Columbia businesses react to proposed Postal Service cuts

Monday, September 19, 2011 | 8:00 p.m. CDT; updated 5:13 p.m. CDT, Wednesday, September 28, 2011

COLUMBIA — As manager of a business that handles about 40,000 pieces of mail each day, Cathy Rupard depends on U.S. Postal Service.

Midwest Mailing Service, the company Rupard manages, processes large volumes of mail for Columbia businesses.

“About two years ago, there was a sharp decline because a lot of the companies we do business with quit using mail for day-to-day operational pieces,” she said.

Since then, business has picked up again. Rupard thinks that's due, in part, to direct mailings during the 2010 election. She also said the Postal Service has worked to make it easier for businesses to communicate using mail with things such as Every Door Direct Mail, which allows businesses to use an online tool to target specific areas at a relatively low cost. The no-call list also caused a resurgence in mail use, she said.

Although many businesses have resumed their use of direct mail, it comes at a time when the Postal Service is looking at significant spending cuts to make up for a dramatic decline in revenue coupled with an increase in operating costs. The Postal Service is considering whether to close 153 post offices in Missouri, along with several mail processing facilities.

Nationally, first-class mail volume has decreased 25 percent since 2006. During the same time, the number of first-class mail such as letters, cards and packages people send has dropped by 35 percent, said Valerie Welsch, a spokeswoman for the Gateway Postal District that includes Columbia and Boone County.

The numbers closer to home tell a similar story.

The volume of standard mail, usually advertisements and newsletters, has decreased some but is starting to stabilize. Columbia post offices, however, have seen a more dramatic decline in the volume of first-class mail.

“At least 25 percent of our first-class mail has dropped off,” Gateway District customer relations coordinator Cheryl Hudson said. “That's basically our bread and butter. It takes about three pieces of standard mail to make up the revenue that first-class mail brings in."

In order to cope with mounting bills and fewer people sending mail, Postmaster General Patrick Donahue has asked Congress to allow the Postal Service to make dramatic spending cuts. These include eliminating Saturday mail delivery, lifting a requirement that the Postal Service prepay $5.5 billion in retiree health benefits each year and reducing the work force by 220,000 by 2015.

On Monday, President Barack Obama endorsed the elimination of Saturday delivery, according to the Associated Press. He noted the Postal Service's annual deficit of $8.5 billion.

Donahue also has asked Congress to allow the Postal Service to sell products and services other than mail and postage.

“Basically, the Postal Service is trying to do everything within its control to remain financially viable and to continue to provide universal service to Americans, but we can only cut so much,” Welsch said. “We really need help from Congress to remain financially viable in the future."

The Postal Service is not taxpayer funded but is regulated by the federal government.

Rupard said the elimination of Saturday delivery wouldn’t directly impact her business because it deals primarily with business-to-business mail, and those businesses are mostly closed over the weekend.

“But if a business mails a check to a person on Friday, and it would normally get there on Saturday, that could have an impact,” she said.

Amanda VanderTuig of The Butterfly Tattoo said her business uses the postal service exclusively for delivering its products. Customers would have to wait longer on their orders if Saturday mail delivery were eliminated, she said.

“In the end, it doesn't make a huge difference for us, but for the customer it does," she said.

Kim Harrison, vice president of Mail & More in Columbia, said the number of customers she sees using direct mail campaigns has remained relatively steady for the past few years.

“We’ve seen people wanting to understand how to better use it,” she said. “They’re asking more questions, and that’s good.”

More and more, businesses are combining direct mail campaigns with social media marketing, trying to reach new audiences and time mail advertisements with those online.

Harrison said the elimination of Saturday service would mostly impact how she helps her customers time the delivery of their mail. For example, someone mailing something on a Wednesday would need to know that it might not be delivered until the following week. Advertisers typically send mail campaigns based on when they think their audiences are paid and when they aren’t busy — usually during the week.

"It's not that direct mail is going to go away,” she said. “It still continues to be one of the best ways to help make that buying decision.”

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Mike Bellman September 19, 2011 | 10:21 p.m.

I'd like to see the delivery of mail decrease by more than one day. I'd be happy with 3 days a week. M,W,F or T,R,Sat. For extremely rural routes, twice a week total. This would reduce personnel costs and fuel costs by at least 30-40%

Face it, do we REALLY know when mail is coming? No
Haven't we gone a day sometimes and not gotten the mail? It was waiting for you on Day #2. It didn't turn, go bad or expire.

We can still have express mail, but regular delivery can wait a day or two.

(Report Comment)
Corey Parks September 19, 2011 | 11:23 p.m.

Just think of the amount of money that could be saved in time and fuel if certain neighborhoods like Old Hawthorne, Cascades, Thornbrook, ect, would switch to a more condo/apartment type of system where the customer would just stop at the mailbox on the way in and out of the neighborhood. The postman would just make one stop spend 30 minutes and head back to the post office. The postman would be working less and the USPS could pay them less.

(Report Comment)
Louis Schneebaum September 19, 2011 | 11:36 p.m.

People that cruise in massive SUVs through their winding, soulless planned subdivisions, can barely be bothered to wait for a pedestrian to cross the street when they come into town -- they'd be up in arms if they had to do anything to contribute to anything other than they're own continued comfort and limitless consumption. Your idea is wonderful but, they'd never have it. It would require a sprinkling of selflessness that they inherently don't possess. We're talking about people who burn extra gas to run their ACs with all of the windows up, even when it's beautiful outside. They literally PAY to lead crappier, more boring lives.

(Report Comment)
Corey Parks September 20, 2011 | 7:24 a.m.

Not sure why you enjoy insulting so many people. Must be personal problems. I wish you well.

As for the neighborhood idea, it is already in use in many places around the country. Has been for years and without much complaint. I studied Urban Geography and Planning in college and have seen many case studies on this matter. Unfortunately you mostly see it in communities that have popped up in the last 10 years. Older ones as you can imagine do not like change. Phoenix AZ for example have even instituted this practice in many of the neighborhoods that are not defined by 1 or 2 specified entrances. The first week or 2 is an adjustment but it quickly becomes second nature.
I will agree with you though. Even with the time and fuel saving benefits to the post office I do not see it saving much money in labor costs as they would still demand to be paid the same while doing less work.

(Report Comment)
Brian Wallstin September 20, 2011 | 9:05 a.m.

Thank god we have someone who "studied" Urban Geography and Planning in college to set us straight on what the USPS should be doing. But, unless he actually got a degree, I suspect he has no idea what he's talking about.

Here's a thought: Think the mailman is overpaid? Think the USPS sucks? Set up a PO box and pick up and deliver your mail yourself, or just stop using it altogether.

I don't know what the best answer to the USPS's problems are, but privatizing is probably not it, unless we force the rural population that relies on it to become urbanites. As it is, they can't even get broadband because the private companies that build and own the infrastructure say it's too expensive. Why would FedEx or UPS be any different?

(Report Comment)
mike mentor September 20, 2011 | 9:17 a.m.

I hate to butt in on hatin' the rich folk, but delivery to neighborhoods is not the problem. The problem is a letter costs the same whether it goes to the rich folks in Thornbrook or to a rich farmer in rural Boone County that lives miles away from their neighbor. I try to give the Post Office the benefit of the doubt when they lose money because they do not have the luxury of charging what they want for a letter or refusing to deliver if it's too far out of the way and not economically feasible. This service was needed back before all of the other methods of communication were available. Today, that is debatable. Sometime in the future, it will be obsolete. I think we would be better served talking about where we are relating to these issues than hatin' the rich folk for what they have accomplished in their lives and all the jobs they create with their endless consumption and all...

(Corey, not aimed at you buddy...)

(Report Comment)
Paul Allaire September 20, 2011 | 10:16 a.m.

"I do not see it saving much money in labor costs as they would still demand to be paid the same while doing less work."

You don't think that someone would figure out that they could then condense the routes?

(Report Comment)
Louis Schneebaum September 20, 2011 | 12:09 p.m.

People that live in these subdivisions aren't 'rich folk'. They're rubes with no taste.

(Report Comment)

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