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Paper comes from trees which are a renewable resource. Paper use for envelopes and printing is consistent with the conservation and cultivation of trees. So don't waste, but print what you need without guilt!

What is "dgital fatigue"? Well nothing that mailing a letter to someone either personally or for your business can't cure!

Setting up the sheet properly for an envelope converting job can make the difference between a good or not so good result. Follow this one simple rule and you'll be sure to get the good result!

Measuring a window envelope properly will help to smooth the order process and ensure you get just what you want. The term "vertical window" for an envelope is sometimes confusing. Here's a quick explanation which will hopefully make your life easier.

The Envelope industry, along with the printing and paper industry require a large supply of trees in order to satisfy the demand for their products. The more envelopes, mail and print we consume, the more trees are needed and planted. So, you can love trees as well as print, mail and envelopes.

When you get an envelope in the mail, "the medium is the message" to a certain extent. Sending something to someone in the mail means you took the time and effort that just isn't there with an e mail or text message.

Getting a letter in the mail, especially with an attractive envelope design can set your message apart from the slew of e mails each of us typically receives each day on our jobs. Direct mail works!

Most commercial size envelopes are made with either diagonal seam or side seam construction. Each style has its own look and advantages. Here are some thing to keep in mind when deciding which one is best for your mailing.

Not all envelope graphic designs are practical when it comes to actually putting the ink on the paper. It's always best to consult with your envelope converter while you're in the design phase.

Elite is one of the few envelope converters who will take minimum quantity converting jobs and turn them around quickly. This can be an advantage for a printer who wants to print both letterhead and envelopes together to keep the printing consistent.

There are many songs about the mail, not too many about envelopes. Here are some of my favorites.

Direct mail and e mail complement each other very well as part of an overall marketing plan. An eye-catching envelope as part of a direct mail package can make an impression.

Envelope converting (or envelope manufacturing) is required for certain envelopes based on their size and also how they are to be printed. Here are some pointers to help you make the right decision.

There are four main services provided by the Post Office to help mailers correct bad addresses and forward the mail to the correct address. Each has its own description or “endorsement”.

Tyvek Envelopes are printable and recyclable and can provide excellent protection for your mailing along with potential postage savings.

Envelope and printing companies have to adapt to the changing landscape of commerce where customers are not used to waiting for things. Digital technology on prepress and production can speed the process which companies like Elite have embraced.

The Post Office has some great ways for marketers and business owners to boost their business through direct mail. Elite Envelope can help suggest some ways to get you the best deal.

The "Envelope Buying Guide" and "Buyer's Guide to Cold Web Printing" are available at no charge through our website. Both booklets contain a wealth of useful information on envelopes and forms.

Envelopes have an interesting history and the effort to standardize sizes appears to have started with a New York Company back in the 1800s. It also seems there were more personal love letters written back then!

Paper is a renewable resource and planting trees to supply future paper needs is a plus for the environment. Those of us in the paper, envelope and printing industries have nothing to apologize for.

In this age of digital overload, a simple hand-written letter could stand out and be a way to really connect with someone.

Whether they are called bind-in envelopes, order form envelopes or donor envelopes, these items are more in the business forms family but they work great for many different mailing applications or strictly binding into a magazine or brochure. Are they right for you?

There are many different ways to print a four color process image on an envelope. Here's what you need to know to make the right decision for your custom envelope job.

Envelope Converting is the same as envelope manufacturing. It involves making or converting sheets of paper into folded and glued envelopes. Elite is a direct source for converting as well as printing envelopes. Here are a few tips to keep in mind for your next envelope converting project.

Full view window envelopes, also known as display window envelopes are a great way to show off your awesome marketing material. They are a specialty of Elite Envelope and we can make them in many different sizes.

Web Printing is great for many different printed products. Here are five of the most popular ones with Elite Envelope.

Getting a written, personal letter in the mail can be an exciting thing these days. Maybe this is a way to connect the current generation to this time honored practice?

Envelope converting and web printing is a great combination. Elite Envelope and Graphics offers it all under one roof.

Small businesses shipping products that can fit in an envelope are everywhere. Elite Envelope gets many requests from these companies for cost-effective ways to ship their wares. Envelopes for shipping provide many options.

Rush service and quick turn arounds for printing jobs and envelope printing jobs are just a fact of life in the 21st century. We have to respond to what customers want or face extinction.

Thanks to the internet, there are lots of small businesses selling products that need to be shipped across the country. Envelopes can be a low cost and versatile solution in the shipping decision.

Web Printing is a great resource for all types of direct mail components. At Elite, we not only print the envelopes but also what goes inside the envelope. Here are some basic facts about the process and what works best.

Tyvek envelopes can actually be more economical than regular paper envelopes despite their higher cost. The secret is their light weight and how that reduces the cost of mailing

Regular mail might take a little longer to arrive than an e mail but for direct mailers, the extra time is worth the value of greater response.

One of the great advantages of print on paper is that it's tangible and permanent.

Using envelopes for product packaging is an idea whose time may have arrived.

There are some terms used in envelope converting and printing that are unique. Here's a quick explanation of some of them to make your life a little easier!

Here's a list of some of the most common envelope terms to make things easier when you're buying or thinking about what to buy.

Document Wallets can be useful for keeping papers secure in a variety of applications for car dealers, law offices, funeral homes, hotels, colleges and many other businesses.

Everyone who buys and sells paper products has been frustrated with the sharp increases in the price of paper. Here's a brief explanation and a commitment from Elite Envelope & Graphics to get you through it.

Things to keep in mind when ordering printed forms or business forms in particular.

Envelope Converting explained - This one takes you from the preparation part to the actual converting.

Envelopes can be printed in many different styles and colors. What is the best way to print an envelope with full color? Here are some things to consider.

Measuring an envelope can be a little tricky sometimes. This will give you the proper way to measure taking into account envelope variation as well as measuring window envelopes and measuring expansion envelopes.

Tyvek Envelopes are the best choice for certain mailings. Here are some of the reasons why you should choose a Tyvek Envelope for your next project.

What's the difference between a booklet style envelope and a catalog style envelope? What does "commercial envelope" mean? Envelope terminology can be a little confusing. Here's a brief explanation.

Envelope converting is not generally well-understood. Here are the basics including best practices for converting envelopes and achieving the best result.

Envelope Printing can be done in a number of ways depending on the requirements of the job. Flexographic or "flexo" printing is one of the ways to print an envelope.

Printing envelopes on a flat sheet and then converting is sometimes necessary for best results. Here's what you need to know to make the best decision.

Most envelopes are printed offset. Here's a brief summary of the process along with how to decide if this is the best way to print your job.

Whether you're a buyer, purchasing manager, graphic designer or traffic manager, you need to know the best way to print your envelope for maximum cost efficiency and best quality. Keep these things in mind and you won't go wrong!

Knowing the Post Office rules can help you save some dough if you're mailing a CD. Having an envelope company you can count on for advice is another big plus!

Another reason for variation in custom envelope manufacturing is the printing part.

Why is there the potential for variation in custom envelope manufacturing? Here are the main reasons.

Why do envelope converters and printers bill for more than than the customer ordered on a custom job? It may sound fishy but there's a good reason.

Elite Envelope & Graphics generates more than half of its electricity from solar power.

The Envelope industry has played a role in the building of America. And we're still facilitating communication and commerce in the 21st century. The Smithsonian Institute honor the print and envelope industries. We're proud to be included!

Have you heard anyone complain about junk mail in their mailbox at home lately? I bet you've heard lots of complaints about spam in e mail folders though. Therein lies a tale...

Direct Mail and printing has a place in the digital world. And printing and envelope companies can use technology to our advantage.

As I was constantly reminded as a child, it's good to reuse and recycle. Elite's Smart Bubble product carries on that tradition with printed bubble envelopes.

Printing an envelope can be tricky. Here are a couple of common errors to avoid for a perfect envelope print job.

Are printed envelopes harmful to the environment? Open your mind and read on...

Web printing presses are uniquely capable and the best option for certain print jobs.

Sometimes technology is not the most efficient and satisfying way to communicate!

You’re a small business, maybe a one-person operation selling products online – selling small jewelry or socks. Or maybe you’re fundraising and offering premiums to people who donate. Or perhaps you’re doing a direct mail program and sending out something that needs extra protection. You need a way to mail that provides security and ensures your contents will arrive in tact. You could buy generic bubble mailers at the office supply store and slap a label on them.  Yeah, I know, pretty blah. 

In our last post, we described some of the common error people make when ordering business forms. All printing companies and envelope companies will encounter these situations from time to time.  Mostly it’s the result of someone who has been thrust into the role of purchasing something that they are not completely familiar with.  This has happened more and more over the years as companies have downsized and forced staff to do more things. As I mentioned previously, printing has its own unique set of terms and certain procedures which are commonly used to get the best result.

Printed forms can be tricky to order.  Like most other custom-made products, there is a set of terms and certain procedures that producers follow to make the forms properly to spec. Knowing how to speak the language of printers and business forms manufacturers can be very helpful to those who are charged with purchasing. Here are a few of the most common mistakes we see in our business and how to avoid them.  These are not listed in any order. And some are specific to forms while some are generally applicable to any kind of print buying for forms; cut sheets, envelopes, etc.

Yes, I know, you keep a lot of documents on your PC, laptop or mobile device these days.  But there are some things that just work better when you have the actual documents.  Sometimes actual signatures are required.  Or it’s just easier to pull them out of your file drawer rather than call them up on your device.  And even if you’re not of a “certain age”, sometimes it’s just better to read an actual, full size document rather than view on a 5” screen, especially if it contains fine print which these things often do.  Additionally, some other items, like key access cards or ATM cards need some protection when they’re being carried around or stored.

Anyone who's in the printing, paper or envelope business or in the position to buy any of those is already painfully aware that the price of paper has increased substantially over the past year and a half or so.  And there are predictions that the increases will continue into 2019. 

In my last post I discussed and defined some of the special nomenclature pertaining to envelopes, envelope manufacturing and envelope printing.

The world of print buying which includes envelope buying has its own set of terms which are sometimes not easy to figure out.  Many people who find themselves assigned the task of buying print and paper are often confronted with sometimes inscrutable language thrown at them by vendors who are not considering their audience.

DuPont’s Tyvek has been around for many years and has a reputation for durability and functionality in the mailing world. It’s a synthetic material which is also used as a first layer to wrap houses which gives you an idea of the durability part.

Envelope converting is the process by which sheets of paper are made or “converted” into envelopes. The sheets can be plain or printed.  Machines which make envelopes can do so from paper rolls (which avoids die cutting as a separate function) or from die cut “blanks” which are fed into the machine and glued and folded.

Envelopes have typically been printed either flexographically (rubber or plastic printing plate) or offset (metal plate). Those two processes (in addition to flat sheet printing/converting) are still the most common for the vast majority of envelope printing.  Today’s post however deals with the world of digital envelope printing and how that can be used to your advantage for full color envelope printing.

In my previous post, we took the converting process from the point where the printer prepares the sheets and ships them to the envelope converter. Once the sheets are received, the envelope converting process for custom envelopes actually begins.

The term “converting” in relation to envelopes is sometimes not well-understood. So, here’s a very simple definition: Envelope converting is the process by which sheets of paper are cut, glued and folded into envelopes.  An envelope converter is a company that has the machinery and personnel to do this. An envelope converter is the same thing as an envelope manufacturer. It’s a factory where envelopes are made.  To “convert” means to change. We envelope converters are “changing” paper into envelopes; hence the name.

Envelopes come in all shapes and sizes but like many specialty items, they have their own descriptive language.

Aside from the fact that many otherwise intelligent adults these days seem to have a problem using a ruler (don’t get me started on this one), there are some rules for measuring and identifying dimensions on regular, expansion and window envelopes which can make things a little tricky. Here are a few tips to keep in mind.

Envelope printing can present some unique problems and issues mostly due to the construction of the envelope.  Here are some of the most common problems that come up and how you can avoid them.

While offset and flexographic printing are the two main methods for custom printed envelopes, there is a third way which is very commonly employed; lithographic printing on large, sheet fed and web presses.

Flexographic printing, more commonly referred to as “flexo”, has been one of the main types of envelope printing for almost a century.  It was a technological upgrade from letterpress printing which goes back to the days of the Gutenberg press.  Flexography got its name from the flexible rubber plate which it uses to apply the graphic image.

Envelope printing has come a long way since the days when Confederate soldiers folded wallpaper to serve as a carrier for their letters home.

In our last blog we presented the issue of variation in envelope converting and the reasons why it happens. In today’s piece, we’ll add the third and final reason for variation; jet offset envelope printing.

Manufacturing an envelope in any size or type; custom envelope, specialty envelope or even a standard envelope involves several distinct processes.  Envelope converting can be a little confusing especially for someone not familiar with how it’s done.

One of the most common concerns from customers of envelope converters is the degree of variation in the product.  By variation, we mean the slight differences in overall size of the envelope, window placement and print placement from what was ordered.

One of the most persistent questions posed by customers ordering specialty envelopes is, “why am I being billed for more (or fewer) envelopes than I ordered?”  Ah yes, the dreaded “over/under” question!

Envelope converting can be a confusing and somewhat daunting experience for someone not familiar with the process.  For printed envelopes, the term simply means printing on a flat sheet and having the sheets die cut and then folded and glued into envelopes.  The term also applies if you’re just cutting the paper with no printing. You are “converting” sheets of paper into envelopes:  pretty basic stuff.  Once you’ve gone through the process for the first time; it becomes much clearer and easier to understand.

First of all, Happy New Year to all those who follow and read my blog. I wish everyone the best for success and happiness in 2017.  Despite the fact that I write this in a cold weather climate (Boston) and the days are short, there’s always a certain positive energy associated with a new year at least to me. It’s a clean slate; time to refresh the screen and figure out what’s possible.  Of course the figuring-out part is a lot easier than the executing part.  I think that’s where a lot of people get stuck in the mud. Oh well, it’s always worth a try! 

So I was shocked twice this morning.  First, when I realized I hadn’t written a blog entry in over a month (I know, I know you’ve all been sitting at your desks each morning wondering where it’s been). And secondly when I looked at the calendar twice to see that it’s indeed December 14th and Christmas is next Sunday(!)  

I was raised not to waste. As a child growing up in the northern New Jersey suburbs, wasting anything was one of the worst things we could do. The ethic of conservation around our house was neatly summed up in the aphorism quoted to me innumerable times by my grandmother and my mother: “use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without”.  I also heard, “waste not, want not” more than a few times for good measure. We were the children and grandchildren of the generations that lived through the Great Depression and the hard lessons of that era were drummed into most of us growing up in the 60’s and the 70’s. 

On September 13th, the Smithsonian's National Postal Museum launched a new virtual exhibition, "America's Mailing Industry", telling the story of the partnership between the U.S. Postal Service and private industry, which together have helped American citizens and businesses communicate and conduct business for more than 200 years.

Ask most anyone these days in the print, mail or envelope industry about the current state and future of mail and you’ll generally get an answer that’s hopeful but cautious.  The great digital disruption of the last 25 years or so has caused an irrevocable change in printed communication.  Those of us who’ve seen these changes as they’ve occurred are naturally wary about what is to come.  It hasn't always been pretty!

One of the most predictable things in life is that changes and trends tend to move drastically in one direction only to be followed by a re-calibration.  It’s part of our nature to become infatuated by something new and different.  But after the full effects are consumed and digested, things tend to settle back into some rough equilibrium.  

Web printing has nothing to do with the World Wide Web. (It would be interesting to do a survey to see how many people actually know that’s the term referenced in the “www” in web addresses).   It’s understandable that many non-printer buyers who hear that Elite Envelope & Graphics does cold web printing automatically think it’s something done with a computer.  Well, our 8 color Didde Colortech press does have a computer attached but it’s for assuring the proper balance of CMYK as we lay down another awesome print job.

You might be thinking, “Printing is printing”, right?  Well, yes and no.  Printing processes are pretty much the same regardless of the material.  You’re laying ink (or toner) on top of paper, cardboard, cloth, plastic or many other possible substrates. 

Who knew that bubble wrap would have such an interesting backstory?

One of the persistent clichés in modern life revolves around the idea of family in other contexts. We’re always trying to describe some group we are part of as “just like family”.  It gets creepy when politicians exhort us to think about society in this way. We need a competent executive to run the country, not a National Daddy (or Mommy!).   Businesses love to use this trope in advertising: “from our family to yours”, etc.  Let’s just stipulate that your family is your family and leave it at that.

I was talking to my daughter the other day about something funny I saw on Facebook. Someone had posted a picture of what used to be on the TV screen when the programming stopped in the early morning hours.  Kind of looked like this!  It was accompanied by a continuous low beep that lasted until the early morning hours when the shows would start up again.  Yes kids; that really used to happen.

At the end of my e mail signature is the line “Feel free to print this e mail. Paper is a renewable resource”.  More than a few people have commented on that and every comment has been in the “atta-boy” category.  Now admittedly, the audience for my business e mails, comprised overwhelmingly of people in the business of making and buying printed products on paper, is not exactly a representative sample of the general population.  But those of us in the envelope converting, direct mail printing, and paper and printing industries in general have been unfairly maligned over the past twenty years or so for doing something that is supposedly bad for the environment so it’s time for a little push-back.

 Happy_New_Year.jpg

 

Random comments on where we sit in 2015 and some hopes for 2016:

I try to keep this blog as informative as possible on matters of general interest to those in the print, envelope and direct mail communities.  When I started, I thought that after a while I might have trouble thinking of things to write about.  Well, this is my one hundred and fourteenth blog entry (pausing for awkward pat on my own back) and while finding new topics is getting a little more challenging (OK, so I do repeat myself once in a while; sue me.) I’ve been able to figure it out for the most part. I hope you like reading them and please send me your comments. I love getting them.

I try to keep this blog as informative as possible on matters of general interest to those in the print, envelope and direct mail communities.  When I started, I thought that after a while I might have trouble thinking of things to write about.  Well, this is my one hundred and fourteenth blog entry (pausing for awkward pat on my own back) and while finding new topics is getting a little more challenging (OK, so I do repeat myself once in a while; sue me.) I’ve been able to figure it out for the most part. I hope you like reading them and please send me your comments. I love getting them.

Anyway, while I try to keep the blog focused on things you might find interesting, every so often I surrender to the little sales guy perched on my shoulder who will bug me occasionally with comments like, “Hey Jerry, why don’t you let them know what you’re selling these days?  After all, you are in business to make money right?”  (He also bugs me about not making enough cold calls, being out of touch with certain customers and other things I won’t bore you about. Doesn’t everyone have voices in their head?)

elite envelope full view window envelopes

So, to placate this annoying little dude, I thought I would take this opportunity to make you aware of our latest product offering: full view window envelopes also known as display window envelopes.  We've actually been making and supplying these items since our inception in 2003.  But we are now starting to offer on line ordering and fulfillment from our website at www.eliteenvelope.com.  We've just added a window from our home page which will take you to our on line store  where you can purchase 6 x 9 full view window envelopes and 6 x 9 1/2 full view window envelopes. These envelopes have 4 x 7 and 4 x 7 1/2 display windows which allow for the contents to show through.  The purpose is to show off what's inside in order to entice the recipient to open it and take a look. 

At Elite we print and convert envelopes with lots of very eye-catching designs.  Direct mailers have learned that one of the ways to get their mail opened is to create some connection at the point of receipt; i.e. when the letter is removed from the mailbox and held in the hand.  Once it gets put down, there's much less of a chance that it will be opened. Life has moved on and there are other things to think about.  Most likely the envelope will end up in the recycling bin or the trash.  Using a splash of color or a clever tagline or photos or all of the above can help to create interest and encourage the recipient to peek inside. 

Full view window envelopes go a step further by partially displaying the contents thereby indicating what's inside and enticing with just enough of a tease to get someone to bite. There's also something to be said for a good looking package that someone has obviously spent a bit of money on.  Many people will respect that alone and open and read out of courtesy if not for any other reason.  I don't have any stats or studies to back this up but I believe it passes the common sense test.

We can provide full view envelopes in just about any size but the 6 x 9’s and 6 x 9 ½’s are our best deal and you can find great pricing and fast delivery through our website or the links above.  We’ll print them for you too!

Since I’m writing this on the day before, let me take the opportunity to wish you all a very happy Thanksgiving.  I am personally grateful for the success of Elite Envelope & Graphics and thank any of you who have placed an order with us of any size.  Despite all our problems and travails, I believe we are fortunate to live in this great country of ours so, in addition to giving thanks for our personal blessings of friends, family and material comfort I think a special shout-out is in order:  God Bless America!

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We released our first video a couple of weeks ago.  It’s a “virtual tour” - a look at our plant, equipment, staff and production capabilities and it clocks in at a neat seven minutes and twenty-three seconds.   It’s something I’ve been thinking about doing for years and finally got around to.  The impetus was a talented young director, Sara Robin with whom I worked on a music video in my other professional life.  Sara and I are a good team and we came up with a concept which she executed extremely well along with her crew, Kellen Ryan and Yahna Harris.  All of them either attend or are graduates of the Boston University Graduate School of Film.

We released our first video a couple of weeks ago.  It’s a “virtual tour” - a look at our plant, equipment, staff and production capabilities and it clocks in at a neat seven minutes and twenty-three seconds.   It’s something I’ve been thinking about doing for years and finally got around to.  The impetus was a talented young director, Sara Robin with whom I worked on a music video in my other professional life.  Sara and I are a good team and we came up with a concept which she executed extremely well along with her crew, Kellen Ryan and Yahna Harris.  All of them either attend or are graduates of the Boston University Graduate School of Film.

Making of Elite Envelope & Graphics video

Elite is certainly not the first company of its kind to use video for promotional purposes.  Video is now required to sell or promote pretty much anything. It’s a vital part of the “quality content” which marketers insist upon in order to give a company the best chance to penetrate the public consciousness with its brand.  Like it or not, we live in a visual world. Ironically, the public’s insatiable demand for video content is one of the things that has contributed to shrinking the print and envelope markets.  So, an envelope converter and cold web printer producing a promotional video might seem to some as “sleeping with the enemy”.

One of the recurring themes of this blog is the need for those of us in print, envelopes and direct mail to enthusiastically embrace the digital world.  I find that some in our industry seem to harbor a grudge against the technology they see as being responsible for the smaller and more competitive market.  They seem to relish being late adopters, almost as a badge of honor and resistance to trends they see as working to their disadvantage.  While I sympathize with the sentiment, I don’t see the sense in it.  The internet has made people less dependent on the mail. But while I yield to no one in my belief that print on paper can often deliver a message with greater impact than moving images on a screen, we need to acknowledge that there’s more than one way to do things. We also need to acknowledge that one of the reasons  digital messages have become so popular is they are convenient and inexpensive.  They allow us to do more in less time.

Not much more than twenty years ago, most of us in print sales were using pagers (or “beepers” as we called them) to receive notices from the office that someone had called us.  The next step was to find a payphone, pull over and park, grab a bunch of coins and make the return call.   Anyone want to make the argument that a cell phone is not superior to that scenario?  So, you have to take the good with the bad. But the neat trick is to use the “bad” to make us more productive.  In other words, you can bemoan the fact that “everyone” would rather see a video rather than read a message on paper or you can use a video to promote the message that reading on paper can be pretty cool and quite effective in selling your products and services.

Those of us in the print, envelope, paper and mail businesses are now in the position of swimming against the tide.  This sea-change (sorry!) is a relatively recent development and has happened quickly – mostly in the past two decades.  Whereas in the past our main job was to compete in the market, we now must sell the value of what we do as well as increase our share of a smaller market.  We also have to deal with the widely-held belief that printing on paper is somehow bad for the environment; a bogus claim that is easily countered but not without additional effort.

In order to ensure the viability of our business, we have to make our case as broadly as possible. Using online video as well as the many other technical marvels of our age will help us do that.  The timeless messages that are delivered in print are worth communicating in any fashion.

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I just happened to catch the last part of the Nightly News last night; something I used to do with some frequency along with many others.  The final segment was about the resurgence of music on cassette tape and it brought a smile.  It featured a company that has now virtually cornered the market on cassette reproduction through buying a lot of the equipment that became available cheap when other companies bailed thinking it was a dying industry.  Phrases like “cassette culture” were bandied about mostly in relation to “hipsters” who wanted to hear their music on tape as a reaction to the ubiquity of streaming and other forms of virtual consumption. The current sales numbers mentioned seemed substantial but I have no idea how they compared to what cassette sales were not that long ago. My hunch is that this was one of those news segments looking for a hook on which to hang a pre-scripted narrative.  Portable cassettes were an advance from the more cumbersome reel to reel and the often malfunctioning 8 track formats.  In retrospect they seem to be more of a transition product between the classic vinyl record and the compact disc.  Their only legacy is the phrase “mix tape” which is now used in other contexts.  I can’t see them ever becoming more than a trendy niche. 

I just happened to catch the last part of the Nightly News last night; something I used to do with some frequency along with many others.  The final segment was about the resurgence of music on cassette tape and it brought a smile.  It featured a company that has now virtually cornered the market on cassette reproduction through buying a lot of the equipment that became available cheap when other companies bailed thinking it was a dying industry.  Phrases like “cassette culture” were bandied about mostly in relation to “hipsters” who wanted to hear their music on tape as a reaction to the ubiquity of streaming and other forms of virtual consumption. The current sales numbers mentioned seemed substantial but I have no idea how they compared to what cassette sales were not that long ago. My hunch is that this was one of those news segments looking for a hook on which to hang a pre-scripted narrative.  Portable cassettes were an advance from the more cumbersome reel to reel and the often malfunctioning 8 track formats.  In retrospect they seem to be more of a transition product between the classic vinyl record and the compact disc.  Their only legacy is the phrase “mix tape” which is now used in other contexts.  I can’t see them ever becoming more than a trendy niche. 

As I write this I happen to be listening to one of my favorite terrestrial radio stations, WFUV out of Fordham University in NY.  Seeing as how I’m based in the Boston area, I’m listening on my computer. FUV is a public station and so must subject us to periodic on-air fundraising. In selling themselves, they regularly mention how superior good radio is to the streaming services where you hear only what you want. I’m a big fan of radio so I’m already sold on that pitch.  But there’s a reason why streaming has become the music delivery vehicle of choice to a significant portion of the listening public.

Envelopes and Mail in the digital age

If you’ve stuck around this far, you’re probably wondering when this preamble (and I do mean amble…) will crystallize into, oh like…a point maybe?  Well, here goes:  In the marketplace, envelopes and print are in a similar position to radio and to a lesser extent, the cassette tape. We are in a period of great upheaval and transition.  Financial institutions are pressing to convert customers to the digital delivery of statements, proxies and other forms which were traditionally mailed.  When I told my thirty-something offspring that I still paid bills with checks in the mail, they reacted as if I went to the backyard to pump my water. The ubiquity of smart phones and apps for nearly everything is becoming the new norm. The Post Office continues its slow-motion implosion by using the necessary budget cuts to worsen service at the very time when envelope manufacturers and printing companies need faster delivery in order to compete.

Direct mail is still a very viable method for companies to market their products.  But it’s now just one option among many and a more expensive one at that.  Studies show the ROI justifies the cost but that can be a tough sell at the conference table when expenditures are being monitored carefully.

But like the public radio pitch, there is value in what we do.  Nothing on a computer screen makes an impression like a printed piece.  Colleges understand this when they send out letters (my 16 year-old daughter is getting several of them a week from prospective suitors) and beautifully printed, full-color catalogs. 

We need to use the wonderful world of technology to make us more productive so we can establish our niche and remain viable within a reasonable cost structure.  I’ve just finished producing a video which will be a “virtual tour” of our facility.  I’m certainly not the first one in the envelope industry to do this but it makes sense as a way to reach a broader potential audience and market for our products. I’ll be following that up with a series of shorter instructional videos about envelope converting, web printing and envelope printing in general. This will allow younger buyers who may not have the knowledge base and experience that print buyers had in the past to better understand what’s possible and what might make sense for them.

E mail marketing, that bane of the direct mail world, should be used as fast way to stay in touch, make short announcements and follow up on printed pieces that have been sent to establish connections. Of course social media is the new darling in marketing circles. I’m not convinced that it’s worth the investment of time at least in the world of envelope converting and commercial printing. There may be some small printers who want to establish a very personal connection to their customers.  But for the most part, having a high profile on search engines is going to get you more orders than a like on Facebook or someone pinning a picture of something they bought from you on Pinterest.

So this is not another lament about the demise of printing.  Reports of that have been greatly exaggerated in my opinion.  The next ten years can be a time of growth as we adjust to the new realities of the market and customer demands. Using technology to our advantage to win new customers and increase market share must be a big part of that effort. There’s still a lot of life in radio and envelopes and printing.  Maybe I’ll make a mix tape of our greatest hits…naaah!

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If there were ever a title that required a smiley-face (or emoticon or emoji or whatever they’re called at the moment) I suppose it’s this one.  Yes, it’s time for the Elite Envelope and Graphics blog to dip its toe into social media-speak and the culture in general.  Just be glad that I didn’t go all middle school and use BFF: one of the many things for which you can be grateful this beautiful, late summer morning in America.

If there were ever a title that required a smiley-face (or emoticon or emoji or whatever they’re called at the moment) I suppose it’s this one.  Yes, it’s time for the Elite Envelope and Graphics blog to dip its toe into social media-speak and the culture in general.  Just be glad that I didn’t go all middle school and use BFF: one of the many things for which you can be grateful this beautiful, late summer morning in America.

Can there be any doubt of the pervasiveness of social media in 2015? On a personal level, it’s been great when it knows its place; not always an easy place to find in the midst of the non-stop lives that many of us live.  We can keep up with our friends (maybe could do without all the updates about the latest meals), reconnect with people from our past who probably would have been forgotten, become aware of what’s new and perhaps exciting in our area and the world beyond.  All these things can be a welcome addition and diversion from the daily grind.

Business has latched onto this in a big way. No marketing conference can get away with not having at least one or more sessions on how to use social media to increase sales and brand loyalty.  Social media has reinforced and amplified the already well-established trend toward informality in business which in many cases has gone from Casual Friday to Casual Everyday without a lot of notice.  When you’re “liking” the new dress of some distant acquaintance on the same day that you’re “liking” the landscaping company you just hired, the distinction between personal and commercial is blurred beyond distinction.

Is that good for business in general? It certainly is for some businesses.  I suppose that companies generally will reflect the broad changes in society for better or worse. The general descent into explicit content and crude language on radio and television; two areas which in the relatively recent past you didn’t see that much are a fact of life.  Will businesses start to embrace this as a way of connecting to customers?  I think not for a variety of reasons but it will bear watching. Sometimes these things are driven by someone doing something considered outrageous and getting rewarded for it. Everyone then follows along as a way to compete or from a lack of imagination.  Howard Stern might be an example of this phenomenon. 

Perhaps it’s a stretch to suggest that social media business marketing is the beginning of the descent to the lowest common denominator; where how you speak and act in private is transferred to your commercial transactions with no distinction between the two.  If this does happen, I believe it will be driven by businesses which have a small, targeted market that would accept or perhaps even embrace that approach. 

Thankfully social media marketing is not that big of a deal in the printed and converted envelope and web printing world.  I say thankfully because it would be one more thing for me to do and frankly I much prefer one on one communication with customers. I think it’s more effective and in the world of social media can be a welcome relief from the need to post and promote incessantly to get noticed.  I think after I write this I’m going call someone I haven’t spoken to in a while just to say hi. They may be shocked!  Or they may think of me the next time they need a custom envelope or a printed direct mail piece. That’s worth one of these

 smiley face emoji

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Whenever you’re reading an article about how to write a blog article for maximum exposure, lists are always mentioned as a way to pique reader interest.  We’ve all seen them; those ads on the pages we click on with titles like: “Top 10 things you should never say to your wife/husband/pet”, whatever. How can you possibly resist clicking on something like that? Of course once we get there (after waiting and waiting for the page to load with an enormous number of other ads and click-bait) we are generally disappointed by something pretty banal like: “Number Six:  Are you gaining weight?” (Cats are particularly sensitive to that question…).

Elite Envelope Cold Web Printing

Whenever you’re reading an article about how to write a blog article for maximum exposure, lists are always mentioned as a way to pique reader interest.  We’ve all seen them; those ads on the pages we click on with titles like: “Top 10 things you should never say to your wife/husband/pet”, whatever. How can you possibly resist clicking on something like that? Of course once we get there (after waiting and waiting for the page to load with an enormous number of other ads and click-bait) we are generally disappointed by something pretty banal like: “Number Six:  Are you gaining weight?” (Cats are particularly sensitive to that question…).

I try to keep this blog more geared toward useful information of a general nature and not too “salesy”. Thus far I’ve resisted using lists but we do some great things on our webs and I think you’d benefit from checking us out.  So here’s my Top Five list (could have made it Top Ten but hey, you’re busy and I respect your time).  These are not necessarily the “top” items but rather five commonly printed products that work really well on the cold web presses of the type we have at Elite Envelope.  But enough!  Here’s the list (in no particular order):

Bind-in/Blow-in cards for catalogs –  These can be printed with either a single perf so the customer can tear off the pertinent information or with a “T” perf so a reply card can be sent back in the mail; generally for lead generation.   Also Buck Slips: These are generally included as part of a direct mail package; often containing an “extra special” offer or message. In some instances, we will receive the order for just this one component because we happen to be very competitive on them.

Mailers & Fliers – Letter and Legal size cut sheets are a great fit for our webs. We print 2 or 4 page fliers that can be folded to a #10 or 5 ½ x 8 ½ and mailed; also 8-24 page full color booklets that can be mailed. We will often get orders for letters that will be personalized later. We’ll print and ship flat in cartons to the fulfillment house. 

Statements and Invoices with Perforations – Another part of the cut sheet family; we produce enormous amounts of these for medical billing companies, banks, election departments, local and municipal tax departments and others. The webs do perforations in-line which can make a huge difference in price especially on large quantities. The webs can also do multiple perforations and right-angle perforations. 

Placemats -   Yes, placemats! 11 x 17 placemats are the perfect size for diners, cafes and the food industry in general and they work great on our web presses.  They can be designed with ads and other information and can be printed in beautiful four-color process usually on 70# paper at very competitive prices.

Donation and Bind-In Envelopes  -  Fewer catalogs are using bind-in reply envelopes these days but they are still being purchased and we can provide them as well as the same style of envelope used by many non-profits for the mailing back of contributions.  These differ from regular envelopes in that they are end-glued without side seams so not as bulky when they are inserted into a booklet or catalog.  They can also be made with a lip at the end of the flap which is used for properly binding the item.

 

On any of these items, we can print up to 8 colors (4/4) in bold, sharp quality.  Please contact us if there’s anything we can do. As always, we love to get your comments as well.


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I have a sixteen year old daughter who, like most kids her age is joined at the hip with her smart phone. She spends way too many hours on that and her tablet sampling the occasionally rich, varied and often stupid content on the net and social media not to mention the constant texting, Snap-Chatting, posting pictures (yikes!), etc. 

Elite Envelope blog

I have a sixteen year old daughter who, like most kids her age is joined at the hip with her smart phone. She spends way too many hours on that and her tablet sampling the occasionally rich, varied and often stupid content on the net and social media not to mention the constant texting, Snap-Chatting, posting pictures (yikes!), etc. 

It wasn’t that long ago she had a list of TV shows that she recorded and watched on a regular basis. Now, she doesn’t even do that. It’s all internet content.

However, the other day a letter came in the mail addressed to her and she immediately picked it up and opened it.  It was just a renewal slip for her subscription to Teen Vogue which she promptly discarded as she’s no longer interested in that either. But the point is, she was curious to see what was inside.

Now someone born at the turn of the century who’s been marinating in the digital world for much of her sentient existence is perhaps not the best example of a target for direct mail.

Then again, I think she represents the perfect target for direct mail.

According to the DMA 2014 Statistical Fact Book a far greater percentage of 18-21 year olds opened mail immediately in 2012 than they did in 1987 (62.8% versus 46.9%).   This makes perfect sense to me as receiving a letter in the mail in 2012 is really a novelty and a surprise compared to 1987 when it was routine.  I’ve pointed this out before but how many people complain these days about “junk mail”?  Very few. There are far more complaints about e mail spam.

The DMA book is bursting with statistics showing direct mail to be resurgent in today’s world of direct marketing.  Mail has many advantages over digital communication; not the least of which is it exists in the physical world – the “real” world that you can touch and feel. That mail piece will stay on the kitchen counter until someone opens it or moves it somewhere. Just the fact that it’s tangible gives it a permanence that just doesn’t come from e mail despite the latter’s great convenience. 

As more and more payment and compliance transactions are done online, direct mail comprises a greater percentage of total print and mail volumes. At Elite Envelope, we see this to be very true in the composition of our business.  Much of the envelope converting we do every day comes from printers who are producing slick envelopes to enclose creative and colorful direct mail content.  A lot of the envelope printing including much of the four color envelope printing we do falls into the direct mail category including non-profit fundraising mail.

To ensure the viability of our industry into the future, we simply must appeal to millennials and even younger demographics. Getting them to look forward to receiving things in the mail should be high on the priority list for all direct marketers. It’s our future.

As always, would love to hear your comments on this subject.

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Envelopes used to be an afterthought when it came to a printed package. A lot more time, attention and expense would typically be spent on the contents rather than the package which enclosed them. That is no longer the case and here's my theory as to why:

fancy envelope picture

Envelopes used to be an afterthought when it came to a printed package. A lot more time, attention and expense would typically be spent on the contents rather than the package which enclosed them. That is no longer the case and here's my theory as to why:

One of the pervasive aspects of our increasingly affluent society is that people's tastes and expectations change; generally in a more expensive direction. Just to take a couple of examples (there are many others):

My parents drank Maxwell House ground coffee that they bought in a large, pressurized can at the supermarket probably for the same price (or less!) than a single latte drink at Starbucks costs today. Maxwell House was good enough for them and millions of others.

Anyone try to give away their old cathode-ray TV lately? Last year I had the Salvation Army refuse to take mine because "everyone wants flat screen TVs these days".  They also wouldn't take my used but good condition sleeper couch with down cushions because of a small, faded portion on the back from the sun.  Apparently, even poverty isn't what it was 50 years ago.

Those are just two examples but the point is, for most of us, pedestrian isn't good enough anymore. One of the prime drivers of this is technology which, for example, makes flat screen TVs less expensive today than my 19" Sony Trinitron cost 15 years ago. Our standard of living has gone up largely because the cost of what used to be premium items has decreased. We're less willing to settle for...

simple black printing on envelopes for example!  You can buy a fairly inexpensive color desk top printer and print your own envelopes in pretty colors.  You can also go to Staples or other walk in digital printers, hand them your flash drive and walk out with some fancy color printed envelopes.

But what about if you're a small business owner or a print buyer?  What are your options for more than just a few hundred four color process envelopes? 

There are four possible ways to do this:

  • Offset
  • Lithographic
  • Flexographic
  • Digital

 

  • Offset - The most common offset press made for envelopes and used by most envelope converters, envelope manufacturers and envelope printers is the Jet press made by the Halm Corporation. The four-color jet press is a great option for a quantity of 5,000 and up where the printing is light to medium coverage with no bleeds.  For instance - if you have a small four color logo that you place with your return address, the four color Jet is generally the best way to go for price and good quality.

 

  • Lithographic - By this I mean high-quality sheet-fed printing from a large, sophisticated press made by companies like Heidelberg and Kamori which you'll find at large, commercial printing companies. Envelope converters like Elite Envelope will take printed sheets from these companies, almost always printed in full color, and cut, fold and glue them into envelopes. The reasons an envelope is printed this way boil down to three: coverage, quality and stock.  If the envelope has full coverage, front and back, this is one of your two options (flexo is the other, more on that shortly). If the envelope uses coated stock, then it generally needs to be printed this way. And sheetfed offset is generally the gold-standard for print quality in the industry. So if your envelope has to look better than anyone else's, this is probably the way for you to go.

 

  • Flexographic - Also known as "flexo" uses hard-plastic photo polymer plates versus the metal plates used in offset printing. It is done in-line (as the envelope is being manufactured) and features quick drying ink. Flexo used to be pretty much exclusively for "down and dirty" print jobs;  black or one color with simple copy. It's main advantage is cost; especially on very large quantities (typically 100,000 and up).  The quality of flexo printing has improved dramatically over the past several decades and there is now so-called "enhanced flexo" equipment which prints four color process in full coverage with outstanding results. However the quality is still not quite up to the level of lithography.

 

  • Lastly as I already mentioned, there's digital printing.  This is done mostly with toner versus ink. The quality is generally very good especially as the technology improves. Unlike the other three methods, there's virtually no-set up time required for digital printers. You pretty much just click and go. For that reason, digital is great for small runs of up to around 2,500.  However digital printers are very slow in comparison to offset or flexo presses so after that number, you're better off going offset.  Another drawback with digital printers is because of the intense heat needed to set the toner, regular poly window patch material melts.  So special and more expensive material must be used if you're printing a window envelope.  Plus, while the quality is good, it has a different look than offset printing. So, if the components are printed offset, they won't match the envelope which can be a problem in some packages. However, one great advantage to digital printing is that it can easily print variable data which has become essential in the world of direct marketing. And if you need a larger quantity of digitally printed envelopes, there are some very-sophisticated digital web presses that can print on sheets or rolls for converting later.

 

If you have a question on how to print a particular envelope to best meet your needs, send me an e mail or give me a call. I'll be happy to help you sort things out.

 

 

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In the Brave New World of envelopes and printing 2015, much like in the music and recording world, everything is mashed up. In order to survive and thrive through the decline in overall print and envelope volumes of the past decade and a half or so, many companies have diversified their product offerings in order to maintain and increase their market share.  It seems like there is an unspoken consensus among those in the print and mail industry that “you gotta’ do, what you gotta” do” to survive.

In the Brave New World of envelopes and printing 2015, much like in the music and recording world, everything is mashed up. In order to survive and thrive through the decline in overall print and envelope volumes of the past decade and a half or so, many companies have diversified their product offerings in order to maintain and increase their market share.  It seems like there is an unspoken consensus among those in the print and mail industry that “you gotta’ do, what you gotta” do” to survive.

Elite Envelope made this decision a few years ago when we decided to join forces with and eventually acquire the cold-web printing company Web Corp. While many of our customers were and are printers themselves, we found no resistance from them when we began to sell direct mail and financial printing. We consulted with many of them beforehand and were quickly reassured.  Part of this was our particular situation and the fact that cold-web printing on uncoated roll stock was not seen as competition to most sheet-fed printers.  However, my feeling is that there is a sense that the only envelope converter in Boston (that’s us!) provides a valuable service to the printing industry in general and thus needs to remain viable.  This general sense applies industry-wide to those of us that remain strong and profitable.

Which brings me to the fact that our cold web presses are great for printing bind-in envelopes and order form envelopes which we are now featuring as a product offering in the aftermath of the closing down of B & W Press in Georgetown, MA which had been one of the major suppliers for these products both in New England and nationally.

This product goes by several different names:  order form envelope, bind-in envelope, donor envelope, bind-in order form and more.  Although the word envelope is used in many of the descriptions, this is not technically an envelope; at least by manufacturing/converting standards.  An envelope is characterized by seams and panels which fold across each other in some configuration.  The order form envelope et al is really just a folded piece of paper which is glued at the edge in one portion to form a pouch that can be used as an envelope.  It’s more in the business form family than the envelope family.

The phrase “bind-in” means quite literally that the product is in many cases bound inside a catalog or brochure before it is mailed.  The order form envelope is then removed by the recipient and used to order products or, in the case of donor envelopes, to make a donation. The “envelope” portion can be separated by a perforation and will have a strip of seal gum which when moistened will seal the envelope for return mailing.

While not as sturdy and durable as an envelope, these bind-in products are perfectly functional and mail-able under US Postal guidelines.  The main benefits are they are less bulky than an envelope and therefore easier for the bindery to insert and take up less space.  They also weigh slightly less than an envelope which can be a factor when postage costs are considered.  Lastly and most obviously they are multi-functional combining the order form, promotional material and the envelope all in one convenient piece.

Elite can print them in full coler on both sides or very simply in spot colors if that’s your preference. They can be made in various styles and configurations with a single panel in addition to the envelope or with multiple panels for more comprehensive messaging.  We are one of the few companies that can provide both standard, conventional envelopes as well as the paper form envelope product described here. Please let us know if we can be of service and I’d like to hear how you have used this product in your business.  


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Postman Zoolander

 

Just got finished reading an article from Newsweek (I thought they were out of business!). The article is entitled “Do We Need a Postal Service?” and is written by Kevin Kosar, a senior fellow at the R Street Institute; a Washington D.C. think tank.

It’s an interesting piece, filled with data about the Post Office’s indebtedness (maxed out at $15 billion), unfunded medical benefits liability ($50 billion and counting), inadequate capital investment (140,000, 20 year old vehicles in need of replacement) along with the same sad song about its inability to modernize and adapt to a greatly reduced mail volume caused mostly by widespread preference for digital communication.

The tease of the article’s headline gives way to some hedging by Kosar on why the Post Office couldn’t be completely eliminated. He also avoids taking direct responsibility for his implied conclusion by saying the “public” views the Postal Service as a “pointless, environmentally harmful anachronism” which they therefore would be reluctant to bail out once the gargantuan bills come due. 

Certainly those bills will come due and need to be paid and that is a huge problem for the service and ultimately the taxpayers. Unlike a private enterprise which has to be competitive and answer to stockholders, the postal monopoly just keeps rolling along beholden to its political masters; very few of whom have any desire to upset any of their constituencies who might complain about commonsense reforms like doing away with Saturday delivery and closing unnecessary post offices.  The largest single constituency is the postal union which of course will not take kindly to any significant lay-offs or cuts in pay or benefits.

Kosar succumbs to the canard that mail is an environmentally harmful exercise because it cuts down trees which are turned into paper in factories that pollute the air and then delivered in old trucks that do the same.  I’ve never quite understood why some people think that growing trees and then harvesting them for paper is such a bad thing.  New tree growth is an unequivocal positive for the environment. The more paper that’s consumed, the more new trees need to be grown to meet the demand.  On the environmental argument I’d say “don’t get me started” but that’s obviously too late. I’ve posted several times on that topic if you’re interested.

But the larger question is how best to provide the mail delivery service that we still need.  You can make the argument that much of what’s delivered (direct mail advertising) isn’t really a “need” but you can also make the argument that we should all ride bicycles and take public transportation and not drive cars.  The fact is that while the amount of first-class mail has declined significantly over the past couple of decades, there are still billions of letters and packages that need to be delivered.  I don’t think it matters whether those letters are now primarily marketing-related rather than love notes or letters from camp.  There is a market for mail delivery services and that needs to be serviced.

Is the Post Office as presently constituted the best way to do that?  I think not. In an ideal, non-political world (yeah, right!) we’d have private companies competing to deliver the first class mail just as we do for packages.  Pricing would mostly likely be based on the destination and if you lived in a remote area, it would cost more to send you mail which is how it should be.

While that utopian scenario seems far-fetched, ironically I think that the same technology which has caused the mail to be less important than it used to be will actually allow it to be delivered more efficiently in the future. The direct marketing industry should be a driver for Post Office reform rather than defending the status-quo as it too often does.

I also think the country could do with many more hand-written love letters!

What do you think?


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“It was twenty years ago today.”

Elite Envelope blog

“It was twenty years ago today.”

Yes, I know, a shameless attempt to get you into my blog by quoting the famous opening line from Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.  But as I was getting my day going on a 32 degree “spring” morning in late March, I realized that my work life changed dramatically just about twenty years ago. It might as well have been the Stone Age.

 I was in sales at Northeastern Envelope Manufacturing Corporation of Braintree, MA. My boss was not just old school; he was the principal of the old school.  As such he insisted on a daily call report from me which up to that point I had dutifully hand-written and submitted, five at a time, at the end of each week.  

 I had recently purchased and began using my first personal computer sometime in 1994. I was just getting used to it and had heard of ACT contact management software. I decided to give it a shot so in the spring of 1995, I uploaded all my contacts, built a data base and began generating and printing my daily reports.  This was initially not met with enthusiasm by my boss who was still using index cards to keep track of his contacts. However, he eventually (but grudgingly) accepted the reports, and I was off and running into the information age.

My next life-altering experience came later that same year when I got my first cellphone.  Up to that point I had a pager or “beeper” as we called it firmly affixed to my belt. One of the inside staff at our office would call the pager number to let me know that someone had called looking for me.  I would have to find a pay phone, pull out my trusty roll of dimes and call the office to receive the message and then call the person back. This happened many times each day I was on the road.

I remember the first day I used my cellphone on the job. I called a colleague of mine to joyously announce that I was actually walking around downtown Boston talking to her on the phone.  I was so excited!  No longer would I have to use a payphone in the rain while juggling my notes and umbrella and fumbling for the dial. 

Just those two things increased my productivity (and my income) tremendously.  I was a bit of a late adopter but I think it was around twenty years ago that cell phones and e mails started becoming a big part of the daily life in business. 

Well here we are in 2015 and I’m still using ACT (a much later and improved version) and have had a succession of upgraded phones leading to my IPhone 6 which I love.  I can pretty much run major parts of my business through my smart phone.  Technology enables me to do meetings on line, answer my e mail from wherever I happen to be, send links of video to prospective customers and run a fairly sophisticated marketing operation solo.  All stuff I wouldn’t have imagined “twenty years ago today”.  (A second Beatle references in that last sentence – so clever!)

So what did I spend a majority of my time doing last week? Calling and e mailing customers to set up face to face appointments.  I was able to line up several and each one of them was very productive. In each case I learned something new about our customer’s requirements and how we might be able to better compete to meet them. I also was able to personally express our gratitude for their business and end with a handshake which is not something you can do digitally.

Technology has changed our world and our business. I hear a lot of envelope manufacturers, envelope printers and web printers grousing about how the decline in overall volumes due mostly to computers and software have pointed our industry toward inexorable decline.  There’s some truth to that but print on paper and direct mail are here to stay. 

We need to embrace the enhanced ability to be more productive provided by new technologies and use them to our advantage. At the same time, we also need to remember that ours is a personal business based on strong relationships forged by customer service.  It’s easier to send an e mail and there are many times when that is the best approach. But there is no substitute for face-to-face meetings whenever they can be accomplished either in cultivating new business or cementing existing relationships.  Despite all the great toys and tools at our disposal, successfuly selling envelopes and print in 2015 is not all that much different than it used to be.

To meet the challenges of remaining viable and profitable it helps to remember, to quote from another great song from a different era, “the fundamental things apply as time goes by.”

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snowstorm picture

 

Do I have your attention? If you live in most of the United States outside of the west coast, Florida and, interestingly, parts of Alaska, you have just about had enough of winter this year.  I happen to be writing this from the Boston area which has been the epicenter of snow, ice dams, parking-space wars and freezing cold temperatures this year. 

 

As much as I’d like to kvetch a bit about the weather, I’ll resist the temptation. The extra hour of daylight we now have is putting me in a better mood and besides this blog is supposed to be about making and printing envelopes and web printing.  So, I’ll take advantage of the early onset of spring fever on a 50 degree day to clean out some thoughts that have been hanging around all winter.

  • Hard to believe but commercial digital printing has only been around for a little over 20 years. While there have been tremendous strides made in the technology and it’s become the standard for small quantity, quick turn printing not to mention personalized direct mail, digital still represents less than 20% of the total print market by some estimates.  How much that increases over time will be an interesting market study pitting convenience against quality.  That’s not to say that digital printing doesn’t produce excellent quality. But when held up against offset, there’s no comparison at least to my eye. When audio CDs hit the market, it wasn’t long before vinyl records were hard to find.  I think if digital printing were going to make the same inroads versus offset, it would have happened by now. 

  • A few weeks ago the Boston Globe featured an article about how the Grateful Dead were planning one final tour this summer. The fact that they are doing a concert without Jerry Garcia is odd enough. But perhaps the most interesting aspect is that they were giving hardcore fans the option to order tickets by mail before they went on sale online. According the article (sorry I couldn’t find the link) it was a huge success and there were pictures of tie-died clad office workers moving about trays of envelopes received from fans and then sending the tickets back in the mail.  Given the average age of Dead fans, along with the assumption of their, shall we say, uniqueness, it’s not hard to see how this could be a successful tactic for ensuring that the hardcore fans (presumably those who still know how to include a stamped, self-addressed reply envelope) get first crack at the seats.  Might be a nice gimmick for other summer tours.

  • Haven’t written about the Post Office in a while but since we passed Groundhog Day a month or so ago I thought I’d report that the news is basically the same as it ever was.  On the plus side, operating revenue increased over 9% which was on top of the 8% or so increase from the previous year. This was pretty much all due to increased revenue from package delivery. However, the Service incurred a net loss of over $5 billion which is roughly the same as the year before and the year before that.  And yes, the Post Office blames the deficit on the fact that they have to fund a significant portion of their retiree health care costs rather than carry them on their books as an unfunded liability. They have been assigning this blame for many years as well.   Is anyone else hearing the faint strains of “I Got You Babe” in the background?

  • Lastly, here’s to the truck drivers and package delivery personnel (yes, that includes you guys at the Post Office – you do a fine job!) who have struggled mightily over the past couple of months or so in the greater Boston area trying to make the deliveries and commitments that we and many of our customers count on. It’s been tough getting around not to mention trying to back into a loading dock or parking lot. We appreciate all you do and couldn’t run our business without you.

Happy almost spring!

 


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harried worker Elite Envelpe & Graphics

Is there another way to express, “music to my ears?”  Yes, I know; the world moves too fast these days. When was the last time you took a nap? Or had an actual coffee break – not just slurping it down before it gets cold while you crank out more work but actually sitting apart from your desk or car and taking an occasional sip as you converse with a colleague?  Sounds positively quaint doesn’t it?  There must be a Normal Rockwell depiction of that somewhere in his oeuvre.

The frenetic pace of life in the modern post-industrial world has been dissected at great length so I won’t belabor that. The point here is; we need to deal with it. As businesspeople, we cannot choose the conditions under which we compete. We must simply compete in order to remain viable. Competition for customers drives the market. And these days, customers are not in a waiting mood. Why? Well mostly because businesses of all types are doing their best to provide instant gratification wherever possible. And if your business won’t, someone else probably will so you better figure it out.

Probably the only people who still have coffee breaks are unionized government employees who have them written into their work rules. Now we’ll play that game: “which of these things is not like the other?” The answer to this one is pretty easy – civil servants don’t have to compete. The services they provide (to the extent they provide them) are monopolies.  Try getting a driver’s license anywhere besides the Registry of Motor Vehicles.  (OK, the registry is low-hanging fruit but it does illustrate the point). Just come back when break time is over pal! Those of us in the private, competitive sector are forced to satisfy the demands of the customer or face losing that customer.

For the past thirty-five plus years I’ve been purchasing, selling or supplying printed forms and envelopes. In the early 1980’s, hardly antediluvian, it wasn’t uncommon for a vendor to have a 2-3 week lead time for a routine printed item; like, say a mortgage application or some such. This was acceptable in most cases. Now, unless you’re talking about a custom job, you’d get the e mail equivalent of stink-eye from any customer to whom you gave such a production estimate. Quite simply no one can wait that long anymore. The irony in the world of print is that there is less volume of print being consumed which you’d think might mitigate toward even longer acceptable lead times. No such luck!

It’s really just a function of the juiced up society in which we live. I find it somewhat amusing when I watch my teenage daughter get annoyed by having to wait half a minute for something to download. Yes, it’s tough when you have the entire world at your fingertips.  And business functions in this world, whether we like it or not so we must adapt and be nimble.

As for me, I welcome these constant customer demands for virtually instant gratification. It creates opportunity for advantage to smaller businesses which can adapt to change more easily. It also places a premium on highly capable and skilled customer service staff who can make things happen quickly and efficiently. Such things provide distinct value to the customer who resides in the same demanding world and appreciates a company that can solve his problem rapidly thereby making him look good.  This pretty much describes Elite Envelope and has been an important factor in our growth and success.

Rush orders – bring ‘em!  Yes, music to my ears. What might be the theme song for rush orders?  “I’m in a Hurry” by Alabama?  “Russian Folk Song”?  OK, time to sign off!  Let me know if you have any song titles or any comments in general. They are always much appreciated.


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Elite Envelope Jet Press

When you’re in the market for printed envelopes, there are a number of things that are useful to know before making a decision.  Printing on an envelope versus a simple flat sheet presents some unique challenges. Here are three things that experienced print buyers already know when they purchase printed envelopes:

  1. Choose the right style of printing – There are four ways to print an envelope.

    • Offset on a pre-made envelope

    • Offset on a flat sheet which is then converted into an envelope

    • Flexo which is typically done in-line as the envelope is being converted

  • Digitally either on a pre-made envelope or a flat sheet

The style of printing you choose revolves around three factors: the quantity you need, the quality of printing you require and the amount of print coverage you’re looking for.  I’ve laid out the details on all this in a previous post which you can view here .


       2.        Know the limitations of the process – Printing customer service professionals must be adept at “managing expectations” i.e. educating customers on what is possible and reasonable with what they are trying to accomplish.  When speaking about your order with your envelope printer, be sure to make clear what you want the piece to look like so that you can receive the best advice on what the likely outcome will be.  For example: if you’re looking to print a large, solid block of dark ink on the face of an envelope, you need to be aware that the seams created where the paper folds in the back will likely cause light lines to appear in the solid block due to the pressure applied by the print rollers. These are called “seam marks” and are generally unavoidable if the envelope is being printed after it’s folded.  The way to avoid this is to fold the envelope after it’s printed on a flat sheet. This is more expensive than printing on a pre-made envelope.

 

       3.      Design with the envelope in mind – When printing on a flat sheet, the only real limitations are presented by the type of stock or your budget. However, printing on envelopes is different and there are different things to consider. Some examples: 

  • If the envelope contains a window, you cannot print right up to where the poly cover starts or risk getting ink on the window. You can work around this by printing on a flat sheet and converting after the fact. Doing this allows the window to be cut out of the printed portion which allows for a clean line.

  • If your envelope is being mailed, there are limitations and restrictions to where the print coverage can be. These are dictated by postal regulations. For instance, you have to be careful with any printing on the lower right-hand corner of a #10 envelope due to the presence of a bar code which facilitates mail processing.

When looking to print an envelope, it’s always best to deal with an experienced envelope vendor, particularly an envelope converter wherever possible in order to get the full range of options available.

We’re happy  to answer any of your questions!

 


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marriage of envelopes and web printing

 

When Elite Envelope and Graphics acquired Web Corp in September of 2012, we joked that it was likely to be a good “marriage” of companies based on the compatibility of the staff, similarity of customers and the friendly relations between the ownership of the two companies. 

It has certainly turned out that way. After moving the three Didde web presses into our facility almost two years ago, we have managed to integrate the two companies quite well. We’ve been able to cross train so that peak demand can be more easily handled with existing resources.  The personalities have meshed and everyone works well together toward common objectives.

But none of that would have been the case were it not for the fact that envelope converting and printing and web printing are very compatible businesses with products that complement each other and the markets we serve very well. 

Web printing has always been the “go-to” process for a lot of direct mail components.  The typical, basic direct mail components of letter with perforated tear-off for reply and separate buck slip or letter, buck slip and reply card can all be produced very economically on web presses. The fact that most web presses will be able to perforate in-line makes those letters a better fit versus a sheet-fed press where the perforating has to be done separately.

Typically web presses can print on paper as light as 30# newsprint – sometimes even lighter weights like 27# which are commonly used in financial printing for all the legal boilerplate required by government regulators.  On the other side, the webs can also use paper rolls as heavy as 9 point high-bulk or 110# text. The latter is a mailing weight; i.e. heavy enough to be mailed as a reply card and still hold up quite nicely.

Web presses, especially cold-web presses of the type we have at Elite, are generally thought of for basic printing: black or a color or two with light to medium coverage.  In the printing world, that’s often referred to as “down and dirty” printing (interesting that an idiomatic phrase often associated with someone’s sexual proclivities gets adapted to the printing world. I’ll leave it at that!)  However, newer web presses such as our Color Tech and VIP models can print in beautiful full coverage up to 8 colors. That usually means 4 over 4 although it can be broken down in any number of ways: 6 over 2, 5 over 3, etc.  These colors give great life to direct mail pieces and the web process enables these finely printed pieces to be produced at a very competitive cost.

And what do all those components need in order to complete the package? Yes, the mighty envelope(s)! Elite is one of the few envelope converters that has the ability to produce entire direct mail packages all under one roof.  There are many printers that have presses which can print envelopes but not many envelope manufacturers that can print on flat sheets. 

As the printing and envelope industries evolve in the digital world, I believe more companies will start to emulate this model.  Being more productive and offering greater value to the customer is the only way to maintain a reasonable profit margin in a mature industry.

Those looking for an economical way to produce a great-looking direct mail package can find what they want fairly easily. Just look for the happily married couple!


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Happy New Year from Elite Envelope

 

I just checked my calendar and noticed that 2014 is almost over – so you can see I’m right on the ball this morning. Despite the fact that I have all the latest digital toys; including a spanking new IPhone 6 which I love, I still maintain a printed calendar in my portfolio. I print out a month-at-a-glance sheet from Outlook and write in appointments.  I like being able to see where I was and where I’m going all in one spot. Obviously those of us who grew up in the mid to latter part of the 20th century have a certain affinity for the printed page. That’s most likely from whence this strange obsession comes.

 So since it’s almost the end of another year I thought it would be a good time to recap our year and the year in general for our beloved printing and envelope industries.

 Elite Envelope and Graphics, Inc; the company I co-own along with my intrepid partner Dave Theriault, had a very good year. Like most printing and envelope companies, the last recession hit us hard. My theory is that the slow decline in overall print volume was accelerated by the economic downturn. So we were forced to overcome the general slowdown in business plus the cyclical and historic trend in our specific industry.  We’ve regained and increased our volume gradually over the past six years and now find ourselves in a good position for continued growth.

 I’ve never been one to use macro-economic conditions as an excuse. Aside from being something over which we have no control, “the economy” cannot really be regarded in any unifying sense for every firm.  Even during the deepest recessions, certain states will outperform others. Some companies grow even during the worst economic times. 3M and the Tyson chicken companies grew steadily through the 1930’s in the midst of the Great Depression. Blaming the economy is often a convenient excuse. I’m not suggesting that overall economic conditions nationwide or worldwide have no effect. But they are not necessarily the cause for every individual company or industry’s problems.

So where do we in the envelope converting and printing businesses go from here?  I believe that barring any unforeseen catastrophe, 2015 will be a good year for us in general. The digital/information economy; the prime driver of lower mail and print volumes, is obviously here to stay and that is a good thing. The efficiencies and opportunities created by computer software, smart phones, etc. have been profoundly positive to say the least.  

But after a generation where computer usage has become ubiquitous both in business and with individuals, I think the trends that affect envelopes and print are part of the fabric of the economy and not likely to change as radically in the next twenty years.  Just to take one example: banks who provide printed statements.  Based on my dealings with some bank data processing companies, I’ve seen little drop-off in volume on statement mailings over the past several years. I’m guessing that very few college students who open checking accounts are opting for a printed statement. However, there are still many folks in the fifty and over range who prefer getting the statement in the mail. And given current demographic trends and the steady increase in life expectancy, it’s reasonable to project that those statements will continue to be in the mail for many years to come.

Another salutary trend I’ve noticed for paper and print is the “prodigal mailers” – those who were temporarily enamored with e mail marketing but who soon realized that printed direct mail provides a better return on investment even with the higher upfront costs. Several mailers I deal with have told me that 2014 was their best year in a long time; anecdotal evidence for sure, but good news nonetheless.

More marketers seem to be realizing that e mail has its uses, but as the information economy matures and everyone’s inbox is crammed with messages, a printed piece can serve as change-of-pace thereby making it more likely to get a tiny chunk of whatever attention might be available from the potential customer.

As I’ve pointed out previously, first class mail volume actually increased a bit in the last year where numbers are available. That hadn’t happened in a while. Of course that fact has to be understood in the context of an overall 20% decline in the past 10 years or so. 

The takeaway is that we’re in an industry that is adjusting to lower overall volumes than in the past but still serving a large customer base for products that will continue to be needed well into the future. Some of the short term pain and upheaval remains – plant closings, paper mills being shut down, companies doing more with less staff. But most of it has already happened which gives those of us who remain the opportunity to remain viable for many years to come. That’s a positive message for the end of 2014.   Happy New Year!


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letter in mailbox

 

We all love the Post Office right?  Well maybe not “all” – I don’t think you can get all people to agree on just about anything.  But the United States Postal Service is a grand institution with a long and storied tradition in American history.  These days the Post Office has hit a rough patch in that the amount of first class mail has diminished substantially requiring it to down-size a bit which is never an easy thing for any large organization to do; especially one as bureaucratic and union-driven as our beloved PO.

In previous posts I’ve written in more detail about the efforts by Postmaster Patrick Donahoe to convince his congressional masters of the need for economizing.  I don’t envy his position but I believe he knows what needs to be done to ensure the viability of the Service into the future.

For decades the Postal Service has been incorporating technology to improve the mail and parcel delivery. On the parcel side, they have faced stiff competition from UPS and FedEx among others. That’s all to the good and has helped them whether they want to admit or not.  On the first class mail side, the postal monopoly inhibits the type of innovation which might help to accomplish some of what I’ve alluded to previously. We may see a time when Congress decides to open up the first class mail delivery to bid from private companies. It seems inconceivable but then so did the fall of the Berlin Wall!

But in the meantime, the PO has tried to accommodate mailers and has adjusted its rates to account for the higher costs of certain mail pieces. One of the significant changes over the past several years is the different rates for regular letter sizes versus “flats” which are larger than the typical envelope.  Also as part of this change, the thickness of the piece is now taken into account when calculating rates.

Letter size envelopes are the least expensive way to mail. The maximum dimensions of what’s considered “Letter Size” is 6-1/8 x 11 ½.  The minimum size is 3 ½ x 5 inches. The maximum allowable thickness of the letter size piece is ¼”.  You can obtain a hard plastic template from your local post office which is very convenient for getting exact measurements if you’re unsure.  It looks like this. I have one and I use it all the time.

Which leads me (finally!) to the point of this exercise; the mailing of CDs.  I’m a musician/songwriter in my other professional life and I recently released a new album for which I had 300 CDs made. (Love Radio is the name of the album btw – makes a great Christmas gift!). I’ve been sending individual discs out to radio stations and at first I was using CD size padded envelopes which are great but are A.) Expensive and B.) Not considered letter size which makes the postage rate much higher.  I thought of mailing in a regular envelope but was concerned about the durability of the paper.  I had recently made some #12 envelopes in a 65# cover weight for mailing a small brochure that had a spiral binding and they worked quite well. 

The typical size of a CD is 5 x 5 ½ inches. An A-7 envelope measure 5 ¼ x 7 ¼ inches and has a nice, deep flap which helps secure the item enclosed especially if it’s thick. The thickness of my particular disc package is 3/16” so when enclosed in an A-7 envelope with 65# cover stock it measures exactly ¼”. All of that is within the allowable dimensions for letter size postage.  I saved well over $1.00 per envelope in postage alone not to mention the cost of the padded envelope versus a paper item. 

Now I am a part-owner of an envelope company and can make my own envelopes which admittedly gives me a bit of an advantage over the average consumer.  But a job of the size and scope that I described (I had 500 made) would be around $400. If you look at the savings per envelope versus a padded mailer with the attendant higher postage cost, it’s actually a better deal. Plus they are smaller, easier to store and handle and look nicer.

I’ve been randomly asking people I mailed CDs to on the West Coast how the package looked when it arrived and everyone said it looked fine. I’ve even sent some to Europe with no problems.   You could most likely get by with something lighter than the cover weight stock – like 100# text weight for instance – which might be more available or a little less expensive.

Knowing the rules of the road from the Post Office can help save you some money. Also, it’s good to have a contact with an envelope converter and envelope expert.  We’re here if you need us
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hybrid sales and marketingJust checked the calendar and noticed that 2014 is sailing to a conclusion. This shocking realization seems to happen around this time every year. Funny how that works!  Time to squirrel away more nuts for the impending winter I suppose.

 I got my first holiday card from one of our customers; actually it was specifically a Thanksgiving card with the message that we too often neglect to thank our customers for the business they give us and his company sells cards to do just that. I thought it was a great idea actually so take a bow Jamie Bradley from Sophwell.  It’s a great point; a simple thank you when an order or even a quote is received is not only good manners, it’s good business.  I happen to think both of those go hand in hand.

This all has no real bearing on my blog topic today but sometimes when you need to write something you just have to start writing and see what comes out.  So there, I did it!  And now we move on…


Sometimes I think our brains are wired to think in either/or constructs. This is natural when it comes to our tastes and preferences but it can be inhibiting in other areas. Sometimes the best answer is not A, B or C but “D- all of the above”.  When the topic of evolution of the species comes up, it often devolves into a “Tastes Great/Less Filling” argument between those who accept evolution and those who believe in a Creator and creation.  I’ve never seen the contradiction between belief in a Creator and accepting the simple fact that species adapt to certain circumstances and evolve over time as a result.   I also know many people who are energized much more by what they oppose than what they support; often the result of stereotypes and misunderstandings about the “type” of person with whom they typically disagree.

When I studied philosophy many years ago (the class where I met my wife!) we learned about Manichaeism; an ancient religion which defined the world as essentially a battle between good and evil with no chance of any grey areas.  I think that mindset continues in many ways today in the envelope, printing and direct mail world.  You can hear echoes from those who say “cold calling is dead” or who believe that the only way to make contacts is through e mail or social media.

I happen to think that the best way to make contacts and win new customers is by employing an “all of the above” or hybrid approach to sales and marketing. I think that buying lists and mailing letters of introduction in today’s world can be somewhat of a novelty (the formal letters that is) and can help to differentiate us and even elevate the class of the pitch. I think that following up the letter with a phone call shows persistent, professional interest and can, if you’re lucky to actually reach the prospect, begin the personalization of the process in a way that a digitally printed “Dear Joe” mail piece never can.  

At that point, an e mail follow up is more easily accepted given the groundwork laid from the previous contacts and attempts. Adding the e mail to your prospect mailing list for sporadic (no more than every other month) blasts on a brief, specific topic can help build the brand and perhaps lower the resistance to the final and essential component, the personal meeting of introduction.

Now, I’ve won new customers and received multiple orders from folks who I’ve never met. In the digital world, with companies doing business all over the world, that’s not so unusual.  But there simply is no better way to build rapport than sitting across from someone and making that personal connection through eye contact, conversation and greater understand of the customer’s needs and how we might bring value.

And once that’s completed and you’re hopefully getting regular business, don’t forget to stop by when you’re in the area for an occasional follow up visit (always call first – good manners!). It’s easy to take our customers for granted while we pursue the next big prize. Back to square one and the Thank-You notes or messages. I guess it was all connected after all.  Happy Thanksgiving!


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Elite Envelope wins Blog award

When you write a business blog on a regular basis, you are doing it primarily to promote your particular company. That’s not exactly a secret but it explains why many blogs are virtually unreadable. Commercials can be entertaining; in fact I think they really must be entertaining to be able to get even a whiff of attention from viewers or listeners already overloaded with messages and data in our information overloaded world. But most sales pitches are generally not exactly scintillating; and that’s what your typical business blog reads like.

But sales pitches are different from blogs right?  Well, they should be but ultimately the blog’s purpose is to sell the individual or company. You can do that by providing useful information for people who buy your product or service or for those who may want to in the future. The best business blogs don’t read like sales pitches. They provide information of value which interested people might not mind taking a few minutes of their precious time to peruse.  Presumably, the reader will get the idea that the company knows what they are doing and might be worth considering

Elite Envelope & Graphics’ business is envelope converting, envelope manufacturing, envelope printing and web printing for direct mail and financial printing. In our blog, we attempt to write about these topics in such a way as to increase the understanding of what we do. We also will incorporate other topics that are related to what we do such as the continuing travails of the Post Office and the direct mail industry in general. 

Sy Syms who owned a clothing store named after him in the Boston area had a famous line on one of his commercials in which he said, more or less, “an educated consumer is our best customer”.  Not sure if ol’ Sy came up with that line himself but it’s a good one.  It suggests that the more you know about clothing, the better he looks. It’s an invitation for his customers to flatter themselves which is never a bad thing!

We started the blog after signing up with Hub Spot; a Massachusetts company that was little more than a start-up back then which has grown into a hugely successful public company (check out the recent IPO figures).  At the time, I considered writing a blog to be mostly a waste of time for us. However, my Hub Spot rep convinced me to give it a try as a way to boost our sales.  Following Hub Spots’ very carefully calculated procedures which tie into their very intuitive web design, I’ve since become a believer. The blog has increased the number of hits to our site dramatically and in the past year we’ve started to get regular orders from customers all over the country who find us on search engines as a direct result of our blog.

In addition to increasing my knowledge about the industry I’m in through researching for articles, I’ve also become a fairly capable “in-bound” marketer which has helped me understand the digital world better. One of the main ideas in blog writing is to incorporate those important phrases or “key words” which describe what we do and which get carried out to the world via search engines. You ‘ll notice how I already got that out of the way in paragraph three!

We’re proud of our blog and also of our membership and support of the New England Direct Marketing Association (NEDMA) an organization of which we’ve been a member for most of our almost eleven years in business. NEDMA brings together most of the players in the direct marketing field and emphasizes education with networking among the members as a nice side benefit. It’s the organizational equivalent of a good blog.  Elite’s blog won a silver medal this past June in the “Best Blog Copywriting” category.  We are grateful to NEDMA for considering us worthy and proud to have built and maintained what has become a very useful tool for us and, we hope, for you.


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small business photo

As we’ve been told forever, small business is the prime driver for economic growth in our economy. While the numbers employed by the Fortune 100 are huge, they tend to plateau at those exalted heights and remain relatively stable once they get there taking into account new hires and layoffs on a net basis.  Large companies tend to grow by buying smaller companies which often results in a net loss of jobs due to the consolidation of resources.   

It makes sense that when you start a company with a staff of one, the potential for exponential growth is large. And in a country as big as the United States with the world’s largest economy (maybe second to China these days but if so, not by much) the sheer number of people starting businesses on a daily basis accounts for most of the new jobs created in the economy and it has been that way for quite some time.

What has changed however is the types of small businesses. While there are still plenty of gas stations,  hair salons, dry cleaners, café’s and the like, the new economy has spawned a huge number of start-ups which require little more than a home office, a computer and some software along with a clever idea.  Many of these need envelopes for sending or receiving products which they distribute; a t shirt, a candy bar, a greeting card, etc.

Elite Envelope gets many hits on its website each week from companies looking for a special envelope for a certain type of application – mostly some type of packaging envelope.  In my last post, I mentioned a company in New York City which was looking for something to mail diapers.  Just this past week I got a request from a company looking for something like a photo store envelope but for the purpose of returning used ink cartridges.  We’re in the process of putting together a template for him. The piece will have consecutive numbering in two different spots in addition to printing on both sides. The flap will have a tear off strip and will have a peel and seal strip to close after the tab is torn off.

There are many other envelope solutions for shipping, fulfillment and other applications that small businesses need.  Some examples:

Expansion envelopes:  These have a fold or gusset on the side which allows them to open in an accordion-like fashion in order to accommodate thick contents like papers or cloth material.  Expansion envelopes can be made in heavy-grade kraft paper (white, brown and grey are the most common colors) as well as in tear-resistant and water-proof materials.  (For more specific information on expansion envelopes, click on the keyword in the right hand column of this blog page.)

Tyvek, Herculink, Fiberkraft and Tri-Brite:  All of the items are virtually impossible to tear which makes them a good choice for sending bulky or uneven items through the mail or shipping channels.  On Tyvek the sizes range from a standard #10 size all the way up to jumbo sizes of 18 x 23 inches. All of these are durable and can be printed with just about any type of graphic design you’d like.  They are also water resistant and very light which can mean savings in shipping and especially postage if you send them through the US Mail.

Bubble lined envelopes:  These are also commonly used to transport fragile or odd-shaped items that require extra protection.  They come in paper or all plastic.  Elite supplies its own version called “Smart Bubble” which features a removable bubble sleeve that can be re-used to protect the item after it arrives or simply recycled.

Fiberboard – These are often referred to as “Fedex” envelopes but they come in heavier weights – very stiff, coated-one-side board which provides an extra level of protection as well as preventing the items inside from folding or creasing; very important for important documents.

Armorpac – This is a relatively new item on the market which combines the tear resistant features of Tyvek with the extra layer of protection of a bubble mailer but at a lower cost.  The product features a soft and light foam lining on the inside of the envelope; not quite as protective as bubble lining but more than adequate for many applications where bubble lining may be more than is needed.  They are also smooth on the outside and look great printed where bubble envelopes have a certain texture that doesn’t lend itself to a nice graphic presentation.

Give me a call anytime to discuss any of these or other possible custom solutions.


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One of the fun things about writing a business blog is hearing from people all over the world. We’re a relatively small company producing a product that has value mostly for customers within a couple of hundred mile radius of our plant. The main reason for that is shipping costs. Unless the order is small (10,000 or under can make it reasonable to ship across the country), the cost of freight to deliver envelopes or web printing to a remote location will often render the transaction uncompetitive. There are still many companies like us all over the country and a local vendor is usually a better choice for a large order.

But the global village of the world-wide web brings us all together so it’s not unusual for me to receive a comment on something I’ve written from a far-off land.  Today I got a request from a school administrator in Western Australia asking if we could provide 2,000 printed envelopes to her.  I told her we most certainly could but after checking with UPS found that the cost to ship a case of envelopes to Australia would be almost $600!  I suggested she try someone a little closer.

Another more practical request I received recently from someone who read my blog was from a small business owner in Brooklyn, NY.  She has a business that provides a cloth diaper service to local families among other things. She has a need for a shipping envelope and we’re going back and forth on options and samples in order to come up with the optimum product for her needs.

In the past 5 years or so we’ve seen an increase in the amount of orders we receive online from people doing web searches and contacting us through our website or commenting on our blog.  The printing and envelope industries have always been primarily local and regional businesses mainly for the reason listed in the first paragraph. But the digital world, while taking over some of the functions formerly handled through printed forms and envelopes has also created huge new opportunities for companies in our industry.  Online retail shopping has gotten people used to buying from companies sight-unseen and the trust level has increased due to the ubiquity of the practice. 

Small business, which as we all know is where most of the growth in the economy takes place has been juiced by the internet to the extent where pretty much anyone with a desk, a computer and a dream can start a company. Many of these businesses are directly shipping and fulfilling orders to their customers. And that’s where the envelope part comes in.  There are many options for shipping items that can be contained in an envelope which includes a large percentage of what’s being sold out there.

Envelopes have the advantage of being relatively inexpensive when compared to boxes or other harder packaging. They can be padded with foam or a bubble liner. They come in many different types of paper stock or synthetic and often recyclable material.  They can be printed using all sorts of color with great results

In my next post, I’ll get into the various options that are available more specifically and compare the relative benefits and disadvantages of each. I should have a resolution on the project I’m working on with the New York-based entrepreneur and will fill you in on that as well.

In the meantime, feel free to contact me if I can be of any assistance on your project. Free advice is always available no matter what continent it comes from!

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Elite Envelope & Graphics blog photoRemember that AOL feature that excitedly said, “You’ve got mail” whenever e mails showed up in your in-box?  Yes, recently I was reminiscing about the dark ages of the mid 1990’s when I first started regularly using electronic mail on my Gateway pc (the one with the cow markings on the box!).  Hearing that instantly recognizable voice used to impart a bit of a thrill. You didn’t know what was in your in-box but you were about to find out.

Going way back to the Stone Age; i.e. my early youth, I remember getting a similar thrill when the postman would slip the mail through the slot in our front door and I’d hear it dropping on the foyer floor.  Even though I rarely got anything with my name on it in those days, it was still fun to collect the daily mail and look at the envelopes (mostly envelopes with content in those days, not many cards or “mail pieces” as I recall) before I put them on the kitchen counter for my parents and grandparents to sort out. 

When I got a bit older and would spend a couple of summer weeks at Camp Ocawasin in northern New Jersey, getting letters from home was a very big deal and looked forward to with great anticipation and excitement.  The mail was distributed after dinner by one of the camp leaders. He would call everyone individually to come claim his letter. It was understood that if you received more than three letters in one day, you’d be carried outside and thrown into the lake with your clothes on.  I remember writing home imploring my family to spread out the mail so that I never had to suffer this indignity. 

I still have those letters I received at summer camp as well as the ones I wrote home which my mother saved along with everything else and which I retrieved after she died. I also have letters I wrote home and received while away at college in the late 1970’s and later when I got married and started raising my kids.   Occasionally I will read them and be instantly transported to times long ago the specifics of which I would mostly only vaguely recall 

And that brings me to the point (yes it’s coming, I swear!) which is simply this:  what will future generations review to garner a glimpse of their past?   Right now they’re immersed in their smart phones; texting, Instagramming, Snapchatting, etc. at every moment, albeit the virtual moment for the most part.  How much of all this incessant back and forth will be available to them twenty years from now?  Probably none of it. I find it interesting that this current generation which spends more time chronicling their every thought and action in excruciating detail will most likely have no record of it whatsoever for their later stages in life.

In order to keep the envelope converting, envelope printing, direct mail, paper and web printing industries viable for the long term, we need to establish some connection between the young folks of today and the written word; i.e. the ink and paper variety.  In order to do that, you need to give them a good reason.  

Here’s my suggestion – free of charge! – to the PR department at the US Postal Service: start a campaign aimed at grammar school aged kids encouraging them to write letters to each other. The content of the letters would just be a recap of what they’re up to and how they feel about it all.  It could be part of a contest where the best written letters win prizes judged by individual teachers.  In order for the letters to qualify for the contest, they would have to be put in an envelope with a first class stamp and mailed to a friend or family member.  A copy of the letter must also be kept by the writer in a file at home.

You might say, writing a letter: how old-school!  Well yes, but also a novelty to today’s youth, no?  The program could be conducted over a five year period with multiple letters written during each school year. Then, after the fifth year, the kids would write a paper reviewing how their lives have changed during that time based on a review of their letters.  How hard can it be to have kids write about themselves?  And after five years I’m sure some will have that “a-ha” moment where they realize that it’s kind of cool to be able to go back and see what you doing and thinking at various points in your life. 

You might just see your kids excited about what’s coming through the mail slot again.  Not a bad thing for them or those of us who make a living making that happen.

 

Your thoughts and feedback are, as always, much appreciated.

 


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envelopes for packaging is a sweet idea

 

I had an interesting conversation with a successful entrepreneur a few weeks ago.  She is one of the principals for a company that produces very high quality and very delicious square-shaped chocolate bars.  (By the way, the frowning (smirking?) candy bar above is not the product in question. The ones to which I'm referring are of a much happier variety!)

Her idea was to have us create a small, square envelope for the outside packaging on her candy bar. The bar would have a folded foil wrap directly covering it and then would be inserted into an envelope and sealed.  It would be a white envelope printed in four color process on the outside to create the required design along with ingredient information and the required nutrition breakdown. 

I told her I thought this was a great idea and not just because she had selected us to do the job. I can’t think of any food products that use envelopes for outside packaging but certainly there must be some that could. You need something fairly flat and dense.  Candy bars are an obvious example although like all good ideas, it seems obvious only after someone comes up with it.

The thing about envelopes is they have certain characteristics that convey things like timelessness, sturdiness and consistency, not to mention reliability. After all, the motto of the United States Postal Service is “Neither snow, nor rain, nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds.”  According to Wikipedia, that phrase was a translation from the Greek historian Herodotus describing the ancient Persian system of mail carriers circa 500 BC.  You can’t fake that kind of historical lineage.

I realize of course that we live in an age when the 1980s is seen as ancient history but there are certain products which have deep cultural roots that resonate. Envelopes are certainly in that category. Cars also need to be included in that list. It can’t hurt for a product to have a tie-in to a simpler, perhaps less-complicated time. Nostalgia may often be an overly sentimental longing for a past that never actually existed.  But the feeling is undeniable and it starts to hit everyone who’s well into his twenties and beyond.

Now, I’m an envelope manufacturing guy and I have my biases but I can’t help think that printed envelopes, with all the possible options of paper and design, are an excellent choice for packaging the right product at the retail level.  We’re here if anybody out there wants to talk about it!


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The ongoing mess at Veteran’s Administration hospitals across the country is yet another example of the futility of providing necessary services through a bureaucratic, unionized government monopoly.  In a market-based enterprise, the imperative of good customer service is driven by entrepreneurial energy, the desire for upward mobility and profits as well as competitive pressure.  In the government model, these factors are virtually non-existent and instead are replaced by an unholy alliance of rent-seeking politicians, interest groups, corporate supplicants and union bosses whose primary mission is to preserve the jobs of their members at all costs.

The latter factor was on painful display recently in a recent article in the BostonGlobe entitled “Postal Union Targets Staples over Mail Services Program”.  In 2013, the Post Office entered in a deal with Staples to put small customer centers in 82 of the office supply company’s retail locations.  The mini-postal counters would provide most of the services available at Post Offices.  “Customers like it because it’s more convenient and we’re open longer hours,” said a Staples spokesman.  Sounds like a reasonable plan to provide better service at a lower cost from an enterprise that lost “only” $5 billion in 2013; the seventh straight year of huge losses for the Post Office.

 Well apparently it’s not reasonable to the Postal Workers Union who’ve been picketing Staples stores with signs that read “The US Mail is Not For Sale” (?).  The article points out that the USPS already has deals with over 3,600 small businesses throughout the country to provide basic postal services. I’m guessing that a big, fat corporate target like Staples provides a more useful foil for the protests than the small independently-owned pharmacy. 

 While I’ve been critical of the Post Office in previous posts, I’m a fan of the present Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe who’s been trying to bring the costs of the Post Office in line with current revenues which have been trending downward for many years.  The Staples deal is just the latest attempt to bring about a win-win with two entities that have been struggling with the trend away from paper and mail. The union was able to scuttle a similar deal with Sears decades ago. They are now gearing up to increase the pressure through the teachers and other large unions.  Will Staples management eventually cave?  Will the union ever be realistic about the need for the Post Office to balance its budget for their own long-term survival?  Pardon me for being pessimistic about the likely answers to those questions.

The real victims here, besides the taxpayers who must continue to fund the Post Office deficits, are the direct mail, print and envelope industries which continue to swim against the tide of higher paper costs and postal rates.  According to a recent article in the DMA newsletter, second quarter periodical mailing volume decreased 7.8%. This follows a recent rate increase of 5.9% passed by the Postal Rate Commission late in 2013.  At that time, many in the direct mail industry protested that the increase would depress volume. The Post Office responded that mail rates were “inelastic” or mostly irrelevant to the mailing industry.

Direct Mail Elite Envelope & Graphics

The recent drop in catalog mailing volume may be an anomaly and small increases in mailing costs may not have significant short-term impact. But unless we suspend the basic laws of economics, prices do matter and they will affect the decisions of mailers to mail, printers to print and envelope makers to convert to some extent at some point.  Those effects will be mostly negative unless the Post Office can find ways to end-run Congress and implement the necessary cost-savings measures.

In the meantime: stay strong Staples!


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I put away all my winter clothes yesterday: perhaps a bit prematurely given the vagaries of spring weather in New England but I figured if I ignore the remaining cold days it won’t bother me as much.  (I hear you back there saying, “good luck with that” and your sarcasm is probably warranted)
Anyway, I figured I would also clean out my mental closet of some things that have been hanging around all winter such as:

  • Someone in our industry needs to come up with a way to make writing notes on paper a new “thing” among the younger set.  Seeing my almost fifteen year old daughter treat her smart phone as if it were an indispensable part of her anatomy makes me think this might prove to be impossible but it would be worth a try. Maybe some kind of contest on social media would cause interest.  I’m thinking that writing letters could become the new hipster preoccupation in much the same way as listening to music on records is making a small comeback. Then, it can move from Brooklyn to the rest of America. Connections to paper need be established among the generations that are growing up digitally. Ideas anyone?

  • Recessions tend to accelerate negative trends for certain industries in much the same way that a physical or mental trauma can cause a dramatic worsening in someone suffering from Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s disease.  I’m beginning to think that the financial crisis of 2008/2009 pushed the envelope and printing industry much further along toward decline than would have happened in its absence.  As an industry, we’ve mostly recovered, but at a lower overall level.

  • After a lot of careful consideration, Elite Envelope and Graphics has decided not to renew its FSC certification. We’ve had it for over five years now and it’s proved to be of marginal value at least to us. As an envelope converter, we can convert FSC paper anytime provided we fill out a sub-contractor document for our customer. As far as printing the FSC logo, we have very few customers who require it.  What put us over the edge was the increasingly burdensome annual audit which started to include things like occupational health and safety issues that have nothing to do with FSC supply management.  As many have pointed out, there is already a strong incentive for paper companies to maintain healthy and productive forests. It’s called the profit motive!

  • I understand that our beloved English language is an ever-evolving thing. One of the great things about American-style English is how we incorporate new slang and words that describe new concepts and trends.  Some recent additions to the dictionary have been: “bitcoin”, “buzzworthy”, “selfie” and, sadly, “twerk”.  However, I fail to see why perfectly good words almost become extinct because of shorthand versions. Two current examples are “invite” instead of invitation and “congrats” instead of the full congratulations.  A lot of this is driven by social media’s pervasive pull toward expressing oneself economically.  But the ubiquity of changing “invite” from a verb to a noun seems just a bit too trendy for my taste. I’m sticking with “invitation”!   George Bernard Shaw once commented that America and England are “two nations separated by a common language”.  I know this has nothing to do with printing envelopes or direct mail printing but I feel so much better now!


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In my In my previous post, I recapped the current travails of our Postal Service.   It’s fashionable I suppose to regard the Post Office as some relic of a benighted past before all the wonderful digital machines were invented. Yes, there’s no doubt that the USPS suffers from the same type of bureaucratic/political sclerosis that infects most government-run entities.  There’s a built-in bias against change; especially as it relates to staffing levels.  This makes it less nimble and able to adapt to an ever-changing economy which in a nutshell is why they find themselves grossly in debt and struggling to make the necessary adjustments.

While all the political machinations can be interesting (or tedious), those of us in businesses that in some way rely on a functioning post office are, unlike government, forced to deal with the reality of pleasing customers and making a buck.  So how do we cope with increasing postal rates and still “get the mail out”?

One way is to incorporate Tyvek envelopes into the mix.  Now I hear you screaming, “But Tyvek is soooo expensive!”  Well, calm down my friend.  Yes, Tyvek is a lot more expensive than regular paper envelopes but it has one property that makes it well worth considering for mailings; it’s lighter than paper. It’s not only lighter, but a lot lighter; so much so that it can make up for all of the increased cost and then some in reduced mailing costs as the chart below shows.      

 describe the image

 Dupont’s Tyvek has been around for many years and has a reputation for durability and functionality in the mailing world. It’s virtually impossible to tear which makes it ideal for mailing anything that has rough or sharp edges; like a spiral bound booklet for instance.  It’s also water resistant which ensures it will hold up and look better when delivered especially if it’s raining!

Tyvek also has a smooth finish and has a more upscale look and feel than regular paper. It carries a message for the recipient that the sender believes strongly enough in what he’s sending to have spent a little extra which can never hurt.

And, perhaps surprisingly, Tyvek is 100% recyclable. A nationwide recycling program collects used envelopes and recycles them into other useful materials. Tyvek itself is contains an average of 10% post-industrial waste content.

So while there may be nothing we can do to help the Post Office except perhaps contact our elected representatives and urge them to do something, you can take matters in your hands to improve the bottom line on your next large envelope mailing.


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Elite Envelope & Graphics, Direct Mail Solutions,

As you're probably aware, the US Postal Service raised the rate of a first class letter by 3 cents on Jaunuary 24th 2014.  I say “probably” since fewer people are relying on first class mail delivery these days although the number of those who do is still substantial.

This was the largest single increase in a while. Typically the increases have been in the penny range. The main reason for this is because it’s such an ordeal for the Postal Service to get any kind of rate increase or service reduction through the excruciating bureaucratic and congressional oversight process. After going through all the necessary motions, the wisdom is to make the increase as small as possible for appearance sake. 

An example of the ridiculous hoops the USPS has to jump through is that, according to, CNN Money, The Postal Regulatory Commission only approved the recent increase for two years at which point they will have to re-evaluate it. Given the amount of red-ink in which the Service currently treads, does anyone really think they will reduce the prices back to 2013 levels in 2016?  Is it really necessary to even go through that charade? Such is life in bureaucratic hell - wonder if Dante would have created a unique circle for that one.

As every business owner knows, when you’re going broke you’ve got to raise prices or cut staff or service. Since cutting staff with a government monopoly-style union is virtually impossible, cutting service or raising prices are really the only options. To be fair, the PO has been aggressively incentivizing early retirement in order to reduce payroll.  However, that also causes the very generous federal pension benefits to kick-in which I’m guessing reduces savings on a net basis. 

The USPS lost “only” $5 billion last year. That’s a lot less than in recent years; in part due to the 8% increase in parcel deliveries compared to the previous year.  But it is simply added to the debt burden incurred during those previous years as revenues are still nowhere close to where they would need to be in order to sustain the Postal behemoth. The Postal Service has been cutting back on processing facilities to account for the reported fact that nearly 2 billion fewer pieces of mail delivered in 2013 compared to 2012.  However, there are still far too many local post offices and many other ways they could and should cut back if they were allowed to truly run like the independent business they claim to be.

The usual spin usually given for the fiscal woes of the USPS is that Congress has forced them to fully fund their pension liability. Given the enormous amounts that will be paid out to retirees in the next few decades that seems very fiscally prudent to me. If only Congress would handle its own federal debt in such a manner; too much to ask I suppose.

No, the Post Office and Congress simply have to face the fact that mail delivery will never be what it once was. That means either allowing for privatization of the service (the best option in my opinion) or making the necessary cuts and adjustments to allow a smaller Postal Service to operate profitably and still deliver the large amounts of mail and packages it will handle for the foreseeable future.

And speaking of mail, as I’ve pointed in previous posts, the percentage of direct mail continues to increase relative to the overall mail volume. We see a lot of that at Elite Envelope and Graphics both on our envelope converting equipment and web printing side where we make and print many of the components that go inside the envelopes we produce.  Direct mail continues to be an effective way for companies to promote and sell their wares. 

But how can companies combat the higher postal rates and still mail at a competitive cost?  We have a couple of tricks up our sleeve that we’ll share in our next post. Stay tuned!  And as always, your comments are much-appreciated.


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snail photo

Ah yes, pity the poor snail. He plods along contentedly while the rest of our Can’t-Wait-for-Anything culture whizzes by waving while checking endless messages and updates.  

Snails provide a very useful purpose in gardens by eating debris and promoting the recycling of dead plants.  I’m told they are delicious and quite nutritious (minus all the butter from fancy French cooking but then, what’s the point?). I have to say I’ve never thought of ordering escargot at the bistro but that doesn’t mean I don’t hold snails in the highest esteem.

So what about “snail mail”?  Those of us in the envelope converting, envelope printing and direct mail printing industries have been hearing this clever canard for decades now.  It’s generally used with a dismissive tone that the speaker seems to think conveys a certain superiority or irony as in, “I also sent it to you snail mail; you’ll get it at some point – whatevs”.  Yes, we get it all right – it’s just soooo slowww! I mean, it might take a whole day or two to arrive. Just think of all the “Likes” one can receive during that time.

Now the speed of texts, e mails, etc. is a great thing provided people actually respond in a timely manner (don’t get me started on that!)  With a few keystrokes you can line up appointments, expedite orders, write a blog article and do all sorts of great things that used to take much longer.  But what about receiving a call to action in the mail requires it to arrive instantly?  Nothing really.  So the speed of mail – and I’m talking about direct mail right now – is not really relevant to its mission.

After all, what direct mailers and direct marketers are looking for is a healthy response and a return on the investment. On those criteria, direct mail works extremely well compared to e mail. 

Laurie Beasley of the Online Marketing Institute issued a paper in June of 2013 entitled Why Direct Mail Still Yields the Lowest Cost-Per-Lead and Highest Conversion Rate. She writes that, “According to the Direct Mail Association (DMA) Fact book for 2013, 65% of consumers of all ages have made a purchase as a result of direct mail.”  The paper also states that “According to Direct Mail News, in 2012 the average response rate for direct mail was 4.4% for both business-to-business and business-to-consumer mailings—considerably higher than industry expectations, and surging past electronic mail’s response rate of just 0.12%.”

What about ROI you ask?  Ms. Beasley makes the point that while print production will certainly cost more than an e mail campaign, the proper way to gauge effectiveness is tracking the cost-per-lead. By this measure, direct mail outperforms other forms of advertising.


Source: DMA, 2012 Response Rate Report

The savvy marketer understands that it’s not just an either/or proposition. For instance, including a URL to a landing page in the mail piece gives the potential customer the opportunity to actually make the purchase online which many people prefer.

So All Hail to the mighty snail!

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Elite Envelope Cold Webs

Cold web is a type of offset lithographic printing done on presses that print sheets from rolls of paper.

In cold web printing, the ink dries by absorption into the paper. For this reason, cold web presses print only on uncoated stock.

Cold web printing has long been the choice of many print buyers for a wide variety of direct mail components. Printed products such as 2 - 8 page letters, 4 page brochures, buck slips and the like are all produced very cost-effectively in this way.

Collateral material for catalogs such as bind- in cards, blow in cards and applications also work well on the webs.  They can be printed on text weight stock or mailing weight such as 7 point or 9 point high-bulk with single or multiple perforations done in-line for maximum efficiency.

Billing statements, cut- sheet laser letters, letterhead typically produced on either 8 ½ x 11 or 8 ½ x 14 size sheets all are an excellent fit for the webs.

With all the various products crossing a print-buyer’s desk, it’s sometimes not easy to determine the best method for producing each specific piece. A typical printing company may not have all the equipment necessary to produce each item in the most cost-effective manner.

A smart print-buyer will practice what’s known as “print-specific buying”. This simply means that each component of a various package will be sourced to the printer that has the right equipment for that particular piece. This may take a little more time and effort but it will ultimately lead to each piece being done in the best way at the lowest cost. 

What Makes a Great Job for the Cold Web?

Stock  -   Must be uncoated and within a weight of 30# at the lightest and 9 point high-bulk (approximately #115 text) at the heaviest.

Size – the cold webs print from rolls down to sheets. The largest possible sheet size measures 22” x 23”.

The most common cut sheet sizes coming off the press are 11 x 17 and 17 x 22.  The ideal sizes that cut or fold from those sheets are:

6 up - 3 ½ x 8 ½ buck slips or cards

2 up - 8 ½ x 11 cut sheets

1 up - 11 x 17 folded to 8 ½ x 11 – 4 page booklet

8, 12 or 16 pages – 8 ½ x10 ¾ folded, glue bound or saddle stitched

While these sizes are popular and the most economical, there is no limit on the sizes that can be produced on the cold web provided it’s at or below the maximum sheet size of 22” x 23”.

Color – anything up to 8 colors including 4-color-process on both sides (4/4) can be handled easily. This is done in a single pass saving time and cost and ensuring uniform color and coverage throughout.

Quantity – beginning at 5,000 (minimum) up to 1,000,000 + (depending on the item)

Products that Work Well with Cold Web Printing

Direct mail components in general. Think about what is inserted into an envelope, 2 page - 8 page letters, 4 page brochures, buck slips and the like.

Collateral material for catalogs such as bind- in cards, blow in cards, and applications all work well on the webs.  They can be printed on text weigh stocks or mailing weight such as 7pt or 9 point hi-bulk with single or multiple perforations.

Statements, Bills or Letterhead – These are typically produced in letter or legal size both of which are an excellent fit for the cold web. 

Folded letters or Disclosures – These can be folded either to fit in a #10 or in a tight, map-style multi fold.

Brochures, Newsletters and Booklets

Placemats, Pads, and a Plethora of other Products! Including anything with a Perforation

We hope you find this information useful. Your comments, as always, are much appreciated.

 


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man looking at envelope

There are two main criteria for deciding how to print your envelopes: aesthetics and price – or most commonly a combination of the two.

The aesthetic or look of the piece is generally going to be determined by marketing factors; i.e. the purpose for which the envelope will be used. A simple function like letterhead or mailing an invoice will not require an elaborate look. In fact, going overboard on design for an envelope with a modest purpose might actually send the wrong message such as; “We’ve got way too much money to spend so thanks to all our customers for putting us in this position.”   On the other hand if you’re selling something – a new and exciting product or service, you’re probably going to want match the excitement of the offering with the appropriate graphics and color.

Fortunately for direct marketers and small business owners, envelope companies like Elite Envelope & Graphics will generally have the capabilities to print whatever your fertile imagination can create. In a previous blog I described in detail the various ways to print an envelope. These are: lithographic (on flat sheets for converting after the fact), offset (mostly done on Halm brand Jet presses but also can be one on smaller presses like an AB Dick with special envelope feeders), flexographic (typically done in-line while an envelope is being folded) and finally, digital (either on flat sheets for converting or on newer model presses that accept pre-converted envelopes).

Each of the four envelope printing methods listed has its own unique characteristics and uses. The most common method is offset.  The reason for that is because it gives the best look for the best price in most situations.  An envelope can be offset printed at quantities as low as 1,000 at very reasonable prices. The Halm Jet press, which is what most envelope company’s use, is built for speed and higher volumes. Printing on a Jet press will generally become most competitive at around 5,000 pieces and up.

Offset printing is done with metal plates that allow for a sharp, clean image even with halftone screens and fine lines. The Jet Press will allow for the envelope to bleed to the edge and print fairly heavy solid coverage and can print anything from black ink up through and including four color process.  All things considered, Jet Offset printing including four color Jet printing provides many options at competitive prices.

Lithographic (or litho for short) is the way to get the highest print quality when that is required.  The reason for that is a combination of the method and the fact that litho presses tend to be large and sophisticated with many built-in features that allow for very fine reproductions.  When an envelope is designed with full ink coverage on all sides (printers sometimes refer to this as a “paint job”) it is generally printed lithographically on flat sheets.  The individual envelope impressions contained on the printed sheets are then die cut and fed into an envelope folding machine where they are scored, glued and folded into envelopes. This process is referred to as envelope converting.  Lithographic printing and converting is more expensive than printing a pre-made envelope on a Jet press. However, it is necessary for certain graphic designs. One way to reduce cost for this option is to print the copy on a cold web press. These presses can print the same heavy coverage as flat sheet presses but can do so more economically. Elite Envelope & Graphics features cold web printing up to eight colors in addition to the more traditional forms of envelope printing.

Flexographic or flexo is done with hard plastic, photo-polymer plates. The impression is raised on the plate and is applied to the substrate in a similar fashion to the older and mostly out-of-date letterpress process.  Flexo printing in the envelope world is almost exclusively done in-line while the envelope is being folded. Certain larger and more sophisticated envelope converting machines have flexo printing capability which allows the printing and folding to be done at the same time.  This greatly reduces cost especially for large-volume print runs which is primarily where this type of printing makes sense. The high cost to set up these machines to fold and print generally makes flexo printing uneconomical at quantities of 100,000 or less.  While the flexo printing technology has improved to the point where it can produce certain full-coverage items that heretofore could only be printing litho, flexo printing is not going to be as sharp and vibrant as litho or even offset printing. However, for the high-quantity runs, even for four color process, flexo printing can be an excellent option for an envelope.

Lastly, digital printing has made inroads into the envelope market over the past ten years or so. Printing digitally with toner rather than ink can yield good results depending on a few factors.  First, it can only be done with process colors, not spot colors.  Any art file can be converted from spot colors to process but if a company’s logo is to be printed in a certain, specific PMS color, converting to process may not yield an exact match to the PMS chart.  Secondly, digital presses are best suited for small quantities. Printing in general will show lower unit costs as the quantity of a job increases. This is mostly because the set-up of a job is a significant cost that is the same to print 500 pieces as it is to print 500,000. The longer the print run, the more the set up cost can be amortized which allows the unit cost to decrease. The same principle however doesn’t apply to digital printing. There is no comparable set-up cost to a digital print job. It’s similar to printing something from your desktop computer. Once the file is ready to go, you press “print” and you’re off and running. Digital printing is generally priced at a “click charge” or per piece charge. Eliminating the set up cost allows for lower quantity jobs to be relatively inexpensive but since there’s nothing to amortize, the same price applies to every piece in the run. This makes digital envelope printing competitive for quantities up to around 2,500 pieces. After that, you’re better off going offset.

One last benefit of digital printing is if you need variable data on the envelope. Some small mailings can be addressed digitally. Or you can vary your teaser copy or code numbers more easily through digital printing. Elite Envelope and Graphics is one of a few companies that can take digitally printed sheets with variable data and convert them into envelopes.

 

If you have a certain design file and want some advice on how best to print it, send it to me at jerry@eliteenvelope.com and I’ll be more than happy to provide suggestions.

 

 

 


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new year's eve picture

Yes, I know, this is a topic for a blog article that’s been hacked to death already. Well, as you'll see, one of my resolutions is to stop procrastinating so here goes:

Resolution #1I am going to stop planning to make sales calls and just pick up the phone and make one.  This also applies to all the other daily tasks we humans rationalize with procrastination: “Well I couldn’t do that today, phones and e mails are driving me nuts,” etc.  Yeah, right. I speak from long experience on this topic. As productive as I can be, I’m always putting things off. But each day will have its particular challenges and in the digital world e-mails will be bombarding us no matter what. The secret to breaking the cycle is to stop thinking and immediately start doing it, whatever “it” happens to be.  When I do this, amazingly I get stuff done despite all the “craziness” we’re always complaining about. And while we’re talking about e mails,

Resolution #2I am going to address and answer e mails in the order in which they were received. You know what I’m talking about here. How many times are you in the middle of completing a task; a quote or perhaps a response to a customer when, “bing!” (or whatever the noise is you get when an e mail arrives in your in-box) you look up and…you…can’t…help…yourself…and you click on it, start reading and immediately get distracted from the task at hand. Maybe this is the one you’ve been waiting for to get an answer on that big potential order or maybe it’s bad news you’ve been dreading about an ongoing problem with a job. In those cases, you get a pass. However, and let’s face it, mostly you’re just looking for something to distract you; something new and different from the grinding task you’re working on. Don’t take the bait!

We’re much more productive when we complete what we’re doing before going on to the next thing. And customers need to understand that they may not get an instant response every time they decide to send you an e mail. Otherwise they’ll expect it and will be more disappointed down the road if it doesn't happen. 

Resolution #3I’m going to resist the temptation to use “Green” arguments as part of our promotion to customers. Anyone who reads this blog occasionally knows this is a  pet peeve of mine. There is nothing about printing on paper or envelopes that is harmful to the environment in any way. We all use water soluble inks or dispose of the non-soluble inks or other chemicals in a responsible manner. Paper comes from trees which are a renewable resource. The more paper consumed, the more trees are planted. Trees will die naturally and many forests will be cleared to build malls, houses and other developments if they are not used to grow trees for paper. The privately held forests owned and operated by paper companies are some of the most efficient and well-managed on the planet. You rarely if ever hear of a wildfire on privately held forest land and there’s a reason for that; it’s called the profit motive.  The vast majority of waste paper generated by envelope manufacturers and printers is recycled. It's in our interest to do so.  A significant percentage of paper in general is recycled by consumers. Saying “please don’t print this e mail unless you have to” is a tacit admission that using paper is somehow bad for the environment. We’re not placating anyone by using such defensive arguments in our promotional literature. And don’t get me started on the whole “this was printed with certified wind power” thing. And finally,  

Resolution #4I’m going to find more creative reasons to meet with our customers in person.  Why does this require more creativity you may ask?  Well, in case you haven’t noticed, people are very, very busy these days (some of it because they’re procrastinating or distracted by a constant flow of e mails but, well, never mind!). As a result, it’s just not enough to suggest “stopping by when I’m in the area to say hi” or, worse, just popping in unannounced. The latter almost never works and I’ve always felt it was a bit rude. We need to come up with an actual reason for the meeting, however brief; a reason which includes something of value to the customer or prospect.  I’m sure there are still some buyers who like to break up their day having small talk with a gregarious sales rep but I don’t know too many. There is value to us in putting ourselves in front of a buyer occasionally if for no other reason than to remind them that we’re still around and open for business and better than those other guys. However, you must look at it from the customer’s point of view.  Giving them a good reason to see you will accomplish our purposes as well as give the customer the message that you respect their time and particular situation.

In the digital world, actual face-to-face conversation with customers and prospects is more important than ever to help solidify relationships. It’s too easy to sit at our desks and write e mails (or blogs!). But, like the hit record, there has to be a hook.

In any event, thanks for taking the time to read about some of my New Year’s resolutions. I’d love to hear some of yours. Happy New Year and may you flourish and prosper in 2014!

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describe the imageSadly, the digital divide exists. There are those who are so facile around a computer, it makes the rest of us sick, or at least highly envious. 

I would characterize my computer skills as above average but still below where I would like them to be. Recently I was doing a simple mail-merge with Microsoft word. I was trying to print labels for our company Christmas cards.  I’ve done this before successfully but not in a while so I had to start from scratch and familiarize myself with how to do it.  It took me over an hour to get to a point where I had merged the address list from the Excel document and it was showing on the label template. However, the spacing wasn’t right which cut off some of the address in each label.  I went back multiple times to see where I had gone wrong. I sought a fix from Google with no success.  There was nothing in the wizard that addressed this problem. Then, I figured out it had nothing to do with the mail merge program but rather with a different window in Word. One click later, all the addresses fit nicely in the template.  

I probably spent the better part of another hour before I figured that out. Someone who had greater familiarity with Word would have known that right away.  Those are the kind of things I hate; we’re so dependent on software, it’s really frustrating when some relatively small thing is holding you back from getting the job done.  The tech wizards of the world don’t have those problems and sometimes I wish I were one of them.

However, my tale of personal technical futility and eventual triumph is a (very) long way to introduce the fact that the tech-savvy among us don’t have all the answers. For those of us in the printing, envelope and direct mail industries, a front page article in December 12th’s Boston Globe entitled: “Business Entrée is still in the Cards” was reassuring in several ways. The reporter attended a conference of high-tech entrepreneurs where just about everyone was exchanging their “lowly” (the reporter’s inaccurate adjective) business cards.  The article described, in interesting detail, why the attendees regarded the printed cards as superior despite the ubiquity of mobile devices.

The reporter pointed out that the super-convenient “bumping” technology between smart phones is not compatible among all devices where platforms differ.  Stopping to manually type the contact info of someone you just met was also characterized as cumbersome and “kind of rude” (kind of? Is this a major newspaper or a high school paper?).  One of the attendees, a marketing manager at a cloud computing startup, remarked that he prefers to leave an event with a pile of business cards that remind him of whom he met and where he met them. He also said, “Often there are raffle prizes if you drop your card in a box.” Try dropping your smartphone in a box pal!

But the money quote from article’s author is right here: “Entrepreneurs who must fight to be taken seriously by prospective customers and investors talk about the sense of legitimacy they get from seeing their names and titles printed on quality card stock.  They say that in the startup world – where businesses often don’t last long – it’s nice to hold something that feels kind of permanent.”  

Aside from the reporter’s annoying use of “kind of” without attribution, there could not be a better statement of the value of print and paper in the digital world.  I’ve written about this (The Permanence of Print – May 23rd, 2012) but it bears repeating. One of the great messaging advantages of print on paper is the simple fact that it is tangible. It exists in a way that most of us instinctively accept as “real”. This gives it greater value in the reader's mind.

 Everyone in the print, envelope and direct mail industry should memorize and repeat that message often.  Legitimacy and permanence are two excellent characteristics for a customer’s story.

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Like many readers of this blog, I’ve been doing this for quite some time.  For the past ten years I’ve been part owner and sales/marketing maven for Elite Envelope and Graphics. Prior to that I was an envelope salesman and sales manager, print buyer, purchasing manager for a group of savings bank and production assistant at a label manufacturing company (Don’t ask me how many years all this encompasses, that’s classified information!)

The fact that I've been on both sides of the print and envelope buying transaction has given me a certain perspective on trends both good and bad in our industry. On the sales side, I’ve also had lots of experience dealing with what I call the Difficult Print Buyer (DPB).

Now most of us in sales have enjoyed customers who rely on us to handle certain functions of their job.  That can be a good way to keep the business and keep competitors out. This arrangement allows for solid, steady business with good margins in exchange for the extra work that should be handled by the buyer. An example would be doing an inventory for the customer to help them to keep an eye on their stock levels. I’ve done that for many years for a particular customer. It allows us to propose orders to them and ensure adequate supplies so they don’t run out. It’s an extra couple of hours per month for me but has proved to be worth it insofar as the business I’ve received as a result.

However, the DPB scenario is a different matter entirely. This buyer is characterized by all or some of the following:

  • Disorganized and forgetful
  • Gets the details wrong and holds the vendor responsible
  • Doesn’t use Purchase Orders – relies on the vendor to
    confirm everything
  • Relies on mostly verbal agreements or numerous separate e
    mail trails
  • Compares your prices inaccurately with other vendors;
    i.e. not an “apples to apples” fashion
  • Not that knowledgeable about the products he's purchasing. (Worst case scenario is he thinks he is)

Recognize any of those in some of your customers?  I think we all have to deal with that sometimes and it certainly makes our lives more difficult; hence the name. Part of what brings this about is the fact that so many companies are trying to do more with less personnel that they end up with someone doing the print buying who just doesn’t understand the product and protocols that well. However, most of it is just the person themselves and their individual quirks.

So, how should a sales rep cope with such a scenario?  I know some who simply choose not to deal with these folks. I’m not unsympathetic to that point of view. Life in sales is hard enough without having to pile on the extra work and aggravation these types of customers can cause. Another argument for the "see you later" approach is that you can end up doing your best but still getting fired as a vendor through no fault of your own and then having someone spread their low opinion of you among their peers.

Ultimately I think each situation is different and each sales rep must weigh the good and bad and figure it out for himself. If you do decide to carry on with the DPB, I suggest you try the following:

  • Keep all agreements in writing (e mail if you must) and
    try to keep everything on a single trail to make reference easier.
  • Don’t let your frustration come through in your communication. Stay professional and civil and state things factually.
  • Take every opportunity to gently educate the customer in the product.  In the case where the customer thinks he knows more than he does, this must be done very tactfully needless to say.
  • Don't be afraid to take a stand on principle where necessary. The tendency in dealing with the DPB is sometimes to just back down and let him have his way in all matters. That may not be the best approach as it can be enabling and you might run the risk of doing something you know is not right which could backfire down the road.

Understand that the most common thing that causes problems in these situations is assumptions on either side. Make sure everything is confirmed and in writing even if you have to do it yourself. Don’t proceed on verbal orders. Confirm everything you are doing for the customer in writing; especially on orders. Ask him to acknowledge receipt of the confirmation in lieu of receiving a purchase order.

Life’s full of trade-offs and compromises!  I’d love to get your comments on this topic
and hear what your particular strategies are.

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I was going to write about the Post Office raising rates again and paper plants being decommissioned leading to higher paper prices throughout the market. Neither of those things is particularly good for printers and envelope companies although the postal service needs to do something to stem the tide of red ink and there is clearly over-capacity in the paper market which needs to be corrected.

But, hey, the Red Sox are two games away from being in the World Series (hopefully!) plus it’s fall in New England; a beautiful time of year, so we’ll dispense with the gloom and doom for now and instead focus on something positive; a better bubble envelope.  How’s that for a convenient segueway?

Conventional wisdom repeatedly tells us that the digital age spells bad news for paper, envelopes and direct mail. Lots has been written on this topic, including a number of posts in this space,  and I’ve continuously made the point that embracing and exploiting this same technology will make us more competitive and enable us to grow despite the convenience of e mails.

beam me up star trek

 

One of the bright spots for us is the continuing growth in E Commerce. Until Amazon and others figure out a way to use Star Trek technology (“beam up that T shirt to the end-user Scotty”) your purchased goods will need to be shipped in boxes or envelopes. Bubble lined envelopes have become more popular as a result. They are very capable for shipping a variety of materials and also very light which helps on the postage side.

At Elite Envelope, we’ve been working with our customers on bubble-lined envelopes for quite some time and have come up with a product that many find superior to what is typically available. We call it the “Smart Bubble” and here are the advantages:

  • The bubble lining inside the envelope is removable. This allows the recipient to re-use or recycle it. This provides options and convenience for the customer as well as minimizing waste in general.  I don’t know about you but I find bubble products very handy when I’m looking to ship a present or item that needs protection. They are nice to have around for a variety of purposes.

 

  • The removable bubble sleeve fits snugly inside the envelope. Once the envelope is sealed, it works exactly the same as one that is glued in.

 

  • One of the downsides of typical bubble envelopes is the strict limitation on how it can be printed and at what quantity. The reason for that is most companies who make these will glue the bubble liner to the inside of the envelope.  You then need a special press that can print on bubble envelopes; usually on a crash print/letterpress machine which doesn’t provide great quality or design options.  Because our envelopes feature the removable liner, we can print up to four colors on just about any type of envelope you require and in small quantities.

All of this can be done at a competitive cost and generally within a 2-3 week lead time or sooner depending on what you're looking for. So please contact us for a quote or samples.

Smart Bubble envelopes live up to their name!

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As anyone who works in the envelope and printing industry is aware, National Envelope has recently been acquired by Cenveo and will face liquidation of some sort. As of this writing, it’s still unclear how much of National’s capacity will remain. Cenveo already maintains approximately 20 envelope plants throughout the US and the overall amount of first class mail has been in decline for the past decade so it says here that most of National’s plants will be closed and sold off in order to solidify Cenveo’s leadership position in the market.

National Envelope was one of those great American success stories. Started by William Unger, a Holocaust survivor who arrived in America on a ship for displaced persons after the war, the company  grew to become the largest privately held envelope manufacturer in the United States. National was known as a quality shop with a very solid market position primarily as a wholesaler. At a time when American manufacturing was shifting away from low-tech products in textiles, shoes and other consumables, envelope manufacturing provided solid jobs for thousands with good wages and benefits.

National filed for bankruptcy over three years ago and was acquired by a California-based private equity company called The Gores Group. At that time, Cenveo was making a bid for the company but it seemed that the Ungar family couldn’t stand the thought of surrendering the company to their fiercest competitor so they saw the Gores offer as the better choice.  It was always curious why a private equity company would consider a company like National a candidate for a turnaround and sale for a profit. The company was over $500 million in debt in a declining industry.The fact of overcapacity in the envelope market was as clear then as it is now. But while Gores closed a few of National’s plants and sold off a bunch of its equipment (at bargain-basement prices) it seemed to keep the same low-margin pricing structure that one could argue was one of the prime causes of National’s decline and eventual demise.

Gores tried to impose draconian production controls on some of the plants. This resulted in some adverse publicity and ultimately did nothing to solve the problem. As anyone who runs a factory is aware, treating your employees well makes for a happier and more productive environment. I also had some fun with Gore’s somewhat lame attempts at spinning the purchase of National and wrapping the package in meaningless MBA jargon.

The news about the second Chapter 11 filing by National Envelope and its impending liquidation earlier in the summer was played by most of the press as the end of an era and symbolic of the decline of the envelope and mailing industry.

Those of us in the industry know that's a convenient media angle but ultimately a superficial take on the story. National's problems were mostly self-inflicted. There's certainly been a decline in first class mail in the past decade but there are still billions of envelopes being mailed and the direct mail industry has seen growth during the same period.

It’s truly a shame that thousands of people will likely lose their jobs as a result of the National bankruptcy. If there’s a lesson to be learned, it’s that the model of the large, high-overhead envelope operation selling its product at commodity prices is mostly over.

We believe the future of our industry lies with the smaller, regional companies that provide value and great service to their customers. While first class mail volumes are declining due to the inexorable expansion of the digital economy, direct mail has remained a viable way for companies to promote their products. The percentage of direct mail as a total of the overall postal volume has increased and continues to do so. Marketers are re-discovering direct mail as a solid (literally) alternative to digital information overload.

The envelope companies who keep their costs at a reasonable level with little leverage, stay lexible and responsive to customer demands, use technology to its maximum advantage, constantly add value to their product offerings and aggressively market and sell will stay viable well into the twenty first century. Print and mail isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.

In the meantime, RIP National Envelope and may its many fine employees find productive work either in the envelope industry or elsewhere.

 

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The last time we had pictures taken of the plant, staff and equipment was almost four years ago. That didn’t seem possible but, as we all know, in the world of print schedules and crazy customer deadlines and demands, time passes quickly.

In the interim period Elite Envelope joined forces with Web Corp making us the only company in the region which manufactures and prints envelopes as well as produces four-color cold-web printing under the same roof.  We needed new photos to show the range of our capabilities so we scheduled a shoot with Jonas Kahn, a very creative Boston-area photographer who had taken many of our previous pictures.

We were hoping for a nice, sunny day so we could get some new shots of the outside of our building (new paint job!) as well as a group photo of the entire staff (now almost 30 people).  However, as anyone who’s from around here knows, it’s hard to pin down a sunny day a month in advance. The rain and clouds forced us to confine the pictures to the inside which still got us most of what we needed.

One of the nice things about taking equipment pictures is it allows you to actually focus (yes, I know…) on the things you’ve spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on as a business owner. As I alluded to earlier, the age of high-speed communication and instant gratification gives us approximately zero time to reflect and consider and, perhaps admire the things we’ve achieved and purchased with the fruits of our persistent and frenetic effort.

web printing photo

Jonas enjoys taking pictures of the web presses and envelope converting machines from odd angles which show the various functions in ways that you probably wouldn’t notice.  Our eight color web prints 4/4 and has a turn bar in the middle. As the stock is flying through the machine with perfectly calibrated and measured process inks being applied, the press automatically flips the paper around so that the back portion can be printed at the same time. This is all done at a speed that’s only a blur when viewed with the naked eye in real time but when you stop time with a photograph, you can appreciate the technical wizardry and complexity of the machinery.

The envelope converting equipment runs at slower speeds than the webs but seeing the various stations in action close-up causes one to think. The printing world has embraced the digital age and the quality and options and procedures there have changed alot: no more film and stripping; direct to plate, etc. However, there are not too many different ways to cut, fold and glue a piece of paper into an envelope and the fact that our business thrives by doing things in the time-honored fashion gives a sense of the timelessness of the process and a connection in our industry to folks who were doing thesame thing 50 years ago or more.

Now maybe none of this is that big of a deal, but I happen to think it is. It’s part of our nature to take things for granted and the result is we become blasé about the many technological marvels that are part of our daily lives. Maybe the fact that I’m not that technically oriented causes me to think this way. But I think it’s more important than ever for us to pause occasionally and take a few minutes to appreciate we’ve done and are, hopefully, continuing to do.

Taking pictures not only helps us to communicate our accomplishments to the public; but also to ourselves.  And yes, we will get a sunny day eventuallyfor the outdoor shots!

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I hope everyone had an enjoyable 4th of July weekend.  It’s one of my three favorite holidays; the other two being Thanksgiving and Christmas. It gives us the opportunity to celebrate our good fortune to be Americans and remember the bravery and wisdom of those who founded our country and fought for its independence. God bless America!

Now, did someone say envelope cost saving tips? 

Here are a couple of real-time examples of situations I’m working on which you might find helpful.

Specialty Envelopes

A customer asked us to quote a special size expansion envelope on Herculink stock. (Herculink is a durable, tear and water resistant material similar to Tyvek.  It has reinforcement threads running through it which show on the outside of the envelope but is generally a less expensive alternative). The customer’s sample measures 9 ½ x 12 ½ x 1 ½.  They are using it to mail a large number of letter size sheets for compliance purposes. The customer’s main complaint is waiting 6 weeks for this item to be produced. They use approximately 7,000 per month.

We were able to make two suggestions which they found helpful. First; we suggested switching to the closest standard size which was 10 x 13 x 1 ½. That cut their lead time to less than two weeks. The size they were currently using wasn’t absolutely critical and other than the fact that the papers would move a little more in the larger size, it wouldn’t make a difference.  Secondly, we suggested they consider ordering a six month supply (14,000) and storing half with us. That enabled them to significantly lower their unit cost (per thousand) while having a supply available for immediate shipment when required.

Envelope Printing

We are getting ready to produce a 6 x 9 booklet style envelope with two-color printing on both sides. The customer’s creative team came up with a design and he sent it to me to review prior to ordering. 

Everything looked great but I noticed that a certain graphic image on the back of the envelope appeared to extend underneath the flap. When I questioned this, I was told that yes, this is how they designed it.

I explained that having the image extend underneath the flap required that the envelope be printed in a different and much more expensive way. We quoted the job to print on one of our Jet presses which can take a stock, pre-made envelope and print on both sides at the same time (known as “perfecting” in the printing trade).  The envelopes come out of the box with the flaps folded down which means that printing underneath the flap is not possible in that method.  The only way to get the image under the flap was to print the job on flat sheets and then convert (fold and glue) into envelopes after the fact.  That is commonly done but would have increased the cost of the job significantly.

When I pointed this out to the customer, he said that having the image go under the flap wasn’t critical and altered the artwork to stop it 1/16” short of the flap. That allowed us to print it on the Jet as we quoted.

Elite Envelope blog

What’s the take-away from these examples?

  • Use a standard size product whenever possible. That will almost always be less expensive than a custom size.
  • Instead of just reordering the same item time after time, take a look at each project anew when it comes up. Sometimes things are ordered and reordered for no particular reason other than “it’s always done that way”.  Slight changes in design or size can sometimes result in big savings.
  • Ask your envelope supplier (preferably a converter or direct source) to suggest possible ways to cut your costs. You might be surprised with the options that are available.
  • Envelope printing can be tricky with various things to consider: bleeds, coverage, seam marks, offsetting, etc.  Sending a file to your envelope converter for prior review is always a good idea if possible.

I’ll be back next time with some more examples. In the meantime, enjoy the summer and please share some of your experiences with particular envelope or printing orders.

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The recent announcement of a second bankruptcy filing by National Envelope Corporation has put envelopes, and to a lesser extent direct mail back in the news.  National first filed Chapter 11 in 2010. At that time they were taken over by a private equity company,the Gores Group in hopes that they could turn around their fortunes.  Plants were closed, hundreds of workers were laid off and some severe methods were employed to boost productivity.  Three years later, it appears they have not been able to accomplish their mission.

This is sad news for the remaining 1,600 employees spread throughout the country. At this writing the company is saying they are looking for a buyer and are encouraged at the response they are getting.  However, I think it’s safe to say that National Envelope’s future form will be significantly changed from its present state. 

It seems that the only time envelopes and direct mail make any kind of national news is when there’s a plant closing or when the financial woes of the Post Office are discussed. The Post Office’s problems are well-documented and we’ve written about them here in our blog on numerous occasions.  Generally the press accounts in both cases focus on the significant drop in first class mail due to the digital revolution and then infer that this means paper mail is on the way out.

Anyone in the industry knows that while the total amount of mail has decreased, the mailing industry is alive and well and, in many cases, thriving. Much of the decline in first class mail has come from the financial sector. More folks are paying bills, receiving statements and prospectuses and submitting documents on their computers. Automation has also affected envelope usage.  Many bank ATMs now allow a customer to simply insert a check for deposit without the envelope. In many cases the envelopes used in those transactions were purchased in bulk quantities and their decrease has affected companies more adept at producing large volume orders at commodity-level pricing. One of those companies is National Envelope.

Elite Envelope direct mail

As we’ve written about here, direct mail remains one of the most cost-effective ways to reach an audience and generate sales.  As the overall amount of first class mail declines, the percentage of direct mail increases and this trend has resumed after a decline during the worst years of the recent recession.

Marketers are finding that while e mail blasts have their use, they do not produce the type of measurable results obtained from a well-designed and executed direct mail campaign.

We believe that companies which can serve the direct mail industry in the most efficient, flexible and service-intensive way will be those that survive and prosper in the future. That was one of the main reasons why Elite Envelope joined forces with Web Corp,the full-service cold web printer late in 2012. Cold web printing is perfect for direct mail; allowing companies to produce full color components with superb quality at very competitive prices. The combination of cold web printing and envelope converting and envelope printing under the same roof gives direct mailers an edge.

 

We welcome your comments about the future of the direct mail and envelope industry and the type of company required to thrive in the new climate.  

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As we get older (OK, as I get older!), I notice that so many of the changes that come about in society tend to swing like the proverbial pendulum – meaning that change tends to be embraced enthusiastically in one direction for a while before ultimately settling back somewhere in the middle. You see that phenomenon played out time and again in culture, politics and business.

I remember back in the 1980’s it was commonly thought that Japan was going to surpass America in economic growth due to its superior production and management methods. Sony was in ascendance. MBAs were learning to speak Japanese in large numbers. Many books were written on the subject. Thirty years later, the United States certainly has its share of economic problems but nothing compared to Japan about which the phrase “lost decade” is used regularly.

That’s not so much a tribute to American exceptionalism as it makes the point that as the classic song lyrics go, “the fundamental things apply, as time goes by.”  New theories and technologies will always be with us. Some have lasting value; many just end up making a contribution to the great blend of wisdom and practices that have brought success to people through the ages.

Yes, rainy mornings in late May tend me make wax philosophical but there is a point to these musings so please hang in there! (You don’t have much else to do today, do you?)

I recently attended a presentation at the New England Direct Marketing Association (NEDMA) annual meeting by Michael Kaplan, Group Account Director at G2 a marketing communications agency. The talk was about direct mail and how to do it better. Many specific tips were shared and it was very interesting and informative.

In the course of his talk Michael made the point over and over that direct mail works and that it tends to bring a better response than e mail marketing. Remember when everyone complained about “junk mail” - the blight of an unrelenting barrage of unwanted letters in your mailbox?  I’m guessing that today you hear a lot more complaints about spam in the virtual mailbox and for good reason. Before writing this I deleted a half dozen unwanted e mail messages from my in box and unsubscribed from three of them. That’s five minutes of my life I won’t get back.

E mail spam Elite Envelope

Compare this to when I received my regular mail yesterday. In addition to the things I had to open (Hello IRS!) there was an envelope and letter from a magazine to which I subscribe. I was curious and opened it and saw that they had apparently sold my name to a companion list. I wasn’t interested in the pitch so after glancing I tossed it (in the recycling bin – yes, that’s important). But the point is that the highly personalized envelope caused me to take the time to open and at least peruse the contents. There was nothing else going on, no distractions, – just me and the direct mail offer in that single unit of time.

E mail has certainly replaced regular mail in many convenient ways; bill paying comes to mind (although I still prefer to get my bills in the mail – perhaps yet another indication of the fact that I am getting older?)

But despite all the pendulum swings, regular direct mail remains the best and most effective way to sell your product or service if it’s done right.  Oh, and by the way, Michael said that direct mail campaigns that include envelopes generally pull better than those that don’t.  Just sayin’….

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Cold web printing involves rolls of uncoated stock and offset printing with no heat set units. It’s been around for a long time and has traditionally been used extensively in financial printing. With the advent of improved print units, cold webs have moved from “basic black” to printing bright process images with high quality. This has allowed cold webs to become a cost-effective alternative for all types of direct mail components.

Hillary Librot is CEO of Web Corp; Elite Envelope & Graphics’ cold web printing division. In an interview a few years ago with Boston area print maven Margie Dana (www.printbuyersinternational.com) Hillary spoke about the common misconceptions about cold web printing versus the facts.  Here are Hillary's Top 7 Myths about the Cold Web.

Myth #1:  Cold webs are only good for light copy. Registration and heavy coverage are issues.

Today's cold web presses are of a much higher quality and take advantage of today's technology. Ink and water balances are now more evenly regulated, and registration is tightly controlled by a computer.

Myth #2: Cold webs are just for letters.

Bind-in cards, wraps, and brochures of ALL configurations (4 pages and up) can be printed on cold webs. Using a 23" press, you can print a 23 x 22" sheet or an 8-page brochure, printed 4 colors with bleeds, in one pass. It goes directly to the folder to slit, nest, and fold or glue-bind in line to its final size. It's a neat 2-step process instead of 3: no cutting!

Elite Envelope Web Corp cold web printing

Myth #3: You need at least 50,000 pieces to be cost effective on a cold web.

As in all printing, you must pick the right press to do the job. Printers like Web Corp with multiple press sizes can be competitive on all quantities.

Myth #4: Cold webs are known for uncontrollable dot gain.

Cold webs WERE known for heavy, "plugged" halftones or mottled color. Today's cold webs are built so the dot gain is virtually the same as a sheet fed press. By using the correct prepress software, color and dot gain are both controlled before plates are made.

Myth #5: Your paper selections are limited with a cold web.

Cold webs were synonymous with newsprint once upon a time. Luckily, the paper industry has recognized that direct mail does not live by 50# white offset alone. There are many paper grades and colors available in a variety of roll sizes. Purchasing the right roll size for the right job allows for the best pricing. For example, 14" rolls are perfect for 8 1/2 x 14" laser letters.

 

Myth #6: Cold webs have limited inline operations.

Cold webs have the ability to do multiple perf configurations, horizontal, vertical, T or L perfs,* folding, slitting in-line, and batch counting. Letters can be slit in-line on press to their final size of 8 ½ x 11" and packed flat into cartons: one process, no cutting.  (*T perfs are used sometimes at the bottom of letters or cards so that a coupon or ID-size card can be torn off for the customer to keep. L perfs are mostly seen when doing bind-in cards where the customer is going to fill out a card and return it to the sender.)

Myth #7: Cold webs print in low line screens, which produce a grainy halftone.

In the past, cold webs used line screens as low as 85. Now we print with at least a 133 line screen and very often with a 150 or higher. The higher the line screen, the finer the resolution for halftones, color photos, and screens.

Hillary is happy to answer any questions you might have about whether cold web printing might be right for your project. Send us the components from your last direct mail project and receive our “Second Opinion” service free of charge. Just click here to get started.

As always, your comments on the above are always welcome and appreciated.

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For anyone who might think that direct mail is passé, I offer this fact: The Heritage Foundation, one of the largest conservative political organizations in the country does an enormous amount of targeted direct mail for fund-raising purposes. Care to guess how much money they raise in a typical year?  Only around $36 million!

Direct Mail photo 

Yes, anecdotal evidence you may say. But the percentage of direct mail has not only increased as a percentage of mail overall because overall mail volume has decreased. It’s increased because it works. The Direct Marketing Association (DMA) is the largest trade organization of its kind in the country. According a recent study entitled “The Power of Direct Marketing”; they found that “in 2010 an investment of $1 in direct marketing advertising expenditures returned, on average, $12.57 in sales. This high return on investment held up across all industries. “

The host of our Elite Envelope website offers a nice e mail marketing feature for an extra few bucks per month. I signed us up for the service a couple of years ago and I’ve been using it regularly ever since. I’ve segregated our customer and prospect base into various sub-groups and I will send out e mails on particular topics every so often targeted to those particular groups.  I think that’s helped to keep our name in front of people easily and inexpensively. However I have noticed some drawbacks. One that’s come to my attention recently is a large number of folks who say they are not getting the e mails. I’ve figured out that many business servers have very sensitive spam filters which can identify whether something came from a mass mailing and block it.

Another general observation is that e mail doesn’t seem to have the same “staying power” as a printed mail piece.   I also will send out direct mail to prospect lists from time to time. I’ve found many people who will keep that mail piece on their desk or in a place where they can retrieve it later. This has resulted in more than one new customer for us. While I don’t track all the results, the e mails I send, while helpful, don’t seem to have the same impact. As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, the sheer number of them makes each one less valuable in the recipient’s mind.

Again, according to the DMAs 2011 Statistical Fact Book, “a catalog lead costs $47.61, while e mail comes in at $53.85 per lead, and, what is more, the response rate to direct mail has consistently been three times higher than e mail.”  So my gut feeling and narrow experience seems to be borne out by statistics.

While we’re on the subject of direct mail, let me suggest to anyone looking to create a cost-effective print/mail campaign that you consider producing the components using cold-web printing. Cold webs are great for anything printed on uncoated stock with paper ranging from 30# up to 100# text weight. Quality printing with high resolution up to 4/4 is possible and anything which cuts or folds off a 17 x 22 sheet can produce very competitive pricing at quantities of 5,000 up.

Elite Envelope just happens to be adding 3, Alcoa/Didde half-cold webs at the moment! So pardon my shameless plug but do use more direct mail and consider cold webs for what you put inside the envelopes. We can handle it all for you under one roof. Send us your last direct mail campaign pieces and we'll provide a free evaluation on how you might save some money the next time around. At the very least you might pick up some free tips on designing a more cost - effective package. Just click here!

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think before printing

One of the more regrettable messages we see frequently on e-mails is something along the lines of: “Think of the trees – please don’t print this e mail unless you have to”.  

My grandmother and mother, both of whom lived during the Great Depression of the 1930’s and 1940’s taught me not to waste, well, ANYTHING.  Once I got out of school and hit the playgrounds, backyards and streets of my suburban neighborhood, I don’t think I ever wore a pair of pants that didn’t have sewn-on patches till I was well into my teens (and then, I wore them by choice as it was cool to dress down but that’s a tale for another day).

One of Nanny’s favorite expressions was, “Use it up – wear it out – make it do – do without”.  This was a popular saying of the time as depicted in this World War II era poster. It was also adapted by a band called Odyssey in the 90’s for a title of one of their dance club hits (thanks Google!) .  

I think most of us would agree that conserving, reusing and, in general, consuming based on need and modest desire rather than unthinking whim are sound principles upon which to live one’s life.  So what are we to make of the whole “save a tree” thing?  Is it a legitimate expression of the sensible “waste not – want not” prudence I’ve described?  Or is it perhaps a knee-jerk appeal to the sentimental attachment that most of us feel toward trees for the ultimate purpose of promoting a dubious ideological agenda?

Chuck Leavell is one of the great pianists of the classic rock era. He was playing with the Allman Brothers at age twenty and went on to play with the Rolling Stones where he remains today.  According to his website Leavell is also a “respected authority on forestry and conservation”.  He owns a forest and has written several books on forestry and green issues.    

Aside from being a great musician (check out the rippin' piano solo on the Allman’s track “Jessica”) Leavell speaks in in common sense terms about environmental issues. The fact that he uses the term “conservationist” rather than “environmentalist” to describe himself is telling I think. The former speaks to a prudent use and management of our resources while the latter tends to reflect a hostility to man’s place in natural world not to mention a blithe rejection of the need for economic growth and prosperity to improve the lives of the many who still live in abject poverty and misery.

In an excellent short  piece from a couple of years ago in the Wall Street Journal, (read it here, it’s great), Leavell and co-writer Carlton Owen make the point that unless there is a demand for wood products and paper, forests will in many cases die of insect infestation or simply be paved over for malls and other commercial developments.  Using paper, including printing e mails when required, helps create this demand which prompts paper companies to plant more trees and maintain healthy forests in order to protect their investments.

Leavell signs his e mails with the following:  “It's OK to print this email. Paper is a biodegradable, renewable, sustainable product made from trees. Growing and harvesting trees provides jobs for millions of Americans. Working forests are good for the environment and provide clean air and water, wildlife habitat and carbon storage. Thanks to improved forest management, we have more trees in America today than we had 100 years ago."  Amen, Chuck!

So when you invite all your friends to your Arbor Day party (April 26th I’m told), feel free to print a bunch of cards and put them in envelopes and mail them to everyone you know.  You’re doing something positive for trees on both accounts.

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One of the less talked-about changes in the envelope market is the increase in demand for packaging style envelopes and mailers.  The many web-based distributors for various products (think Amazon) require versatile packaging in which to transport goods through the mail. Anyone who buys on-line has at some point received items in bubble mailers or similar products.

bubble envelope picture

The bubble-lined envelope or mailer is probably the most popular product of this type. They come in a wide range of sizes generally starting around 4 x 7 to as large as 19 x 22 in some products. The envelopes are typically in an open end or catalog style (opening on the short side) although they are available in open side or booklet style as well (opening on the long side).  The outside paper stock is either brown or white kraft.  Many businesses prefer the poly bubble envelopes which are white plastic on the outside. The poly is less easily punctured in transit than the paper variety.

Most bubble envelopes are sold unprinted. However, some companies want to at least print a logo and return address; others are looking for more exciting graphics.  Printing on bubble envelopes is only done on certain presses which are few and far between throughout the US.  There are generally tight restrictions on the amount of coverage and colors. You cannot, for instance, print full bleeds all around on bubble products. When considering a printed bubble envelope, it’s best to consult with your envelope converter who can tell you what’s possible so you can plan.

Bubble envelopes are thick. That’s kind of the point as the air pockets provide protection for the item enclosed. However that can be a factor if you’re intending to mail something that significantly adds to that thickness. I’ve been talking to a marketing manager who was looking to mail t-shirts with the company logo to certain customers. She was hoping to mail as many as six shirts at once and was considering a large bubble envelope for that purpose. I suggested rather that she consider a simple poly bag since t shirts are not in any danger of being damaged in transit. She was a lot happier with that solution as not only did she save a ton of money but she was able to get a nice four color process graphic image printed on the bag as well.

Poly bags are an excellent and relatively inexpensive method for shipping goods. They are especially useful for articles of clothing as previously mentioned. Most of the major online retailers like J Crew use poly bags for transporting purchased items to customers. They will generally include a return bag which can be folded inside taking up little space. Obviously the light weight of the poly mailers is a major advantage when it comes to the high cost of postage and shipping.  Poly bags can also be printed in almost full coverage front and back. There is a gloss finish option which shows ink very well.

A new product has entered the market called Soft Pack. This is an envelope with tear and moisture resistant paper outside and a thin, foam lining inside. Soft Pack has several advantages over traditional bubble lined products:  it’s generally less expensive, the printing options are generally greater than on bubble envelopes, it lays flatter than the bubble envelope and we can produce the item in a wide range of custom sizes tailored to your particular needs. Product tests show the soft pack outer material to be more less likely to tear than paper from standard bubble envelopes. Bubble envelopes are available in tear-resistant tyvek but at a much higher cost.

Being thinner, Soft Pack envelopes require less space in the carton and hence more available storage space for end-users who use them in large volume. Also, both the outer shell and inner foam are made from recycled materials. Poly bubble liners are completely synthetic. The only disadvantage vis-à-vis bubble envelopes is they don’t provide quite as much protection for the contents. However, they are more than adequate for items such as smart phones or electrical components. Anyone looking for a bubble envelope should consider Smart Pack as an alternative. You can contact Elite Envelope for further information.

 In my next post, I’ll cover board and other flat mailers.  As always, your comments and information from your experience is always welcome.

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old fashioned post office photo

In my last post, I listed some of the factors contributing to the huge drop in overall mail volume and the sorry fiscal state of the US Postal Service.  Certainly the two are related; any business that sees a precipitous decline in its customer base due to factors somewhat out of its control is going to suffer.

However, this is not the first time a business has declined due to new technologies or its own inefficiency. IBM was once the center of the mainframe computing universe; until personal computing and the incredible advances in microchip technology revolutionized the market. Big Blue’s leadership was supplanted by Apple, Microsoft, Intel and a host of other companies but over time it remained viable by reinventing itself and today remains a major player in the high tech world

Can the Post Office pull off the same transformation as IBM?  Certain factors weigh heavily against that outcome. First and foremost is that there is no free, competitive market for first class mail delivery. The USPS holds a monopoly on this service and in the present statist era it seems unlikely that the federal government would loosen the reins and allow other companies to compete and provide this service as it did successfully with parcel delivery. 

A major factor in IBM’s decline was the 13 year-long antitrust suit initiated by the Justice Department. The after-effects of this litigation paved the way for other companies to compete on equal footing which helped give rise to the proliferation of desk top computing. Antitrust law is based on the premise that monopoly power in any business is not good for the consumer. Of course the government reserves the right to a double-standard but its own monopolies are just as bad.  

What would be the result of eliminating the monopoly on letter delivery? We are told that companies would simply cherry-pick the most profitable routes - mostly those in densely populated urban areas – and would leave the rest of the population to pay higher delivery rates. We usually hear this from those who have a vested interest in maintaining the status quo. The problem is the status quo is unsustainable. 

One thing we know about markets is that when people are free to come up with solutions, customer demands are generally met. None of us can predict with any certainty what would happen in the aftermath of a post office breakup. But we can look to the coexistence of UPS, FedEx and the Post Office in parcel delivery as a possible model for a better future.  Maybe we will need a drastically scaled-down version of the Post Office to continue to service rural areas on a subsidized basis.  Maybe the companies that bid for the prime routes will have to accept some of the burden to serve those areas in the same way that cities require developers of prime property to include parks and other public accommodations. Regulated utilities are required to allow smaller, private companies to supply power to households and businesses at a reduced rate. Maybe we can use the existing mail delivery infrastructure to facilitate something like that.

One thing is certain; without some type of radical reform, the taxpayers will be paying billions to bail out a once proud and once necessary institution. Additionally, the companies and individuals in the printing, mailing and envelope industries who rely in large measure on the post office will suffer due to increased costs and declining service.

As always, your comments are very much appreciated and welcome.

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As anyone who keeps up with current events is aware, the United States Postal Service is in a very bad way.

The price of a first class stamp has just gone up again to 46 cents. If only that solved the problem, then we’d just accept it and move on. However, the Post Office posted a $15.9 billion dollar loss for the fiscal year that just ended in September 30th of 2012. And if that’s not enough bad news for you, they are declaring that they will be out of cash sometime around October of 2013 unless something is done.

As the chart below demonstrates, (courtesy of the Wall Street Journal) the volume of first class mail has seen a precipitous decline in the past ten years. The number of pieces mailed is now about half of what it was in 2002.

Mail Service decline graph

Now obviously the digital world has made a serious dent in the number of pieces mailed. Companies are saving money by pushing their customers to pay their bills and receive statements on-line.  Financial service companies which used to mail huge numbers of proxy statements and prospectuses are now going digital. Back in the 1980's, I was a bank purchasing officer and we bought huge amounts of paper and printing much of which is no longer necessary because of the personal computing revolution. You can’t stop companies from reducing their costs through greater efficiency; especially when it’s what most of their customers find more convenient.

Another significant factor in the decrease in mail is the lousy economy of the past four years. The so-called recovery we have been experiencing is tepid at best with growth that doesn’t even keep up with the increase in new people entering the job market. While the movement away from certain kinds of mail would have happened regardless, robust economic growth would mitigate some of the pain for envelope and printing companies.

In its attempt to cut costs, the Post Office has slowed down first class mail delivery and is considering cutting Saturday delivery service. This is probably the worst possible way to deal with the problem. We are in the age of instant gratification courtesy of those same computers that are driving down the mail business. A recent article in the Boston Globe references a study by the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project concerning people under the age of 35 and the dangers of their hyper connected lives with this warning:  “Negative effects include a need for instant gratification and loss of patience”.   So at the same time that Gen X and Gen Y are moving away from mail partly due to the time involved, the Post Office decides to make us wait longer. Great.

As I’ve suggested in previous posts, the politics surrounding Post Office reform will make it virtually impossible to fix.  Yet, the best solution  for direct mailers and the many small businesses that serve them would be to abolish the government monopoly on first class mail service and allow private companies to compete for that service in the same way that FedEx and UPS have done for parcel delivery.  That would allow direct mailers who provide the biggest chunk of concentrated business for the post office to receive preferred rates which would drive down the cost of direct mail and keep it strong along with the printers and envelope companies who provide the components.

In my next post, I’ll delve into the politics in a bit more detail and also flesh out a simple proposal for reform.  As always, your comments are most appreciated.

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Custom Window Envelopes are used frequently in direct mail and in smaller specialized applications. In envelope parlance, a custom window is also referred to as a special window:  same thing; different terminology.

 standard window diagram resized 600

A standard envelope window measures 1-1/8” x 4 ½” and is placed 7/8” in from the left edge and  ½” up from the bottom edge. (See above)  Since the use of bar-coding for outgoing mail has become more common, there are a couple of different envelope window sizes that have become near-standards. They are close to the standard size and placement but generally a little bigger and/or placed a little higher up from the bottom in order to incorporate the bar code either as part of the address showing through the window or ink-jetted at the bottom of the envelope below the window.  These can vary from company to company so it’s always better to check before designing your mail piece.

 

The standard window was originally designed to display the outgoing address when it’s typed in the customary spot on the upper left-hand corner of a standard 8 ½ x 11 letter sheet and tri-folded to fit in a standard #10 envelope.  That is still the case and the standard #10 window envelope is by far the most widely used window envelope. If your mailing can be designed to use the standard window, it’s going to be less expensive especially in smaller quantities of 100,000 or less.  On any mailing of over 100,000 there will be less of a difference in price for using a custom window and the price difference nearly disappears on very large quantities of 1 million or more.  Envelope manufacturing is the same as any other kind of custom manufacturing: the larger the quantity, the lower the unit cost.

 

Most window envelopes have a patch over the window which is glued to the inside of the envelope. This protects the contents and makes them more secure.  Unpatched window envelopes are more commonly used for reply envelopes where the end –user is handling the piece individually – mostly on large mailings for utilities and insurance companies.  Putting a window envelope with no patch covering the window through a mailing machine could cause problems which is why this is rarely done.

 

In order to properly glue a patch to the inside of an envelope, you must have a minimum of 3/8” space from the edge of the envelope to the edge of the window cut-out.  Most envelope converters will not make a window with less space than that.

 

Window patch material can vary. The most common is the regular poly material which is a clear plastic. In the past, glassine was used as a recyclable alternative to poly but had drawbacks due to the fact that it was cloudy and not favored by the post office. More recently, there have been numerous vegetable based window materials that are clear but also recyclable. These tend to be more expensive as is typically the case with any recycled material including paper.

 

Custom windows can vary widely in both size and shape. A commonly used item is the full-view window. This is a large window used generally on a #10, 6 x 9 or 9 x 12 size envelope that covers most of the face of the envelope. It allows for whatever piece is inserted to show through almost completely which can entice the recipient to open the envelope.  Other popular custom windows are the pistol shape and basic geometric shapes like circles and squares. The former is generally used to show an address while the latter are used to expose certain spots of the mail piece to create curiosity on the contents.  The creative use of custom windows is a great way to get the recipient to open the envelope which, after all, is the whole point.

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Happy New Year everyone!  We’re all another year older but at least we’re now in the teens year wise. That makes the decade a lot easier to describe. Remember the “aughts”?   And, of course, we’ve made it through the Mayan calendar end of world. Personally, I place a lot more credence on the predictions of the Farmer’s Almanac.

Is this just a clever set-up for my predictions for the envelope, printing and paper industries? Alas, I have none. I know, you’re saying, this is a blog; take a risk!  Well, the truth is; I have no idea and neither does anyone else really. I think we should acknowledge what we know to be true and that is the industries are shrinking mostly due to digitalization. But I also think it’s safe to say that the industries will not be disappearing any time soon. Printing and mailing will be with us for the future in some significant measure.

So, how do the average envelope company and printer not only survive but actually grow? Well, you can still lure your competitor’s top sales person away with a better offer. That can help a bit until he or she is lured away from you!  You can redouble your efforts to exploit the full potential of business from your existing customer base. You can also use the same technology that has resulted in declining print usage to increase your market share. Those are all valid approaches.

However, I believe the most effective approach to manage the decline for the long term is to diversify our product offerings. I was just reading an investment report on Cenveo which is one of the largest envelope companies around. Since the late 90’s they have been buying label companies and printers in order to increase market share. Lately they have become a player in the growing shrink-labeling market for food products; bottles and such.

Few of us have the resources and capital of a Cenveo allowing us to pull something like that off. But we can use the same approach on a smaller scale in our markets or regions. My company Elite Envelope recently acquired Web Corp; a cold web printer to the trade for 15 years.  We had a relationship with them both as a vendor and a customer.  We found that many of our direct mail customers were buying the type of print products produced very cost-effectively on the webs. Somewhat to our surprise, we also found many of our sheet-fed printer customers outsourced certain jobs to the webs because they were better-suited to run that way.

Elite Envelope cold web printing

So, we decided that being able to offer those cold-web printed products under the same roof as our envelope converting and envelope manufacturing and printing services made sense as a way for us to provide more to our existing customers with no conflict. 

We’ve just begun the process of integration but thus far, results are positive and we believe we have done something constructive that will increase sales, market share and, hopefully, the value of our company.

Ultimately, we can and must focus on those things we can control. The fate of the envelope and printing industry will play itself out. In the meantime, the more things we can do for our customers, the better.

 As always, your thoughts are most welcome.

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Letter to Santa Elite Envelope

Well, 2012 is almost behind us:  another year of challenges and ups and downs but hopefully more than your share of success.  The printing and envelope industries continue to either decline or evolve depending on your outlook. I prefer the latter. While there’s no question that far fewer envelopes are being mailed today as opposed to ten years ago, direct mail has remained a vibrant and attractive tool to marketers.  New digital technologies have made personalized mail affordable.  Improved four color envelope printing equipment and technology has moved process printing firmly into the mainstream.

As I write this we are facing the end of the world according to the Mayan calendar.  My 13-year-old daughter wanted to sleep over a friend’s house to mark the occasion which was fine with me. I could use some peace and quiet before the end of time. So who knows if you’ll even be around to read this?  Just in case, here are some of my fervent hopes and wishes for 2013.

  • I wish that companies in our industry and in general would be less timid about wishing customers “Merry Christmas”.  I understand that businesses tend to be risk averse and generally will take the path of least resistance. But Christmas Day has been a national holiday since 1870 and has a healthy and ubiquitous secular side.  I know there are some that take offense at being wished Merry Christmas but they are a tiny fringe and do we really want to consider their tender feelings above the vast majority who, regardless of their religion, enjoy and celebrate the Christmas Holiday?   How about “Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays”?

  • Along the same lines, I hope that printers and envelope companies will be less accommodating to the “green” agenda which ultimately does not have our best interests in mind. I’ve written in more specific detail about this issue in previous posts.  We should all take responsibility in our personal and professional lives to use resources wisely and consider the environment. But the greens think paper consumption is bad and that’s not right.

  • To add to #2, I wish that companies in our industry would stop claiming that their products are produced with “certified wind power” when all they are doing is buying Renewable Energy Credits.  If you have a wind turbine in your parking lot or solar panels on your roof then you are entitled to make this claim.  If not, it’s misleading and more kowtowing to environmental purists who are, for the most part, not our friends.

  • I wish more customers would go back to using formal purchase orders. E mail has certainly made us more productive but getting unspecific messages to proceed on an order via e mail requires us vendors to confirm everything in writing which is really what the customer is supposed to do through a detailed and precise purchase order.  Plus, sometimes you have two or three separate trails going on the same order which requires printing out voluminous correspondence for the job ticket. (I wonder if any of these e-mail orderers have that “don’t print this e mail unless it’s absolutely necessary” message after their signature?)

  • I wish more people would stop responding “your” welcome when I say thank you for doing something for me.

  • I wish our political class would allow Postmaster General Donahoe to implement most of the reforms he’s been recommending for the past several years. The Post Office is a mess. It’s losing money at a terrifying rate and needs to be significantly downsized and reformed or face collapse. What really needs to be done is to break the monopoly and privatize the delivery of first class mail as we have with parcels with great success.  What will most likely happen is dithering followed by another taxpayer-financed bailout.

Despite the many problems we face as an industry, we can be thankful for the chance we have to persevere and dream. We can also give thanks for our friends, family and loved ones; without whom our lives would be diminished. Lastly, to everyone in the printing and envelope world: Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays and may we all flourish and prosper in 2013!

 

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I’m taking a break from posting on a topic of general interest this week in order to tout our newly acquired cold-web printing capabilities.  I try not to use the blog to brag but we’re very proud of our new company so please indulge me just this once!

Elite Envelope has acquired Web Corp; a cold web printer also based in Randolph, MA. Web Corp has been a successful business for over 15 years and has been owned and ably run by Hillary Librot; one of the prominent women in New England’s print industry.  Hillary had a nice run and was looking for a buyer and we came to terms.  Although Web Corp will be a part of Elite Envelope & Graphics, Inc, it will keep the name and will be run by Hillary mostly as it has in the past which we’re very happy about.

In addition to our envelope equipment, Elite/Web Corp will now feature three Didde half webs. Two of the presses print 6 colors and the other prints up to 8 colors on a maximum web width of 23 inches.

Web presses have typically been thought of for financial printing and one or two color work that doesn’t require high-quality printing. While they are still great for that type of work, the new models feature outstanding print quality in either process or spot colors. The presses can accommodate stock weight from 30# newsprint up to 9 point hibulk (which translates roughly to 97# text – within mailing regulations). Cold webs are great for direct mail printing.

Here are some products that are tailor made for our new webs:

  • 8 page, 12 or 16 page newsletters
  • Collateral material such as bind in cards, blow in cards, application forms.
  • We are best suited to work on uncoated stock and items that are related to direct mail or complete direct mail packages.
  • Placemats, small brochures, letterheads, buck slips, reply cards, newsletters on both white and newsprint paper. We can print for pads.
  • Another point is our perforating capabilities. It is an in-line process when we print. We can provide simple horizontal, vertical, L or T perfs as well as specialty coupon perfing.

Elite Envelope is greater Boston’s only envelope converter and printer up to four colors. We started out as an envelope company and that will remain our core business. We believe we have strengthened our company as a result of this acquisition and will be of greater value to our existing customers including our many, valued flat-sheet printer customers who have typically outsourced certain jobs to web printers.

Your comments, as always are much appreciated.

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Thanks for taking a break from scanning through your e mails to read this.  So you may be thinking: “Ok, Mr. Smug, how do YOU know what I was doing?” Well, I lay no claim on science for my simple assumption.  It’s based on my personal experience of how I and most people I know start and spend so much time each day; reading and responding to e mails. 

Let’s face it: most of us spend a lot of our professional and personal time on the computer or mobile device. Hard to believe that this wasn’t the case going back a mere twenty years or so but a generation in digital time might as well be a century.  For better or worse (and I happen to think it’s mostly for the better) we are captives of the screen.

As a result of the speed and ease of digital communication, the use of ink on paper has declined. No big revelation there obviously – mail volumes at the Post Office are down significantly in the past ten years and the printing and envelope industry has been characterized by consolidation especially since the recession of 08 and 09.  I think it’s pretty obvious that this trend will continue albeit at a slower pace than in the recent past. But the degree to which that happens will in large measure depend on how resourceful we are.

 Elite Envelope, direct mail, envelope printer

Have we become inundated with electronic messages to the point where the simplicity of the printed page is a relief?   After a long day at work; much of which is spent “on the screen”, I can say that lying in bed with my daughter and reading together out of an actual book is a most pleasurable experience. Aside from spending quality time, there is some sense of comfort and stability that I derive from the book; no glare, no freeze ups, no expectation of a response, no rush.

Is it possible that direct mail which used to be derided as “junk” is now a preferable medium when compared to the unrelenting barrage of e mails, texts and the like?  Is the sheer number of digital messages we receive daily making us less likely to pay attention to them?  In my personal experience, the answer is yes to both of those questions.

Now I happen to work in the envelope industry so there is some bias in my view. (ya’ think?) But the fact that as an item proliferates the less value it holds is an application of basic common sense; not to mention basic economics.

Our challenge in the envelope printing and printing world in general is to take advantage of the unique attributes of direct mail; it’s targeted, tangible, and flexible with enormous capacity for personalization, creativity of message and measurability of results.

Putting into the hands of an individual a creatively designed, beautifully printed envelope that contains a personal and cogent message is our ticket to continued viability as an industry. Now if the Post Office can get its costs under control and stay viable itself, we’ll have something we can rely on for the next twenty years.

As always, your comments are most appreciated.

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Elite Envelope Print Grows Trees

Let me state right up front: I love trees!  I love how they look. I love the shade they provide. I love how the leaves turn bright colors in the fall. Upon purchasing our home in eastern Massachusetts 13 years ago, one of the first things we did was to plant a flowering pear and a dogwood tree on the property.  They’re beautiful;  and watching them grow and thrive gives me great pleasure.  In the warm weather I love lying on my hammock under the big elm tree next to my house. 

So I hope I’ve established my bona fides as a tree lover in order for me to also say: I love printing! I love envelopes!  I love the paper industry!  That felt good to say.  But the point of this post is that the two sentiments I’ve expressed are not mutually exclusive.

What has precipitated this mini-rant is yet another marketing message; this one when I was on hold with my bank, assuring me that by switching to an on-line statement versus getting one in the mail, that I would be – yes, say it with me now – “saving a tree.”

The idea that by using less paper, we are saving trees is one of the hardiest and hoariest clichés of the past 3 or so decades.  Nevertheless it continues to be a prominent part of the “green” marketing efforts of many companies and seems to be blithely accepted by many. The logic has always escaped me.  After all, trees are a renewable resource.  Companies that produce things like lumber and paper have a built-in incentive to ensure that they continue to plant more trees in order for their businesses to thrive. Some of the largest, private forests in the world are owned by paper companies.  They are also among the most well-managed; another logical by-product of market incentives.

Do you ever hear anyone suggesting that by forgoing certain vegetables in your salad that you would be, say, saving a pepper?   When the federal government in its wisdom mandated that corn ethanol be added to all the gas we purchase for our cars thereby requiring huge new supplies of that vegetable, did a corn shortage result?  No, the exact opposite happened and we now have huge new supplies of corn. This has caused price spikes to other produce which farmers quite rationally jettisoned in order to produce more corn. That’s a separate problem and a topic for another 10 blog posts but the point is that there’s a lot more corn now than before because more is required to meet the increased demand.

The same logic applies to trees. The more paper consumed, the more trees need to be planted.  Of course many will have to be cut down in order to provide the wood and pulp; kind of like when crops are harvested before new seeds are planted in the spring.

I don't know about you but I’m not aware of any tree shortages.  The statistics I’ve seen say that there are more trees in the United States today than there were hundreds of years ago. 

It’s bad enough that we have to listen to self-serving messages from banks and utilities couched in gauzy green terms:  save a tree and, oh, by the way, save us the cost of printing and postage too.  But what I find really hard to fathom is why some printing and envelope companies will use that same rhetoric when it’s really a tacit admission that what we do for a living is somehow damaging to the environment.  That’s not true of course and it doesn’t do us any good to embrace the same arguments of those who do not have our best interests in mind.

As always, your comments are much appreciated on this important topic.

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Building picture small file

Elite Envelope & Graphics, Inc. is the full name. It’s been that way since we started the company almost nine years ago in December of 2003.  Dave and I formed Elite because at the time there was no envelope converter in greater Boston.  That came about after what was then Mailwell Envelope closed the Northeastern Envelope plant after they had purchased the company in the late 90’s.  Northeastern Envelope had been in business since the mid 1940’s. It was a family owned business located just across the street from the old Boston Garden. In the mid 80’s the Shamroth family sold the company and the new owners moved to Braintree, MA, just south of Boston.

Dave Theriault began working at Northeastern right after getting his Bachelor’s degree in Business at Babson College. He eventually became the General Manager.  I started working in sales at Northeastern in 1988 and Dave and I soon began working on some the company’s key accounts as a team.

Northeastern Envelope remained profitable and viable till the day it was closed down. The company employed around 40 and they soon became casualties of Mailwell’s inability to consolidate all the companies it bought during the dot-com boom of the mid-to-late 90’s.  Dave and I along with a couple of other Northeastern managers made Mailwell  an offer to purchase the company but we were rebuffed.

It was shortly thereafter that we decided to start Elite Envelope & Graphics to fill the void created by Northeastern’s demise.  We had a built-in pool of top-shelf staff from Northeastern who were very excited to come to work for us. They are all still with us nearly 10 years later.

Envelope converting, envelope manufacturing and envelope printing have been our core business. Most of our work comes through trade customers and resellers; much of that from printers.  We added the “Graphics” part to our name from the start as we have been able to work with our customers on their pre-converting print requirements.  One of the companies we relied on for this was Web Corp which has several cold web Didde presses one of which prints up to 8 colors.  Now, we have joined forces with Web Corp and have become one of the few companies that can supply both the printed sheets and the converted envelopes both produced under the same roof.  

The cold web presses have some limitations; the main one being the only print on uncoated stock.  The quality is excellent but not comparable to the larger sheet fed presses at most commercial printers. So, we are NOT looking to compete with those printers, many of whom are our good customers.  We simply saw this as a way to complement our existing business and make us stronger and more viable as a result.

In today’s print market, the companies that survive must be able to deliver more than one product and service. Many of our customers have gone that route. We are excited about the joint venture with Web Corp and the ability to provide many of our direct mail customers with a single-source solution for their print and envelope needs.  We will be formally announcing the merger/acquisition over the next couple of weeks and providing more information to our customers on a one-by-one basis.

We want to be around in another ten years to remark the on the continued evolution of the print market. In the meantime, I’d love to hear your comments on what we’ve done at Elite Envelope & Graphics, Inc.

Elite Envelope is one of six remaining envelope manufacturers in the six New England states.  Nationally, the number of companies that actually make envelopes is shrinking due to lower overall demand but it is still a robust industry with dozens of plants spread throughout the country.  When you’re dealing directly with an envelope converter or manufacturer (same thing ) ordering  a custom envelope for a specific requirement is a fairly straightforward process. However, there are some things to keep in mind and here are a few of them:

Elite Envelope manufacturing

Quantity: - Many companies will enforce a 5,000 minimum for special-make envelopes.  Like most orders in the printing and envelope industry, the set-up for the job is a significant part of the total cost and it takes around five thousand impressions or envelopes to amortize that expense.  This means that if you order fewer than 5,000, assuming the company will allow for it, you’re really paying just about the same price overall that you would have for the 5,000.  At Elite, we will make fewer than 5,000 but there would be a minimum charge regardless of the quantity.  Some customers will just have us make 5,000 since they are in effect paying for them anyway.

Window Size,Position and Type: - If you’re designing a custom envelope with a window, it’s good to keep in mind that the edge of the window can be no closer than 3/8” to any edge of the envelope. This is because the patch that covers the window needs at least that much space to be glued properly.  Window sizes can run from full view which exposes virtually the entire front panel to small circles or special sizes and shapes (my favorite is the butterfly shape we used for a non-profit nature organization’s mailing).  Window material ranges from the most common synthetic poly to the bio-degradable corn-based product.

Size and Construction - When designing a custom envelope, the size is going to be driven mostly by what goes inside. It’s good to keep in mind the wide variety of standard sizes that might be close to what you’re looking for. It’s always going to be less expensive to use a stock item if possible.  Elite Envelope has a pocket guide which among other things lists all of the standard sizes. We’d be happy to send you one with our compliments. Simply click here.  It’s also a good idea to keep in mind the postage requirements based on certain size envelope. Elite Envelope Manufacturing

Function: - Lastly, if your envelope requires automated inserting, the specs of your particular inserter should be consulted to ensure that what you are designing will function properly.  All equipment varies with regard to what is acceptable.  The most important aspects to check are the size and shape of the flap and the depth of what is called the “throat”. That is distance between the flap score or fold and where the back panel of the envelope begins. In my experience, I’ve found that the smaller the inserter, the more careful you need to be about these aspects as they tend to be more temperamental with fewer adjustment options.

Printed Envelopes

In last week’s blog post, I listed the various ways envelopes can be printed: offset, flexo, flat sheet litho and digital.  Those are listed in descending order from the most popular methods through the least popular, at least in my experience.

But the question remains: how does one choose the best method for printing an envelope?  You could just send a quote to your favorite envelope company or printer and ask them to provide a price. That may get you what you need but it also might get you a price on whatever works best for that particular company and not necessarily what is the best and most economical way for that particular job.

No, it’s always best for a buyer to be knowledgeable on his own in order to get the best quality and price. That applies to anything you purchase really.

In my previous post I mentioned the three factors to be considered when deciding how to print your envelope: quantity, quality and print coverage.  In thinking about this, I tried to come up with a simple formula for your use.  Unfortunately, it’s not quite that easy because multiple factors need to be considered for just about any envelope print job.  So here’s my best shot on the basics for you to consider using those three criteria:

1. Coverage:  If the envelope prints with full coverage front and back or full coverage on one side with bleeds all around, the three print options you have would be enhanced flexo, flat sheet litho or flat sheet digital with converting after the fact.  (Most envelopes that print with this type of coverage tend to be 4 color process. If the piece prints in spot colors, then digital would not be an option unless the artwork could be converted to CMYK.)  The enhanced flexo process is done inline on a web machine. Diagonal seam envelopes cannot be done this way because of the web process.

If the envelope has light to medium ink coverage, then Jet offset (printing on a pre-made envelope) is the best option for quantities up to around 250,000. At higher quantities, regular flexo might be a more cost-effective option depending on the quality of the printing required.  Half tones, fine screens and fine lines and close registration generally require offset printing.  However, something like a simple BRE or line copy could be printed flexo with good results.

2. Quantity:  Small quantities up to around 2,000 are where digital printing on a pre-made envelope can be cost-effective. However, as I mentioned, most digital presses can only print process colors. So anything with spot colors needs to be printed in one of the remaining three processes. Strictly from a price standpoint, offset would be the least expensive on quantities up to 250,000. However, the best option would also have to consider the amount of coverage and the quality required.

Some companies, like Elite Envelope, feature very competitive Jet offset pricing at quantities well into the millions. For this reason, the offset/flexo decision can also depend on the company you are dealing with.

3. Quality:  I’ve mostly covered the quality considerations that need to be taken into account except to say that even if an envelope can be printed flexo, you will get superior quality by printing it offset. So if you can make the pricing work, you’re better off going that route simply for best print results. 

Of the four printing options for envelopes, the best quality would be flat sheet litho for the simple reason that those presses are larger and built to produce high-quality fine printing on pieces where the expectations exceed what is commonly required for an envelope.  However, that is generally going to be the most expensive way to go so that must be taken into account as well.

Lastly, one of the comments from last week’s blog concerned bleeds on envelopes. Bleeds can be printed on Jet offset presses in certain cases. The best results are where the coverage is light or involves a screen that bleeds. However, we have printed many envelopes with fairly dense coverage on the jet that happen to bleed. There can be some occasional ink build-up on the edge which needs to be monitored but overall a good pressman can make it work quite well. 

I hope I’ve clarified some of the envelope printing decisions you might need to make. If you’re still unsure, just send me a pdf of your artwork and I’ll be happy to provide a suggestion of your best way to go.

 

Envelopes can be printed in four different ways: Offset, Flexographic, Litho and Digital.

The majority of envelopes are printed on an offset press; the most popular of which are the “Jet” presses made by the Halm Corporation.  Those are the presses used by most envelope companies and some printers. The Jet press is a sturdy workhorse that feeds envelopes up to 12 x 15 ½ in size and prints at speeds up to 30,000 per hour in some cases.  Most Jet presses print up to two colors and can perfect (print on both sides) in the same number of colors. However, there is a 4 color Jet which prints process or spot colors on envelopes with excellent quality.

Elite Envelope Jet Press

Probably the second most common way envelopes are printed is flexographically. (I say probably because I have no hard data on this. If anyone out there has evidence to the contrary, I’d be very interested).  Flexographic or as it’s commonly referred to, flexo printing is generally done in-line as the envelope is manufactured. Unlike offset printing which uses a metal printing plate, flexo printing uses a hard plastic, photo-polymer plate.  Flexo printing technology has come a long way in the past 20 to 30 years. It used to be done with soft rubber plates and used only for the most basic printing like, say a business reply envelope.  However, these days so-called enhanced flexo machines routinely print full coverage 4 color process envelopes with great results.

The next most popular way to print envelopes is on flat sheet litho presses.   This requires a two step process of first printing on the sheets and then converting the sheets into envelopes.  As an envelope converter, Elite Envelope regularly advises customers on when this might be necessary. It is a more expensive proposition than simply printing an already converted envelope on a Jet press but yields the best quality printing because of the size and capabilities of the equipment.

Lastly envelopes are sometimes printed in small quantities on digital copiers or presses. These machines can only print in process colors so they are not workable for a simple one or two color job. Also, the economics only make them a good choice if the quantities required are small. Generally anything over 2,500 doesn’t make sense to do digitally at least as far as envelopes are concerned. Not all digital presses can easily accommodate envelopes. Some of the newer models include this feature and work quite well.

So back to the question: What IS the best way to print a 4 color envelope?  Well, the simple answer is it’s based on three main factors: quantity, quality and coverage or a combination of the three. I’ll break this all down for you in next week’s post.  In the meantime, your comments are always most welcome!

MarshallMcLuhan

In 1964 when Marshall McLuhan wrote the famous phrase, “The medium is the message”, he was suggesting that the carrier of the message could actually convey a message of its own.  He was mostly writing about television and how that technology was changing the culture by bringing more people into a common area in which to view and digest information.

McLuhan would have a field-day writing about the Internet which has taken this concept and run wild.  By some estimates, over three-quarters of American households own computers. If you add mobile computing devices, I’m sure that figure is much higher. Today, just about everyone is wired and accessing digital content of some type.

However, unlike television in the 1960’s which featured a small number of programming options and news filters, the worldwide web has millions of sites and information sources from which to choose.  The number of options, while helpful in many instances, can be overwhelming. When a device, in this case the human brain, becomes overwhelmed it usually shuts down.  Add to this the large number of e mail and text messages that are received and sent in a given day and you have a prescription for information overload. 

Basic economics teaches us that when a commodity becomes plentiful, the price and hence the value diminishes unless the demand continues to outpace the supply. If we view information as the commodity, I believe what we are seeing in large sectors of American society is the cheapening of communication.  There’s so much of it that the individual messages are getting lost or simply disregarded.

So what does all this have to do with envelopes?  Well as digital communication becomes ubiquitous and less valuable it follows that written communication, the kind that comes inside envelopes in your non-virtual mailbox looks better by comparison. It hasn’t been very long since there were regular outcries from individuals and groups about being inundated with “junk mail”.  Interesting that you don’t hear much about that anymore!  Most of the crying is done about spam and spammers (justifiably in my opinion –it can be highly annoying as anyone who’s been plagued in this way will attest).

I’ve written about how sending hand-written notes to people in a business context can really get their attention these days.  Personalized direct mail can serve as a reasonable surrogate to that approach. When the content is relevant and interesting along with high-quality printing and clever design there will be a reasonable curiosity that will cause many folks to open and take a gander.  

And yes, I meant “open” as in take it out of the envelope. Sure I’m biased but I think that postcards or other non-envelope flats don’t carry the same air of anticipation. You really don’t know what’s inside the envelope till you open it and there’s something in all of us that likes a surprise.  Just taking the extra time, care and expense to put something in an envelope says something positive about your mailing which the recipient will intuitively understand; another example of the McLuhan insight where the medium becomes part of the message. 

Mail on!

printer and paper resized 600Earlier this year, Toshiba Corporation announced the first annual National No Print Day to be held on Oct. 23, 2012. The company said it was “a nationwide campaign to encourage, educate and challenge individuals and companies to commit to one day of no printing to raise awareness of the impact printing has on our planet.”

Well, apparently lots of awareness was raised. On June 13 the Printing Industries of America released a statement by President and CEO Michael Makin calling on “the U.S. printing industry to reject a call by Toshiba America Business Solutions for a National No-Print Day (NNPD)”.

That caused the executives at Toshiba to rethink things. One week later, Makin announced to the PIA membership that Toshiba had cancelled its No Print Day. According to Editor and Publisher magazine, the cancellation announcement came after “negotiation” with Printing Industries of America. Since cancelling the campaign, all traces have been removed from social media as well as the website the company had set up.   My guess is some of the heads at Toshiba that inspired this debacle are rolling: if not, they should be.

I say three hearty cheers for Michael Makin and the Printing Industries of America. They stood up for the printing, envelope and paper industries and deserve our applause and appreciation.  But the absurdity of a company that makes and sells printers holding a No Print Day as if it were a badge of honor deserves further scrutiny.

Printers and envelope companies have been touting their environmental bona fides for some time now. Whether it’s through legitimate programs like FSC or SFI or the dubious claims of products made using “certified wind power”, we’ve been playing the Green PR game.  The problem with that approach is it amounts to appeasement which, as history proves time and again, doesn’t work.  Throwing a bone to your opponents or patting them on the head in the hope that they will leave you alone is not a winning strategy.  It simply emboldens the opposition because you are essentially agreeing with their arguments.

We need to wake up and acknowledge the uncomfortable truth that the environmental movement does not have our best interests in mind.  No matter how much we try to prove that we are all fine fellows just trying to make a living, they will continue to oppose us because we cut down trees, produce stuff that ends up in landfills and supposedly have a yeti-size carbon footprint.

Never mind that paper production requires planting more trees than those that are harvested or that as an industry we recycle most of the paper we waste or that the digital world, that great green hope, uses a heck of a lot more power than we do most of which is still supplied through coal-fired power plants (and don’t get me started on the whole “carbon footprint” thing – a topic for another day). Those are just facts which shouldn’t get in the way of a good argument.

Despite our best intentions, all of this kowtowing eventually leads to “No-Print Day” – a declaration of unilateral surrender and the preamble to our obituary.

It’s long past time to stand up for what we do without the implicit apologies; maybe even questioning some of the premises of the arguments used against us.  This is tough for businesspeople as we tend to be risk-averse when it comes to our markets. There are many buyers who, more or less, accept the environmental critique of our industry.  However, I believe if we do this in a factual, balanced but firm and professional manner, we won’t just win the debate but more importantly, secure the future for our livelihood. That's a goal worth ruffling a few feathers - not that I have anything against birds you understand.

In a couple of weeks I will enter my 25th year in printing and envelope sales. In 1988, I was a purchasing manager and marketing coordinator for a group of forward-thinking savings banks in eastern Massachusetts.   Spending as much time talking to sales reps as I did, I thought I could succeed in that field.  And with a young family to support, I understood sales would give me the opportunity to significantly increase my income and perhaps provide a more flexible schedule for my musical pursuits.

After meeting with the owner of one of my main envelope vendors, he said he’d match my salary for a while and give me a shot.  By the end of my second full year on the road, I was earning my salary in commission and it grew from there. I found that I did enjoy the sales life. My boss, the owner, had his requirements but for the most part left me alone.  Being a somewhat strong-willed and determined person who prefers to do things his own way (a description for most people who work in sales), that worked well for me and I justified his trust by bringing in much new business.

Now as an owner of my own envelope company (along with my partner) my responsibilities are more diverse but I still handle the sales and marketing part of the business and consider myself a sales guy at heart.  I’ve seen the envelope and printing industries enter a period of relative decline especially since the financial collapse in 2008. These tough times require a tenacious focus on the fundamentals.

The most fundamental of fundamentals in my opinion is, quite simply, the more calls and contacts you make, the more likely your chances of success.  With customer print volumes shrinking in general, there’s only so much a rep can do to exploit the full potential of existing accounts.  The sure way to increase the business portfolio is to generate new customers.  And the best way to help that process along is to make as many contacts as possible with regular follow-ups.

fishing as sales metaphor

Choose your favorite metaphor:  drop more hooks in the water; plant more seeds in the garden; roll the dice as many times as possible. However you describe it, it’s a numbers game. The more calls and contacts made, the better the odds are for one or more of them to result in a sale.

I’ve attended many sales seminars and conducted a few.  Most of them involve learning certain closing techniques which can work if properly applied. But assuming everything being equal as far as talent, ability and quality of leads is concerned, the rep who makes the most calls and follows up most carefully will win.  It’s pretty much that simple.

Elite Envelope Intelligent Bar Code photo

In a posting in the Federal Register on May 3rd, 2012 under the heading “POSTNET Barcode  Discontinuation,” the Postal Service set a deadline of January 28, 2013 to convert all barcodes to the Intelligent Mail Barcode (IMb) format.

The previous deadline set by the Post Office was postponed due to complaints from some mailers about the cost to retrofit printers and a lack of time to prepare. Since then, the Postal Service has been encouraging mailers to switch over to the IMb with the idea that it will become mandatory eventually.  That date has now been set and it seems highly unlikely that the Post Office would postpone final implementation a second time despite the fact that some mailers are still not happy according to some of the comments on the Federal Register.

IMb has already been in use for some time by many mailers. The Postnet barcode has been in use for decades and contained the actual carrier routing code which allowed for speedier mail delivery; a boon for mailers at the time.  The Intelligent Bar Code allows for the same information plus the ability to identify the mailer, tracking information on the mail piece and data on the type of mail services pertaining to the piece: i.e. Forwarding Service, Return Service, etc.

From the standpoint of a printer or envelope company, converting a customer’s Postnet barcode to the IMb is an easy matter.  It’s just a different graphic image to reproduce with no special inks or anything unusual required. Elite Envelope uses its local (excellent) Post Office reps to supply a PDF of the IMb. Once the file is received, we make a new plate and we’re good to go.

For those using laser printers to spray the barcode on outgoing pieces, there could be some difficulties converting to the IMb.  Some of those difficulties might involve updating software while others could require newer equipment. While it’s never fun having to be forced to invest in new equipment, the benefits to the customer with the IMb are significant and it’s not as if this has just been sprung on the industry. Anyone in the mailing business has been aware of this eventual new requirement for years and should have been making provisions for implementation.

For the print and mail industry, anything that gives end-users better, faster service is a necessary and welcome development. In order to compete with digital communication, we need to be able to provide as many advantages as possible. The IMb increases the value of printing and mailing. How is that not a good thing?

One of the most common questions from printers who aren’t familiar with envelope converting is, “Where do I place the impression(s) on the sheet?”

An envelope converter will typically provide a layout to the printer which will show the proper placement of the unfolded envelopes on the sheet to be printed. “Print to the layout” is the short answer to these questions and will usually suffice.  

However, with the growth of digital printing as an economical way to print small-run 4-color jobs, converting jobs of under 5,000 are becoming more common. Digital printers are making customers aware that they can print as few as 500 letterhead and matching envelopes in 4 color process at a reasonable cost. The envelope component is typically printed on flat sheets and then converted for a minimum charge that is less than the cost of setting up a litho press with plates, etc.

In these cases, the printer will be using a small sheet with a one-up impression. The envelope converter will usually provide a die layout that doesn’t always show the proper position on the sheet.

In these cases, the standard rule is very simple. The printer must position the unfolded envelope impression 3/8” of an inch from two sides: typically the flap side will be one and one of the side seams the other.

envelope die cutting through paper 

Often, printers will assume that the envelope must be centered on the sheet. This looks neat and clean but it does not yield good results. The reason is that when the cookie-cutter style high-die cuts through the paper (see photo), it needs to break through the ream.  Envelope dies have a small metal piece screwed to the side in the shape of a small anvil. This is what slices through the paper as the die is pressed down. However, it needs to be positioned no more than ½” from the edge in order to work.

If the envelope impression is centered on the sheet, the “anvil” will not be close enough to the edge and the paper will buckle as it is cut. This will cause more variation in the folding. (See previous blog posts to get an explanation of variation in envelope converting).

So, by all means, print to the layout! But if the layout doesn’t show position, just make sure you place the impression no more than ½” from two sides of the sheet (3/8” is ideal) and you’ll be good to go.

One of the difficulties of selling in today’s printing, envelope and direct mail market is finding new and better ways to communicate the value of what we do. I suppose that’s true of any industry but those of us making our living applying ink to paper face unique challenges from the brave new digital world among other things.

A recent article by David Gelernter in the Wall Street Journal entitled, The Pros and Cons of Cyber Language provides some answers for us. http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052702304724404577293520835829332.html">>

Gelernter is a professor of computer science at Yale as well as a prolific writer and artist.  In his WSJ piece he says, “Digital words are disposable words…Ink and paper (or parchment or papyrus) have functioned brilliantly as a presentation and storage medium for a couple of thousand years. It's easy to read a 300-year-old book or a 2,000-year-old scroll. Can you imagine booting a 2,000-year-old computer?”

He goes on to say that, “Digital words seem cheap because they are, and they grow cheaper by the day. Consider the withering hailstorm of mail, text, social net and blog posts that assaults you the moment you go online. It's become impossible for many a normal, solid citizen to answer his email promptly. But young people seem increasingly apt to ignore uninteresting messages on purpose. If the message is important it will be resent, and if it isn't, who cares anyway? So the value of digital words sinks even lower.”

I think what those of us who sell envelopes, printing and direct mail can take away from these insights is that there’s a certain “dignity” to the printed word (Gelernter’s word) that just doesn’t exist in an electronic message. Plus, as he says, the sheer, crushing volume of digitized communication is driving many people to look for a respite from it.  When they do that, often they will be found reading something. 

people reading the printed page

If the content is clever, the presentation is attractive and we've effectively communicated that what we provide has more staying power than the typical group of bits and bytes, perhaps what they're reading will be something we've printed or mailed.

Do you agree?

Like many products, envelopes have a list of special terms to describe various parts and aspects of the manufacturing process.  In previous posts, I’ve explained the difference between open-end and open -side envelopes (the former has the flap on the shorter dimension, the latter on the longer dimension) and other descriptive terms which can cause some head-scratching.

One of the concepts that many buyers find confusing is how to properly measure a window in general and a vertical window in particular.

In order to provide window specs in a way that your envelope vendor will understand, the first thing to keep in mind is the proper orientation of the envelope to be measured.  Much of the confusion in establishing proper specifications for quoting have to do with the fact that certain descriptions like, “the flap is on the side” are relative. It depends on how you’re holding and looking at the envelope. 

So, the first step in measuring a window is to hold the envelope so that the flap is facing toward the sky. When measuring the length and width of the window itself, always state the “north/south” dimension first.  So, for instance on a standard #10 window envelope, the window specs measure and should be described, “1-1/8” x 4-1/2”.

This gets a little tricky when you’re dealing with what we call a “vertical window”. A vertical window is where the longer dimension runs in that “north/south” direction. Remember, you have to be looking at the envelope with the flap pointing north or straight up.  The best example of this is a standard 9 x 12 window envelope. This is a common, stock item for most envelope companies. These envelopes are booklet-style or open-side (different ways to describe the same thing).  The size of the window is 1-3/4” x 4-1/2”.  However when you hold the envelope with flap up top, you’ll notice that the longer dimension of the window actually runs in a vertical direction from the bottom toward the top; hence, it’s name.

So, when you are providing specs for a quote, you would state the window specs with the longer, vertical dimension first; i.e.  “4-1/2” x 1-3/4”.

The second step in specifying a window for quote is to provide the position on the envelope. That is done by measuring in from the left side of the envelope to where the window begins. Then, you do the same thing from the bottom of the envelope to where the window begins.  Once again, this needs to be done by holding the envelope with the flap pointing up toward the sky.  On the standard 9 x 12 window envelope, the window is positioned  2-1/2” from the left side and 7/8” from the bottom.

When this envelope is actually used, the 8 ½ x 11 sheet of paper that contains the mailing address that shows through the window will be oriented in a portrait manner rather than landscape.  That means that when you read the address, the flap will actually be on your right.  However, the manner of measuring and stating the window size and position should be consistent so that everyone is speaking the language at the quoting stage. That makes it easier and prevents possible problems when the envelope is produced.

The way an envelope is manufactured can affect how it is used or how it looks to the recipient.  One of the methods offered by envelope converters to tailor the envelope for a particular use is by making them with either side seams or diagonal seams.

The “seams” of an envelope are located in the back behind the flap. All commercial size envelopes are made with one style or the other depending on certain factors. The three main factors to consider are the quantity being made, whether the mailing will be hand or machine-inserted and lastly how the envelope will be printed.

The diagrams below illustrate the look of both construction types. The image directly below is the diagonal seam and the one below that shows the side seam.

diagonal seam envelope diagram2 resized 600

side seam envelope diagram resized 600

Diagonal seam envelopes are pre die-cut and then folded and glued in a separate process.  Side seam envelopes can be made that way as well and typically are when the order quantity is below 100,000 or so.  Side seam construction is more typical and common on large runs because they are made on web-style equipment. The web folding machine uses cutting knives to trim the paper before folding as part of one complete in-line process.  Web machines also typically run at faster speeds than die cut machines which reduces the cost per thousand

With regard to automated inserting; diagonal seam envelopes tend to perform better with most inserters, especially those on the small to mid-size range. Larger and more sophisticated inserters can accommodate side seam envelopes with no problems although some operators still prefer diagonal seams.  The rule here would be to know what the inserting application might be and what equipment is being used before deciding on which style of envelope to use. It’s never a bad idea to run a test beforehand especially if the style of construction is being changed.

The other major factor to consider when choosing the construction style of your envelope is the printing; more specifically, the printing on the back. As the diagram shows, the side seam style allows for a smooth, fold-free- panel on the back portion of the envelope. If your design requires significant printing coverage in that area which cannot be fit in between the folds and creases of the diagonal seam construction, then side seam is the way to go.  While envelopes can be printed over diagonal seams, printing over the seams can cause ink build-up and gaps in the graphic images; not a good look for sure.

Consulting an envelope converter beforehand on your particular project can save you from problems after the fact. Just click here  and the experts at Elite Envelope will be happy to help you figure things out for best results.  

As we were reminded incessantly, April 22nd was Earth Day. Wikipedia defines it as “an annual day on which events are held worldwide to increase awareness and appreciation of the earth's natural environment.”

Earth day photo resized 600

The official recognition of Earth Day started in 1970 which coincided with the beginning of concern for the environment as a political force in the United States.  The 70’s saw the publication of books like The Population Bomb by Paul Erlich and scholarly reports like The Limits to Growth by The Club of Rome. The main argument was that overpopulation coupled with pollution and depletion of natural resources were putting us on a disastrous path which was supposed to play out in the later years of the 20th century. The EPA was formed later in the decade during the Nixon administration. The Clean Water Act, The Clean Air Act, the Endangered Species Act and other pieces of legislation that comprise the foundation for current policy were also passed in the 1970’s.

Well, we’re still here in 2012 and doing pretty well environmentally speaking. By just about every measure, the air and water in general are cleaner than 40 years ago and there are plenty of natural spaces in which to stretch out. We haven’t yet “Paved paradise and put up a parking lot” as the great Joni Mitchell song goes.  Some of this has come about due to increased public concern about environmental matters resulting in legislation. Two marked achievements in that regard are the dramatic reduction of sulfur dioxide emissions from power plants and the switch to unleaded gas through mandating the catalytic converter in all new vehicles.

There is a dark side, however, to environmental activism. This manifests itself in a lack of concern or even hostility to economic growth and widespread material progress in general.  With regard to printing and envelopes, there’s a reflexive opposition to cutting down trees in order to produce paper.  The idea is that by not printing something on paper, you’re “saving a tree.” The fact that the more paper is consumed, the more trees are required doesn’t seem to factor into the equation.

Businesspeople are generally risk-averse. We’re always looking for more customers so taking a potentially controversial stand which might alienate a segment of our market is seen as a negative. The environmental movement’s success in presenting its objectives in mother and apple-pie terms has led many companies to start “green” initiatives in an effort to sell themselves to those who are sympathetic to these concerns.

Government agencies have also sought to accelerate this trend. The US Commerce Department in its Earth Day 2012 blog bragged about how they’ve “saved 3,489 trees” (I assume they had someone go to a forest and count) as well as money by eliminating the numbers of pages they print by 27%. Now we can all waste less in our daily lives and this is certainly a good thing. But it’s an ominous sign for any industry’s future prospects to have its normal activities portrayed as a necessary evil at best or a vice at worst. Financial service companies trumpet the fact that they are “going green” by eliminating printed statements. We have included this message on the envelopes they still use. Talk about printing your own obituary!

Printers and envelope companies have been promoting their green credentials for some time now. Recycling paper makes sense both from the standpoint of economics and ethics.  And of course we should dispose of our chemicals in an environmentally-friendly way. We all drink the same water.  Programs like FSC and SFI promote “sustainable forestry”.  Elite Envelope is FSC certified and I’ve found the people involved to be committed and the program well-run. However, the underlying message is that without environmentalist oversight, the forests that produce pulp for paper are going to be managed in a less than responsible manner. Seems to me the incentives are all in the other direction. If you’re a paper company looking for the greatest return on your investment, aren’t you going to manage the forest to produce as much as possible?  Things don’t grow unless they’re well cared-for. Anyone with a backyard garden can vouch for that!

Are we better off trying to appease those who do not have our best interests in mind? I say no. By taking that approach, we are to some extent agreeing with them by accepting their premises. Envelope printers and printers in general should speak about the value of what we do and not indirectly apologize for it. There’s nothing wrong with producing printed materials on paper. It’s an honest business with a venerable tradition and completely consistent with a reasonable and common-sense concern for the environment.  Say it loud: “We print and we’re proud”! 

Has the digital world made traditional sales techniques passé?  Last week’s post dealt with personal cold calls and whether they are the best use of a sales rep’s time.  For the most part, I think not.

My post drew a lot of comments but not nearly as many as a recent blog post by a company called HubSpot. They specialize in inbound marketing; i.e. getting the customers to come to you rather than finding them by more conventional and tedious methods like cold calling. Now, I am a Hubspot fan. They have taught me some very useful techniques to get more visibility for Elite Envelope. In fact, they host this blog and provide some great tools for tracking its effectiveness.

But they lost some credibility with me and many others when they posted a blog entitled: "Dear US Postal Service: Please Stop Encouraging Direct Mail". (!)  They’ve already gotten enough free publicity in the blogosphere among irate direct mailers and their supporters (I’m guessing that was part of if not the entire point) so I’m not going to delve too deeply into the post. The main point was that direct mail was dead and web-based marketing was vastly superior; period, end of story.

The tone of the blog had a certain fervor and arrogant certitude which unfortunately can characterize true-believers in any endeavor. HubSpot is a very successful company and what they do, they do very well.  But direct mail remains an effective tool to win business.  Inbound marketing and direct mail along with advertising, direct selling, telemarketing and many other techniques can all be used effectively and are not mutually exclusive.

The message of this blog reminded me of those who said 10 years ago that e mail had effectively rendered regular mail useless.  There is a tendency in human nature to become infatuated with the latest thing. It’s more a foible of youth but plenty of us regardless of age tend fall into the trap as well.

When I think of how I sold in the pre-digital age; with hand-written or type-written notes, maps in my car for directions, a roll of dimes for the payphone, the “beeper” on my belt going off because someone called the office looking for me, I am nothing but grateful for my smart phone, GPS and contact management software that does in minutes what used to take hours.

gadget burn out picture

 

As the saying goes, there’s nothing new under the sun. Things change; sometimes for the better sometimes not. While we have to be open to change we also need to have the wisdom to incorporate it for our benefit not simply for its own sake.   For those of us in envelope and print sales, I think the best approach is to use new technology to make us more productive while never forgetting that there is no substitute for developing a strong personal connection with prospects and customers based on friendly service, competence, product knowledge and value. Some things are timeless for good reason.

When I joined Northeastern Envelope as a sales rep in July of 1988, my boss, one of the owners of the company and a very successful sales rep himself gave me the following instructions:  Identify some suitable prospects, get in my car, walk in and try to get a sale.

I tried this for a while but soon found myself driving into a town, finding the most convenient phone booth (preferably one that was inside with a coffee shop and, for the trifecta, near a clean bathroom ) and calling purchasing officers to try to see if I could stop by.  This method resulted in far more meetings and it became standard procedure for me to call in advance for appointments.

There were a few times when I just walked in to a business, handed my card to the receptionist and got to see the buyer. But they were so few and far between that I mostly gave up on that tactic. The only exception being if I noticed a company of which I wasn’t previously aware, I would go in and drop off my card just so I could say I stopped by when I called later to set up a meeting.  

Elite Envelope cold call blog

I never felt completely comfortable stopping by unannounced and asking someone to see me. I wouldn’t drop-by to see a friend without calling first. In my view, that’s inconsiderate.  So I always felt the same principle applies in business. Now some will say that a buyer’s job is to meet with sales reps so the situation is not completely analogous.  That’s true enough but it doesn’t follow that the buyer is obligated to drop whatever he is doing to see a sales rep at the rep’s convenience.  Prior to being in sales I was a purchasing manager and I never saw a sales rep without an appointment.  I always made time to see them but it was on my terms.  A buyer has an obligation to be productive for his employer and I don’t see how getting interrupted a couple of times day (or more) fulfills that mandate.  

A sales rep has the same obligation to be as productive as possible. Driving around to walk in and drop off a business card with very little to show for it is not a good use of time; not to mention the expense in the age of $4.00 per gallon gas.  Now that we no longer have to rely on pay phones (thank God!), we can make calls from the car on our way or, better yet, from our office in order line up a day full of meetings in advance.

And yes, I understand that even getting people to take your call is not easy. But you can make 10 phone calls in the time it takes to drive somewhere and you will, on average, get to speak to at least 2-3 people out of those 10. The odds are much less for “stopping by because I’m in the area”.

A rep that repeatedly shows up unannounced expecting an appointment with a certain prospect is being presumptuous. He's unwittingly sending messages such as, "I'm going to keep pounding till you give up" or perhaps, "I'm quite desparate for a sale". He or she also violates a basic tenet of inter-personal psychology which holds that when someone reaches too hard and too often for you, the natural reaction is to withdraw from that person.  The most effective method is to draw the prospect to you by making your pitch attractive and valuable while also sending the message that you are the type of person the buyer might not mind seeing for 15 minutes or so.

Have the digital age and inbound marketing rendered personal cold calls even more obsolete than before?  I’ll address that topic in my next post. In the meantime, I’d be most interested to hear from other reps on this topic.

Envelope converting can be tricky. As I’ve explained in a number of previous posts, there are specific ways to go about it and pitfalls to avoid.  Over the years I’ve found that some printers will avoid taking orders from their customers that would entail envelope converting because of uncertainty about the process and a lack of confidence in the outcome.  I suppose I shouldn’t complain because many of those printers tell me this after they’ve referred their customer to deal with us directly. However, I always tell the printer that he’s losing out on a potential order for no good reason.

 Elite Envelope converting

There are some envelope companies out there that can make the rest of us look bad. I suppose that’s true in any industry.  In the envelope world, there are many companies with the word envelope in their name which are not actual manufacturers. They will typically print envelopes but any converting will have to be outsourced.  Sometimes the personnel at these companies are not familiar with the process so getting a converting order from one of their customers can result in some communication problems which can, in turn, lead to a bad outcome.  At Elite, we know the right questions to ask so that usually doesn’t happen. But in general it’s better for a printer to deal directly with a converter if you want the job done properly.

Which leads me to the question du jour: What if I only need a thousand or so of a four color envelope?

Well the short answer is, no problem. With four-color, short run digital printing now so commonplace, the demand for a thousand or two #10 envelopes to go with a letterhead order is increasing. Printers can run  #10 diagonal seam regulars one up on an 11 x 17 sheet or 2 up on a 12 ½ x 19 sheet on a digital press and send them over for converting for a reasonable lot charge.  At small quantities this is more economical than setting up the job on an offset press and it allows for the printing to match on all components which is important.

So printers, don't hesitate to take that order which includes a small quantity of four color envelopes. Find yourself a good converter and once you've done it a couple of times, you'll see that it can be a fairly straightforward process.  It just might open up a new source of business for you. These days, that's nothing but good.

I’d be interested to hear about any of your small run converting experiences. 

A while back I decided to change the music on our telephone hold machine. I thought it might be fun to feature songs associated with our business; most notably envelopes but also mail, letters and letter writing.

At first I concentrated on songs about envelopes in particular. After all, we are an envelope converter, manufacturer and printer and we want to focus attention on our product wherever possible. I thought if you have to be on hold, you might as well be entertained a bit with something a little different.

After doing some research, I was unable to find one song specifically about envelopes. That might have something to do with the fact that it’s a difficult word to rhyme (cantaloupe? Jack lope?  Bar of soap?) However, if you broaden the category, you start hitting the jackpot. Relying mostly on my iTunes account, I found these without too much trouble: Return to Sender (Elvis), The Letter (The Boxtops), Please Mr. Postman (The Marvellettes) and I’m Gonna’ Sit Right Down and Write Myself a Letter (Fats Waller).  After a little more digging, I unearthed: Strawberry Letter 23 (Brothers Johnson), Mr. Mailman, I Don’t Want No Letter (Little Milton) and the wonderfully sappy early 60’s summer hit Sealed With a Kiss sung by Brian Hyland.

Songs about Envelopes and Mail by Elite Envelope 

Along with way I learned that there is a band called Envelope and another called Glass Envelope. I also discovered a few songs in the house/techno genre that have the word envelope in the title; most likely having to do with sound frequencies.  I decided to leave those alone.

In order to ensure that people didn’t hear the same tunes every time, I enlarged the category further to include songs about working and work in general. Some that I included were: 9 to 5 (Dolly Parton), Working for a Living (Huey Lewis), The Work Song (Cannonball Adderley), Work to Do (Average White Band), 16 Tons (Tennessee Ernie Ford), I’ve Been Working (Van Morrison), Let’s Work Together (Wilbert Harrison) and, my personal favorite, Whistle While You Work (The Seven Dwarfs).  Initially, I also included Take This Job and Shove it by Johnny Paycheck. I thought it was funny but some of our customers didn’t so that one was pulled.

Feedback was mixed. Some enjoyed it and others made comments about the “weird” hold music. For now, we’ve gone back to the old generic hold music. But that won’t deter me from trying to inject a little fun into our business wherever possible. In the meantime I’d love to hear from you with other songs I could add to my list.  

Graphic designers are the muse behind printers. They provide and execute the creative ideas which the printer then takes and brings to life on paper.  In the new age of printing, designers must not only be creative but also adept at using the vector-based software and other digital tools necessary to provide a quality, print-ready image.

At Elite Envelope, we work with graphic designers all the time. Usually the designer will work for the customer to come up with the image they want and after the customer places the order, he will allow us to deal directly with the creative talent.  Most times, we receive art files that are ready to go.  However, sometimes that is not the case. The reasons can vary but the one I’ll focus on today has to do with practicalities.

Yes, I know that taking the practical approach is sometimes seen as the bane of the creative process. It involves all sorts of compromises and replaces the emphasis from the exciting “what is possible” to that ever more bland and boring “what is doable.”  How many times did our parents tell us to “be practical”; advice we probably ignored to our eventual peril. And that’s the point – ultimately being practical is going to succeed far more than not. And while we love to read about those that figure out a way to get beyond all that, they are few in number so emulating them is just not, well…, practical!

envelope printing design problems

One of the more common examples of this in the world of envelope printing has to do with heavy coverage that prints over the envelope seams or folds.  When paper is folded, that area is relatively higher to what is on either side.  Offset printing on envelopes is done with rollers that exert pressure on the printed surface.  If the press is printing a solid which covers a fold, the result will be a white mark running directly down the fold itself. This is because of the different height of the folded area.  

This is a pretty easy one to prevent by doing one of several things: You could simply move or shrink the solid so that it doesn’t cover the fold. Or you could use a screen of the color to make the solid lighter so that the white line would be less pronounced.  Depending on the design and size of the mail piece, it may also be possible to switch from a diagonal seam envelope to a side seam which would provide a larger unfolded area for printing.  You could also simply re-design or, if cost is not a major factor, print the envelope on a flat sheet and convert it after the fact which effectively elminates the problem altogether. 

Ultimately, the process works best when the envelope printer is in touch with the graphic designer early in the process.  That ensures a harmony between what can be done and what works best – beautiful music for all concerned! 

Tell us about your envelope printing problems. We'd love to hear from you. Also, if you’re looking for free, expert advice on a future design, click here http://info.eliteenvelope.com/free-envelope-consultation/ and we’ll be happy to provide it.

July of 2012 will mark my 24th year in the envelope industry.  In the summer of 1988, I started working for Northeastern Envelope Manufacturing in Braintree, MA. In my previous job as a purchasing and marketing manager, Northeastern was one of my main suppliers and I got to know one of the owners, Jerry Mitchell who offered me an opportunity in sales which I thought would be a better fit for me, not to mention more potentially lucrative.

One of the more depressing aspects of being in purchasing is seeing one of your vendor reps early on a beautiful, sunny Friday afternoon and having  him tell you, sometimes sheepishly, sometimes not,  that he will be heading for the golf course after your meeting.  Of course, you, Mr. Purchasing Manager, must remain at your desk until the clock strikes five, if not later.  Even though I don’t play golf, I decided that my life would take a turn for the better being one of those guys so I grabbed the envelope sales opportunity and never looked back.

Starting in envelope sales was an eye-opening experience in many ways. My first two weeks were spent on the production floor working with the mechanics, operators and printers. I came to understand not only how hard they work but all of the attention to detail and focus required to make and print an envelope of high-quality.  Once I (thankfully) got on the road, one of the most frustrating things I faced was that Northeastern already had many established customers who were printers, forms brokers or just re-sellers of all kinds.  

elite envelope manufacturing

I was finding that more than a few of my cold calls were to companies that we were already selling through brokers.   My boss, Mr. Mitchell had a simple unwavering answer to all such situations; we won’t quote them directly.  As frustrating as this could be, I understood that it was for the best and ultimately found a lot of other companies out there that we weren’t already selling so it all worked out.

Northeastern Envelope went out of business around ten years ago. Elite Envelope was started shortly thereafter and we employ many of the old Northeastern crew. We also do business with many of its customers; including some of the same brokers.  Our policy in this matter is also ironclad: once we get an order from a printer, print broker or distributor of any kind, all business from the end user is protected without question. Occasionally we will have done an order for the end user directly before getting one from the broker. In that case, we will no longer deal directly once the order from the broker is received.  Sometimes there are grey areas. But we will always err on the side of protecting the distributor; even if it might mean fewer opportunities for us overall. 

A company’s reputation in the market is one of its most valuable assets; and from an ethical standpoint doing good is its own reward, at least that’s how we look at it.  Protecting the business received indirectly through a broker or distributor without exception is the right thing to do. Any company that disregards that or tries to fudge it is making a mistake. You might gain an order but you’ll lose your credibility and put future business in jeopardy.  Having distributors sell for you can be a great way to boost your business without putting sales reps on the payroll. Treat people well and they will be loyal to you. That’s kind of how it works in business and in life.

Now some of my favorite people in the world are purchasing officers.  And, despite what many think, once you own your own company, you rarely can afford to take off early on a Friday afternoon. Funny how life sometimes brings you back to where you were in the most unexpected ways!

One of the interesting aspects of change in American culture is how things generally go from one extreme to the other relatively fast and then slowly but surely settle back more toward the middle. It’s known as “social equilibrium” in sociology circles (not a place where I spend much time admittedly so my apologies to any social scientists out there if I’m misinterpreting this. Then again, if you’re a social scientist and reading this I’m quite flattered!).

As anyone who’s been breathing in the past 20 years is aware, e mail has become ubiquitous. Twenty years ago virtually every company with 10 employees or more had someone answering the phone on a full time basis. These days when I’m on the road making calls, I’ve noticed that fewer and fewer companies with even 20 or 30 employees have someone “out front”.  At Elite Envelope, where we have 20 staff, we now have someone answering the phones and doing billing and some customer service on a part time basis. When she’s not in, the phones are picked up by whoever is in the office at that time.

Some companies just have a voice mail system which picks up. I happen to think that it’s still important and says something positive about your company when a real person answers the phone. The point here however is that while it’s always going to be necessary to conduct certain business over the phone, more and more of the routine stuff is done via e mail. Part of the reason there are fewer receptionists is that there are fewer phone calls.

The “e mail mentality” has affected direct response marketing as well. No big surprise there; that’s been going on for a long time.  The ease and convenience of setting up an e mail template along with a mailing list and sending it out to hundreds if not thousands at the click of a button can’t be denied. I do it often as part of Elite’s marketing.

However, because of the high-volume of e mail that virtually everyone in business receives on a daily basis, the impact from a single one is reduced.  It’s much easier to send one; hence its popularity, but it’s also easy to delete one and we do that constantly all day long.  For years, people complained about the sheer volume of “junk mail”. Now, there’s less of that and, as a result, each mail piece carries a certain weight and importance which just isn’t transmitted electronically in the same way.  There’s a sense that these days, if someone takes the time and effort to send you something through the mail, it must be important and therefore worth your time to open.

Elite Envelope, benefits of direct mail

I try to send out at least one mailing per quarter to various groups of potential customers. I’ve found that when following up, most people tend to remember receiving the information and have kept it somewhere in their files for further reference. Getting that initial bit of recognition can go a long way toward establishing a lasting professional connection.  At some point, that person may go on an e mail list which allows me to stay in touch. So the two can work in harmony -  or equilibrium as the case may be.

In a post from last fall I promised I would return to the hilarious letter we saw from one of America’s largest envelope companies. The company filed for bankruptcy protection and was purchased by a private equity company and has been downsizing ever since. Their most recent layoff and office closing (sorry, “restructuring”) was announced in the form of a press release/public letter in October of 2011.

I mentioned at the time that while big corporations serve a need in the economy, I’ve always preferred to work for small companies. Elite Envelope has grown considerably since our humble origins in 2003, but we have managed to keep in daily contact with all of our staff and many of our customers. This has been a big part of our success.  Another factor that helps small businesses maintain a proper perspective is that losing one customer or one employee is a big deal.   The paradox of big companies is they get big by providing value to many but then they value the many less as a result.

When speaking to a big audience rather than small groups or individuals, I guess the feeling is you can spin things anyway you want. After all; you’re a massive corporation! (Or government bureaucracy – don’t get me started there)  So, here are a few more chestnuts from the aforementioned letter as promised.  (Helpful translation and/or snarky comments in parenthesis mine).

These efforts(i.e.the layoffs and office closings) will allow us to build a stronger product, service, and quality value proposition for our customers.” (Corporations love to talk about “value propositions”; sounds so “MBA”)

“The next step in the evolution of our…strategy is to build on our value proposition (there they go again) to customers by maximizing customer focus, responsiveness, and value.” (Are they saying they are going to make their customers more focused, responsive and valuable? Sign me up!)

“The consolidation allows us to…leverage technology to enhance the customer experience, and align with key Business Unit requirements (jargon alert!). This will enable cross-training to ensure capability and knowledge share of customers, markets, and other important information.” (yes, but will key Business Unit requirements be knowledge-shared as well? Discuss amongst yourselves. )

“Although this is the right thing to do for our customers and our company, it doesn’t come without change for some of our dedicated employees. (ya’ think?).

The migration of select roles from current locations into our future-state design will take place over several months”. (Migrating to the future-state?  Did they get Ray Bradbury to write this?)

More information will be shared as we move through this next phase of improving our (wait, let’s all say it together) customer value proposition and transforming (sic) to the leader of our industry."

I don’t know about you, but I can’t wait for the next letter!

According to Wikipedia (the ship that helped launch a thousand blogs) the first recorded mention of the Latin phrase tempus fugit was from the Roman poet Virgil who wrote: Sed fugit interea fugit irreparabile tempus, singula dum capti circumvectamur amore, which means, "But meanwhile it flees: time flees irretrievably, while we wander around, prisoners of our love of detail." We generally use the phrase to mean “time flies”; one of the most common expressions in American English and certainly one of the most apt in these times.

The printing business, including of course the envelope printing business has changed a lot over the past 20 years.  When I started in envelope sales in 1988, my company was still making rubber plates for flexo printing. All offset printing had to start with film which was cut and “stripped” to a “flat” that was then used to burn the image onto the printing plate.  The phrase “camera-ready art” was still widely in use. Today when you hear someone say that, to put it charitably it indicates they’ve been in the industry for a while.

While the pace of technology-driven change in printing is probably not as great as in many other fields, it has had the effect of accelerating the production process. Increased productivity has been a good thing; allowing us to produce more in less time and thus stay competitive and viable. However it’s also increased the customer expectations for quick turnaround on most jobs. Another indication of someone who’s been in the industry a long time is when they mention the fact that getting two or three weeks to deliver a print order used to be fairly commonplace.  Ah yes, the “good old days”!

With so much of the commercial landscape catering to the customer’s demand for instant gratification, there’s no way for printers and envelope manufacturers to escape. In order to survive, we must be able to pivot quickly and adapt to this reality. There’s something to be said for the notion that a quality product takes time to produce. That’s still true as far as it goes. It’s also true however that you’d better be able to make that quality product in as little time as possible in order to win the order.

The advent of digital technology has allowed printers to produce reasonably high quality process printing in a shorter time frame by eliminating the lengthy pre-press process. In the world of envelope printing, where the vast majority of the jobs are still printed either flexo or offset, this is not as easy. At Elite Envelope, we have analyzed each step of the manufacturing and printing processes in order to make them as efficient as possible. We also make full use of direct-to-plate set up which has saved us lots of time on the front end.

Ultimately, instead of grousing about it, we need to embrace this trend in our industry and take it as a challenge and impetus to work a little smarter and be more productive. In order for the printing and envelope industry to survive, there is no other way.   Don’t allow your company to become a “prisoner of the love of detail”. Virgil would approve!

By the way; sometimes rush deliveries can be a little too rushed as the picture below shows! Insuring your packages can't hurt I suppose.

rush delivery gone bad resized 600

Ok, so your customer or in-house client wants to do a mailing with a custom envelope: Good for them!

Studies show direct mail advertising to be a very effective way to get your message across. And a colorful and well-designed envelope can help the effectiveness of the message and create interest to open it and find out more.

Your client presents you with an envelope design and now it’s your job to decide how best to get it done.  One of the first decisions is how to print and make the envelope. Here are a few things to keep in mind in order to make the right call.

The three most important factors are the size of the envelope, the size and placement of the window and the amount of print coverage required.

If the envelope is not a standard size, it will most likely have to be custom-made.  If it has a window that is not standard (1-1/8” x 4 ½ ”, 7/8” from the left and ½” from the bottom), the same thing applies. Regardless of whether the envelope even has printing on it, these two factors will have to be taken into account. Obviously an off-the-shelf item in a standard size that can be jet-printed (typically the way envelope companies print envelopes – see other blog posts for more information) is going to be the least expensive way to go.  

However, the most important factor in determining whether an envelope must be converted or not is the amount of printing coverage. The term “converting” is really just another way to say “manufacturing”. However, they are generally not used interchangeably. “Converting” most commonly describes the process by which sheets are printed and then cut and folded to make envelopes.  It can also describe the cutting and folding of flat sheets of paper with no printing but for our purposes, we will stick with the most common use of the term.

Envelope Converting machine

Jet presses have their limitations and that mostly has to do with the amount of print coverage. If your design has either of the following printing characteristics, the envelope will most likely have to be printed on flat sheets and converted into envelopes after the fact:

  • Full coverage front and back

  • Heavy coverage and solids on either side of the envelopes including the flap that bleed to the edge

Anything less than that and it will be a judgment call. Some jet presses (like those at Elite Envelope) can print solids and bleeds to the edge with good results. Some of it has to do with the skill of the pressman (ours are the best!). If you’re unsure, the best way to proceed is to send a pdf of the copy to your envelope company and a trained eye will be able to give you the printing options.  It’s always best to deal directly with an actual envelope converter when you are trying to determine the best way to go. They would have the most expertise on both the printing and converting side.

Good luck and may you be happy and enthusiastic like all recent converts! Feel free to comment or pose a question and I'll be sure to get back to you.

One of the constant features of most direct mail or bulk mail projects is the postal endorsement on the envelope. This service has been offered by the post office for many years and is very useful in keeping mailing lists up to date which is valuable to direct mailers.

There are four main services provided by the Post Office to help mailers correct bad addresses and forward the mail to the correct address. Each has its own description or “endorsement”. (Note: unlike your typical self-serving political endorsement, these are actually sincere and do what they say). They are as follows:

Address Service Requested – For the first 12 months after the address has changed, the Post Office will forward the envelope to the customer AND send a notice of the correct address to the mailer for a small charge. For months 13 through 18, the mailer will receive the envelope back with the correct address noted at no charge. For anything after month 18 after the address changed, the mailer will receive the envelope back with a notice of non-delivery but no indication of new address.

Forwarding Service Requested - This service is very similar to Address Service Requested. In fact, it is identical for months 13 through 18 and beyond. The difference is that in months 1 through 12, the post office will forward the envelope to customer but NOT send a notice of the correct address to the mailer. There are no charges for any of these services.

Change Service Requested - The Post Office will not forward or return the envelope but will send the mailer an electronic notification (e mail) of the correct address for a small, per-piece fee. In order to receive this service, the mailer must register separately as an Address Correction Service customer. This same service applied for all months after the address change.

Return Service Requested - Under this endorsement, the envelope or mail piece will be returned either with a new address or simply a notice of non-delivery. There is no charge for this service and no time limit.

In my experience, the first two endorsements are the most popular and commonly used.

There are several areas on the envelope or mail piece where these endorsements can be printed which is shown on this diagram. There needs to be 1/4" of clear space around the endorsement. This applies wherever it is positioned on the envelope.

USPS Endorsements Examples

The current charges for these services where applicable along with any modifications that may have occurred since I wrote this can be obtained by contacting a representative of the business office from your local or regional Post Office. In my dealings, I have found these folks to be unfailingly helpful.

Please contact me or comment if there's anything else that Elite Envelope can help you with. Good luck and may all your addresses be correct!

Sometimes things just don’t happen the way they are planned. The Dupont website tells the story of one of their engineers who accidently noticed a type of stringy polyethylene fiber as a by-product of one of their production processes. It took 12 years from that point for the company to take that initial discovery and connect the dots but in 1967 the first commercial Tyvek products were rolled out and have been used for various applications including envelopes ever since.

Today there are two plants that manufacture the product: one in Virginia and the other in Europe; Luxembourg to be precise.  From there, two separate envelope plants in the US actually convert the rolls of Tyvek to envelopes. The rest of us buy our stock from them.

Printing Tyvek envelopes can be a little tricky. Despite their toughness, they are very light in weight which makes them quite pliable; more so than a paper envelope. In addition, Tyvek is very slippery which can make them hard to handle; not unlike coated paper stock.  Water vapor can penetrate the substrate but not liquid itself. The waterproof quality of Tyvek is one of its main selling points.  Given that offset printing is a water-based process, getting ink to show at the proper color can be difficult

 Elite Envelope jet press for printed envelopes

Some envelope companies will shy away from printing on Tyvek but at Elite Envelope, we do it all the time with excellent results.  Our presses will print up to 12 ½ x 15 and we can do heavy solids and certain bleeds.

Tyvek envelopes are more expensive than paper stock but because of their extremely light weight, high volume mailings can save considerably on postage which can offset some of the increased cost. Mailing thick inserts which could cause tears in paper during the mailing process are easily accommodated by Tyvek envelopes.

From an environmental standpoint, Tyvek is not as easily recycled as paper. However Waste Management offers a kit which can be used to mail 225 square feet of material which they will then recycle. Elite Envelope believes in recycling wherever possible so we will offer this kit free of charge to any customer who places a Tyvek order. Just mention this blog at the time of your order.  

Elite Envelope manufacturing plant

As an envelope converter and manufacturer, Elite Envelope holds a relatively unique place in the printing world. We are the only envelope converter in greater Boston and one of only six in all of New England.

One of our favorite things to do is invite customers and prospective customers to visit us for a plant tour. Many envelope buyers have never actually seen an envelope being made and it’s always an eye-opening experience.  There’s always at least one comment about the fact that they didn’t realize so much went into the making of a simple envelope.

We start by showing the paper cutting processes. We show how reams of paper are precisely die-cut either by hand for smaller jobs or, for larger jobs, on our computerized PHP cutter.  Showing the cookie-cutter-style die going through the paper lift demonstrates how variation can occur in the cutting process better than any explanation. You can actually see the paper bend just slightly as it’s cut.  Customers can actually see how certain designs are more practical than others given the limitations inherent in the process.

After a short stop at the latex self seal and peel and seal equipment, we move on to the folding machines which are the heart of the envelope converting process.  We show how the die cut “blanks” are fed into the machine at one end and come out the other end a scored, glued and folded envelope.  Customers see the seal gum applied as the first process and how once the gum is applied, the blank travels the entire length of the machine over hot lamps designed to set the proper dryness of the gum.

We show how the panel cutter die punches out the window area which is then covered over by the poly patch.  The tour guide points out how the window must be at least 3/8” from the edge of the envelope in order to allow for the patch and the glue necessary to keep it tight.  We show how the machine ensures an exact count coming off and how our adjustors/mechanics  continually make the fine adjustments necessary to keep the envelopes perfectly square and to the specifications required by even the most demanding customer in all aspects.

Finally, the tour reaches the printing department where our 2 color and 4 color jets are on display with all the various printing capabilities they provide.  Customers and prospects are generally very impressed by the quality of our four color envelope printing.

So, if you’re buying envelopes I encourage you to contact your envelope vendor for a tour of the plant. Make sure they actually make the envelopes though; not all envelope companies do.  There are many advantages in dealing directly with the manufacturer; not the least of which is you can go on a nifty tour and maybe even get lunch afterwards! 

First of all, let me wish you, dear reader, a happy, healthy and prosperous new year.  One of my takeaways from this past holiday season is how having Christmas and New Year’s Day on Sunday worked so well.  I might just start a petition to get those holidays permanently set on those days.

Of course, as nice as the late December holiday season can be on a personal level, it’s a little tough getting back into the swing business-wise; so for my first post of 2012, I offer a short, interesting tidbit that you probably haven’t considered.  

At Elite Envelope, our customer’s are a creative bunch. They are always trying to come up with new ways to present envelopes and, as an envelope manufacturer, we are very good at accommodating them in most ways. After all, “pushing the envelope beyond ordinary” is our motto.

Late last year, one of our direct mail/marketing partners asked if we could print rub and sniff ink on an envelope. This is sometimes called “scratch and sniff”. You’ve seen it in magazines; particularly those that weigh a ton and feature high fashion photography and ads for the latest fragrances to go with the couture.  It's also used on many other advertising applications although probably not on lottery tickets.

scratch and sniff cartoon, Elite Envelope blog

While we’d certainly heard about this technique and were fairly sure that our equipment could accommodate the special inks required for this purpose, no one at Elite Envelope had ever heard of an envelope being printed this way. So I did what I usually do when I have a mailing question; I ask John Powers who is the Mail piece Design Analyst (I would add “emeritus” to his title) at the Boston Post Office business center.

As always, John responded quickly and precisely with an excerpt from the Domestic Mail Manual:

“A fragrance advertising sample (39 USC 3001(g)), i.e., any matter normally acceptable in the mail but containing a fragrance advertising sample, is permitted in the mail only if it is sealed, wrapped, treated, or otherwise prepared in a manner reasonably designed to prevent individuals from being unknowingly or involuntarily exposed to the sample. A sample meets this requirement if it uses paper stocks with a maximum porosity of 20 Sheffield units or 172 Gurley-Hill units treated exclusively with microencapsulated oils, and if the sample is produced so that it cannot be activated except by opening a glued flap or binder or by removing an overlying ply of paper”

So there you have it: any fragrant printing must be done on something that is contained within the envelope, not on the envelope itself.  Now if anyone can give me a simple explanation of what Sheffield and Gurley-Hill units are, I’d be most obliged.

We left our usual package of homemade cookies and wine for Dave, our mailman this Christmas. He responded as he usually does with a thank-you card including a handwritten note.  He gives us great service throughout the year and, as the saying goes, is not deterred by “snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night”… (Although I have to say I don’t see Dave much at night. We’ll chalk that part up to poetic license).

The 6 day week of mail delivery by the regular mail carrier is a fixture of our culture and only one of the many reasons why it would be very difficult to sell a private mail service to the American public. The mail has been immortalized in art and song and goes back to the founding of America. For many, in a world of increasing complexity and depersonalization, the constancy and daily contact that many have with the “mailman” harkens back to a simpler time.

Norman Rockwell jolly postman resized 600

However, many of the same feelings and connections were associated with the monopoly that AT&T had on telecommunications for most of the 20th century. How many scenes in the movies involved those old, black telephones and the battery of operators who connected the calls?  Wasn’t there something reassuring about dialing “O” from any phone and being able to speak to a live person who could give you a number or answer your questions?  Everyone had that spot in their kitchen or pantry for the monstrous phonebook including the yellow pages which were so handy.

These days, with cell phones so universal and inexpensive, even in the poorest countries, coupled with rate plans that make the average call a fraction of what it once cost under the regulated system, the days of Bell Telephone being the only game in town seems unthinkable.  I have kept a telephone with a cord in my attic so my 12 year old daughter can see what it was like. It’s right next to the gigantic metal calculator my Dad bought in the 1960’s and not far from the turntable my mother had that played 78’s: all relics from the past.

Sad to say, but the Postal Service is now also a relic from days gone by. Times are changing but as with all huge public bureaucracies, adapting to change is never high on the list of priorities. Nowhere is this more evident than in the Social Security system. When the program was first proposed and enacted in the 1930’s, the retirement age was set at age 65. At that time, the average life expectancy for a man was below 65.  Fast forward 75 years to the present when the average man lives well into his late 70’s, and the retirement age for Social Security is still age 65.  As a result of this and other factors, the system is going broke.  Anyone who dares suggest that we adjust the retirement age to reflect current realities even slightly  is met with howls of protest or worse from the vested interests of the current system.

Even though the amount of first class mail has decreased substantially in the past 20 years, there are billions of envelopes that need to be delivered.  We still need the mail for a variety of reasons, most notably to facilitate the advertising/fundraising function of direct mail. However, there is no longer any reason to perpetuate a government-sponsored monopoly to provide this function. In fact, doing so could do much more harm than good.

More on this later.

When the federal government first established the postal service in the late 18th century, the United States was a relatively small parcel of land on the east coast of the continent.  At a time before telephones or even telegraphs, letters were the only long-distance method of communication. It made sense to facilitate such an important function in a nascent and growing society.  

Of course, we now live in an age where telephones are ubiquitous and cheap. Sending someone a written text on a cell phone is commonplace and costs nothing.  The internet and similarly cheap personal computers have made e mail the preferred method of written communication. Why spend the time and money typing a letter and sending it to a relative overseas when you can send them an e mail for free and have them receive it within seconds?  Additionally, fax machines are either on your desk at home or easily available at a local copy or print center.  Lastly, you can scan a document on your computer and send it as an e mail attachment for someone to print out upon receipt.

All these developments have reduced the amount of regular mail delivered by the Postal Service dramatically in the past decade.  That trend is going to continue. The reduction in demand would seem to require a commensurate reduction in costs and overhead.  However, there are no incentives to economize or streamline operations at a government-run agency. The incentives are exactly the opposite; spend all the money in the budget so that more can be allocated for the future. "Don't kill the job", has been the public sector motto for as long as there has been a public sector.

Ultimately, the huge fiscal problems facing the Post Office are not solvable through the political process. A government which spends taxpayer money at a rate that is slowly but surely leading to the bankruptcy of the nation cannot be expected to muster the fortitude and common sense required to put the Postal Service on a fiscally sustainable course.  It seems to me the only viable course of action is to break up the postal monopoly and allow private companies to compete for the letter business.

The Post Office used to have a monopoly on parcel deliveries but, as everyone alive knows, UPS and Fedex and many other excellent companies have gobbled up a huge portion of that market by providing great service at very competitive prices.  In the process they have forced the Post Office to implement service upgrades like online mail tracking.  Does anyone believe that would have happened without the healthy competition provided by those private companies?   

Are there any good reasons why the same thing could not happen for the delivery of first class mail? Aside from the huge political uproar which would certainly accompany such a move, I think not.  Would the increased competition for the first class and bulk mail business be a boon to direct marketers and the printing and envelope companies which supply them?  I’ll get into that in my next post along with some of the reasons generally offered in opposition to Post Office privatization.

In the meantime, your comments are most appreciated.

Our President Dave Theriault is featured on the Mass Econ website in the "Ask the Experts" section on the homepage.

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