There have been plenty of articles lately that question the usefulness of the mail as a channel for customer communications and marketing. Many published pieces are highly critical of the US Postal Service. So I'm thrilled to be able to share a personal story that demonstrates how mail can be amazingly cost-effective.

I'm on the mailing list for the Antique Mall of Mansfield, Texas. My wife and I aren't heavy-duty antique buyers, but we like to spend a few hours wandering around the stores every once in a while. Sometimes we find a treasure to buy, most times not. I'm always looking for items I can add to my collection of postal scales and other USPS paraphernalia. I found a Mr. ZIP thermos bottle last time out.

Three times a year, this antique mall sends out a postcard promoting a sale. The mailpiece is a pretty simple affair, black ink on a small postcard - always printed on brightly colored stock. The copy promises complimentary refreshments, unspecified discounts, and little else. Other than updating the sale dates and seasonal graphics, I don't think the postcard design ever really changes much. The antique mall sends only one postcard to the mailing list per event.

Overwhelming Success
We went to the sale in Mansfield on a Saturday. The place was packed! People were parking in the adjacent field because there was no room in the parking lot, store employees were roaming the aisles taking shopper purchases up to the front counter or opening display cases, and frequently people were waiting to enter some of the smaller booths that accommodated only two or three browsers at a time. The store even set up a special "express line" for shoppers with five items or less.

I can tell you the place was hopping! We had a great time, enjoyed some snacks, and even picked up a few decorative items for the house.

When we finally made our way to the cash register, I asked how they promoted this obviously successful event. "Did you get a little yellow postcard?" asked the clerk with a faint (if slightly harried) smile. "Yes, we did," I replied. "Well, that's what does it every time!" she said.

Our conversation ended there. With a line of shoppers behind me I didn't want to overextend my time at the counter. I could have gotten jabbed with a vintage farm implement in the hands of an antiquer hopped up on the free cupcakes and cookies. But I was able to speak to the business owner later on about her event promotion strategy.

If It Ain't Broke, Don't Fix It!
Ruth Brinkmann told me that there was no reason to abandon direct mail for some more modern digital marketing strategy. She found it hard to believe that anything else could come close to the results she sees every time from mailing the simple postcards to their in-house list of approximately 7,900 customers. They've been using the postcards since 1999. When I asked about other promotional efforts, Ms. Brinkmann told me she had tried advertising in local newspapers in the past, but the results were disappointing.

Mansfield Antique Mall has a website now ( and yes, they are collecting email addresses and Facebook friends. But these ventures are fairly new. Virtually none of the crowd at the last weekend sale showed up because of these digital efforts. Perhaps somewhere down the road the business will see significant store traffic from electronic media. But according to Ruth, "We'll never give up the postcards!"

She likes the fact that her customers have come to expect her postcards, recognize them immediately, and respond. "It just seems more personal," says Brinkmann.

Mansfield, TX Antique Mall

1. They know their audience
2. They deliver only the most important information
3. The simplicity of the design aligns with how they do business
4. They strive to be personal
5. A consistent effort results in an increasingly favorable response.

The antique mall encourages every shopper to sign up for their mailing list. They are pretty consistent about this. They've never purchased a list to promote the business, so keeping the list fresh means getting people to add their names and addresses to a clipboard at the front desk. A lot of them do. The low-tech pen and paper data entry method is entirely consistent with their business. Anything else would seem strangely out of place.

This simple direct mail approach is so successful that Brinkmann and her husband use the same methods to promote guitar shows that they produce in several cities across the country. 4 Amigos Guitar Shows put on the largest consumer guitar events in the world, featuring up to 450 dealers at a time and filling convention centers with guitar shoppers that respond to the same type of postcard mailings. The shows appeal to a different clientele than the antique mall, but the same simple direct mail approach continues to bring them in.

The point of this story is that, given the right circumstances and intelligent execution, direct mail marketing remains a viable way to promote a business. And lavish marketing prose, fancy response devices, or unbelievable offers are not always necessary to generate an acceptable return on investment. A good list, consistent effort, and an understanding of what your customers want are probably more important. Pretty good lessons for us all.

Mike Porter is a collector of vintage postal paraphernalia and President of Print/Mail Consultants; a consulting firm that helps companies develop communications strategies and implement operational improvements. He lives "down the road a piece" from Mansfield, TX. Get more ideas about document operations by subscribing to the free newsletter, "Practical Stuff" at