I was recently asked to speak before a group of printing professionals - people who work in traditional print shops. One of the topics the organizers suggested was a discussion of steps printers could take to add mailing to their menu of services.

"Really?" I thought, "How much interest could there be? Don't the printers read the newspaper? Don't they know that mail volume is down, postage is up, and the future of the US Postal Service is uncertain?"

Those of us who spend a lot of time keeping up on postal issues may find it hard to believe that someone would want to get into the mailing business at a time when a lot of folks we know are looking for ways to lower their mail volumes!

But as I thought some more, it occurred to me that adding a brand-new mailing service to an existing print operation might be a better opportunity than it seems on the surface. Just think; no conversions, no integration issues, and re-training wouldn't be necessary. One could set up the mailing operation to take advantage of all the current tools and techniques, without the legacy baggage.

Starting With a Blank Page
Instead of having to convince customers that mail should no longer be an isolated channel, a print shop could embrace the concept of integration from the very beginning, as part of a total customer communications service offering. I think it might be easier to start from scratch with the freedom to choose the best software, hardware, and techniques to exploit intelligent mail, move update compliance, CONFIRM tracking, and electronic documentation. Yes, mail preparation is more complicated than in the past. But for someone with no experience in the "old days" it might be less traumatic.

There are still challenges a new mailer must overcome, to be sure. I wouldn't recommend that anyone getting into the mail business today replicate the spray and pray methods of yesteryear. The pieces a shop prints and mails are going to be variable and highly personalized. Getting into mail means suddenly looking at each document as valuable and unique, not just a batch of thousands of identical pages or postcards. It may mean matching up personalized material, dealing with more data, or handling variable page counts. The ability to produce highly personalized communications may introduce concepts new to the print shop such as document control barcodes, OCR, cameras, and intelligent inserters.

The biggest challenge for printers getting into the mailing business may be changing the mindset of the organization and the individuals who work there. Successfully selling personalized print and mail takes a different skill set that goes beyond just looking at a rate card and competing on price. And operationally there are different quality control measures that must be implemented along with new mail-related services to learn about such as PURLS, QR codes, and coordinated postal/email campaigns.

More Work, but Worth the Effort
Today, being successful in mail requires more thought and more work than was necessary a decade ago. But with a plan and an interest in getting the most out of the mailing operation, new mailers can create whole new streams of revenue for their businesses.

I'm encouraged that there are print shops who want to get into the mailing game today, when the economy has detoured so many mailers to electronic channels. With the aid of some expert guidance and a dedication to a whole new approach, designing a complementary mailing service can be a pretty exciting proposal.

Mike Porter is an expert in Print and Mail operations and President of Print/Mail Consultants, an independent consulting firm that helps companies nationwide be more productive, adapt to changing requirements, and lower costs in their document operations. For more ideas, sign up for Mike's free newsletter at www.printmailconsultants.com or email him directly at mporter@printmailconsultants.com.