"Understanding USPS Regulations Can Mean Considerable Savings To Your Customers"
[Column #57, 9/99]

We’re all familiar with those five frustrating words—“Your price is too high!” With that said, the customer pleads with you to somehow, some way, squeeze more money out of the project. We have to accept that this is often like trying to get blood from a turnip and cut our losses. When it comes to mailing projects, however, there are ways to cut costs (especially if the preliminary research was inadequate) and not compromise the customer’s standards.

The past few years have brought sweeping changes in the United States Postal Service (USPS). Just mentioning this topic can make our customers shudder! Ironically, these regulations should be cause for celebration; however, understanding and taking advantage of these benefits requires a knowledgeable print salesperson and, more importantly, an expert mailing house.

It is commonplace to discover the end customer knows little or nothing about postal regulations, or, worse yet, that they could have been saving thousands of dollars on previous mailings.

There are many things to consider when planning a mailing job: design issues, packaging issues, preparation and sortation issues, and delivery discount issues.

Design Issues

Keeping in mind the stringent rules for paper size and weight can make a big difference when it comes to automated postal rates. For example, in one of the jobs we did recently, by simply reducing the trim size on a piece from 11¾" to 11½" or less, the customer was able to save 3.4¢ per piece. On a 100,000 piece mailing, they saved $3,400.

Packaging Issues

Whether or not the edge of a piece is sealed and how it is folded can affect the final cost. In one case, by suggesting the customer use a tab seal on a small booklet to qualify for automated rates, they saved 2.5¢ per piece. On a mailing of 70,000, they saved $1,750. The additional cost for tabbing was $630.

Another consideration is automated polybagging, which requires the mailer to meet 28 USPS specifications (such as bag weight and seam location) and can mean deep discounts for the customer. The new USPS regulations that came out in January 1999 offer even better polybagging discounts than were previously available.

Addressing, Mail Preparation and Sortation Issues

Because the goal of the USPS is to encourage mailers to prepare their mail for automated processing, addressing, mail preparation, and sortation issues are critical. Topics range from determining whether a letter tray is full to choosing the font size and dimensions of the name and address block. Other details may include the placement of barcodes (including the amount of clear area or “quiet zone” at either end of the piece) and whether the letter trays should be banded with plastic.

Often the key to significant savings comes with proper presortation. We use a computer software package that is certified by the USPS to qualify mailings for applicable postal discounts. It also helps us analyze a mailing job and determine which discounts will apply to it. The software automatically sorts labeling information, corrects addresses against a database of valid street numbers and zip codes, and creates ready-to-print barcodes for each address. In addition, it prints out a complete audit trail for submission to the USPS. (To receive an automated mail discount, every piece must be 100% automated.) We had one printer whose customer did a mailing of half a million postcards and simply cut a check for $100,000 in postage (assuming the standard postcard rate of 20¢ applied). After analyzing the project, we discovered we could shave $40,000 off the postage bill!

Delivery Discount Issues

Another goal of the USPS is to centralize processing activities in designated facilities. The post office will give significant discounts for drop shipping to a bulk mailing center (BMC) or a sectional center facility (SCF). Those savings are then passed on to the printer, the mailer, and, ultimately, the end customer. We did a large catalog job mailing “standard B” (fourth class), researched direct BMC shipments, and saved the publisher over $60,000.

There are also cost savings available by combining inline ink jetting with sortation and delivery.

By simply knowing the system and all of their customers’ options, printers can be an invaluable resource to them—and cash in along the way. Understanding, and staying current with, USPS regulations can be intimidating. There are ways to educate yourself:

Visit your local post office…and don’t be afraid to ask questions. All of the U.S. postal branches are equipped with a library of brochures covering practically anything you’d ever want to know about postage and mailing. Customer service representatives are available to answer any of your questions. Even better, you can show them the type of piece you are planning to mail and they can tell you the best way to design it for optimal postage discounts. The following phone numbers may be helpful: Baltimore Business Center: 410-347-4337, Washington, DC Area Business Center: 301-565-2177, and Northern Virginia Area Business Center: 703-207-6800, or you can reach them online at www.usps.com.
Consult your mail house and get them involved early. They provide ready information when you ask for advice and if they give you a blank look when you ask them about automated mailing discounts, it’s time to get a new mail house.
Educate yourself and stay on top of the changing regulations. The USPS offers seminars and workshops for businesspeople who want to stay on top of the regulations. The following USPS publications make great reference tools:
The Postal Business Companion Describes all classifications, lists requirements, and contains a glossary of postal forms.
Pub. 63 - “Designing Flat Mail” Explains all regulations pertaining to flat-size mail and how to maximize postal discounts with correct design.
Pub. 353 - “Designing Reply Mail” Explains in detail all regulations and rate discounts pertaining to reply cards, envelopes, and brochures.
Pub. 25 - “Designing Letter Mail” Explains all regulations and rate discounts on letter-size (envelope and self-mailers) mail.
Keeping up with USPS regulations (and making sure your mail house does, too) can provide substantial savings and faster delivery for your customers—two critical issues in the direct mail industry today.