Jan. 29 2007 11:13 AM

For printers, the main attraction of offering mailing services in addition to standard services is undoubtedly the prospect of increasing profit margins and creating a new and potentially lucrative revenue stream. These services, in turn, provide their customers with reduced project time requirements, fewer errors and more individualized attention.


An Innovative Concept

The mailing process can appear to be a daunting task. Despite this potentially lucrative opportunity, many printers have avoided the mailing end of the business for a myriad of reasons. Some have been put off by the apparent complexity of postal regulations. Others have been reticent to make the time investment to become familiar with the requisite mailing hardware and software. Still others have been concerned with the prospect of straying from their core competency.


While these reasons may have been justified in the past, they hold far less water than before. Postal discounting software has solved much of the postal regulations' mystery, and mailing equipment has become more automated, which has dramatically increased the ease of use. As far as straying from core competency, bringing the mailing process in-house is not an effort to enter a whole new market segment, but rather a way to create added value to existing customers, while also extracting additional forms of revenue.


How to Get Started

Once the decision has been made to enter the mailing domain, the obvious question is how best to get started. Naturally, there is a sequence of equipment purchases that a commercial printer must make in order to acquire the technical capabilities to handle bulk mailings. However, there are some general guidelines to follow before procuring the appropriate hardware.


Start simple, start small "Start simple, start small" should be the overriding mantra of all printers wishing to enter the mailing arena. In short, don't run before you can walk. Start with easy mailings small numbers of uncomplicated pieces, such as postcards. In fact, before trying out your newfound capabilities on a client's dime, it's best to begin with your own business. Post office standards require just 200 mailpieces to qualify for discount rates. Print 200 postcards for your own business, apply the postage and send the pieces to an in-house list to make sure they are accepted by the post office and reach their destinations. Start with basic postcard mailings before graduating to more complex ones.


Be informed about postal regulations Printers entering into the mailing process for the first time should have at least a minimal understanding of the postal regulations governing Standard mailings, also known as bulk mailings. Mailing software certainly facilitates the process, with much of the burden to comprehend each regulation and its nuances falling on the software.


Leverage the USPS as a resource The USPS provides support and training to those printers who want to incorporate mailing into their businesses. First-Class Mail is on the decline, and Standard is on the upswing. Consequently, the post office is eager to offer its expertise to ensure that Standard mailings are handled properly, from inception all the way to completion.


Utilize vendor expertise Vendors of various mailing equipment, such as folder/inserters, address printers and tabbing machines, are an excellent source of information. They can help a printer to make certain that the optimal equipment is purchased at the right price for the customers' mail requirements. Additionally, vendors are willing to work with their customers to provide insight into the overall mailing process, sharing efficient ways to streamline production as well as pitfalls to avoid.


Become part of the mailing community By joining mailing associations, printers can keep up-to-date on regulations and gain insight into the mailing process. The Postal Consumer Council is one of these valuable resources that will help keep you current with postal procedures.


Keeping the "start simple, start small" guidelines in mind, the acquisition of the necessary tools for mail fulfillment can be divided into a three-step process:


            1. A printer's first step should be the purchase of the necessary permit from USPS and a postal discounting software package, which guides the user methodically through the mailing process with a series of step-by-step prompts. Postal discounting software helps to keep the user abreast of postage and regulation changes and makes it easier to process discounted mailings.


            2. An address printer and tabber are both crucial elements to the mail fulfillment process. A high-speed address printer is designed to save time and can operate at high rates of speed, providing users with superior image quality for addresses and barcodes by printing directly onto envelopes and mailpieces. Customized designs can also be printed on mailpieces, providing a professional and personalized look.


                The tabber is a crucial system to ensure that a mailpiece is secure. Anything folded and not inserted into an envelope requires a tab for postal automation regulations. Obviously, postcards are not an issue, but virtually every other type of self-mailer, such as flyers, newsletters and many other forms of direct mailers, must be sealed through the use of a tab or glue seal so they do not open and jam the high-speed sorter machines employed by the post office.


            3. Another step in starting up a mail fulfillment operation is to obtain the appropriate folding and inserting equipment. Pick a vendor that can meet the unique needs of your specific operation. Considerations include: applications, volumes and frequency of mailings.


The guidelines and steps presented here can work just as effectively whether you are a small "mom-and-pop" printer or a huge entity printing millions of pieces in a single run. They can also exist independently or in conjunction, depending on the types of mailing applications you want to provide to a customer. In short, more equipment equals more options and project capabilities, but a printer should master one part before moving on to the next. By starting small and simple, problems can be kept to a minimum, but profits should grow by leaps and bounds.


Jeff McKenzie is Sales Director, Document Handling for Neopost, a worldwide provider of mailing and shipping solutions. For more info, please visit www.neopostinc.com.