USPS Customized Packages Bolster Brands

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The U.S. Postal Service's best-kept secret is out.

A 10-year-old program offering mailers custom-sized boxes or packaging that bears their logo is seeing a resurgence as printing costs have decreased and supply chain efficiencies have increased.

The USPS program offers various packaging products designed for use with Express Mail, Priority Mail and Global Delivery services, mostly at no extra cost. Nestle, GEICO, eBay and 1-800-PetMeds are among the users.

For example, qualifying customers that may need an occasional special-sized box for their products can choose from 18 boxes of various sizes and four Tyvek envelopes (a soft, strong waterproof envelope). The USPS also offers custom-shaped packages and co-branding services as well.

More than 20 customers have contacted the USPS about the program in the past year -- and many now use it -- after seeing an article that appeared in a postal publication sent to mailers.

"In some ways, it has been one of our best-kept secrets -- and we wanted it that way," said Jim Cochrane, USPS manager for package services. "But as printing technology has evolved, this program has become an easier thing to manage."

For example, "putting a logo on a box used to be major work," he said. "But now, the one-time sum cost of cutting a die and putting a logo on the box is much easier to do."

But the program still has complexities, he said. As a result, shippers usually must generate at least $500,000 annually for the USPS in expedited services to be eligible for customized packaging. Good business sense allows exceptions, however.

"We try to ship the boxes by half-truckload so we are not [overloading] our operations," Mr. Cochrane said. "As a result, we do not offer it to someone who wants 200 boxes."

A general interest in Priority Mail has contributed to the program's growth.

"The combination of the reliable service and the price is getting people very interested in Priority Mail again," he said.

One satisfied user of the co-branded Priority Mail packaging offering is I Sold It, a chain of eBay drop-off stores. The company, founded in 2004, has 170 franchise stores in 34 states plus stores in Ireland, Britain and Australia.

At the start of 2006, all of the U.S. stores began using the co-branded specialized Priority Mail boxes with the I Sold It logo printed in "postal blue" on the outside. The company's staff use the boxes when they send their customers' items to people who purchased them on eBay.

"Our franchisees are very happy with the program because it provides a great branding opportunity for them," said David Crocker, senior vice president of I Sold It, Monrovia, CA.

Other companies are seeing success from the customized packaging offering, such as Dixondale Farms, an onion grower in Carrizo Springs, TX.

Dixondale was using the Priority Mail flat-rate boxes and co-branded packaging but realized last year that it needed ventilated packages to keep its onions fresh when sending them through the mail. The USPS customized a box with ventilation holes that would not affect the box's size or shape.

Dixondale Farms can package its onions in bags that specifically fit into the boxes, which maximizes space and lets the company ship up to 6 pounds of onions in one box. The company does not have to worry about its produce spoiling en route.

"This program is exciting for us because it allows us to add value to what we bring to the marketplace," Mr. Cochrane said.

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