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Palletization, 100 Percent Mailings Are Key Production Issues

February 7, 2001

Every business depends on behind-the-scenes processes that are essential to meeting customer expectations. The direct mail industry is no exception. Two topics — 100 percent mailings and palletization — are important to high-volume direct mailers and their clients.

100 Percent Mailings

Do you ever have clients that need all addresses on their database to be sent mail guaranteed? If so, you probably understand some of the complexities of what is known in the industry as "100 percent mailings." To comply with this requirement, your mailing services company must alter its operating procedures to maneuver around an unavoidable manufacturing reality — production spoilage.

Manufacturing processes must be implemented that ensure the recapture of all pieces spoiled during production. These pieces must be identified, matched against the master database and produced again in a follow-up production run.

To facilitate 100 percent mailing requirements requirements, direct mailers should design an area on their piece where the production house can image a unique barcode.

After the first run, the print production firm can gather all spoilage and scan every piece, giving the firm an electronic record locator that lets it know which addresses need to be re-created.

Next, the printer can download the scanned results and match them against the original database to create a new data file. Then, the printer can re-image the previously spoiled pieces, producing a new mailing that plugs the gaps of the first and gives the desired result — a 100 percent mailing.

If you cannot image a barcode anywhere on the piece, the process of matching spoilage to the master database becomes more time consuming. When barcodes are objectionable, try to persuade the decision-maker to let you print a unique sequence number — a record locator — placed inconspicuously somewhere on the piece. If this is allowed, data file re-creation involves only the additional step of re-keying a short string of text characters from each spoiled piece, enabling the computer to identify the addresses for re-imaging. Though re-keying sequence numbers is less efficient and precise than barcode scanning, it beats the last alternative — manual re-keying of field data.

The least efficient method of data recapture is manually re-keying printed data — which usually involves filling in the name and address fields. Once completed, a match against the original database is run. Since so many more keystrokes are required by this tedious method, job turnaround time increases, as does the frequency of data entry errors.

Extra planning, materials, machine make-readies and production time are required to make 100 percent mailings a reality. It should be no surprise that 100 percent mailings cost more to produce. Plan to add an additional 10 percent to the cost of production, more or less depending on project complexity and the number of manufacturing operations involved. If the project is straightforward, such as laser imaging, converting and inserting, your mailing services provider should anticipate minimal spoilage and your price premium should be about 10 percent. However, if your job involves a lot of additional bindery or other manufacturing operations, there will be more spoilage and this premium percentage will increase, perhaps to 20 percent.


Have you ever wondered how your direct mail production services company manages to get your high-volume mailing jobs into the mail stream right and on time? It probably breaks these jobs into smaller, more manageable units, allowing it to more easily keep track of the volume of data, paper and materials involved. Palletization is the manufacturing process that makes this possible.

Palletization techniques enable high-volume jobs to become modular, thereby allowing production workers to ensure that each pallet of mail is properly processed and shipped. By running palletization software, high-volume direct mailers can work on less intimidating quantities, one pallet at a time. Suddenly, manufacturing, quality control and drop shipping become much easier, production errors go down and accountability goes up.

Consider a hypothetical million-piece mailing. After your data presorts are completed, your job might be broken into 100 pallets, averaging 10,000 pieces each. Since the pallets are sequentially numbered, you now can control all the processes in your lettershop — laser imaging, converting, folding, bindery and inserting — pallet by pallet.

What have you accomplished?

You have turned a difficult million-piece job into smaller manageable jobs.

There are also tracking benefits associated with palletization. When working on large jobs, it is difficult to ensure that every required process happens to every piece of mail. What if the response to your mailing from the Mobile, AL, area falls short of expectations? Three possible causes include:

  • The offer did not appeal to people in Mobile (strategy problem).
  • The design and/or copy did not appeal to people in Mobile (design/copy problem).
  • Less mail arrived at its destination in Mobile than in other parts of the country (production problem).

First, determine whether production problems are the source of your low response rate. Examine your palletization records and verify that your mail destined for Mobile was properly produced and sent.

If it was, production error can be eliminated. Then you can confidently begin a core analysis of the project’s strategy and design.

Palletization simplifies staging issues during and after production. Designing floor staging and trucking plans for work-in-process or finished goods is fast and easy. Since every pallet is already sequentially numbered, all your mailer has to do is ensure that pallets one to 24 are loaded into staging area (or trailer) A, 25 to 48 in staging area (or trailer) B, and so forth. n

Terry Woods is president of direct mailing company Harte-Hanks Baltimore


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