Dec. 29 2006 10:42 AM

A stagnant economy takes its toll not only on wages, as we presented in the September-October issue, it also affects operational issues, as we discuss in this issue Part 2 of the Mailing Systems Technology Annual Wage & Operations survey results. We have been conducting this survey for the last 15 years and have witnessed tremendous change in the industry. We have analyzed the effects of the Internet, downsizing, technology advancements, merging of print-mail as well as a host of other trends that have impacted how mail center managers keep their operations efficient and effective. Here are the 2004 results.


Managers' Major Challenges

Four years of a weakened economy have shifted managers' focuses from dealing with staff issues to dealing with workload and financial issues more often than in years past. In 2003, 31% of managers listed personnel issues as their number one challenge. This year, that percent has dropped to 20%. And more frequently this year, managers are stating financial and workload concerns as their greatest challenges (16% and 15% of managers, respectively). Trying to do more with less available funding is obviously taking its toll as the economy continues to stall.


Security and Safety Concerns

Most likely due to "tightening the belt," fewer managers have security and safety protocols in place. Only 62% have security protocols as compared with 70% last year. The most common measure is to secure access to the mail center (70% of managers have a protocol), followed by theft (58%), bio-terrorism (56%) and then bomb (52%) prevention. Transaction mailers* are most apt to have a security protocol while printers are least likely.


A more drastic reduction is seen in those who have safety protocols in place from 74% last year to 57% this year. For those managers who are still investing in safety measures, the most implemented measures were in safety training and gloves/masks. Other implementations included protective shoes, material handling equipment, evacuation plans, decontamination showers, warning systems/alarms, equipment safety improvements, defibrillators, vacuum systems, cameras, safety posters and safety incentive programs.


Trends Continue

Combing print and mail functions continues to be a trend. Overall, 63% of companies have merged print-mail. The higher the volume processed, the more apt the functions are to being combined (72% of very high volume centers are combined; 49% of very low). The trend is occurring evenly across industries and fairly equally among First Class and Standard mail centers.


By combining the functions, there is more flexibility as to where addresses are applied. Thirty-eight percent apply them sometimes · in the printing process and sometimes in the mailing process. (Six percent of managers outsource address application.) Managers who process primarily Standard Mail (51%) apply addresses in the mailing function, while managers of First Class operations opt for applying them in the print function.


A downward trend continues as Internet documents replace hardcopy documents. Most managers (69%) are still seeing a decrease in volume (16% less mail being processed per center). Standard mailers are evenly split with 50% increasing and 50% decreasing volumes. Hardest hit by the Internet are First Class mail centers (79% seeing a decrease in volume) and government/nonprofits (87% seeing a decrease). However, more companies than last year have actually realized an increase in mail volume due to the Internet (28% in 2003; 31% in 2004). In these centers, volume is increasing by 22%.


Overcoming Obstacles

Perhaps to use excess capacity or to become a revenue source for their companies, some mail center managers (39%) are opening up their operations for fulfillment services for other companies. Manufacturing companies and those centers processing very high volumes of Standard Mail are most likely to provide fulfillment services.


To ensure regulation and revenue compliance, the Postal Service implemented MERLIN. While most mailing managers report that their mailings have been found compliant, 27% have had mailings found not in compliance. Twenty-four percent of mailing managers have had their postage increased due to noncompliance and 14% have had to take back their mailings to redo them to be in compliance. Very large volume mailers (46%) are more apt to have been affected by MERLIN, while very small mailers are much less likely (10% have had mailings affected). Printers · and lettershops experience more compliance issues with MERLIN than other business types. Fifty-five percent of printers and 48% of lettershops have experienced not being in compliance.


The volume of mailings that are found not in compliance is very low. On average, two percent of mailings have had postage adjustments because of noncompliance and one percent of volume was taken back for reprocessing to become compliant. Therefore, 97% of our respondents' mailings have been found compliant. Printers, transaction mailers (financial, insurance, utilities, communications and health care) and lettershops have had more mailings found noncompliant under MERLIN. Very low-volume mailings are just as likely to be found noncompliant as very high-volume mailings.


Your Input Counts

This wraps up the 2004 survey results. We analyzed 362 mail center operations and 13,583 mail center workers for this year's survey. We greatly appreciate those mail center managers who took the time to complete and return our survey. Without the cooperation of those managers, we would not be able to bring to you the only comprehensive survey done in the mailing industry. Watch for the 2005 Annual Wage & Operations Survey next spring. The survey is attached to the spring issues of Mailing Systems Technology, and we e-mail survey links to you, our readers. Your input makes a difference; so please fill out and return the survey. It takes just minutes but has a lasting impact on the industry. Since this is a survey we do for you, if there are topics we are not covering that you would like included in the survey, please e-mail our editor, Dan O'Rourke, at or call him at 800-536-1992. Or, simply go online to the "Talk to Us" page ( and give us your suggestions. Remember, if you like reading the survey results, be a part of the survey in 2005!