Photo credit: Image courtesy of Stuart Miles / FreeDigitalPhotos.net
It could be said that for many print shops, mailing and fulfillment are less than fulfilling. Navigating the often Byzantine postal rates and regulations—and keeping up with changes thereto—are not for the faint of heart. But for those who’ve mastered them, the value for customers can be substantial. Commingling and copalletization strategies have been ways of organizing outgoing mail from a number of different customers to take advantage of overall lower postal rates—in essence, delivering mail to the USPS that can be inserted further down in the mailstream, or with much of the presort work done before it gets to the Post Office. But saving customers money on postage isn’t the only value a savvy mailing services provider can supply.
“Commingling is taking separate streams of mail, placing them in common mail trays, and getting better presort discounts because of that,” said Kurt Ruppel, Marketing Services Manager for IWCO Direct. “By doing that, you’re also helping your ability to create pallets that go deeper into the postal system.”
Chanhassen, Minn.’s IWCO Direct began in 1969 by Frank Beddor, who founded Instant Services in 1969, a sheetfed shop with an emphasis on service and speed. Beddor acquired a web press, and the company expanded to include an envelope company, Victory Envelope, and a lettershop. The “trinity” operated successfully for many years, and in 1990, the company consolidated the three operations into the Instant Web Companies and, eventually, IWCO Direct. This merging of the three enterprises gave IWCO Direct the ability to offer customers a “total package solution,” supplying all of the components of a direct mail campaign. IWCO’s client roster today includes some of the biggest names in a half dozen vertical markets, such as Capital One, GEICO, Delta Air Lines, Best Western, Sirius XM, and Healthways, to name just a few.
One of the most important elements of this total package solution is IWCO Direct’s close relationship with the U.S. Postal Service, and the company’s ability to streamline mailing. IWCO Direct was a pioneer in the area of commingling and, with so many direct mail clients as IWCO Direct has, they are able to combine many customers’ mailings into a single mailstream.
Copalletization is another mail strategy which, said Ruppel, “is taking already produced mail, mail that’s already been sorted into trays, combining those trays onto common pallets to go into the postal system where you get the advantage of pushing mail deeper into the mail system.” With copalletization, however, “you don’t get the bump up in the presort qualification,” Ruppel added.
As you can tell, it can take a substantial amount of volume to achieve optimal results—although even shops that don’t have the number of customers that IWCO Direct has may be able to go this route. “It really isn’t about the number of customers, it’s about total volume,” said Ruppel. “It can be multiple customers or a single customer who has multiple small packages. You’re trying to gather three million to five million-plus in terms of putting together a commingling pool. That’s where we’re seeing best results.”
Such is their relationship with the Postal Service that the company has helped “beta” or “pilot test” postal initiatives and technologies such as intelligent bar codes, seamless acceptance, and other efficiency technologies the Post Office has been investigating.
“We were the first commercial installation of the same commingling equipment that the USPS uses,” said Debora Haskel, VP of marketing for IWCO Direct. “What we do is the same thing as what the Postal Service does in terms of making mailstreams more efficient. We’re doing their work for them.”
Reducing costs for customers is really only half the battle—although, with postal rate increases, that half isn’t always easy.
“There was an exigent rate increase that took place in January that was supposed to be a temporary increase,” said Ruppel. “Postal reform bills could impact that, and have an impact on mail volumes. Customers have told us that their budget is their budget. If rates go up, we have to come up with some way of saving costs for them or they’ll have to adjust their volumes down to account for it.”
Hence the need to come up with creative ways of reducing costs.
But the other half of today’s direct mail battle is, Haskel said, “understanding that it’s not just getting the right piece to the right person, it’s delivering it at the right time and making it relevant.” For example, she said, “I can keep sending somebody auto insurance offers but if they’re not ready to buy, they’re not going to open the envelope. If I can use data to understand their buying behaviors, such as when they might be looking at a new policy and I can get a new policy offer to them, they’re more likely to respond.”
As a result, IWCO Direct works closely with clients on the upfront creative work to better take advantage of data mining and management, boosting relevance, and capturing recipients’ attention.
“We understand what the best practices are when it comes to designing formats that work and what the copy points should be,” said Haskel, “That’s changed a big part how our customers view us, as not just being the printer and the mailer, but being the expert in direct mail and marketing.”
Also having a finger on the pulse—thready though it may be—of the USPS also helps the company anticipate what the impact of new postal policies and regulations may be. Right now, IWCO Direct is keeping tabs—as it were—on the Post Office’s attempts at “load leveling” which went into effect in April. These are new rules, according to the USPS, “designed to revise delivery expectations for some Standard Mail that will result in a more balanced distribution of volume throughout the week.” Basically, the Post Office was seeing a spike in mail arriving at postal centers on Fridays, which in turn caused a spike in mail being delivered in homes on Monday. So they’ve stretched out the service standard for mail that arrives in their facilities on Fridays so that it can be delivered on Monday and Tuesday, rather than just Monday. “Everyone watching it see what impact it has, and we’ll make what adjustments are needed,” said Ruppel.
Changing mail delivery expectations can impact many mailers who “thread a needle” when it comes to when mail drops in homes. “There are some mailers like retailers that really want to have their piece in homes on Monday announcing the sale for that week,” said Ruppel. But, “they don’t want to have it arrive on Saturday to cannibalize the previous week’s sale, so they’re threading the needle with this.
“We want to watch it and make sure everything works out the way we think it will.”