Priority Mail: Finding the "How To" for Mailing Services

Whether you are just now adding mailing services to your quick printing operation or are an established mailer, it is likely that you've needed a "how to" source of information on mailing services. That may be why you read this column or why you participate in your local Postal Customer Council (PCC). In fact, as the United States Postal Service continues its transition to technology-based mail processing operations, the burden on all mailers, including quick printers, to alter internal procedures to accommodate changing USPS requirements is accelerating.

The problem is less that of finding out what the USPS is changing than it is determining how the changes affect your specific mailing customers and, by extension, the way you provide mailing services. Between 1996 and 2006, the rate of change was slower paced and easier to manage. But since 2006 it has accelerated, with significant changes such as shape-based postage rates, expansion of move update requirements, and implementation of intelligent mail barcode occurring within months of each other.

It is not going to get any better. And that's why quick printers who are also mailers need to find good, reliable sources of training material or learn for themselves how to translate new USPS requirements into internal operating procedures.

In recent years, as copier technology has shifted from analog to digital and the cost of variable data software declined, it has become feasible for quick printers to produce individually personalized documents ranging from customized insurance policies to one-to-one marketing materials. This has led some quick printers to become what I'll term "partial service" mailers. In contrast to full service mailers, whose product knowledge includes all classes of mail and postage rates, partial service mailers use mailing services as essentially another post press process like bindery. Direct mail pieces were often postcards, requiring only addressing and bulk mail preparation, which limited the amount of mailing knowledge one needed to provide the service.

Mail Shop in a Box

In 2007 Xerox began developing Volume 2 of its Digital Print Series (a complement to its ProfitAccelerator Digital Business Resource collection), called Mail Shop in a Box. The topic was the result of a survey conducted by NAPL in which printers named digital services, mailing services, and finishing services as their top three capital investments for the fourth quarter of 2008 and 2009. Developed in collaboration with The Bennett Group, a well known training and consulting group within the mailing industry, Mail Shop in a Box is promoted as a seven-step, easy guide to adding mailing capabilities to a digital print shop. It is available to current Xerox customers or those in the process of becoming Xerox customers.

I had the opportunity to review Mail Shop in a Box, and can report that it is well written and content rich. Included are two tools that I found especially helpful—a booklet that explains shape-based postage rates and a remake of USPS Letter-size Mail Dimensional Standards Template (Notice 3A) and Automation Template (Notice 67). These are used to confirm mail piece eligibility for classes of postage and automation compatible postage rates. Because shape-based postage rates were implemented in 2007, anyone who was a mailer at that time has by now fully integrated those requirements into operational practice. However, the booklet and template are still good tools for educating new customers and training the shop's graphic designer, customer service reps, and salespeople.

The heart of Mail Shop in a Box is an interactive CD. The "interactive" part means that, just like on the Internet, there are highlighted words that are links to other parts of the text or to external Internet sources. Besides the seven-step guide to adding mailing services, the CD also contains a glossary of postal terms and references to other resources available to Xerox customers.

For quick printers looking for an overview of the steps required for adding mailing services, Mail Shop in a Box adequately fills the bill. It introduces the reader to the topics of mail list management software, address quality, mail piece design, equipment, and staff training. The information is current as of 2008.

More Info Needed

But this is a relatively short read—less than two hours—and therefore is limited regarding the amount of information that could be included. For example, the section on mail list management software explains the importance of PAVE and CASS certification, but does not suggest any other criteria for selecting software. And since the interactive link is, appropriately, to the USPS listing of manufacturers whose products are PAVE and CASS certified, the criterion discussed in Mail Shop in a Box is met by all vendors and, therefore, provides no distinction among them.

Similarly, the discussion on equipment emphasizes that bindery equipment commonly found in a print shop is also found in a mailing industry lettershop, but doesn't discuss the space requirements for additional equipment such as an inkjet addresser and tabber nor the space required to stage mail during processing. For printers whose floor space maybe full of equipment already, this is important information.

Mail Shop in a Box also omits three topics that I believe are crucial to success: postage management, data protection, and archiving and mail processing production control. These are management level topics that print shop owners need to understand and require of their employees. Failure to implement any of them risks a severe compromise to the efficiency and profitability of the mailing operation. My preference would be to substitute these topics for Mail Shop in a Box's first step of developing a strategic plan for adding mailing services.

Mail Shop in a Box also suffers slightly from having been written from the perspective of a mailing professional. There are parts of the text where the jargon of the USPS was not sufficiently translated so as to be easily understood by someone unfamiliar with mail classification or postage rates. This might be intentional, however, since the audience for the product may principally be the "partial services" mailer who has some familiarity with the topics.

Despite these shortcomings, overall, I found Mail Shop in a Box to be a solid source of mailing information. It is factual, adequately provides an overview of how to add mailing services, and provides two very useful tools in the shape-based postage booklet and remade template. For digital printers already offering partial mailing services and wishing to expand into full service, the guide will prove very useful. For printers unfamiliar with mailing and seeking to get a grounding, the program will be less appropriate.

To learn more about Mail Shop in a Box, visit www.xerox.com and enter Mail Shop in a Box in the search window.

Nancy DeDiemar is the president of Printing Resources of Southern California, a quick print shop in Upland, CA, offering printing, copying, electronic prepress, and mailing services. Nancy is the co-publisher of Printips (www.printips.com), a newsletter subscription service for printers. Contact her at Nancy@printingresources.com.

Loading