Fall Mailing Plans Look Promising

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WASHINGTON--Mailers attending the Fall National Postal Forum here last week expressed optimism but said it's too early to tell if the U.S. Postal Service's stepped-up mailing plans will improve service in the busy months before the holidays.


The plans, which were formulated at a national planning summit earlier this year and implemented July 17, focus on opening communication between the USPS and mailers and printers, adding equipment to troubled facilities and creating a list of delivery guidelines based on mailers' entry points. In addition, the USPS added staff to its business services network, a project in which the postal service makes weekly contact with national account customers to make sure mailings are going smoothly and allows mailers to call with any problems. An early warning system also was created that allows customers check plant conditions so they can plan when to drop-ship their mailings.


These plans are especially important since mailers reported several delays in direct mail and catalog in-home delivery last year. The delays were caused by increased mail volumes, a shortage of equipment at various postal facilities and a lack of communication between mailers and postal officials.


Most mailers are hopeful about this season, including Anthony Ruggerio, director of worldwide postal and distribution at the Franklin Mint, Franklin Center, PA, which drops its first major holiday catalog this week.


"The team that [postmaster general William J.] Henderson has put in place this year -- particularly with Clarence Lewis as chief operating officer -- is a clear indication that things are going to improve," he said. "He is a forward-thinking executive who plans very, very well, and he has put into place a program that not only assures that we have a good season but also has indicators that show where things are failing."


Ruggerio said, however, that only time will tell if the USPS can improve service.


"We were disappointed in [how the postal service handled] the fall mailing season during the past few years -- once because of [reclassification], the other time because of the UPS strike," Ruggerio said. "This year, mailers deserve a good season because we trusted the postal service to fix its problems and are giving them higher volumes of mail."


Joseph Schick, manager of postal affairs at Quad Graphics Inc., West Allis, WI, whose company delivers mail for companies such as L.L. Bean, Land's End, Lillian Vernon and Fingerhut, said it's important for the USPS to be ready, especially since there are more fall mailings than ever before -- 10 percent above last year. The season began earlier this year, around July, he said, because as more catalogers play the game, more are trying to beat each other into the mail.


Like Ruggerio, Schick said it's premature to say whether the USPS is performing.


"You can put everything in place ahead of time -- but until you really get into it, it's too early to tell," he said. "I'm optimistic that the postal service has done the right things to make sure that we get good service throughout the fall, but I am never secure of the fact until we get through it."


In general, Schick said there have been fewer problems this year and he is seeing positive results from the USPS' business service network. For example, there are a few plants in isolated areas that "don't want to operate the way they are supposed to," he said, "but the good part about this is that we have brought it to the attention of the postal service and they are correcting the problems right away."


Barbara Izzo, vice president and general manager at Quebecor Inc., St. Paul, MN, offered a few suggestions during a session at the forum.


"First, find out who your account rep or account manager at the postal service is," Izzo said. "They are the ones who will really help you get access and entry into the postal service and help you to find out what is going on there. Also, find out who your printers' account rep is -- he could help as well. Above all, keep the lines of communication open."
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