From the August/September edition of MAIL Magazine
In 1982 there was no internet and email. Mail was the principle means of written communications. And that is the year Midwest Direct opened its doors as a provider of mail presorting services. The operation was labor intensive, with employees sorting mail by hand into cubbyholes.
Fast forward 35 years later. Today, Midwest Direct can sort up to 150,000 pieces an hour on its six high-speed sorters. But the company has grown in all areas of mail communications and now offers customers everything from creation to print to mail and digital messages.
The secret to their success: diversification and technology investments.
The Cleveland, OH-based company has positioned itself as a multichannel message delivery provider, leveraging their mail expertise with online digital solutions. Customers can use Midwest Direct to create, coordinate, and execute multichannel customer contact and direct marketing campaigns to provide measureable results.
Unique variable data communications are designed to complement customer direct mail pieces and feature personalized URLs (pURLs). And augmented reality capabilities let Midwest Direct offer customers the ability to create direct mail that, when scanned with a smartphone or tablet, can overlay digital information such as images, video, and links to online media.
Its digital printing services include print-on-demand capabilities with full-color personalized variable data printing. And volume is not an issue. It can produce low, medium and high volume projects and with mailing services performed in-house, allows customers to have one point of production.
Diversification in core mailing products, such as invoice production, statement processing and pressure-sealed mail, has helped Midwest continue to grow their client base and expand services to existing accounts.
Midwest Direct’s investments in new technology have made operations more efficient and lowered costs-per-piece. For instance, a new Tray Processing System from MAI allows “one-touch” control. The system takes trays from the sorter, reads the tray label, and then automatically sends the tray to the destination pallet.
In 2016 Midwest Direct bolstered its data capabilities by acquiring C.TRAC – a mailing and data solutions provider with 40 years of experience – to form C.TRAC Direct. This gives clients access to a full suite of services aimed at producing effective, trackable and targeted messaging all in one place. C.TRAC Direct helps jumpstart the direct marketing chain by honing in on data hygiene, maintenance, and lists.
Midwest Direct President Richard Gebbie discussed his company’s progress and 35th anniversary in this interview with MAIL Magazine:
MAIL: Midwest Direct is marking its 35th anniversary in an industry that has been revolutionized by digital technology. What has been your secret to succeeding while others failed?
GEBBIE: Keeping our finger on the pulse of the business and industry, and planning for continuous improvement and diversification so we may continue offering clients the services they need.
MAIL: As one of the relatively few companies with USPS Mail Preparation Total Quality Management (MPTQM) Certification, you have a unique understanding of the importance of mail quality for postal automation. How has this helped you grow?
GEBBIE: Midwest has always taken a quality first approach. Although the MPTQM program has pretty much sun-setted with the Postal Service and is now moving toward Trend Based Verification and Seamless Acceptance, Midwest has continued with the basic tenants of MPTQM, which are to “find, fix, and prevent”. This keeps each department on their toes, and creates a smooth, efficient supply chain—from initial design and manufacturing of the piece all the way to presentation of the mail to the Postal Service, thus creating a happy client.
MAIL: How has Omni channel marketing services changed the industry and Midwest Direct?
GEBBIE: It has challenged our industry to stay relevant to advertisers and consumers. With the advent of web, email, and other digital marketing opportunities, the Postal Service, as well as advertisers and the MSP’s, had to change. Midwest is now utilizing a three-pronged approach with our mailing clients: First, we apply tracking numbers inside the FSIMB to determine delivery to the consumer. Then, we use a proprietary piece of software to serve a relevant ad timed to the mail piece arrival. Lastly, we launch a landing page to both pieces to deliver the call to action online. We then can provide “match back” tracking and reporting metrics to the client.
MAIL: What are the current trends in using multichannel message delivery?
GEBBIE: It’s all about creating a “hybrid” mailing at the moment. At Midwest Direct, we utilize digital marketing methods and the power of direct mail to get the best response possible. We combine it with backend reporting, which allows us to document results and provide key metrics that help determine marketing effectiveness and audience reach.
MAIL: Besides digital innovations, you still focus on infrastructure efficiency such as your mail conveyor system. What’s been the biggest benefit of this or other improvements?
GEBBIE: The USPS reports that labor consists of 78% of their operating budget. The same can be said for a business like Midwest. Our sorting equipment produces one tray of mail per minute, and in order to get the most production from them, we had to have a way to automate this process.
This led us to designing a tray management system with the help of Bob Dersham of MAI. The new system allows us to not only move the trays away from the sorters, but also read the tray labels and send the trays to the destination pallets automatically. This allows our processing to work in a “one touch” environment for tray handling, which reduces processing time and improves quality.
MAIL: What other machine or technology upgrades have you recently made?
GEBBIE: This year, we started to invest in high-speed inserting equipment to reduce cycle time in our lettershop, and we are currently in the process of purchasing a full color, high-speed inkjet for installation this fall. Additionally, we are installing new software which will allow us to streamline our workflow and become a fully automated document factory.
MAIL: Do you see paper use maintaining or growing in the coming years?
GEBBIE: I believe it will continue to grow. I feel mail is still relevant in marketing, especially with so many new technologies becoming available, such as Informed Delivery, and new methods of combining mail with online marketing. The USPS also has new offerings they are bringing to the market over this next year – I’m confident they will boost the power of marketing mail even more.
MAIL: What has been your secret to keeping your staff, some of whom have been with you from the start?
GEBBIE: We know our employees are the life blood of the company. We work hard to create an atmosphere that promotes creativity, the ability to think on your own, and a career path.
We have an active MVP program in which we provide a luncheon and awards program. No matter our size, we believe in putting family first, then work, with a little fun in the mix.
MAIL: What’s changed about the mail you process today versus when you started?
GEBBIE: The makeup of the mail has changed. First Class used to be more prevalent when businesses would mail entire payrolls, but the advent of electronic deposit payroll has made those types of projects all but disappear. We now process more Standard Mail than First Class mail by a 4 to 1 ratio. We embrace these changes and look forward to continued growth by offering our clients innovative services to improve their marketing results.