Three Things to Consider While You Wait for the Flats Decision
This week’s Target Practice was supposed to discuss designing flats for machining and automation, but the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) foiled our attempt, just as it’s frustrated hundreds of direct mailers with its recent confirmation of upcoming rate changes.
On May 2, 2007, the USPS released a statement reiterating that all new rates are scheduled to go into effect on May 14 (except for those lucky Periodicals, which are off the hook until July 14), but “still pending is the [Board of] Governors’ request that the PRC (Postal Regulatory Commission) reconsider its decision relating to Standard Mail flats.” The kicker? “No date has been announced for that decision,” reads the release.
“The bottom line: I cannot give recommendations [regarding flats] when it’s in such a state of flux,” says Mary Ann Bennett, president of The Bennett Group—a training and consulting firm that specializes in the development and delivery of educational products and services for the mailing industry—in Rochester, N.Y.
Because it’s impossible to get a general consensus about the flats case, with local post offices giving out conflicting information and creating mass confusion among mailers, it’s probably a better idea to focus on what you can control—and what you can change—to take advantage of the postal overhaul.
#1: Recognize Reality
“Even though they’ve installed high-speed flat sorters (FSMs), [the USPS] will never ever be able to process flats faster than they sort letters. It simply defies logic, because a flat has so much more material to move and because of its shape,” explains Bennett. Fortunately, there most certainly will be automation-compatible flats, and the rates may even be attractive, much more than previously. Of course, the Postal Service first will have to make up its mind about what exactly makes a flat machinable and automatible!
#2: Make History
“The big deal is that, for the first time in history, you have to know not only how much your piece weighs, but what its shape is,” comments Bennett, who compares the situation to the early 1990s, when the Postal Service made tabbing a requirement. At first, it was pandemonium, but the marketplace responded by developing better tabbing machines and the prices for tabbing eventually fell.
Bennett predicts the industry will respond to the changes in the upcoming rate case equally well. “They [the USPS] want letter-shape mail, and there are things you can do to get there,” she asserts. For example, a one-ounce letter will drop to 41 cents, but a one-ounce flat—meaning if its dimensions go over 6-1/8˝ and 11-1/2˝ and 1/4˝ thick—will be 80 cents. At two ounces, the letter will be only 58 cents, but the flat surges to 97 cents.
Some financial mailers are already taking advantage of the changes. “For the first time, I’m beginning to see 8-1⁄2˝ by 11˝ pieces of paper folded in half the long way and inserted into a #14 envelope, so you’re still generating your piece off of a regular laser printer,” describes Bennett.
Currently, #14s are not yet commonplace and cost more, but Bennett has faith that the industry will react the right way. “The envelope manufacturers will respond and bring the prices down. [And] the high-speed insert equipment may not be able to accommodate a #14 now, but I bet you they will,” she says.
#3: Think Outside the Flat
People do not like change, especially when it conflicts with tradition. “I hear people say, ‘Our corporate brochure has always been this shape!’ But do you think that because you’ve redesigned it to take advantage of the cheaper rates, your customers aren’t going to know you? Maybe you have to give up on that tradition,” suggests Bennett. Otherwise, you’ll simply have to fork over more money.
Mess with the sacred design? Say it ain’t so! “I consider myself a designer and will get my shorts in an uproar if you tell me my design is no good or there’s something wrong with it,” admits Bennett, who says designers at ad agencies are especially guilty of looking only at the design, rather than factoring in mailing costs. Instead, she recommends that you look at it more simply. “It’s just a new way of thinking and new savings,” she says.
For example, bigger is not always better. Take eight sheets of 20 lb. stock and fold them one time; because they’ll weigh two ounces and be letter-shaped, the cost is only 58 cents. However, don’t fold and insert the sheets into a 9˝ by 12˝ and they’ll weigh three ounces and cost $1.14. “That’s a huge price difference for putting the same amount of information out the door!” exclaims Bennett.
“If you can be clever, and find a way to reconfigure that same information, here’s this carrot out in front of you,” she concludes.