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.”