low-cost mailings. New to MAILERS this year is an indicator that determines if an address is a residence or business. (Carriers charge more to deliver a package to a residence.) MAILERS+4 verifies and corrects addresses, eliminates duplicate records, performs postal presorting, and prints required labels, container tags and forms.

See www.melissadata.com/mp4.
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Verify and manage mail weight

BÖWE BELL + HOWELL (Wheeling, IL) has introduced the WayMark weight verification and management system, which will allow mailers to submit mailings to the United States Postal Service (USPS) without the use of a postage meter. With deviations of four percent or better at speeds of 36,000 pieces per hour, WayMark eliminates costly errors due to overestimating First Class or Standard Class mailpiece weights, or underestimating weight and postage, which can lead to incorrect postage statements.

By adding WayMark to BÖWE BELL + HOWELL's Criterion sorting system, mailers can verify the weight of every mailpiece, calculate the correct postage and produce postage reports in one pass.

See www.bowebellhowell.com
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E-news accolades

MCS, Inc. (Gaithersburg, MD), a leader in industrial and mailing inkjet technology, has received an award from the Mailing & Fulfillment Service Assn. (MFSA) (www.mfsanet.org) for its quarterly newsletter, MCS News. The award is part of the annual MFSA “Awards for Excellence” program.

MCS News is an eight-page newsletter with articles for the mailing industry, customer case studies, industry trends, how-to features and trade show highlights. With a light and informal tone, the newsletter is an effective way for MCS to communicate with 7,000 key professionals in the direct mail industry. It began in 1994 as a means for MCS to keep in touch with customers met at industry events such as MFSA meetings and the MailCom trade shows. With growing popularity and positive feedback from customers, MCS started publishing the newsletter quarterly in 2005. The content for MCS News is researched and written in-house. Hilliary Elleman, marketing communications manager, serves as editor, and the contributions come from regional sales managers and service technicians, as well as MCS president David Loos.

See www.mcspro.com.

A stamp is born

Judy Garland is featured as the 12th honoree in the “Legends of Hollywood” stamp series sponsored by the USPS. The Judy Garland stamp image is based on a publicity photo from “A Star is Born,” and the side of the stamp sheet depicts her as Dorothy in “The Wizard of Oz.” MACtac (Stow, OH) supplied the pressure-sensitive adhesive material for the 75 million stamps printed.

As a qualified supplier for USPS stamps, MACtac has provided materials for a number of pressure-sensitive stamps, including recent releases “Katherine Anne Porter,” “Winter Olympics,” “Hattie McDaniel,” “Children's Picture Book of Animals,” “Navajo Necklaces” and “Lunar New Year.”

Pitney Bowes to acquire Print, Inc.

Pitney Bowes Inc. (Stamford, CT) has signed a definitive agreement to acquire 100 percent of the stock of Bellevue, WA-based Print, Inc., for approximately $47 million net of cash and debt. Print, Inc., is a leader in a rapidly growing component of the print management market that provides bundled print supplies, service and equipment to manage document production. These operations will be integrated into a wholly-owned subsidiary of Pitney Bowes that will operate as part of its group led by Neil Metviner, executive vice president and president, Pitney Bowes Direct.

See www.pb.com.