The Mail Wars: A Dutch Perspective of the US Market

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NEW YORK - World Wars I and II may have been fought in Europe and Asia, but the commercial equivalent of World War III is about to be acted out on American soil.


Fortunately for us, this time instead of bullets the preferred weapons of choice will be postage stamps. Not so threatening perhaps to the average American citizen, but potentially deadly to the balance sheets of the competing postal companies.


And who are the mighty warriors of the new millennium, willing to challenge the world's unrivaled superpower on their own ground? Well, it's your otherwise friendly postman.


No, not the character in Kevin Costner's film by the same name, but the representatives of postal services, primarily European, looking again toward North America as the New World, a market rich with opportunity for growth and expansion of their global services.


Maybe the parallel is closer to the colonization of our continent by Europeans in the 16th and 17th centuries, but the bounty is even richer this time - approximately $100 billion in revenues generated here in domestic and international postal and distribution services.


The major combatants in the battle are the postal services of the United States, The Netherlands, Great Britain, Germany, Canada and maybe France (although the French don't yet appear committed to the battle).


My own company, TNT Post Group (formerly known as KPN or the Dutch Post), was an early entrant in the fray. We privatized our company back in 1989, freeing us to make strategic acquisitions of several global distribution service providers.


The most notable here in North America being TNT and InterPost, but also Caxton in Asia and most recently Jett Services in France to name a few.


The British followed us and set up sales offices here a few years later, and recently the Germans have gotten out of the gate with their acquisition of Global Mail and a few other distribution companies.


There will be other players, and all will be major competitors in North America of the USPS, Canada Post and other major package delivery providers like FedEx, UPS and DHL.


What is happening today is similar to what occurred back in the early '70s in the domestic small package market.


Back then, companies like Railway Express (since bankrupt), Emery Air Freight, UPS, the USPS and a few other large air freight forwarding services of the day were the principal providers of small package (under 70 lbs.) delivery service.


A 1-lb. package from New York to Los Angeles would take 2-3 days to deliver at a cost of between $20-$30. Then an upstart airline named Federal Express revolutionized the industry by offering next-morning delivery to approximately 35 markets at a fraction of the cost.


The company challenged the regulatory authority of the Civil Aeronautics Board (CAB) that protected the status quo and restricted its ability to expand services into other markets.


It won its battle toward the end of the decade and along with a few other forward thinking companies like Airborne, UPS and even the USPS, developed an extensive and superior small package delivery system here in the Americas throughout the '80s.


DHL was developing the international small package segment during the same period and everyone else leaped into that fray as well by the end of the decade.


The Dutch Post (TNT Post Group) raised the competitive bar in the international distribution arena much the same way in the '90s. It has aggressively pursued deregulation, or privatization, of the postal services industry.


TNT argued that rather than fear the new competition that will emerge, postal authorities and commercial entities alike should embrace it.


Globalization of markets is inevitable as our customers (direct marketers, publishers, financial services companies, catalogs, etc.) demand better and more affordable services to help fuel their own international expansion plans.


Those distribution companies which arefocused on how to best meet those demands rather than on protecting their own interest will be the winners of this emerging battle.


In our company, for example, we've not only expanded our global presence by making key acquisitions like TNT and InterPost, but we've tried to make acquisitions and develop new incentive services designed to enhance our service offering rather than to simply build our revenue base.


Today we not only offer a highly reliable and affordable distribution service, but add the following services to our menu here in North America:


• Direct injection of mail into 55 countries from North America, and offices in more than 90 countries worldwide.


• Polywrapping, inserting/onserting, labeling, ink jetting and other related lettershop services.


• Collection of subscription/renewal fees in the financial instrument of countries outside of North America (including the new euro currency). We now also collect fees for sale of merchandise or services sold abroad.


• Tracking of mail internationally.


• International address correction, formatting and presort for applicable postal discounts throughout the world.


• Worldwide package delivery, warehousing and fulfillment services through TNT.


In short, today we are no longer simply a postal service company, locked into the one-dimensional international postal stream for servicing our customers' needs.


In order to compete more effectively in this new battle, we have had to become more of a full service distribution and fulfillment company than a postal service.


We have embraced the future. We are working for deregulation, or privatization, of postal services worldwide, particularly in Europe, and regard other postal companies' moves in the same direction as beneficial to customers and to our industry.


The battle for your business here in the Americas is in full gear and you will be the beneficiary, enjoying the best and most affordable global distribution and fulfillment services ever available in our market.


As a result, the spoils of this new war will be the continuation of the unparalleled expansion of the American economy we've enjoyed over the past 20 years.


This time, however, it will be fueled by global expansion of American business interests - aided, of course, by your friendly postman from here and abroad.
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