Mailers report on-time delivery of fall catalogs, mailings

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Catalogers and Standard-A mailers using the U.S. Postal Service's stepped-up fall mailing programs are reporting favorable results, though they say it's too early to tell how the whole season will go.

The plans, put into place because of mailing delays last fall, were implemented July 17. Plans included adding equipment to troubled facilities, creating a list of delivery guidelines based on mailers' entry points and adding staff to the USPS' business services network -- a project in which the postal service makes weekly contact with its national account customers to ensure mailings are going smoothly. An early warning system also was created that lets customers check plant conditions so they can plan when to drop-ship their mail.

A majority of mailers dropped their first holiday catalogs either just before or after Labor Day and, so far, are finding that mail is being delivered in a timely fashion.

"We are satisfied that our catalog and at-home receipt dates are more targeted than [they have] been in the past few years," said Tony Ruggiero, worldwide director of postal and distribution services at The Franklin Mint, Franklin Center, PA. "Last year, we couldn't even get into the [bulk mailing centers] on time. But this year, the appointments were all made ahead of time so equipment would be there when we needed it, and we had more that hit than we ever had before."

Ruggiero was targeting the day after Labor Day as his home-receipt date and said most of his mailings fell within three days of that date. Ruggiero tracks his mail by the number of orders he receives and also through specific people he mails to -- many of them Franklin employees -- who tell him when they get their mail. Over the past six months, he said, the postal service's business services network has really come of age, especially in the Allegheny area where he is located.

"Recently, we had some equipment problems, and our business service network [person] got right on top of it and pulled us out of the fire," he said. "We needed to get some additional equipment into our mail house, so we called him; he made arrangements and stayed on top of things until we got our supplies in."

The season, however, isn't over yet. Mailers are watching to see how the postal service handles the next wave of holiday mailings, which usually hits between Thanksgiving and Christmas and tends to be more voluminous than the September mailings.

In addition, last year's problems didn't creep up until mid- to late-October, so these dates are being monitored closely. Hurricane Georges caused some temporary delays a few weeks ago, closing facilities and suspending deliveries in New Orleans and several locations in Alabama and Mississippi. Ruggiero said his business services network representative kept him informed via daily faxes what ZIP codes the hurricane was affecting.

Overall, the USPS isn't worried.

"We have gone to great lengths to get ready for a banner fall and holiday mailing season," postmaster general William J. Henderson recently told a Senate subcommittee. "Working with our customers, we developed our most extensive set of plans ever. So far, performance has been solid."

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