Take Part in Business Survey by WhatTheyThink; Earn Free Copy of New Book by Webb and Romano

Readers of this blog are encouraged to take part in WhatTheyThink’s online survey of printing and communications executives about their business outlook and the industry’s print and service offerings.

The survey, which will take only a few minutes to complete, poses questions that we think you will find relevant to the future direction of your business. Your participation is confidential. WhatTheyThink will not release your name or your answers to anyone; they will be combined with those of all of the other respondents in survey totals. This is strictly a research project and will not be used to create sales leads for advertisers or dealers.

To thank you for your assistance, WhatTheyThink will send you an executive summary of this project. You also will be able to download This Point Forward, the new book by Dr. Joe Webb and Richard Romano, upon completing the questions.

WhatTheyThink is the foremost source of news, opinion, and analysis for the graphic communications industry. The full link to the survey is https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/WTTBIZ2016

Printing Industries Alliance
“Town Hall” Meeting on Long Island Addresses Risks and Opportunities in New Technologies

Glen Boehmer (Sentinel Printing), left, and Tim Freeman (Printing Industries Alliance) lead the town hall meeting that took place on September 24 in Melville, NY.

Talking about new printing technologies is easy. Bringing a new solution into a printing business is another matter. There’s the cost of acquisition, the operating expense, the learning curve, and above all, the nagging question of whether the shop actually can make money with the equipment once it’s on the floor. It can be baffling, and sometimes the wish to go in a new direction doesn’t survive the uncertainty.

Printing Industries Alliance understands conflicts like these, and on September 24, it tried to assist its members on Long Island with a “town hall”-style meeting on the challenges of making the right investment decisions in emerging technologies for graphic production. The session was facilitated by Glen Boehmer, president of Sentinel Printing (Hempstead, NY), whose general advice was to keep an open mind about new technologies even when they do not appear to be a good fit.

“Every process has its reason for being alive,” Boehmer said, noting that a technology that does not work for a shop today may become the thing that helps to support it tomorrow.

With that, he led the group in a free-ranging discussion of their options in digital printing, software, workflow, and 3D printing. He asked the attendees first to gauge their own awareness of these technologies, and then to analyze what might be holding printers back from seeking more information about them.

The result was a lively back-and-forth that Boehmer kept going with pointed questions, flip-chart team exercises, and personal anecdotes that other shop owners in the group could readily relate to. Some highlights from the evening:

• Most agreed that the biggest barrier to implementation is “fear”: of confronting change, of adding cost, of becoming trapped in a commodity business. A practical consideration is space: will the shop have enough room to accommodate the new piece of equipment?

• Management information systems (MIS), especially those tied to customer-facing web-to-print (W2P) portals, streamline production and eliminate job touch points that cost printers money. Boehmer pointed out that for a fully automated producer such as Vistaprint, “the only touch point is the shipping.” But, MIS by itself isn’t a cure-all. It isn’t possible, Boehmer said, to automate or optimize “broken” processes in a shop with software.

• Wide-format printing is seen as an opportunity because the cost of entry is relatively low and the business is driven not by quality, but by the vast range of substrates the devices can image. Boehmer said that although the market is “close to flooded” with wide-format providers, “virtually nobody on Long Island” offers dye sublimation: a thermal wide-format process for printing rich color on textiles and fabrics.

• Andy Featherman of Muller Martini reminded the group that success with digital printing is as much about the finishing as it is about putting toner or ink on the sheets. He said that a finishing system operating in a “barcode-enabled touchless workflow” can guarantee accuracy by accounting for every barcoded sheet in the run.

• There is a reason why 3D printing, projected to be a $15 billion market by 2019, has attracted the attention of 4Over and other mainstream print providers, according to Boehmer. He said that the technology is “the same business we’re in” because it starts with a digital file and ends with a physical representation of an image.

• He asked the group to imagine taking digital files of portrait photography and turning them into “family dioramas” of three-dimensional keepsakes—a type of mass-market product that providers of 3D printing services offer now. With 3D printing, Boehmer said, commercial shops can add a profit-generating business-to-consumer (B2C) dimension to the business-to-business (B2B) economic model that most of them are locked into.

One way to offer an unfamiliar technology to customers without directly investing in it is to outsource the work to a partner equipped to provide the service, Boehmer said. He concluded by reviewing a checklist of questions to ask before committing to anything new. Among them:

• Will this technology make my business more sellable? Who would buy the business?

• Do I have people in my business who understand and can help me implement?

• What are the marketing and sales channels needed to bring in business? Where will the business come from?

• How quickly can you achieve an ROI from this investment? What profit levels can you achieve?

• Can you see yourself in that business?

• If you don’t add these capabilities, how will it affect your business?

“If I have more to sell, that takes the fear away,” Boehmer said. That’s what justifies the investment and the risk—but enthusiasm for the new technology has to be there as well.

“If you’re not juiced about it, I don’t think you should go there,” he said.

Printing Industries Alliance Tackles a Member-Centric Agenda at Board of Directors Meeting in NYC


Dona Snyder-Reardon, incoming chair of the board of directors, Printing Industries Alliance, with Patrick Ryan (right), whom she succeeds in the position, and Timothy Freeman, the association’s president.

An old joke about sausage and law says that nobody should watch either one being made. The punch line doesn’t apply at meetings of well-run trade associations, where watching a slate of business being carried out can be as satisfying as observing a master chef prepare a gourmet meal.

I had the good fortune to be a guest at the June 18 board of directors meeting of Printing Industries Alliance (PIAlliance), the association for the graphic arts industry of New York State, northern New Jersey, and northwestern Pennsylvania. I’m a PIAlliance member myself, but, like most members of most trade associations, I don’t often get to see how the group I belong to operates at the executive management and policymaking levels.

The meeting took place at the Park Avenue headquarters of RR Donnelley in New York City. My notes from the session let me happily report that the association is in the good hands of people who are very serious about making PIAlliance grow in terms of both membership numbers and the range of services it provides to those who belong.

The group, a regional affiliate of Printing Industries of America (PIA), now has 335 companies on its roster. This is down somewhat from 12 months ago, given the contraction of the printing industry in the tristate region that PIAlliance serves. But, the group is readying a drive that will target more than 100 non-member companies deemed eligible to join the ranks. A special effort at recruitment is being made under the direction of Rich Barbaria in Long Island City, Queens, home to an important cluster of metro printing companies.

The mission of PIAlliance is to defend its members’ business interests and to help foster a business climate where their companies can prosper. Past, ongoing, and pending projects reviewed at the June 18 meeting indicated the breadth of the effort being made to achieve these objectives. Some highlights:

  • In August, a “lean manufacturing council” will commence work to help members master the techniques of waste-free production.
  • A program for customer service evaluation and training will be announced.
  • Administered in this region by PIAlliance, PIA’s annual wage and benefit survey, now in progress, lets participating members benchmark their labor costs against industrywide data.
  • PIAlliance members are receiving guidance in marketing from Marty Maloney, an advertising and public relations expert who joined the association’s executive staff last year.
  • A recent conference on human relations management drew 60 people for an overview of trends in employment law, labor standards, and rules governing eligibility for overtime pay.
  • On the public affairs front, PIAlliance is monitoring and responding to activities by New York State Industries for the Disabled (NYSID), an organization that aggressively seeks exclusive status as the preferred-provider resource for publicly let digital printing contracts in New York State.
  • PIAlliance recently announced that its popular workers compensation insurance program returned a 30% dividend in its 2013-2014 policy year, saving participating members nearly $2 million for the period.

Details about these and other programs can be found at the association’s web site and in the pages of Signature, its member newsletter.

The meeting also featured the passing of the board chair’s gavel from Patrick Ryan (Modern Press, Albany, NY) to Dona Snyder-Reardon (Snyder Printer, Troy, NY). Other officers serving one-year terms from now until next June are Eric Webber (Cohber Press, Rochester, NY), vice chair; Doug Bolling (Veritiv, Depew, NY), second vice chair; Kathleen Hartmans (Quality Bindery, Buffalo, NY), treasurer; and John Williams (Midstate Printing, Syracuse, NY), secretary.

Joining the board of directors for three-year terms are Robert Witko (Fort Orange Press, Albany, NY); Bryan Carr (TBN, Buffalo, NY); Marianne Gaige (Cathedral Envelope, Rome, NY); and Richard Schielke (Envelopes.com, Amityville, NY).

PIAlliance’s tagline words are Engage, Explore, Energize, and Excel. Judging from what I saw and heard on June 18, this member is confident that the group is Easily and Evidently Exceeding its goals in Each.

Printing Industries Alliance – Long Island Shows Them the Money with Program on Sources of Business Financing

PIA-LI-finance-meeting.011415From left, speakers Richard Amsterdam, Thomas E. Dolan, Keith Lawlor, and Nicholas Terzulli, with Printing Industries Alliance – Long Island program organizers Greg Demetriou, Richard Schielke, and Bill Dirzulaitis

Smart printers never leave money on the table. The trick, though, is knowing where all the tables are. That’s no easy task when it comes to locating sources of public and private funding for business development, especially in the high-cost environment of Long Island.

The Long Island branch of Printing Industries Alliance made the search a little easier for members who attended its recent winter meeting on the theme of “Where’s the Money?” and how to go about obtaining it. As the guest speakers, a banker and three representatives of local government agencies said that financial assistance is available to printers willing to ask for it and able to work with providers that want to help.

The Babylon Industrial Development Agency, for example, lends a hand by doing whatever it can to make it easier for businesses to relocate to or grow within the town’s boundaries. Resources include fast-track bureaucratic approvals, tax abatements and extensions, and tax-exempt bonds. Thomas E. Dolan, a senior project manager for the agency, urged printers in Babylon or those thinking of setting up shop there to contact his office whenever they plan capital improvements or other kinds of expansion.

According to Keith Lawlor, a vice president for TD Bank, “there’s free money out there” for business development because of declining interest rates on commercial rates on commercial loans. Banks have to compensate by stepping up their lending volume. That’s good news for would-be borrowers, said Lawlor, but it also means closer scrutiny by the banks of the qualifications of loan applicants—even customers who have been doing business with their banks for decades.

Bank financing usually is the key to one company’s acquiring another, and on Long Island, said Lawlor, the pace of mergers and acquisitions has been brisk. The type of M&A lending that banks prefer is the arrangement in which the seller partially finances the transaction by holding a note of repayment, leaving the bank to provide the rest of the funding to the buyer. He said that selling printers should be realistic about what they can expect in terms of multiple of EBITDA, a calculation that determines the selling price. (EBITDA stands for earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation, and amortization. Desirable companies have high EBITDA multiples; less attractive companies, smaller ones.)

Lawlor urged printers to get their financials in order now, even if they are not yet at the point of applying for a loan. “It’s all about what’s on paper,” he said, explaining that applicants must be prepared to document their ability to repay what they borrow. The most challenging loans to finance, he said, are those for working capital in which the collateral is the borrower’s accounts receivable—a volatile asset that can be hard for banks to base decisions on.

The U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) doesn’t make loans for working capital, but it does provide lending for fixed-asset acquisition through The 504 Company—a not-for-profit corporation it established in 1981 to administer the SBA 504 Loan Program in New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania. Coordinating it for the three states is the New York Business Development Corporation (NYBDC), represented at the PIA-LI meeting by Richard Amsterdam, its vice president.

Through the 504 program, he said, NYBDC can provide 40% percent of the fixed-rate loan amount in partnership with a bank that finances most of the remainder. All business sectors except the adult and gaming industries are eligible for loans that can range from $50,000 to $5 million.

The idea is to enable businesses to acquire fixed assets while retaining the working capital they need for growth and job creation. Amsterdam said the program recently worked well for a printer who obtained $4.3 million in financing to buy and install a new offset press using the invoice value of the machine as collateral. Processing and approval of 504 program loans, he said, takes only about 30 days on SBA’s end—the same as the bank.

High taxes on businesses, acknowledged Nicholas Terzulli, director of business development for the Nassau County Industrial Development Agency, represent the “biggest barrier to growth and entry in Nassau County—hands down.” He said that while his agency can’t necessarily lower the rates that businesses pay, it can help to protect owners against increases while making sure that they are taking advantage of all of the incentive programs available to them.

These include real estate, sales, and use tax exemptions; mortgage recording tax abatements; and financing through tax-exempt and taxable bonds. The agency’s Local Enterprise Assistance and Development Service (LEADS) program provides direct financial assistance and other kinds of help to the county’s small and mid-sized businesses.

Nassau’s IDA coordinates its efforts with those of state agencies and local utilities, connecting businesses with these entities to break logjams and move projects forward. On Long Island, said Terzulli, “everybody loves to work together on economic development” regardless of the turf or the politics involved.

Among Nassau IDA’s recent successes, he said, is the decision by automotive retailing software developer DealerTrack to build a $150 million campus in Lake Success following 18 months of negotiations with the county to craft a package of incentives. On a smaller scale, the IDA worked with a technology company that wanted to move from the South Bronx to a safer haven on Long Island. Taking part in the conversation that sealed the deal, Terzulli said, was the chief of police of Plainview, where the company now is located.

Phila. Area Printer Helps HP Promote Graphic Arts Experience Center

Paul DeSantis, director of information technologies at ANRO, appears in a video produced by HP to promote its Graphic Arts Experience Center. Located in Alpharetta, GA, the 60,000-sq.-ft. facility serves as a technology demo showroom and as a site for customer training. (A detailed report about the Graphic Arts Experience Center can be found here.)

ANRO (West Chester, PA) is a full-service commercial printer that provides corporate printing, mailing, fulfillment, and digital communication services. It recently installed an HP T300 color inkjet web press.

DG3 Introduces “QReach” Solution for Mobile Engagement

DG3 (Jersey City, NJ) isn’t the first graphic communications company to place QR codes on printed matter. But, it may be the industry’s first QR code solution provider to state for the record that underpinning print sales isn’t the solution’s primary objective or even a meaningful measure of its success.

Mobile connectivity is what DG3 is out to promote with QReach, a program soon to go live for a selected customer segment. “We don’t necessarily expect to drive print” with QReach, says Joe Lindfeldt, executive vice president for strategic development. “We’re using print to drive digital engagement.”

When it comes to the way the industry typically implements QR codes, Lindfeldt says, “so much of the dialog is anchored in print. We say, don’t worry about it.” This contrarian approach stems from a belief at DG3—a company with deep roots in financial and business printing—that print is just one of many contexts in which graphic communications can take place.

Print, says Lindfeldt, “is not a medium unto itself—it’s part of a marketing mix. Our strategy is to move content into any visual medium that’s relevant.” He also notes that mobile phones and tablets are rapidly becoming “the primary and most frequent touch points” for graphic communications in online form. That’s the rationale behind QReach, which aims to make QR-coded print the stepping-off point to mobile engagement across the bridge of smart devices that hundreds of millions of people now carry.

The solution, as Lindfeldt describes it, is a turnkey, automated system of QR code management that will work best for customers that already rely on repeat communications in print. After initial setup, users have 24/7 access to their templated documents in a browser window and can specify where QR codes should be positioned upon them. They also can upload whatever digital content—for example, a vCard for contact information, a URL for a landing page, or a link to a video—is to be associated with the customized QR code.

From this point forward, says Lindfeldt, everything is automatic, from preflight and workflow entry to production and distribution of the documents by DG3. A QReach bundle includes code generation, mobile content deployment, testing across all mobile devices, and one full year of content hosting. Pricing, Lindfeldt says, rewards high-volume repeat utilization, although the solution can be scaled for mobile campaigns of any size. DG3 also can provide mobile-optimized landing page design, social media integration, automated e-mail response, metrics tracking, and data analysis.

Lindfeldt says that DG3 will target QReach at financial institutions, mutual funds, publicly held companies, and other “heavily regulated customers” looking for an efficient and regulation-compliant way of fulfilling their reporting requirements via mobile engagement. That’s a potentially huge opportunity for digital outreach because, as Lindfeldt notes, “in any given month, we’re communicating with 25 million shareholders” on behalf of DG3 customers.

The company, which has branches in the U.K. and in several locations in Asia, is committed to mobile engagement as a service offering. It established a digital marketing division for the purpose in 2010, and in the following year, it acquired a company that Lindfeldt calls “the thought leader in QR”: The Ace Group, a Manhattan printer widely known as one of the metro area’s earliest adopters of QR codes and related mobile technologies.

Lindfeldt says that QReach is one of four fundamental modes of mobile engagement that DG3 has either deployed for its customers or shortly will bring to market. The others are near field communications (NFC), which enables tagged printed surfaces to interact with mobile devices; Bluetooth wireless technology, which can be used to drive digital printing equipment; and image recognition, implemented as AR (augmented reality) for camera-equipped smartphones and tablets. Lindfeldt says that DG3 is working on what he describes as “some of the most interesting AR applications in the industry,” including an AR-based, interactive auction catalog.

He’s aware of the skepticism that some of these technologies have encountered,  particularly QR-coded print, which has been depicted as a solution that never entirely caught on with consumers. This critique, for example, cites research claiming that 60% of North American consumers who scanned QR codes in a given period did so only once.

Lindfeldt says he’d rather concentrate on the remaining 40% who presumably engaged with QR codes more than once—a favorable augury, he believes, for launching a program like QReach. In any case, he says, what counts is the additional engagement that can be gained at relatively low cost by adding customized QR codes to printed matter.

According to Lindfeldt, consumers of print now understand what QR codes can do and are “becoming less afraid of them” as a result. That will make it easier to turn them into the portals of connectivity that they always were meant to be.

“We really believe in mobile engagement,” Lindfeldt says. “It’s just a matter of getting our customers comfortable with it.”

Relax and Enjoy: National Advertising & Printing Hosts a Festive Night Out

The management team at National Advertising & Printing, from left: James Ricciardella, vice president, marketing and creative; Scott Damashek, president; Ann Marie Damashek, billing coordinator; and Tracy Lok, production manager.

The launch of a new web site is as good a reason as any to invite customers, staff, and friends to a celebration, and that’s exactly what National Advertising & Printing did last night at a lounge in midtown Manhattan. The revamped web site will make it easier to order printing, apparel, and promotional items from the company, which has been doing business in New York City since 1923.

National Advertising & Printing was one of the first metro area graphics businesses to offer promotional advertising specialties, a market it entered in 1950. Today it stocks more than 800,000 promotional items ranging from address books, adhesives, and air fresheners to wristbands, yardsticks, and yo-yos. Branded casual apparel, bags, and accessories can be embroidered, silkscreened, and printed in color. A 200-page catalog, available on request, promotes the inventory along with the newly improved listings on the web site.

Litho, digital, and large-format printing services also are available from National Advertising & Printing, which is located at 231 West 29th Street. The company also can provide design and mailing. Watch Metro Graphics Reporter for a detailed profile to be posted soon.

MFSANY-PIA “Postal Boot Camp” Prepares Recruits for Survival on the Front Lines of Direct Mail

On July 17, George Heinrich, “The Postal Professor, guided about 40 MFSANY and PIA members through the basics of dealing with the U.S. Postal Service.

If you are already a mailer, the following statement about dealing with the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) won’t shock you. If you are thinking about adding mailing to the list of services that your printing company offers, consider it very carefully.

“I’ve been in this business for almost 40 years,” said “The Postal Professor,” a.k.a. George Heinrich, “and for most of that time, it’s been an adversarial relationship.” But, he emphasized that his experience isn’t unique. Every company that prepares printed matter for entry into the mailstream has an “uncontrollable business partner” in the Postal Service, Heinrich said.

Managing the USPS relationship to the extent that it can be managed was the theme of “Postal Boot Camp,” a seminar that Heinrich conducted on July 17 for a group of about 40 people representing lettershops or printing firms that mail for their customers. The all-day program, held at the 101 Club in Manhattan, was a joint presentation of two metro area trade groups, the Mailing & Fulfillment Service Association, New York Chapter (MFSANY) and Printing Industries Alliance (PIA).

Heinrich’s purpose wasn’t to lambast the USPS, an organization he knows through and through from decades of work as the owner of direct mail businesses and as a high-level mailing manager for graphic communication firms. Today, as The Postal Professor, he lectures and consults to help clients profit from more thorough compliance with USPS regulations—a body of rules that confounds even postal personnel with its labyrinthine complexity.

As he put it to his Postal Boot Camp recruits, “What you’re going to learn today are a whole lot of simple little things that wound up costing a lot of money” needlessly because someone put a fold in the wrong place, failed to double-check the positioning of an address, or committed some other processing error that the USPS could and did penalize by charging a higher rate or even declaring the job undeliverable.

He also noted the arbitrariness with which the rules can be applied. Much of what happens to mailings still depends, he said, on the competence and the attitudes of individual USPS representatives—some of whom will know and enforce the fine points, others of whom will not.

The differences in degrees of acquaintance with USPS rules on the part of USPS employees can be “amazing,” according to The Postal Professor.

Delivering his overview with the help of detailed visuals and affable humor, Heinrich covered postal acronyms, classes of mail, sizes and dimensions, barcodes and automation, addressing, presorting, and data management. He also updated the MFSANY and PIA members on significant changes coming their way, such as the mandate to adopt Intelligent Mail Barcoding (IMB) for some classes of mail in January 2013.

The Postal Service, he reminded them, is by nature “a behemoth—something abnormally large and powerful” with rules that can neither be sidestepped nor bent. However, it is not the behemoth that it used to be.

Last year, despite the fact that the number of addresses in the U.S. increased by more than 600,000, the USPS processed 122 million fewer pieces of mail per day than it did in 2008. Operating at a multibillion-dollar net loss, and likely to default on prepayment of future healthcare and retirement benefits, the Postal Service will have to resort to delivery cuts, staffing reductions, consolidation of facilities, and other painful measures to regain stability.

“So, what’s troubling the USPS?” asked Heinrich. He didn’t completely answer the question, but he reminded his audience that whatever lies at the heart of the Postal Service’s problems affects the entire printing and mailing industry as well.

USPS revenues come almost exclusively from the sale of postage, and the mail it handles falls into two broad categories of acceptance: retail or “raw” mail for which the Postal Service does all of the sorting and processing; and discounted mail, in which some of that work is done by the originators. Most of Heinrich’s presentation consisted of practical tips aimed at helping mailers maximize the discounts they can earn by presorting, accurately addressing, barcoding, and otherwise streamlining the mail flow before the Postal Service begins handling individual pieces.

The USPS cannot offer volume-based discounts for most classes of mail. Instead, it rewards mailers for worksharing that makes it easier for the Postal Service to get the mail to its final destination. Discounts also apply to mailing pieces that are sized for compatibility with the Postal Service’s automated sorting equipment.

Worksharing can be a profit center for printers and mailers whose customers count on them to have this kind of expertise—“and I hope that you’re charging for that expertise,” Heinrich said.

The repository of all postal rules and regulations is the Domestic Mail Manual, an 1,862-page document so exquisitely detailed, Heinrich said, that it even addresses the mailability of “small, harmless, cold-blooded animals” such as baby alligators (see section 601.9.3.3). Much of what is in the DMM “is subject to interpretation,” according to Heinrich, who added that in passages where the words “must,” “should,” “may,” and “may not” appear, meanings need to be parsed with extra care.

Heinrich devoted considerable time to the correct design of mailing pieces and the necessity of formatting and printing them exactly the way the USPS expects to receive them. He distributed templates specifying dimensions, aspect ratios, thicknesses, address placements, and other parameters that mailing pieces must satisfy in order to be deemed “machinable” (capable of being handled by the Postal Service’s automated systems) at discounted rates.

From left: Rocco Pozzulo, Lazarus Marketing Inc. (Oceanside, NY), MFSANY board; George Heinrich; Martin Rego, Century Direct (Long Island City, NY), MFSANY board; James W. Prendergast, executive director, MFSANY.

Heinrich also presented a gallery of “The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly”: design errors that caused the pieces to incur higher-than-anticipated mailing costs.

For example, a self-mailer with an improper aspect ratio had to be manually handled at an upcharge of nearly $50,000. Similarly, a mailpiece with an incorrectly placed vertical fold was kicked up from the automation rate to the higher per-piece charge of a non-machinable letter. Another with the wrong ancillary endorsement line—“return service requested” instead of “change service requested”—cost its mailer three times more per piece than it should have.

What these flubs point to, said Heinrich, is the urgency of educating direct-mail customers—and their designers in particular—about the rewards and the penalties attached to preparing mail for postal entry.

Nothing is more urgent for mailers to master than barcoding, the imprinting and databasing technique that makes automated mail handling possible. Barcodes now appear on most letters and flats (mailpieces with at least one dimension larger than lettersize). Heinrich reminded the group that the USPS offers its best worksharing discounts to mailers who apply barcodes before the pieces enter the mailstream.

On January 28, 2013, use of the Intelligent Mail Barcode (IMB) will become mandatory for mailers wishing to qualify for automation discounts. The IMB, which can encrypt 1,000 times more information than the barcode format it replaces, facilitates sortation all the way to the final point of delivery. It also makes individual pieces trackable, and it contains an automated address change feature as well.

A show of hands indicated that most in the room were familiar with IMB and were either using it or preparing to adopt it. They were less confident about Full Service IMB, a phase of the program that the Postal Service probably will require mailers to join in 2014. Taking part in Full Service IMB secures automation discounts, but it also imposes what Heinrich described as burdensome compliance requirements: electronic filing, investment in software, and testing by the USPS.

Full Service IMB as it is presently structured offers “zero advantage to the mailer,” he said. “The pain level involved in participating in Full Service IMB is very high.”

Heinrich adjourned the Postal Boot Camp with resources and recommendations, one of which was to stay on friendly terms with the personnel at one’s local BMEU (Business Mail Entry Unit). A USPS listserv that can be joined at dmmadvisory@usps.com (“subscribe” in the subject line) sends regular updates on regulatory changes.

The Postal Professor can be reached via his favorite medium at Postal 911, P.O. Box 3096, Parker, CO 80134-1428. His “Postal Hotline” number is 303-325-3048. (MFSA members get 30 minutes of free consultation.) E-mail him at help@postal911.com.

Pitney Bowes Transforms the Meaning of “Mailing” with Volly and Other New Digital Solutions

Say “Pitney Bowes” (PB) to the man or the lady in the street in a word association test, and the response probably will be “postage meters.” That’s fine with this iconic Fortune 500 company, which has been making the gadgets for more than 90 years and is far and away the world’s largest seller of systems for imprinting postage on mailing pieces.

But, because of displacement by the Internet, the uncertain outlook for the U.S. Postal Service, and other factors shrinking the volume of what postage meters exist to process, the mailstream isn’t the same as it used to be—and neither is Pitney Bowes. Since 2009, the company has been undergoing a strategic transformation aimed at making it less centered upon physical mail and more diversified as a provider of alternative digital delivery services.

Pitney Bowes offered a progress report on its transformation at Global Innovation Day, an event held recently at its world headquarters in Stamford, CT. Originally an internal open house for employees, Global Innovation Day was broadened this year to include briefings for journalists and analysts. The program for the media featured updates on Pitney Bowes solutions for cloud-based mail management, do-it-yourself marketing campaigns with QR codes, and e-commerce for international shippers.

Also on the agenda was Volly, an integrated content delivery and bill payment service that Pitney Bowes first unveiled last year and is readying for consumer rollout at the end of 2012.

Pitney Bowes serves enterprise customers as well as small and medium businesses (SMB), deriving its revenue in equal shares from the two segments. Most of what was presented to the media at Global Innovation Day is targeted at the SMB market as pbSmart™, a suite of cloud-based solutions designed to help small and medium businesses market themselves with the same sophistication as larger companies. Pitney Bowes says that about 30,000 of its customers are now using pbSmart solutions.

The general objective, said Neil Rader, vice president and general manager for SMB, is to migrate the technologies downstream to a point where it becomes easy and desirable for these customers to use them. If embracing digital solutions causes SMB marketers to become less dependent on postage meters and other conventional mailing equipment—as some of the products shown at Global Innovation Day are designed to do—that outcome will not be at odds with the new identity that Pitney Bowes is striving for.

“We are a communications management company,” Rader said, adding that Pitney Bowes has solutions to support the full mix of digital and physical channels its SMB customers typically use.

Road warriors, low-volume mailers, and others who need stamps but not stamp-imprinting equipment can have one without the other by signing up for pbSmartPostage™. The service, described by Pitney Bowes as the first web-based shipping and mailing solution, lets users with an Internet connection output stamps and shipping labels from any printer, wherever they happen to be. Besides eliminating the need for postage meters and trips to the post office, pbSmartPostage also schedules USPS pickups, tracks package delivery, and generate usage reports.

Under monthly pricing plans that are not volume-based, users can replenish their postage accounts online with a credit card. Subscribers also have access to USPS discounts that can save them, according to Pitney Bowes, an average of 8% of their postage costs.

Some of the same functions are built into pbWebConnect™, a product launching this month. pbWebConnect is for business mailers who continue to rely on postage meters but who also want the option of managing their mailing activity online. pbWebConnect makes this possible with the K700 mailstation, a Pitney Bowes meter offering a direct Internet link to the company’s data center.

Once connected, the meter can be accessed remotely through a Web browser, and many of its common functions can be automated—for example, postage account refills, postal rate updates, and alerts for high postage (i.e., over-stamping). Trackability, report generation, and USPS discounts are additional benefits of pbWebConnect.

Like any other vendor of communications management technology, Pitney Bowes appreciates the marketing potential of QR codes. It also acknowledges that QR codes have been slow to catch on at the SMB level, mostly because small businesses don’t fully understand what they can do with 2D barcodes once they’ve generated them. Hence the development of pbSmart™ Codes, introduced last October as an all-in-one solution for building integrated marketing campaigns around customizable QR codes.

The service—entirely cloud-based, and available to try free of charge—builds an end-to-end campaign from code generation and messaging to back-end tracking and analysis. The landing pages are mobile web sites that subscribers can create and modify from templates. Logo-bearing QR codes, encrypting links to coupons, discount offers, and other marketing inducements, can be applied to printed media and to high-visibility promotional items such as mugs and T-shirts. (Pitney Bowes can supply these goods through its relationship with Zazzle, an online retailer of customized consumer products.)

At the back end, pbSmart Codes presents response rates in real time, collects the results of mobile customer surveys, compiles e-mail leads, and saves the data for reference in future campaigns. Pitney Bowes also supplies ScanShot, a multifunction mobile bar code reader available from online app stores.

At Global Innovation Day, the company also promoted its suite of global e-commerce solutions, aimed primarily at U.S. retailers wishing to take the surprises out of fulfilling orders across international borders. Import duties, foreign postage, and other transactions for global shippers are addressed by these solutions.

Easily the most ambitious project in the transformation of Pitney Bowes is Volly. Its objective is to replicate physical mailboxes with virtual ones—not because the company foresees the disappearance of conventional mail delivery, but because it is convinced that consumers also want a digital equivalent that serves the same purpose.

Pitney Bowes says that consumers who can be persuaded to sign up for Volly will find it a friendly and fully secure workspace where, free of charge, they can view and pay bills, organize and archive records, clip coupons, and order things they want—just as they do through the medium of paper mail, but now, minus the clutter and the inconvenience of handling paper.

Within the Volly environment, says the company, a consumer can see and manage all of her opt-in retail relationships in one place. She’s no longer obliged to visit separate Web sites, memorize a corresponding number of passwords, or endure any of the other repetitive drudgeries of uncoordinated online shopping.

Direct-mailing retailers that choose to connect with their customers through Volly are promised benefits of their own, chief among them the opportunity to integrate a paperless channel with their conventional mailstreams. They can continue to send physical mail to customers who prefer paper, but in Volly, they also have a straight path to consumers who are growing comfortable with the idea of shopping with smartphones, tablets, and other e-devices.

When Pitney Bowes first announced Volly in January of 2011, the service did not yet have a critical mass of participation by retailers or consumers. The basic platform existed, but the next step was to build up its transactional capabilities by enlisting the support of third-party providers of billing and mailing services to businesses that sell retail goods and other products to consumers.

With about 50 such partnerships in place, Pitney Bowes believes that Volly now can achieve the density of digital mailing it will need in order to be successful. Using its employees as focus groups, the company also has tested and extensively modified the elements of Volly that consumers will see.

The result is a Volly that finally is ready for general launch in the U.S., which Pitney Bowes says it intends to do in the fourth quarter of this year. B2C partners have come aboard as well, although the company declined to identify them or to say how many have signed on. These brand owners are expected to join Pitney Bowes in promoting Volly to consumers at large.

Those who accept the invitation will be able to aggregate all of their bill-paying within the Volly portal, which Pitney Bowes promises to keep spam-free by permitting communications only from the accounts to which consumers have opted in. Calendars and to-do lists (see screen shot) will help them stay ahead of bills coming due and confirm payments that they have already made—a feature requested by the employee focus groups.

Participating businesses can use Volly to present coupons, catalog offers, and other promotions to consumers through branded landing pages. Fully implemented, the consumer-facing parts of Volly will serve as virtual transpromotional documents that combine billing information with targeted marketing communications as directed by the brand owners.

Reassuring consumers and retailers that they will be in driver’s seats has been a keynote of the project from the beginning. As the launch nears, said Bernie Gracy, vice president of business development for Volly, “we are setting a table between customers and brands that both can have control over.”

Among the first to dine at the table will be citizens and businesses in Australia, where Australia Post, the nation’s postal service, has announced that Volly will be the platform for the Digital Mailbox service it plans to launch later this year. A press release from Pitney Bowes says that the company will provide Australia Post with the software, technology and mailer-integration infrastructure to begin secure, digital delivery of content from business mailers in the Commonwealth.

Sandy Alexander To Become Beta Test Site for HP Indigo 10000 Digital Press

Sandy Alexander, a leading direct mail and commercial print provider, has announced today that it will become a beta site for the HP Indigo 10000 Digital Press. The system will be operational this fall at Sandy Alexander’s carbon- neutral digital printing facility in Clifton, NJ—powered, the company says, with 100% wind energy.

“When HP approached us to be one of the select beta sites in the U.S. it was an easy decision,” said Mike Graff. CEO and president of Sandy Alexander. “The HP Indigo 10000 allows us to transform our offerings, created by the unique combination of format size and image quality. It doubles our digital printing output, providing the capacity to support new programs awarded by Fortune 500 clients in the automotive, pharmaceutical, financial and travel industries.”

The HP Indigo 10000 is the first B2-format (29.5″ x 20.9″) sheetfed press in the HP Indigo line. The B2 sheet size, said Graff, “offers our clients both increased creativity and efficiency, providing them with a competitive advantage in the marketplace while also increasing their marketing ROI.”

According to the company, the beta testing  is part of a strategy to expand Sandy Alexander’s solution set for one-to-one marketers. The plan calls for the HP Indigo 10000 to be complemented by an HP Indigo W7200 digital web press and another HP Indigo 10000. The company will apply what it calls its industry-leading cross-platform color management solutions to these systems.

Concurrently, the company will also expand its service offerings in content management, enabling its clients to more easily implement and manage personalized communications with highly targeted messaging.

“We know that as a proven leader, Sandy Alexander will put the high print quality, productivity, and versatility of our new generation, 29” Indigo 10000 digital press to the test in its demanding, high-end production environment,” said Jan Riecher, vice president and general manager, Graphics Solutions Business – Americas, HP.