Going postal

Next to telecommunications, the U.S. Postal Service is the most important lifeline most companies have to the outside world, whether it’s down the block or around the globe. Specialty private delivery services aside, the post office is the economical, workaday (usually reliable) service of choice for transporting objects from point A to point B.

“Federal Express did a fabulous job 15 years ago of convincing people that it absolutely, positively had to be there overnight,” says Bob Belmont, marketing specialist for the U.S. Postal Service in Washington, D.C. “Problem is, it doesn’t.”

Despite its ubiquity, most people take the postal service for granted—until holiday season, at least, or when there’s a rate hike. Belmont sometimes suggests neglected mailroom workers post a “Gone Fishing” sign on their locked door to remind fellow employees how important their department is. There are ways to make the service work better for your company. Experienced mail hands offer tips for putting the post office to work for your business year-round.

  • “Anybody who doesn’t have a postage meter ought to get one,” says Gene DelPolito, president of the Advertising Mail Marketing Association. Surprisingly, many small businesses don’t have one; some owners think they don’t qualify, that the meters are a hassle or that it’s not cost-effective. With the introduction of Pitney Bowes’ new meter package, backed by an unavoidable TV campaign, DelPolito says there’s no reason for any small or home office to go without the pinpoint postal accuracy of a postage meter.
  • Don’t mail first class when less is more, advises Marcus Smith, publisher of Postal World, a trade publication based in Rockville, Md. Here’s a tip you won’t find on the postal service’s Web site: If you’re making a relatively small Standard-A (formerly second-class) national mailing (between 200 and 5,000 pieces, use pre-cancelled stamps and bar coding on letter-size envelopes. Once entered into the USPS automated systems, your cheaper, lower-class mailing will probably get mixed in with first class (they look similar, Smith says), and be delivered as quickly.
  • Consider hiring a pre-sorter, suggests Kate Muth, editor of Business Mailers Review, a trader newsletter published from Arlington, Va. Though they won’t be banging on your door if you don’t mass mail regularly, a good pre-sorter will take your large catalog and newsletter lists, sort and barcode for the postal service’s automation discount, and split the savings with you-typically three cents a piece and up. Big-city pre-sort houses are generally more welcoming to smaller, less frequent mailers. Pre-sorters can also help clean up your mailing lists; DelPolito has seen small firms waste as much as a third of their postage on mailings to changed or nonexistent addresses.
  • Contemplate the psychology of mail, adds Belmont at the postal service. Stamped mail gets the fastest attention among USPS-delivered items; next in order are pre-cancelled stamped pieces, those with metered stamps and those with permit imprints. Customers usually open first class before bulk business mail. If it’s really important, consider an overnight carrier. “Some people use that specifically because it is an attention grabber,” DelPolito notes. Avoid mailing to a generic title or department. “Mailing to a specific individual, even to that specific individual’s secretary, is a lot better idea,” he says.
  • Think about joining the Postal Customer Council, urges Belmont. These USPS-organized local groups, headed by your postmaster, bring together mailers who do $5,000 and up in postal business to discuss and solve problems of common interest. Even a brief visit to a meeting may be informative, he says, and the postal service is trying to expand membership among small businesses.
  • When it doesn’t absolutely, positively have to be there … Friday is the worst day to mail; Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday are best for prompt, accurate delivery, DelPolito says. The Plus-4 ZIP code makes for speedier delivery. If you really want to slow a piece down, and still be able to say ‘the check is in the mail’ with a straight face, address your envelope by hand and leave off the ZIP code.