Trends in Print and Mail

The Berkshire Company Blog

Twenty Questions To Ask When Purchasing Equipment

Posted by Mark Fallon on Apr 15, 2015 5:30:00 AM

A successful operation is built around people, process and technology. In print and mail operations, the equipment used to process inbound and outbound documents is becoming faster, more accurate and more expensive. Upgrading your systems will mean a significant investment in dollars and other resources.

In past posts, we’ve encouraged the use of a Requests for Proposals (RFP) for major purchases. Companies can use the RFP to fully explain their existing situation and challenges, as well as the goals to be met with the new technology. We recommend that our clients provide as much detail as possible about their current operation – volumes, file formats, processing times, paper types, information technology infrastructure, etc. If possible, give vendors physical samples of the “typical” documents in their final form.

As with RFPs for outsourcing, most companies have standard questions from the purchasing, procurement or legal departments. In addition to those questions and pricing information, here are 20 questions you should ask when purchasing equipment:

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Industry Vendors / Operations Management

Mail and the Misinformed Media

Posted by Mark Fallon on Apr 8, 2015 5:00:00 AM

Last week saw the release of two important reports regarding the United States Postal Service (“USPS”). The first was the annual Financial Analysis of United States Postal Service Financial Results and 10-K Statement by the Postal Regulatory Commission (“PRC”). This lengthy report is representative of an audit a public corporation would present to its stockholders. On page 2 (of 76), the PRC summarizes their findings stating:

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United States Postal Service

20 Questions When Selecting a Print/Mail Service Provider

Posted by Mark Fallon on Mar 25, 2015 5:00:00 AM

Choosing a vendor for print or mail services (or both) can be similar to buying a new car. First, a lot of research on the internet. Checking out vendor websites, searching for news stories and reading online reviews. Next you reach out to people you know, and ask for their recommendations and experience. Then, you start contacting vendors.

After you’ve narrowed your selection, it’s time to start finding out more the finalists. If your company is looking to find a long-term partner, your best tool would be the Request for Proposals (RFP) process. For a “one-off” project, you may request bids from the vendors. In either case, you still need to learn more about the vendor than just their pricing.

When we help companies draft RFPs for outsourcing, there may be dozens of questions. Usually, there are standard questions from the purchasing, procurement or legal departments. There are application-specific questions – file formats, service-level requirements, postage costs, presort availability, materials, etc. Then there are questions that appear in almost every RFP.

In addition to pricing, here are 20 questions you should ask when selecting a print/mail service provider:

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Industry Vendors / Operations Management

When Should I Consider Outsourcing?

Posted by Mark Fallon on Mar 18, 2015 5:30:00 AM

When evaluating a function as a candidate for outsourcing, the three most important factors to consider are:

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Operations Management

The Myths and Realities of Outsourcing

Posted by Mark Fallon on Mar 11, 2015 5:30:00 AM

Outsourcing may be the most emotionally charged issue facing print and mail operations managers today. If it's a knee-jerk reaction by companies desperate to cut costs, or to get rid of bothersome employees, outsourcing will probably result in failure.
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Industry Vendors / Operations Management

What’s In A Name?

Posted by Mark Fallon on Mar 4, 2015 5:30:00 AM

In Romeo and Juliet, William Shakespeare wrote, “A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” In his poetic fashion, Shakespeare was telling the audience that it was not the name or title that mattered, rather it was the essence of the person (or thing) that was important.

While I find it difficult to criticize one of the world’s greatest writers, I must disagree with him on this point. Names are important. What you call your mailing operation is not some mere detail, but an essential duty in your roles as managers.

Isn’t our birth name important? It’s normally the first thing we learn to spell as children. We make sure others spell it right and pronounce it correctly. If we have a nickname, we make sure people use that right as well. Watch what happens when you call someone “Rob”, when they go by “Bob”. Or “Suzie”, when “Sue” or “Susan” is preferred.

In the past, most of us this industry were known as “Mailroom Managers”. But you can’t manage a room; you manage an operation. Thanks to many leaders in the industry, this term has begun to fall from use. For some, it’s even considered pejorative or insulting.

It’s more common today to hear of units called “Mail Services”, “Corporate Mail Services” or “Mail and Distribution Services”. The focus has correctly shifted from the room where the work takes place, to the service that the unit provides.

For many operations, providing mail services is only one aspect of their responsibilities. It’s not uncommon for units to also handle printing and courier services. I’ve been part of one group that distributed airline tickets. Mail may not even be the most important function the unit performs.

A few organizations have produced some interesting names for their departments. When I was at State Street Corporation, our unit handled mail, document services, receiving and transportation. As part of a company that is a leader in information systems, the department chose the name, “Document Technology and Delivery”. It encompassed all of what we did, and it provided a great acronym – "DTD".

Creating a name for your department is a worthwhile exercise. And it’s not something you should do on your own. Involve the people who will be most impacted by the new name. Put together a team of your unit’s managers, supervisors and employees.

Start by conducting a brainstorming session. It’s important that all ideas are accepted and no one is criticized. List all the mail services that your unit provides. For example inbound mail, interoffice mail, metering mail, etc. Be as specific as possible. Next, write down all the other duties – printing, receiving, couriers, office supplies, whatever.

Look for the common threads and words shared by these responsibilities. “Service” is probably one of them, and perhaps “customer” is too. Circle or highlight these words in a different color marker.

At this point, your department’s name is probably already jumping out at you. If possible, choose action words that get to the heart of the matter. People reading the name should immediately understand what the unit does. If your operation only handles mail for one aspect of the company or college, include that name in the title. You may choose something like “Corporate Mail Operations” or “North Campus Mail Services”.

Check to see what type of acronym is formed. You’ll want to do this for two reasons. First, you don’t want an accidental acronym that is insulting. Also, many companies use acronyms for most departments, so you don’t want to choose one that is already used by another unit.

You want to choose a name that proudly states what your unit does. Although it’s the lifeblood of most companies, the mail department isn’t always held in the highest esteem. The anthrax scare helped many organizations become aware of their mail departments and the professionals that run them. Build upon this respect and ensure your name reflects that.

Once you’ve come up with the new name, you can now start the exciting process of publicizing the change. Develop a campaign to notify everyone in the company about the new name. Work with the marketing and human resources departments to make sure the message gets to everyone. Include information on the different services your operation provides, along with contact numbers, in all your communications. Hold a “Mail Services Open House”, inviting the company to tour your area and meet your employees. Have some fun.

Reinforce your role through the new identity you’ve developed. When you introduce yourself at meetings, clearly state the name of your department. When someone uses the old name, politely correct the person. You’d do the same if they pronounced your name incorrectly, wouldn’t you?

A rose is a rose is a rose, but a well-run mail operation is an important part of your company that deserves a name of its very own.

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Operations Management

Fire! Ready! Aim!

Posted by Mark Fallon on Feb 25, 2015 5:30:00 AM

One of our clients recently received an interesting direct mail marketing piece from Cliff Rucker, the Vice President of Sales for the US Postal Service (USPS). The letter explained that the new dimensional weight (DIM) pricing policies of their competitors makes Priority Mail even more attractive for shipping. In the “P.S.” paragraph, the letter gave the name of the local USPS representative who would be contacting the recipient directly.

This sounds like a standard direct mail piece designed to raise awareness and provide an introduction for the sales representative. Just a few issues:

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United States Postal Service

2015 Postage Rate Case Update

Posted by Mark Fallon on Feb 18, 2015 5:30:00 AM

There have been several events that will impact mailers as the US Postal Service (USPS) implements the first rate case of 2015. These include a filing for price changes for competitive products, and a clarification on rate increases on market dominant products.

Less than two weeks after filing for an increase for market dominant products (i.e., mailing services), on January 26, 2015, the USPS filed for a rate change on its competitive products – shipping services. In the filing to the Postal Regulatory Commission (PRC), the USPS only requested increases for some products. Notably, they plan to keep prices for Priority Mail Express and Priority Mail at the current level. After a successful holiday shipping season, USPS management want to build on the goodwill created with customers – a sound business strategy.

The timing of the filing was to align the implementation of all price changes to occur on one date – April 26, 2015.

In the initial rate filing for market dominant products, the USPS used the “pre-exigent rate increase” pricing in their charts. This meant that the posted increases didn’t reflect current pricing, and caused confusion for mailers as they tried to calculate what their actual rates were going to be. On February 6, 2015, charts with the new rates were published on the Postal Explorer web page.

For First Class Mail, the retail price for a one ounce letter remains the same. The highest percentage increase for most business mailers will be for customers that sort mail down to the 5-digit level – an over 2.6% rate hike. And the savings for presorting mail compared to just metering mail drops by a half cent.

With its many different classifications, Standard Mail is more difficult to display. Rate changes are dependent upon subclass, entry points and sorting levels. Even just one subclass can have 22 different rate changes.

The PRC is expected to hand down its decision on the rate cases in the next few weeks – March 6, 2015 for the market-dominant prices and February 26, 2015 for the competitive product pricing. As we noted in our previous post, mailers shouldn’t wait for the PRC decisions, but start taking steps now for the probable rate change. Most importantly, stay informed.

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Mail and The National Postal Museum

Posted by Mark Fallon on Feb 11, 2015 5:30:00 AM

For many reasons, I was excited when the Smithsonian Institution and the US Postal Service (USPS) announced the creation of the National Postal Museum in 1990. I’d been a supporter of the Smithsonian for years, and loved their monthly magazine. My father had been a clerk for the USPS for 25 years. More importantly, he was an avid collector of First Day Issue stamps, going back to 1939. We were both happy to see this museum launched.

In 1993, the National Postal Museum opened their doors to the public. Fittingly, the museum is located in the historic City Post Office Building, which was the Washington, D.C. post office from 1914 through 1986. The museum’s exhibits celebrate philately (stamp collecting) and postal history. Over the last two decades, I’ve been able to visit several times, including as a guest for special USPS events.

But mail is more than just stamps and the US Postal Service. The letters and packages that are delivered each day represent the work of the mailing industry – an industry that supports over 8.4 million jobs and generates over $1.3 trillion in annual sales revenue. An industry with a story that needs to be told. The National Postal Museum agrees.

In the last year, the National Postal Museum has launched an initiative to tell the story of the mailing industry to the public through online and physical exhibits. The project will show how the USPS network helped to build the mailing industry and how the mailing industry adapts and changes to serve the American public’s business and personal communication needs through the Postal Service’s network

My good friend, Karen McCormick, is the liaison between the museum and the industry. This is good news, as Karen is someone who knows and understands our industry. In 1986, Karen founded a mailing company, Fulfillment Express, in Waltham, MA. For 28 years, Karen and her employees printed, stuffed, packed, labeled and metered millions of letters, brochures and packages for their clients. In 2014, Karen integrated her operations with The Field Companies Fulfillment Center Inc., also in Waltham.

Karen gave back to the industry by serving on association boards. She’s been the president of the New England Direct Marketing Association and the local chapter of the Mailing and Fulfillment Services Association. Since 2001, I’ve served on the Greater Boston Postal Customer Council Executive Board with Karen, including the 4 years she was our Industry Co-Chair. She’s the right person for the job.

Karen and the leadership of the National Postal Museum have been reaching out to different industry associations to garner their support for this project. So far, they’ve met with representatives from the Mailers’ Technical Advisory Committee, Volume Mailers Group, PostCom Board Parcel Shippers Association Board and the National Postal Policy Council. Over the next year, Karen will be contacting more associations to gather information and artifacts that represent the history of our industry. This May, they’ll also have a presence at the National Postal Forum in Anaheim, CA.

This is great development for our industry. Too often, mail is marginalized by businesses and society. This project will help tell the important story of how the US Postal Service and the mailing industry are essential parts of our national economy.

You can learn more about the National Postal Museum at their website, or tour the exhibits at 2 Massachusetts Ave., N.E., Washington, DC 20002.

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United States Postal Service

Let's Build an RFP – Part Two: Analyze, Award and Accept

Posted by Mark Fallon on Feb 4, 2015 5:30:00 AM

In our last blog post, we discussed how to prepare and publish a Request for Proposal (RFP). This week, we’ll cover the rest of the process, including:

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Operations Management

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The Berkshire Company improves business processes in your print & mail operations, helping you solve real problems.

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