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Aug. 30 2011 08:34 PM

But at least your partners, mail service providers, succeeded in forcing the Postal Service to modify its original draconian design iterations. But really, sealing a folded self-mailer with two permanent-glue glue lines was beyond draconian. It was stu--impractical! Mail service providers have fought hard for reasonable mailpiece design changes because we know our customers, and when our customers leave the mail stream we all lose. Throughout this process the operations group has (unfortunately) been telling the industry that they either wanted perfect mail or no mail at all.

I used the term "partners" in referring to mail service providers (MSPs), but in actuality recent miss-adventures by the marketing group (the Direct Mail Hub for one) prove the USPS is not our partner but a competitor that now provides printing and mailing services. Through the unauthorized use of our customer data in postal marketing campaigns, the USPS has become a parasite eating away at the direct mail industry. Postal management should expect a bigger, longer, tougher fight over the survival of our businesses than you got with folded self-mailers. There is no government bailout or cushy retirement waiting if we allow you to put us out of business by stealing our customers.

In the end, the changes in letter sized mail piece designs will be a net negative for postal finances and the industry. Postal management would know that if they had done a cost benefit analysis on the proposed changes, or reviewed the effects mail piece redesign had on flat volumes, instead of using Lean Six Sigma to stick it to customers. The phrase "figures never lie, but liars always figure" means you can twist statistical calculations into accomplishing any predetermined outcome you want.

The financial crisis the USPS is in is due to a loss of mail volume. New regulations will antagonize customers and continue to depress mail volumes. Many customers will get caught with mail on postal docks that does not meet the new specifications. This will be according to a postal clerk having a bad day, with no MDA available for days or weeks to make a definitive ruling, and an appeals process that takes even longer. The only options a customer will have are to trash the printing or double postage costs and mail at non-machinable rates. Certainly our customers will learn a valuable lesson about changing postal rules and regulations... never mailing again.

Operations personnel want perfect mail that never jams their machines. Minor changes in design would correct most of their issues. But the operations group wants to force major changes on the industry, so they can move to a lights out operation as the Germans have done. All it takes for a lights out operation are tightly controlled mail piece designs that provide uniformity. Therefore mail in number ten envelopes, which processes really well, is perfect.

Until a few years ago the postal marketing manager prevented changes in designs, arguing that operations needed to deal with the mail customers wanted to use. What a quaint concept. Since she retired, no one in the marketing group has had the b@!!$ to stand up to operations in defense of mail volume and postal customers. The postal marketing group would rather compete with their "partners"!

Are changes in the design of letter mail really necessary, as the USPS spirals out of control desperately searching for mail volume? Letter mail is the most profitable mail in the mailstream. The USPS has a 100% mark-up on Standard letter mail and a 200% mark-up on First Class letter mail. If current industry designs were as disastrous as we have been misled to believe, letter mail would not be profitable. MSPs need only watch the mail coming into their own shops, how much is really damaged?

As for engaging the industry, postal engineers never came to the industry and said here are designs that cause us problems, what can you do to help? That would have been too simple and would not have achieved the total control they wanted over our designs. Postal engineers came to the industry and said produce your favorite self-mailers and we will grade them according to our standards (established without industry input) and then we, all-knowing engineers, will provide the mailing industry with acceptable designs.

Unfortunately the leaders of our industry didn't understand the trap that had been set and walked into it, eyes wide open. Most still do not understand how easily the USPS has snookered the industry it is supposed to serve. To be fair, when your egos are stroked with access to upper management and you are patted on the head for being such a good cooperative postal partner, it is understandable that people become blind to reality and did not feel the kick in the pants that was administered at the same time.

The Postal Service constantly talks about their Lean Six Sigma methodologies to justify the postal engineers' drive (over the last five years) to completely redesign the entire mail stream. Before making any changes, you would think that someone in postal management would have been smart enough to first apply simple economic theory. Someone should have been curious to see how changes in design might affect the Postal Service's bottom line.

The real bottom line: if the problem in your business is low sales, you do NOTHING to antagonize your existing customers! Isn't it funny how Lean Six Sigma has not helped with the retention of customers? Recently the USPS announced that they have 220,000 employees that they do not need. The industry may (eventually) need to produce more perfect mail when the USPS has eliminated this excess staff, but let's hold off on major rule and design changes until there has been a major reduction in the number of postal employees. It would be a terrible shame to have all of those excess people sitting in rubber rooms getting paid to do nothing because there isn't any work.

We have been through this mail stream improvement crusade before. The results of the changes forced on catalog mailers in 2007 by the operations group caused a 32% reduction in flat volume, with a significant decline in postal finances. If you look at a chart of past volumes, the major decline in all mail volume started in 2007, not with the recession of 2008. And by the way, the catalog industry told everyone at the time that this overall volume loss would occur if the USPS implemented their major redesign of the flat mailstream. It should be very comforting to the mailing industry that the same people that brought us the redesign of flats were also responsible for the redesign of booklets and now folded self-mailers. Bet envelope manufacturers can't wait till it is their turn to deal with these innovative postal employees with such creative ideas and a total lack of understanding of our industry and the equipment we use to manufacture mail.

On a personal note:
When my shop's sweet spot for producing mail was between 5,000 and 75,000 piece runs, we had some pain in the @$$ customers that were discouraged from using our services. We were happy to see them go to other service providers or move their advertising online. Admit it; we all had customers like this during the good times.

I wish I had those difficult to deal with customers now. This is the lesson the Postal Service should have learned from their 2007 redesign efforts.

Todd Butler, Butler Mailing Services, eKEY® Technologies can be reached at 513-870-5060,