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Pushing the Envelope Beyond Ordinary

Paper Comes Back (or it never really left)

Posted by Jerry Velona on Jul 19, 2016 12:59:35 PM

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.  

Of course this isn’t true in all cases.  Once the automobile came onto the scene, horse-drawn transportation became a decidedly niche activity and stayed that way.  But not all social trends or new technological developments are as obviously superior as the car. 

It’s remarkable to think that the internet as we know it and use it today has really only become widespread within the past twenty years or so. The world has profoundly changed as a result and it’s been a positive change in almost all respects.  

High technology in all its forms has pushed paper aside in many ways and for many reasons; some having to do with convenience, some with cost, some with (often faulty) environmental concerns.  But inevitably, the “digestion” period has begun and people are starting to process these changes, seeing the negatives as well as the positives and acting accordingly.

A few recent examples illustrate this:

Item - In a June 22nd article in the Boston Globe - "Millennial's strange love affair with greeting cards" Janelle Nanos writes about how young adults are seeing the superior personal connection of a written note and card versus a "throwaway" message on Facebook or Snapcha and are buying them in significant quantities.  The demand is mostly fulfilled through small, boutique card companies that market online.  Improved printing technology and lower upfront costs have reduced the barrier to entry in the market.

Item – In a July 10th essay in the Wall Street Journal entitled "I'm Banning Laptops from My Classroom" , Rutgers law school professor Stuart Green makes his case against the use of computers in his class. His reason quite simply is that many students are distracted and doing other things rather than listening and engaging in the lecture.  He seems this as an endemic problem in society as a whole especially among Millennials – a state of perpetual distraction.  Starting this fall, students in Professor Green’s class will have to go back to writing notes on paper.

Item – An article in Fortune magazine from April 16th, "Air Dryers Disperse Viruses" summarizes a recent study conducted by the Journal of Applied Microbiology which showed that hand dryers, in particular the Dyson model where you stick your hands in, spread germs wildly around the restroom as opposed to using a paper towel which confines the germs primarily to the trash.  Now, I’ve read where the methodology of this study might have exaggerated the results. I haven’t read the study. But the conclusions seems to pass the common sense test at least to me.  (Personally, I’ve always preferred the paper towel to the air dryer).

Item – In an Info Trends blog dated June 7th, entitled "Millennials Won't Respond to Printed Catalogs and Direct Mail, Right? WRONG!" data is presented to demonstrate the headline’s thesis.  I have to say that even I was surprised at the findings which showed a very high percentage of the 18-34 age group studied finding catalogs useful and opening direct mail pieces they receive.  The article makes the point that after a period of decline, both catalogs and direct mail are experiencing a resurgence because they get results.  Sound familiar?

So are we seeing a return to paper and printing on paper and envelopes as a general counter-trend?  I’ve presented some anecdotes which don’t conclusively prove the point but I believe they are indicative of the type of re-evaluation I alluded to earlier.  In my experience with Elite Envelope and Graphics, I can attest to the fact that custom made card packages for invitations and other purposes are becoming more and more popular. Some of our fastest-growing customers are in that market.

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I was going through some old photos the other day and mixed in with them were some letters I had received from my mother while in college.  My Mom passed away in 2002. What a joy it was to read those letters written in her impeccable penmanship and expressing herself in the erudite yet personal manner she was known for.  Print on paper can connect us to our past (and present) in a way that the ephemeral digital form of communication cannot. Unless of course, you print them out and save them!

 

Topics: elite envelope, envelopes, printed paper, paper;

Elite Envelope Bids Adieu to Sweet Lou

Posted by Jerry Velona on Mar 29, 2016 10:14:27 AM

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.

That said, at Elite Envelope & Graphics, my partner Dave Theriault and I have always said that we like a family atmosphere at the company. What that means to us among other things is we consider the family obligations of our employees to be at least equally important as their work duties. We’ve also maintained a company size of around 30 employees which allows us to be in daily contact with everyone as well as maintain an open door policy for anyone who has something they need to talk about.

We also have actual family members working together at Elite.  The Gorman brothers, Chris and Steve have been with us almost since we started the company in late 2003.  And then there’s the three generations of paper cutters; Luis Sousa who recently retired, his son-in-law John Verissimo who also serves as a plant manager and John’s son and Luis’ grandson Cameron Verissimo who joined us a couple of years ago and now is one of our best cutters.  Luis recently decided to hang it up after over forty years of cutting paper for various envelope companies including the past twelve years or so at Elite.  We recently threw him a retirement party at his favorite Portuguese restaurant Sagre’ in his hometown of Fall River, Massachusetts.

Luis has an interesting story. He was born in the Azores, the beautiful islands off the coast of Portugal. Luis was one of six children, 3 boys and 3 girls.  His father was a bus driver and his mother a homemaker.  Eventually Luis’ family moved to Brazil where he met his wife Maria. He and Maria had three children and moved to the US in September of 1972, following his parents who had done the same a few years earlier.

At that time, Sousa’s brother Manny was working as a paper cutter at the now defunct Boston Envelope Company in Canton, MA.  Manny set up an interview for Luis who was eventually hired and trained for the same job to work alongside his brother.  Sousa worked at Boston Envelope for many years before moving to Northeastern Envelope in Braintree, Sheppard Envelope in Auburn and eventually to Elite Envelope & Graphics in Randolph.  In 2015 Luis’ beloved wife Maria passed away. Shortly thereafter, he decided it was finally time to retire.

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Cutting paper is a physically demanding job. You’re on your feet all day lifting large and heavy reams of paper onto a cutting bed.  The paper is cut with a large steel die that resembles a cookie cutter.  The die is placed very carefully on top of the paper.  When it’s in just the right position, the cutting bed slides under a metal press which pushes the die through the ream of paper. This creates the individual “blanks” which are then taken to another machine where they are folded and glued to make the envelopes we all use.

It’s a job that can wear down much younger men. But remarkably Sousa was able to keep cutting paper well into his 70’s. His longtime friend and co-worker Al Berardinelli remarked, “Unlike the rest of us, Luis never seemed to age!”  Sousa attributes this to the fact that he enjoyed his work very much. For the past 12 years, he would rise early in the morning and go to his favorite local bakery where he’d get a Portuguese pastry and a cup of coffee before driving about 40 minutes to Randolph to arrive at 7 AM.  In the envelope and printing industries, it’s typical for the production day to start early in the morning.  That never seemed to bother Louis Sousa.     

Sousa’s sense of humor and impish grin were a constant feature on the job. He could also be a bit of a practical joker by his own account: “Years ago my son and I were working side by side on the production floor. I decided to tie a trip wire from my machine to his and every time he would try to operate his machine, I would pull the wire and it would shut off.  He was so aggravated until he realized what I was doing!” he said with a smile.

My partner Dave Theriault spoke about Luis’ value to the company. “We were thrilled to have Luis join us shortly after we started Elite in 2003. We sought him out specifically. He was our first and only cutter for a long time.” Dave went on to rave about Sousa’s skill at his craft.  “Luis is probably the most skilled cutter I’ve ever seen. His many years of experience and the pride he took in his work each day made him a key member of our staff. He solved many a problem for me.”   When Luis wanted to scale back his hours a bit, we gladly accommodated him.  Dave said, “Just having Luis around to answer questions and tackle some of the more challenging jobs was a big help. Plus he’s just a great guy to have on your team. He’s always upbeat and works hard and very productively every day. We miss him!”

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Despite missing his many friends and long-time colleagues at Elite Envelope, Luis says he is enjoying his retirement.  In addition to his 3 children he now has 6 grandchildren and a great-granddaughter. A proud family man, he enjoys spending time with all of them as much as he can.  Sousa still enjoys his trips to the local bakery for coffee except now he can do it at a more leisurely pace and include spending time with his friends catching up on the local happenings.  Ever the jokester, Sousa says he’s teaching his great-granddaughter how to keep herself amused at restaurants by flicking sugar packets with her spoon. Some things never change!  And the family tradition continues at Elite Envelope & Graphics.

 

Topics: envelopes, envelope converting, paper cutting

Pushing the Envelope: Talk versus E Mail

Posted by Jerry Velona on Feb 24, 2016 9:59:22 AM

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.

Now we’ve come so far since then that my 16 year old daughter didn’t see it as such a laughable relic of olden times because in 2016, her connection to television, especially the broadcast variety is tenuous at best.  Most of what she watches these days is on You Tube or Netflix or from links she picks up on social media.  Television; the fantastic gadget that tantalized my parents’ generation at the 1939 World’s Fair is now pretty much consigned by the iGens to “whatever” status.

Another story about the “good old days” that I regale her with occasionally concerns the land line telephone. Yes, my child there were obnoxious sounding busy signals which just kept going and going until you hung up. If the line was busy and you had to speak to someone, you just kept calling until you got through. And when my big sister used to speak to her friends, she had to pull the cord and walk part way down the basement stairs and close the door behind her so she had some privacy.  This maneuver didn’t deter my grandmother who used to gingerly pick up her extension upstairs and listen in while covering the mouthpiece with her hand.  

 

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These days what used to be generational changes are happening within a much smaller timeframe. In the span of the past ten years or so, e mailing, like Facebook, has become more of a middle-aged thing.  My mother used to cut out articles she wanted me to read from the newspaper and magazines and send them to me.  Now I do the same thing with my kids but via e mail.  My older kids – both in their mid-thirties will read and respond. My youngest rarely even opens them. To her, e mails are something you get from school (or your parents!) and should mostly be ignored. If you want to reach her and get a reasonably quick response, you pretty much have to text.

E mail, however, still rules in business – at least in the envelope converting and web printing business.  In fact, the sheer number of e mails I get each day has become somewhat burdensome.  Now, I’m NEVER going to complain about a customer requesting something via e mail, or a prospect for that matter.  Hearing from customers; quoting on jobs, expediting requests and orders, and providing general customer service is the lifeblood of a business. It is something we value and is certainly not a problem.

But reading, considering and responding to those e mails, especially when they require some action on our part, takes up a lot of time.  Which leads me to my point (finally!).   I think we’ve become too used to e mail to the point where we’ll generate a trail of three, four or many more about a single subject when one simple and shorter phone call would do.  Now there is something to be said for typing up a quick note and sending and moving quickly on to the next thing before having to respond. I think we get into a groove with that activity and it gives us the sense that we’re being productive and plowing forward. Trouble is, I’m afraid in many cases we’re wasting time.  Why not just give the person a call and review everything in one (hopefully short) phone call?  Speaking in real time can resolve questions that might take several e mails back and forth as in; “is THIS what you meant?”, etc. Plus an actual conversation can reinforce any type of relationship business or personal much better than trading notes.

My grandmother, who was all about saving time would approve. Of course she wouldn’t be too interested to listen in on conversations discussing the best way to print an envelope or why web presses are the best option for direct mail printing.  My sister’s conversations with her boyfriends were much more interesting!

Topics: elite envelope, envelopes, envelope printing, pushing the envelope, web printing

Envelopes, Paper and “Green Washing”

Posted by Jerry Velona on Jan 26, 2016 11:36:17 AM

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.

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The notion that not using paper somehow “saves a tree” has become a persistent canard.  The argument goes something like this:  paper pulp is made from wood which comes from trees. So, the less paper used, the fewer trees cut down. Now this is obviously true but like many simplistic and tendentious arguments, it omits many salient points. The most obvious omission is that trees are not a finite resource. When one is cut down, another seed can be planted.  If you own a paper company and your business relies on a regular supply of trees for wood pulp it’s in your interest to ensure that for every tree used, another one or more is growing to take its place.  And while trees can be beautiful and decorative and necessary for the ecosystem, they are also susceptible to disease and blight and will eventually rot and die on their own.  The financial incentive to grow and maintain healthy new tree stock for paper companies is a strong one.  It’s not a coincidence that forests owned by these companies are among the most productive and best managed on earth. You rarely if ever hear of wildfires affecting them.

The demand for paper in the marketplace ensures that these forests continue to flourish and are maintained for the purpose of growing trees.  If less paper is used, many of these wooded areas will be leveled for development of some other sort. So it’s not at all certain that by not using paper, you are “saving a tree”. In fact, the opposite may be true.

Have you ever heard anyone making an argument that not eating fruits and vegetables “saves” an apple or a tomato?  Neither have I. Doesn’t the same logic apply there?  We grow crops season after season in order to supply food to nourish our bodies. Some of this farmland was probably forest land before it was cleared to grow crops.  And yes, I understand that unlike food, paper use is somewhat discretionary. But paper plays an important role in our lives in education and commerce in general. 

And speaking of forest land, it’s a fact that there are more trees in the US today than there were a hundred years or so.  And a recent study estimated that there are over three trillion trees on earth which was a 750 per cent increase over previous best estimates.  Oops!

There is a certain positive social cachet associated with being seen as environmentally conscious.  Corporations eager to be seen in this light by customers have rushed to embrace green issues often as a justification for doing what’s in their financial interest.  Examples of this abound.  For years banks have been suggesting that their customers “go green” by getting their account statements sent on line.  Saying, “get your statements on line and help us reduce our costs and improve our bottom line” just doesn’t have the same impact.

The ubiquitous message below so many e mail signatures imploring us to not print the e mail is part of this desire to be with the spirit of the times.  I don’t necessarily disagree with the sentiment.  We shouldn’t print things for no reason. These days there are fewer reasons to print documents and printing something unnecessarily is a form of waste which should be avoided.  However, the premise underlying this message, as I’ve suggested, is not correct and perpetuating false information should also be avoided. 

One organization that’s taking it upon itself to correct these false impressions is Two Sides based out of Chicago.  Their website provides a trove of information on the topic of paper and the environment and is very useful in putting these matters in their proper context.  The President of Two Sides Phil Riebel will contact individuals and companies who use these messages in their PR and provide them with information that, in some cases, has changed minds.  As their name implies, Two Sides takes a light and logical approach to the debate which I believe is more effective in the long term.  No point in countering one heavy-handed message with another as emotionally satisfying as that might be.

Two sides brings to the argument balance which in all things, including nature, is essential.

 

Topics: direct mail, envelopes, going green, save a tree, paper and trees

New Year’s Envelope, Print & Mail Wishes

Posted by Jerry Velona on Jan 5, 2016 10:18:34 AM

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

2015 was a pretty good year for envelopes and print. Each company has its unique story and set of circumstances but it seems that the print market contraction, greatly exacerbated by the financial crisis of 2008/2009, has leveled off with fewer players which was an unfortunate necessity.

The demand for direct mail components is a big part of where the business is coming from these days.  In the past, the ease and negligible cost of e mail led many marketers to believe that they could solicit new clients on the cheap. In most cases, the results confirmed the adage that “you get what you pay for”.  Despite the higher cost, the ROI for direct mail is greater than e mail which has led to an “all of the above” approach with direct mail firmly in the mix.

Social media has become a big part of business marketing – some say an indispensable part.  While I think that’s true for some companies, I don’t think it’s as true in the envelope, printing and direct mail world at least in my experience.  I’m open to being persuaded that Elite Envelope & Graphics should have a Facebook page and a Twitter account. But I have yet to hear a good argument that takes into account how we (and thousands of companies like us) actually do business on a daily basis. I still believe that my time is better spent speaking to a customer on the phone or meeting or even e mailing with them than Tweeting something out.  Social media stresses a personal connection to the audience. While establishing those close connections where possible and where appropriate have always been a part of building customer loyalty, it isn’t essential in our business.  There’s also the lack-of-time factor: both the time I’d need to spend posting interesting content and the time required by my customers to be checking Facebook or Twitter during work hours in the course of their mostly very busy days.

A noticeable trend in our industries is the movement toward smaller quantities.  The information age allows everyone to be their own corporation with their office in their pocket.  At the same time the revolution in digital printing has “lowered the entry bar” just as the advances in personal and mobile computing have done for start-ups in general. We all need to adjust our business models to be able to produce smaller quantity jobs profitably.

Another boon to the envelope industry in particular related to the many small “Etsy –type” businesses out there is the need for shipping materials.  The demand for heavy duty envelopes like Tyvek and Herculink along with bubble envelopes and board mailers has increased dramatically in the past five years or so.

What end of year blog column would be complete without a New Year’s wish?  Mine is for the Post Office to be reformed in a meaningful way which would allow it be more streamlined and cost effective for the demands of the new century.  As readers of this blog are aware, I favor a complete break-up of the first class mail government monopoly. I think it’s an outdated model and its bloat and inflexibility is a real danger to the direct mail industry which relies on it to move things efficiently at a reasonably competitive cost. While even partial privatization seems like a pipedream, perhaps the younger generation moving into Congress will look at this in a new way and can come up with a compromise that would help ensure the health of direct mail and the envelope and printing businesses that rely on it.

In any event, best wishes for a happy, healthy and prosperous 2016. Happy New Year!

Topics: direct mail, elite envelope, envelopes, post office, tyvek envelopes, smart bubble envelopes

Envelopes and Print – Boldly into 2015

Posted by Jerry Velona on Dec 24, 2014 9:24:00 AM

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!

Topics: elite envelope, e mail and direct mail, envelopes, envelopes and printing

The Hybrid Approach to Printing & Envelope Sales

Posted by Jerry Velona on Nov 12, 2014 3:38:00 PM

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, if you’re able to actually reach the prospect, can begin the personalization of the process in a way that a digitally printed “Dear Joe” mail piece probably won't do.  

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 whom I’ve never met. In today's market, 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 getting regular business, don’t forget to stop by when you’re in the area for an occasional follow up visit to check in on how you're doing and express some gratitude for the business. (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!

Topics: elite envelope, envelopes, printing and envelopes, envelope sales, printing sales

Envelope & Printing Resolutions for 2014

Posted by Jerry Velona on Jan 7, 2014 11:22:00 AM

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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!

Topics: elite envelope, envelopes, printing and envelopes, envelope printing, envelope sales, going green

The Difficult Print and Envelope Buyer

Posted by Jerry Velona on Nov 20, 2013 12:19:00 PM

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 himself and his 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 plus 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.

Topics: elite envelope, envelopes, Print buyers, difficult customers

Envelope Cost Saving Tips

Posted by Jerry Velona on Jul 9, 2013 10:58:00 AM

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.

Topics: envelopes, envelope printing, specialty envelopes, envelope cost saving tips

Yet Another Blog Post

From Jerry Velona - co-owner,

Elite Envelope & Graphics, Inc.

Jerry offers pertinent, often useful information on envelope converting and printing, web printing, direct mail, the post office, songs that have to do with mail and letters, digital overload and much more!

(Non-spam) Comments always appreciated.  Spread it around!

 

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