Now Showing Envelopes
The crumbling U.S. economy has forced everyone to work hard, multi-task and find new ways to stay relevant.
Envelopes are no exception. They can no longer get by as the mere carriers for bills, medical reports and bank deposits. To stay fresh, they must take on other jobs.
Experts agreed that envelopes will forever be paperwork holders, but also have to become instrumental to marketing a business or program.
Banks and credit unions have taken advantage of this idea for years. In terms of envelopes, these institutions have promoted creative expression.
“It’s a free advertising tool,” said Terry Pennington, vice president of Midlothian, Texas-based Ennis, who also is in charge of its Trade Envelopes facilities in Carol Stream, Ill. and Tullahoma, Tenn., Block Graphics and Calibrated.
“These aren’t just drive-in envelopes, they are ways for banks and credit unions to market their car loans and mortgage programs. You’re taking the message away with you and it’s there to remind you,” he said.
Pennington explained that envelopes are used to portray a company’s image. Due to the importance of branding and first impressions, envelopes have become more colorful and offer more features than they did just a few years ago.
“Our printing and converting capabilities have allowed us to keep up with this trend by offering more features and four-color envelopes with bleeds,” Pennington commented.
To help customers take advantage of this, Trade Envelopes recently unveiled its new Financial Products artwork brochure containing designs and images that clients can take and show to their customers.
“It’s an excellent sales tool for our customers,” Pennington noted.
The banking industry also has been a great market for JBM Envelope Company, located in Lebanon, Ohio.
JBM’s best products, in particular, are drive-in envelopes, said company president Marcus Sheanshang.
“We were the first envelope company to focus on four-color process designs for drive-in envelopes. We understand the best way for JBM to be successful is for the end-user to find value in what we make,” Sheanshang explained.
The company is excited about its new coin bangtail envelope that provides banks with an excellent opportunity to cross-sell other items to their customers.
“Strangely enough, one of our seed customers found the concept useful to have a vendor buy the coupon for advertising space,” Sheanshang stated. “It was a win/win situation. The vendor was able to sell more of a specific good while the seed company was able to not only lower its costs but make its customers more aware of other products they sell.”
Envelopes doing double-duty aren’t enough. In addition, companies must provide customers with the best possible customer service.
Pennington asserted that the company’s “very knowledgeable and friendly” customer staff gives their envelope facilities a competitive edge.
“We take the time to work with our customers on the level necessary. Experienced customers and new customers to this industry are all welcome. Whatever the knowledge level, our customer service representatives work with the customer to find the right solution and offer better and/or less expensive alternatives so that the end-user is best served,” he said.
Aaron Hyte, president of Austell, Georgia-based EMA Specialty Envelopes and More, shared that idea.
“The number-one most important aspect in business is the relationship we have with our customers,” Hyte said. “That relationship with our inside sales teams opens doors for our distributors. Because of the relationship they have, they bring more opportunities to our company.”
Mark Monahan, vice president sales and marketing for Rite Envelope & Graphics in Downingtown, Pa., explained that the company manages to keep up with changing marketplace demands through the help of the many features it offers.
Monahan said the company uses computer-to-plate technology, which allows it to print a much higher line screen value, resulting in sharper graphics even on uncoated offset sheets. Furthermore, the company offers to print flat sheet litho envelopes in house.
“We are seeing a trend toward shorter run, higher-end direct mail packages—more complex graphics and proprietary papers—that are driving higher response rates,” Monahan said. “We have the ability to print the matching components of a kit, including letters, brochures, buckslips, etc.”
Rite Envelope & Graphics also is embracing sustainability; it is Forest Stewardship Council and Sustainable Forestry Initiative Chain of Custody-certified. And, the company continues to take steps to reduce its carbon footprint.
An Uphill Journey
Manufacturers and distributors alike are faced with challenges other than coming up with new and creative ways to sell envelopes. The country’s current economic status and its impact on this industry remains constant on every company’s mind.
To combat the financial crunch, Rite Envelope & Graphics consolidated two facilities into one and solidified its second shift, for example.
“Like most companies, we are aligning ourselves to meet the demands of the marketplace. Our balance sheet is strong and we are positioned well to weather the financial storm,” Monahan said.
The economy and advances in technology has led EMA to expand products while it reduced its workforce by 20 percent in 2008.
Hyte said the layoffs were necessary, noting that his company and the “entire envelope industry saw an 8 percent decline last year.”
“As the economy improves, consumers will have more confidence.” With confidence they will be more receptive to all marketing, especially mailings,” he continued.
Hyte recognized the companies that will thrive in years to come will be those offering more than just envelopes. EMA offers distributors help in going to market—its free, e-commerce platform to compete with the best.
“In the next one or two years, we will just be known as EMA,” Hyte said. “Envelopes, letterheads, business cards and other print shop products.”
Ennis’ envelope companies are taking advantage of the economic recession.
“Many companies are placing smaller orders due to the uncertainty of what’s to come,” Pennington said. However, we are taking advantage of this in three areas. First, we are using this time to upgrade some of our equipment to streamline our envelope operations across the country. Secondly, we are finding that smaller envelope orders fit our equipment and capabilities very well. With our equipment base, we can respond quickly to the smaller custom orders. Lastly, we are finding that many resellers are re-discovering the envelope as a profitable product line. We are getting opportunities that some resellers were once overlooking.”
Monahan agreed this a very difficult economic period. Credit card mailings from the country’s largest financial institutions have decreased dramatically, reducing output by hundreds of millions of units, he continued.
“The northeast direct marketing community has been hit extremely hard, with several of the nation’s largest lettershops and print/envelope manufacturers recently closing. It’s like the perfect storm: Too much equipment. Low demand. High costs. We are unfortunately predicting there will continue to be plant closings and layoffs until the demand meets the capacity. However, the good news is that new businesses are starting and our nation has always been resilient. Suppliers that can ‘hang in there’ and react to the shorter runs, the quicker turns and the uncertainty created in the marketplace, will survive and hopefully, in the near future, thrive.”
Monahan went on to say he believes envelopes, printing and direct marketing will continue to play a role in the overall world of marketing.
“Technology has changed the landscape dramatically and perhaps direct mail may be a smaller piece of the pie, but it still drives results.”
Pennington added people have been predicting the demise of the envelope product line since the explosion of the Internet and e-mail. Nevertheless, the envelope industry has continued to adapt to changing markets.
“Other than a couple of downturns due to the economy, the envelope is still a growing product line,” he said. “In many cases, e-commerce applications have actually spurred growth of envelope usage. I believe that the envelope will continue to evolve with new features and uses.”
Pennington further explained that buying merchandise online actually has drummed up some envelope business.
“This triggers a store to send a statement and advertise to you,” he remarked. “An online transaction spurs follow-up mailings.”
Though many companies are pinching pennies, some continue to upgrade and purchase new equipment.
Trade Envelopes recently upgraded its envelope converting equipment so it can have a wide-range of converting speeds and envelope converting and printing equipment was recently installed at Calibrated, Ennis’ largest facility.
“This has kept us competitive in large quantities as well as small quantity custom envelopes. Additionally, Pennington said the company purchased state-of-the-art die-cutting equipment that keeps very tight tolerances and has higher throughput.
“This die-cutter allows us to be more precise with our die cutting for the pre-printed envelopes and helps us efficiently produce the envelopes,” Pennington said.
Rite Envelope recently purchased another four-color jet press, which gives the company enormous capacity for quick-turn, high-quality, process printing. In addition, the company purchased two new jet presses allowing it “to make changes on the fly and to print larger envelopes with a quicker set up,” Monahan said.
JBM purchased a few new machines enabling it to turn product around faster. It also bought a machine that provides it with the ability to print numbers, barcodes and variable data, Sheanshang said.
Sheanshang expressed that JBM’s biggest asset is the focus of its folding equipment and its full, flat sheet offset department. He explained that this allows the company to print and convert high-quality products in a very short period of time.
Though times may be tough, envelopes are working overtime to continue to reinvent themselves, which will allow them to seal a definite spot in the future. PPR