Mailers Feel Floyd's Wrath, Report Delays in Fall Drops

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Direct marketers may not meet their in-home delivery dates during the busy fall mailing season since the U.S. Postal Service was forced to close mail-processing and distribution facilities in Florida, Georgia, North Carolina and other areas while Hurricane Floyd raged up the East Coast.


Even though most of the offices have since reopened, printers and fulfillment companies said this week that delays are expected because transportation schedules weren't back on track and the postal service has been inundated with extra volume that built up since the closings occurred.


"There is a shortage of trucks and trailers because they are strung out longer than they are supposed to be and they're not repositioned for future moves," said Rick Krupski, vice president of logistics at printer Perry Judd's, Strasburg, VA, which handles periodicals and catalogs. "This creates a glitch when you are trying to get equipment for a round of moves and will have a lingering effect on delays within the system."


Transportation also has been affected by a glitch in the USPS' drop-ship system, which lets mailers make appointments to unload their trucks filled with direct mail at postal processing facilities. Moved from a mainframe-based to a Web-based system last month, the system started having problems handling the volume of companies using it the first week week of September, said Pat Mendonca, manager of operations process support at the USPS. After receiving complaints that it was taking too long to use, postal officials told mailers to send out trucks as needed without appointments and they would let the facilities know mail was on the way.


In the interim, a backlog occurred -- and "coupled with Floyd, you have two issues both impacting transportation and putting a crunch on deliveries," Krupski said.


The speed of the appointment system has basically been fixed, Mendonca said, adding, "we will continually be working on the system through the rest of the fall, going in and tweaking and making everything as safe as possible."


While there aren't any statistics that formally state whether in-home delivery dates were affected, Krupski said, "just from our tracking reports, materials are arriving at post offices one or two days late, which means that mail delivery will be extended one or two days beyond in-home windows." Mailers with frequent mailing programs -- those that are mailed out once a week or every other week, for example -- will be particularly affected because of the mailings' shortened life cycle.


North Carolina continued to feel Floyd's wrath last week as many roads and postal facility parking lots remained flooded, making it difficult for trucks to make deliveries to postal outlets. The cities of Charlotte, Southport, Wrightsville Beach, Carolina Beach and Kure Beach reported having serious delivery troubles. Problems also continued in Central New Jersey and New York's Westchester County and Long Island.


Clarence Banks, manager of logistics services at R.R. Donnelley & Sons Co., Bolingbrook, IL, alerted his customers that mail has been delayed in those areas. He also has told mailers that they can cancel their orders if they'd like -- depending on where their mail is in the mailstream. Though, "to my knowledge, I don't think anyone has done this yet," he said.


Mendonca said delivery, in general, is back on track.


"We have been checking out the system to make sure in-bound trucks were not backed up at both the BMCs and SCFs, and it seems like everything is pretty much on schedule," he said. "While there were problems in certain areas, especially the flooding in North Carolina, there is nothing that should cause major failures."
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