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Mail service businesses have eyes cast over shoulders

They arrive every month, just as faithfully as the U.S. Postal Service performs its deliveries. From bank statements to medical bills to direct marketing mailings, the mailbox is destination for millions of pieces of mail every day across the country.

Sean Koehn is one of those guys who ensure banks get monthly statements to their customers and healthcare providers’ bills are properly inserted into envelopes to be mailed, correct postage affixed.

With the help of 25 employees and co-owner Jason Perry, Koehn operates two locations of Mail Managers, the primary in Tupelo and a smaller branch in Starkville.

And like many folks in the mailing business, Koehn keeps an eye over his shoulder — he’s watching to see what happens with the advent of electronic mailings. The Internet and its attendant opportunity to offer online bank and bill statements has many banks and creditors urging their customers to give up paper bills for the convenience — and cost savings — of technology.

Built on paper

Paper, as Koehn points out, is the basis for his business and other mailing services. Koehn says Mail Managers daily posts 50,000 mailings from its Tupelo location, while Starkville mails approximately half that number. Much of the work comprises folding statements or bills and inserting them into envelopes, which are sealed and stamped with proper postage.

Practically all the work is performed by machines, with employees such as assistant manager Adam Whitley keeping the envelopes stacked in the feeder, ink in the postage meter and freeing the occasional jam.

“Technology has changed,” Koehn says. “We have lost some customers to online statements. But there should always be a need for paper on some level.”

He points out that his mother and grandmother, for example, “are not going to get their bank statements online.” On the other hand, there are plenty of younger-generation computer users who are quite comfortable receiving and paying their bills on the computer — and that number should only increase in years to come.

Koehn and Perry recently launched Shred Managers, a document destroying enterprise to fulfill business’ need for security. “Shred Managers came about because we were trying to diversify,” Koehn explains.

Koehn’s is not the only Mississippi mail company seeking to diversify.

“We are a turnkey direct mail and marketing organization,” says Ernest James, owner of Jackson-based Amerimail Direct Inc. While he does some billing and statement work, James’ primary thrust is in the production and mailing of marketing pieces.

Of late, James has really been pushing his firm’s creative services. Not only will Amerimail produce the mail-out (printing, folding, inserting, sealing and mailing), but the company’s design department can conceptualize the brochure.

“In a lot of cases, the client gives us the idea and the graphic designer creates it,” James explains. He says that service is integral to Amerimail’s marketing thrust, which is even being expanded into the Memphis market through “a sales presence” James is kicking off.

“We want to offer a value-added service,” James says. “Others add value by adding volume. We add service.”

The move into the Memphis market is only a beginning for James, who says, “Even though we’re Mississippi-based, there is no reason we can’t become regional or even national.”

‘Never lets up’

But sometimes in the mailing business, just keeping up becomes the task at hand. Susan Haigler, owner of Mailing Place in Hattiesburg, says her business is “very fast-paced and never lets up.”

She reports being hospitalized twice because of “constant stress” in the six years since she bought the business.

“Cash flow is a big problem,” offers Haigler. She handles mailings for two hospitals and numerous other large customers, including William Carey College and some for University of Southern Mississippi.

Haigler bills every 15 days, while some accounts pay on a 30-day schedule. She says “multiply $12,000 to $15,000 times 10 clients and you’ve got $100,000 extended.”

Postage meters, she reports, cost her $4,000-$7,000 per day. On top of that there are “constant changes” in postal regulations, as well as needed equipment and software upgrades.

“Every time you turn around somebody wants money, and it’s big money,” Haigler remarks. She points to the Optical Character Recognition presorting machine that she purchased for $250,000 after acquiring Mailing Place — previously all the sorting was done manually.

In spite of buying the machine outright, the manufacturer requires an annual licensing fee of $20,000, raised recently from $16,000.

And, still, there is the specter of electronic billing. “I asked my customers if they’re going paperless anytime soon,” Haigler reports. “They all said no, but I feel it will become electronic at some point.”

Mail Managers’ Koehn figures digital communication will become the future method of billing and sending statements, which prompted him to explore the possibility of starting some kind of e-mailing service for banks and other institutions.

“It’s inevitable, it’s going to happen,” he predicts.

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