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USPS Sales Chief Tells Mailers What to Look For in the Coming Year

Like so many executives in the upper echelons of the U.S. Postal Service, VP of Sales Cliff Rucker knows the operation backward and forward from decades of service—in his case beginning as a part-time postal carrier. So if you want to know what’s going on for direct mailers in the near future, Cliff’s the guy to go to.  In this podcast, he tells us about longer promotion periods for bulk mailers, how USPS is trying to keep shipping prices cheap and simple this holiday season, and why the Postal Service would like to do more negotiated service agreements (NSAs)with users of dominant market products.

AL URBANSKI:  Hi, this is Al Urbanski.  I’m Senior Editor of Direct Marketing News.  Welcome to another edition of DC Direct, in which we speak to movers and shakers in the nation’s capital who affect the working lives of direct marketers. 


Today we are very pleased to have with us Cliff Rucker, who is the Vice President of Sales for the United States Postal Service.  Cliff, welcome. 


CLIFF RUCKER:  Hi.  Good morning Al, and thanks for having me.


URBANSKI:  Cliff, a lot of new things going on at the Postal Service.  What we want to do is quickly run down some of the things that our readers are going to want to pay attention to in the coming year that will help them in their businesses.  The first thing I wanted to touch on, because I think it was a pretty momentous occasion is that big catalog company, Potpourri, worked out a negotiated service agreement with you folks.  Can you tell me a little bit about, you know, what that means for other standard mailers?  You know, is that a kind of a momentous occasion?


RUCKER:  You know, I actually think it’s an excellent way to show that how working with a partner that you can build a model to help both businesses grow together.  You know, the great thing about Potpourri as an NSA, and our first one with them, is about it really is around how do we help grow a prospect, in which as you’re well aware of for direct marketers is one of the keys.


So for me it was pretty momentous is that we really focused in on prospecting and how we’re able to do that and to help the company grow.  And the other thing, it was our — really our really first market-dominant NSA that we’ve ever done organizationally with a cataloger, so it was very exciting for us.  You know, we’d love to do more business with more catalogers as we move forward around the NSAs.


URBANSKI:  Absolutely.  And I know they’re interested, but you know, in talking with a lot of big mailers, they’re a little afraid of the process, that it’s going to be a long time, that they’re going to have to spend a lot of legal fees.  What would — what would be your encouraging words for them to get involved with the NSA process?


RUCKER:  I would say that, you know, you have to be strong of heart to go through the NSA process, but it’s really not as long and as expensive as I believe people believe it.  I mean, one of the things that, you know, I have a team that’s dedicated to trying to work with the customers to do it.  And you know, all I’ll do or I’ll ask if they’re interested in and they’re interested in growth for them and growth for the Postal Service, that hey they can contact me.  I’ll put my team together and we will work through the process as quickly as we can. 


URBANSKI:  That’s great.  So this is something that you would encourage at least companies looking into — into doing.


RUCKER:  Absolutely.  And just with the caveat that, you know, by — by law that, you know, that the act of a negotiated service agreement is that the Postal Service and the company are better off financially through it.  So as long as it’s a win/win for both of us, we’re completely looking at those and we’re pursuing those.  We have several others that we’re working on, so we’re very excited about this as we move into our new fiscal year that starts October 1.


URBANSKI:  Great.  Great.  Now we have a lot of e-commerce companies that also listen to this podcast and we are managing, Cliff, and there is some exciting stuff in the United States Postal Service I think for them this year.  There has been a price decrease for Priority Mail, which might be of interest as we approach the holiday season.  Tell me about that.


RUCKER:  Well, yeah Al, I think it’s a great thing organizationally that we have set out to try to change the way that our priority product is and perceived and used by e-commerce customers.  If you think about it, it’s been really a long journey or a path that we’ve set out to try to do that. 


You know, last year we launched days specific around Priority, so instead of saying it’s a two- or three-day product, we made a day-specific one-day, two-day or three-day.  Along with that we — last year we added free insurance to our product, so trying to make it more competitive and more easier to use for our e-commerce customers.


What we did on September 7 of this year is said, “Why not lower the rates in the heavier-weighted categories, the 6-to-18-pound category, and try to make it easier for our e-commerce customers to ship heavier items not only through the holiday season, but throughout the remainder of the year.  So you know, what we see is it’s good for their business.  It’s good for our business, and it’s really a way to help try to facilitate the e-commerce business across the United States. 


URBANSKI:  Yeah, absolutely.  Now in the meantime it isn’t going to be in place for this particular holiday season.  This happens just after, I believe, it concludes.  But two of your big package competitors — and I know partners, because you deliver last mile for them — FedEx and UPS have instituted new pricing themselves for dimensional pricing in which they’ll charge more for the size of a package, which they hadn’t done before, no matter what it weighs. 


The Postal Service won’t be doing that, right?  So will there be some advantages for e-coms who are sending larger items to use the Postal Service?


RUCKER:  Well, I think — yeah, I’m sorry.  I think for us is, you know, every — every time that you make a move in the package world around a pricing or a new dimensional weight, what we believe is that it makes the shipping that much more complex.  And what we’re trying to do is simplify it.  You know, and that’s why we made some — several changes through our priority product that we’re trying to do.


For us, you know, what I like to tell my guys and tell customers is that, “You know, what — the price you see is the price you get.”  We don’t have any added surcharges, anything that’s hidden, so it’s kind of the same thing around cubic pricing.  Right?  What we believe is that, you know, a box is a box and that, you know, that you shouldn’t be penalized because maybe you’re mailing something a little bit lighter and it needs a little — in a larger box.


You know, we’re excited about the opportunity to grow our business with e-commerce customers, and we think by not adding additional charges or adding a cubic charge will help us be more customer friendly, and again, the bottom line is help them grow their business all at the same time.


URBANSKI:  Yeah, absolutely.  And speaking of holidays — speaking of last holiday season, there were some problems.  As you well know, consumers, they want to get — order their late presents and get them the next day, and e-commerce companies try to comply, but there were some problems.  The weather didn’t exactly help them out last year, and it socked in some of the planes of some of your competitor’s shippers.  Is there any advantage?  Are you sales folks out there talking advantage because of the network of the Postal Service that that’s — that that might increase your business or that e-commerce companies may want to look more to the Postal Service on those — in those final days as Christmas approaches?


RUCKER:  Well, I think, you know, one of the things that we believe is that, you know, the holiday is our season, right?  We’re prepared for it.  We go to 156, 153 million addresses 6 days a week and a lot of addresses 7 days a week delivering package.  You know, we have a huge network, and every holiday we prepare for it.  We have extensive additional staffing, temporary staffing that we hire.  We have robust operating plans.  Quite frankly, we have — in my belief, we have the best operating team in the business.  So we really believe that the holiday is a time to shine and make it work for our customers.


You know, what we were prepared last holiday, things went really, really, really smooth in our organization, and we have every expectation that this year will even be smoother than that.


You know, all we’re encouraging customers to use is that, “Hey, when you need to get it there, it’s our season.  We’re ready for you.  Let us have the opportunity to prove to you that we can meet your expectations.”


URBANSKI:  Great, Cliff.  And let’s wrap up by talking about all of next year and just talk about these holidays and the promotional calendar for next year, an interchange in that some of the promotional groups have been extended, right?  


RUCKER:  Absolutely.  You know, one of the things that, you know, we’ve gotten a lot of great feedback from our — our customers that said, “Hey, we love your promotions, but you know what, just having them run three months a year just doesn’t work for us.  There is a lot of programming and a lot of other things for us to do.” 


So this year you’ll see that all our promotions are going to run six months long.  So you’ll have at least two quarters to have the opportunity to get into them.  And then we have some very exciting ones coming up this year.  One is — we have one around mobile communications, which will allow customers to try to get on their mobile platforms, and then one that I’ve been really excited about is around near-field technology and near-field communication — using that augmented-type reality app to bring really the life out of your direct mail piece and help drive acquisition and retention.


So pretty exciting.  We’ve listened to what folks had to say, so, you know, it’s our intent to continue to modify the promotions as we get — as we get continuous feedback from our customers. 


URBANSKI:  Fantastic, Cliff.  Well, good luck with that this year, and hey, thanks for taking time to speak with us today. 


RUCKER:  Well, thanks for having me. 


URBANSKI:  Absolutely. This is Al Urbanski, Direct Marketing News, DC Direct, signing off.  Have a great day everybody and thanks for joining us.

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