I attended a seminar the other day featuring a presentation by a Post Office senior marketing executive. I was hoping for some useful information about upcoming changes; particularly the Intelligent Bar Code requirement slated to take effect in the spring of 2011. (recently postponed indefinitely)
Instead what I and the others at this fairly well-attended gathering got was an inadvertent glimpse into the alternative universe of our Postal Service. The presenter was very good; he knew his stuff and kept things moving in a light and humorous fashion. Much of the content concerned postal politics which like most inside political topics was a snooze to anyone on the outside. Some of the talk was on more topical issues such as the latest on a rate increase (probably not in the next six months but, after that, who knows?), and whither Saturday delivery? (consolidating routes will be pursued first as an alternative although the new chairman of the House oversight committee supposedly favors its elimination as a cost- cutting measure)
Many in the audience were printers, envelope companies, direct mail agency people or those who serve the direct mail industry. Naturally, many of the questions had to do with how the post office can cut costs and remain viable in the digital world. Talk turned to the number of post offices; approximately 37,000 of them nationwide. The presenter told an interesting story about a crusty, recently re-elected congressman who represents an affluent 18 square mile suburb that has eleven (!) post offices. He said that whenever he gets an audience with the aforementioned pol, the first question he’s asked is: “Are you planning on closing any post offices in my district”? When told no, the congressman replies, “Good. Now we can talk”. That somewhat depressing anecdote illustrates the difficulty of efficiently running any type of business under political control.
Although we got the standard Post Office line about them not taking “one dime” of taxpayer money, first-class mail delivery is a government protected monopoly and the Postal Service pays no taxes on its income or its property unlike Fedex or UPS. Plus the Post Office gets to set a floor on the parcel delivery prices charged by those companies which by law must be more than what the Post Office charges. That’s a sweet deal not enjoyed by any private company of which I’m aware.
With millions of postal retirees collecting fixed benefit pensions and likely to enjoy their lives well into their 80’s and beyond , the pressure to raise mailing rates and cut service will be inexorable and continuous. That’s not good news for envelope converting and envelope printing companies, direct mail companies, or any of us who depend on the continual flow of mailpieces for our livelihood.