Just about anyone on the street will tell you that the Internet is quickly eliminating the need for postal mail. As recently as 2007, nearly half of all printing produced in the United States was mailed, but email and online banking are two of the many factors continuing to shrink U.S. postal volumes.
But the view on the street is not shared by everyone. “Envelopes won’t go away in our lifetime,” predicted Scott Johnson, VP of sales/marketingfor Priority Envelope, one of the most successful envelope producers in the country. Based in Plymouth, MN, Johnson’s company specializes in only one product: envelopes -- lots and lots of envelopes. “We are completely dedicated to the envelope industry. Our employees can answer any question you have about printing and converting envelopes because we live and breathe envelopes every day,” he added.
Indeed, Johnson and his co-workers are passionate about their envelopes for good reason. Industry research shows that people are more receptive to direct marketing when envelopes are used. Nearly seven of every 10 consumers said they’re more likely to open first a mail piece with color text and graphics, compared to a plain white envelope without messaging, a Pitney Bowes study has revealed.
Many readers were surprised last year when Response Magazine reported that young adults (ages 18-34) in North America prefer offline marketing offers in print. Direct marketing, even though it was down by more than 10 percent last year, still accounted for over 54% of all ad expenditures. (Internet ad spending decreased by some 3% year over year.) Marketers spend nearly $150 billion annually on direct marketing, according to the latest DMA figures, because it works. Ben Cooper, executive director of The Print Council and Mail Moves America, and a former lobbyist for the Printing Industries of America, noted that major corporations such as AT&T and Dell are increasing printed mailings this year due to their effectiveness.
Hi Tech, High Touch
This demand for envelopes leads many to Priority’s front door, but it’s the firm’s dedication and passion for its customers that keeps them coming back. “Our goal at Priority Envelope is to provide the highest level of service and best quality possible,” president Ryan Wenning stated. “Our goal is to engage every customer in conversation to make sure we understand their needs, and then to provide quotes within two hours. And we treat every order with the same attention to detail, whether it’s for 250 envelopes or 500,000. That’s why so many of our customers come back time and time again.”
Celebrating its 15th business anniversary this year, Priority has experienced impressive growth with large national accounts and today offers three Midwestern facilities located in Minnesota, Iowa, and Kansas. Priority has 200,000 square feet of manufacturing space, 18 pieces of converting equipment, and 18 pieces of envelope printing equipment utilizing the latest in manufacturing technology. All three sites are FSC- and SFI-certified. The company has progressed a long way from its start with five employees and a fleet of used equipment.
As the new millennium approached, Priority was sitting at a crossroads, wrestling with how best to provide customers with the faster response times and greater flexibility they were demanding. It was then that its management team made a significant technology leap forward, entering the web arena with a W+D 627RC envelope printing and folding machine (see sidebar). The manufacturing footprint was changed forever, and the firm has never looked back, continually seeking the latest in new technologies to meet customer needs.
“There are no more old or used pieces of equipment for us,” said Wenning. “Our oldest web machine is seven years old [compared to an industry average age of 35 years], and we have a strategic willingness to invest in new technology.
“Keeping up with technological advancements,” he argued, “is a major key to meeting our customers’ increasing demands for faster mail dates, better quality, and creativity.”Executive VP Paul Siegle added, “Priority pioneered computerized layouts for all printing devices, and we were one of the earliest adopters of direct-to-plate prepress workflow. Our new plant in Iowa is the most technologically advanced footprint in the country.”
Success Through Service and Services
Priority Envelope continues to be a customer-service driven company specializing in fast turnaround and converting of custom and standard size envelopes, providing printing from one to four colors, producing special single- and double-window configurations, custom perforations, self-seal flaps, poly-patch applications, and embossing. The entire organization is committed to meet or exceed critical mail dates and deadlines.
With direct mail, response rates are the key with envelopes, pointed out industry analyst Dr. Joe Webb. “Getting mail noticed and opened means doing anything creative that you can from a physical standpoint,” said Webb, “and I don’t mean just printing."
“Embossing, perforation configurations, and up to four-color printing all make the difference on why someone opens a direct mail piece,” Siegle added. “In the end, it’s about working with our customers to give them what they need. Relationships are the key. We want to be known as an accountable partner who’s easy to deal with, and who returns quotes and proofs quickly. Our goal is to be our customers’ best supplier.”
Bullish on Envelopes and Investing
Priority Envelope wants customers -- including printing companies, prepress providers, print brokers, and ad agencies -- to know that it is bullish on the future of the envelope and is making several significant investments that reflect its confidence in the business. The firm said it is positioned to be the supplier of choice by continuing to invest in new technologies that offer customers competitive advantages, particularly in terms of fast turnaround times to meet ever-demanding mail dates.
“The USPS delivered 82 billion pieces of advertising mail in fiscal year 2010,” noted Cooper. “That represents $17 billion in postage alone -– excluding the value of the advertising itself,” he said. It’s clear these numbers continue to drive demand for a lot of envelopes. That’s why Priority stocks 50 million for convenient printing and keeps a large inventory of standing dies, so it can respond quickly to customers’ needs.
The Future Looks Bright
The Print Council agreed with Johnson about the future of envelopes. “Direct mail won’t return to 2006’s peak levels, but the numbers are still tremendous,” Cooper concluded, adding that addresses are better and lists are more tailored. “Catalogers are sending highly targeted direct mail to their best customers,” so their touches are more frequent – and more effective.
Ryan Wenning concurs. “We simply focus on doing what we do best … envelopes. Priority is very respectful of our customers and what they do, so we’re not trying to be all things to all people," Wenning said. "We strive to be constantly building our customer value equity and keep them coming back. Yes, because of our skill set, and yes, because we are continuously adding new tools to better serve their envelope needs. But mostly because of our dedication to their success.”
The Right Tools for the Customers’ Sake
On the technical side, “W+D (Winkler+Dünnebier) provides a workflow that fits with direct mail design and print technology,” said industry consultant Dr. Joe Webb, who attended W+D’s customer event last year. The German manufacturer features “automation that makes systems more efficient and productive –- and that makes manufacturing more economical."
Priority Envelope president Ryan Wenning called W+D’s technology an “enabler,” helping his firm to be an envelope industry leader. “Our set-ups are swifter and our speeds are faster,” he noted. The 627RC runs up to 1,200 envelopes and 800 pockets per minute. “And it’s reliable,” Wenning added, citing features such as lubrication-free, low-maintenance vacuum rollers.
Ideally suited for special envelope products and small- to medium-size orders, the 627RC produces single- or multi-windowed envelopes; envelopes with remoistenable gumming, self-seal or optional pressure-sensitive gumming (hot-melt); gusset envelopes; and even diamond-shaped and embossed envelopes. Priority’s W+D 627RC is a reel-fed, servo-controlled folding machine with center delivery that also can process a variety of paper grades.
Best of all, from a flexibility standpoint, it’s modular. For example, an inline flexo printing press -- the W+D 201, featuring a central impression cylinder -- was added by Priority to increase high-grade, four-color process and tight register capabilities. In addition to taking complexity and cost out of the color equation, the 201 inline technology results in faster speeds and quicker change-overs for varying envelope sizes, which is critical to flexibility and lower-quantity jobs.
For short-run fire power, Priority also runs 17 Halm Jet Presses at its various locations -- for quick turns of already-converted envelopes in up to four colors. -Mark Vruno