ShipShapes Offers Transparent Product for Mailings

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CHICAGO -- ShipShapes, a maker of customized direct mail, is touting to advertising and direct marketing agencies a transparent plastic product unlike any in the market.

The see-through product is trickier to design because marketers must add a white color element onto the piece. Business reply cards, tri-fold panels, magnets and product samples can be attached to the piece, which needs more education to gain market acceptance.

"That's why we work with the agency," said Tom Becker, president of ShipShapes and its ImageWorks Manufacturing Inc. parent in Park Forest, IL. "When they send the file, many are not used to designing white plates and clear pieces that will show through."

Becker's company was exhibiting April 7-8 at the Chicago Association of Direct Marketing's 51st Annual DM Days & Expo at Chicago's Navy Pier.

Major brands in telecommunications, consumer electronics and financial services are testing ShipShapes' new transparent plastic mailer. The company cannot disclose names at this stage of its clients' campaigns.

ShipShapes' forte is customized market mail, or pieces in all non-standard shapes and designs to gain the attention of the recipient. The company claims the perceived value of such mail is higher despite its costs. And the superior quality enables such mail to work for branding purposes.

"We're starting to see more high-value customers in automotive, telecom and pharmaceuticals," Becker said. "Those are the ones we'd like to focus on right now."

ShipShapes clients include Verizon, footwear cataloger Road Runner Sports, drug maker Genentech, Ford Motor Co.'s F-150 pickup truck co-branded with motorcycle giant Harley-Davidson and telecom firm TDS Metro.

Mailers from ShipShapes typically cost 80 cents to $1.50 per piece for printing, production and mailing. The expense has a reason. ShipShapes puts the customized mail pieces in a U.S. Postal Service Priority Mail box and ships them through the postal system to the local post office for carriers to distribute.

But, Becker admits, problems do arise. Take the mail piece for Ford's F-150 truck targeting its national retention file. The mailing required several isolated pieces to go to more local post offices nationwide than expected, which threatened to crash the allotted marketing budget.

So, 7 percent of the list had the ShipShapes mail piece shrink-wrapped to a backer board and mailed presort Standard.

"That portion of the mailing -- the largest part of the drop-ship cost -- now got back in line with the budget," Becker said. "We're trying to help agencies budget for customized market mail.

"We can also work with their design team for the creative," he said. "Because it's a premium product, we're trying to work with data companies or the internal tracking mechanisms within companies to track ROI."

Of course, more proactive action is ideal to avoid surprising clients with unexpected costs when using customized mail. ShipShapes prefers to have agencies submit the mailing list right after they call to inquire about a customized mail piece. This makes it easier to estimate overall costs.

Why is it tough for agencies to yield their mailing lists earlier in the process?

"What happens is a lot of times they want the freshest data or they're pitching something months prior to the campaign," Becker said. "If the data is unknown, we can run analyze previous mailing lists to better estimate the overall postage costs."

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