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Adding Value via Mailing, Kitting, and Fulfillment Services

To reflect its new direction, the Mailing & Fulfillment Services Association (MFSA) changed its name in early 2013 to the Association of Marketing Service Providers (AMSP). “Printers are viewed by customers in a much more inter-dependent way,” explained John Rafner, AMSP’s director of membership growth. “Clients want and expect printers to be marketing service providers [MSPs], providing a convergence of many distinct yet interrelated services. Printing, both digital and conventional, mailing, fulfillment, along with promotional products, data work for the web and social media are just a few of the areas we encourage our members to incorporate into their current and future business plans.” Rafner went on to describe some of the ways AMSP is helping its members to smooth make these transitions by providing education, publications, and consulting services in all disciplines of being a MSP.

Savvy print firm owners and managers recognize the need to embrace a full array of marketing channels -- and to deliver them to their customers. However, hesitating to jump into the mail game is understandable, according to Rick Esh, president of DavCo Advertising. DavCo is a direct marketing service provider/commercial print firm that added mailing to its menu 10 years ago, said Esh. Founded in 1974 by Rick’s dad, Dave, the family-run company is situated in Kinzers, PA, about an hour from Philadelphia and not far from Harrisburg. With annual sales of approximately $7 million, the 35,000-square-foot facility employs 40 people full time. Before investing in a Jet 1 inkjet addressing system with inline tabbing from Secap two years ago, DavCo had used a Pitney Bowes tabletop printer. It also upgraded to an HP Indigo 5600 Digital Press, installed in 2012 and primarily used for postcard printing. (A 5000 model had been in place since 2008.)

“We used to sub-[contract] out [mailing services], or our clientele took fulfillment to a mail house,” Esh recalled. Five years ago, less than five percent of DavCo’s sales were derived from mailing, package, and fulfillment services. Today, that percentage is somewhere between 15 and 20, he noted. “It definitely has brought more business through our door,” Esh said, adding that margins on mail services “are good. But you have to look at the overall picture. Mailing leads to more design and print work. It adds substantial work to all our sectors.”

A lot of print firms hesitate to get into mailing because of the complexity involved, and Esh said he appreciates that concern. But he notes that today’s data processing and sorting software is intuitive, adding that the vendors can be very helpful. (DavCo uses Satori Bulk Mailer software to set up jobs so that they print in the correct order.) The U.S. Postal Service also is helpful. “We leaned on our local Post Office quite a bit early on,” Esh said, adding that changes to tab sizes, folding, and address positioning can be very frustrating. “The Post Office sends out notifications, but you have to want to do it [mailing].” In addition to layout and design work and wide-format printing, DavCo offers mail-related services such as database cleansing and even purchases targeted mailing lists on behalf of customers. “We’ve learned as we’ve went along,” Esh concluded, citing the USPS’s Coding Accuracy Support System (CASS) certification and National Change of Address (NCOA) list de-duplication as two examples. (See more below.)

Larger Mail Scale

In the Midwest, Ripon Printers (Ripon, WI) is a leading manufacturer of catalogs, publications, manuals, and soft-cover educational products that began adding mailing services more than 20 years ago. The firm acquired Sells Printing of New Berlin, WI, in March 2012; combined annual sales of the two companies total more than $50 million. “We estimate that about 35 percent of that involves mailing,” reported Jerry Eiler, Ripon’s technical finishing engineer.

“Back in the ’90s when we first started in large-scale mailing, we got up to about 70 percent of $37 million annual volume. The Sells acquisition has diluted the sales percentage.” Of Ripon Printer’s 237,000 square feet of plant space, about 44,000 is allocated to mailing services, Eiler added. Its mailing services have evolved from using a Kodak Versamark 4100 Printing System for inkjet output to a Versamark 5100 model today. “We migrated to offline using a reworked Rima stacker,” he explained, “which has increased productivity.”

Mailing quantities generally are less than 100,000 pieces. “From 5,000 to 10,000 is typical,” he said. “Fifty thousand would be a good sized mailing for us.” Mailing partner Advanced Logistics Group (ALG), Bolingbrook, IL, handles co-mailing and co-palletization for Ripon. “We’re not big enough to run co-mail on our own,” Eiler admitted. “We run our drop shipping through ALG as well.”

Ripon also is in the process of leveraging the USPS Simple Samples program ( and is developing a proprietary “Bindalope” product using paper wrap instead of poly wrap, Eiler said. “It’s an environmentally friendly alternative that also provides more square inches of advertising space for personalized messaging,” he explained.

Even though Ripon’s operation is much larger than DavCo’s, Eiler agreed with Esh that mailing does bring in printing. “Mailing services are not a gold mine,” Eiler noted, “but a lot of work in the shop wouldn’t be here without them.” He also agreed that “mailing is complicated but do-able. Learning and preparation are the keys -- from postal rules to the complexity of the inkjet systems – because mistakes are expensive. Checks and balances are necessary to maintain accuracy.”

Ripon lucked out 18 years ago, gleaning much of its mailing information from a retired postmaster who the firm put on its payroll. “It was during the 1996 postal reform, which is when we really started to focus more on mailing,” Eiler remembered. The USPS-imposed computerized platform back then meant that letter shops could no longer be “garage” operations, he said. As a result, Ripon Printer’s mail volumes doubled in the late 1990s. Fast-forwarding to today’s print shops that want to add mailing, the first step, he continued, is to call the local Post Office and join a Postal Customer Council (PCC).

Vendors in the Mail Act, Too

Several print industry vendors have seized the mail opportunity as well. EFI, for example, has several products that help PSPs integrate mailing, including list acquisition, CASS sorting, trigger-based mailing, and other services.

EFI’s cloud-based OPS web-to-print product line integrates with a third-party provider, Satori Software, for integrated CASS, NCOA, and pre-sorting services, and with AccuData for list acquisition.EFI’s Digital StoreFront eCommerce product integrates with AuctionInc shipping software, which allows for direct data entry on job shipments with the USPS, FedEx, and UPS.EFI also offers a comprehensive mailing offering as part of its Pace MIS.

VDP Case Study: University of Phoenix

Printer/Direct Mail Firm: Prisma Graphic, Phoenix, AZ

Customer: the University of Phoenix, the largest private university in North America. Founded in 1976, it has grown exponentially in the last 34 years. Prospective students who contact the university are its largest student lead source, so following up on student inquiries has been key to maintaining and increasing organizational growth.

Challenge/need: University of Phoenix wanted to take the contact information collected through mail-in, call-in, and online sources, and follow-up with a direct mail response that would speak one-on-one with each prospective student and engage the potential student in learning more about her or his program of interest. Ultimately, University of Phoenix wanted to increase interest and enrollment opportunities by making each mailing more relevant to the individual.

Solution: Prisma developed a program, using a variable-data printing solution, to take the initial contact information and create direct mail products that individually address each prospect and provide multiple communication methods to further the relationship. The personalized messages include the individual’s name, gender recognition, maps to nearest campuses, unique phone numbers, and programs of interest.

Benefit: This dynamic approach has provided the customer with a substantial cost savings through automation and has allowed the university to make its message relevant to each prospect. Moreover, it has expanded the client’s ability to provide and gather more information to help satisfy demand through traditional and/or online course offerings.