Culture, Media, Thank You

The News Making The Rounds

  • I searched the hotel lobby where we were camped in Michigan for a USA Today. It used to be that this amazing newspaper was written, assembled, composed, printed locally across the country, and appeared for free in most hotels and inns next morning.

Not so much, any more.  Its lightweight reminder is now available for $2.00 on the newsstands, but faces heavyweight competition for readership, and thus, for advertising revenue.

The quest reminded me of my early days in Delhi, a small town in southern Ontario where newspapers abounded.  We enjoyed our weekly Delhi News Record which was mailed to us, rolled and sealed.  The Simcoe Reformer was another weekly that came by mail. And every morning there was a faithful, reliable delivery by news carriers on bikes of the London Free Press and Toronto’s Globe and Mail.  Those morning news boys were held in high regard.  Afternoons– citizens had a choice of the Brantford Expositor, The Toronto Star and The Toronto Telegram.

Nowadays, morning newspapers are delivered by slow prowling cars whose drivers steer from the passenger seat as they pitch bagged editions through the dark onto the driveway.  Newsboys, and newsgirls are history.

My parents drafted me when I was 10, and advised that I would be delivering the Expositor.  It had a circulation of about 30 subscribers across our little town of 3,000 souls.  Pretty quickly, a strong, steel-banded carrier basket was bolted to the front of my bike.  I was presented with a wrinkled, torn map of Delhi, and told to ‘dot’ the streets where I would be making a delivery.

The process of learning a job was uncomfortably strange.    My Dad drove me around the route the first time, taking me to little homes, back alleys, upstairs apartments, small mansions, businesses and eating places.  While I had seen most of town on my own, I had never identified, remembered or organized street names before.

More intimidating–the subscribers.  Delhi was a town of many backgrounds and nationalities.  Hungarians, Belgians, Ukrainians, Polish, Germans, English, Irish, Scottish, Italian…many newly arrived after World War II… all figured in the readership.  While I may have sat beside their children in school, or skated with them down at the rink, I had never seen their homes and yards so intimately or struggled with their accents and temperaments so regularly.  Knocking on their doors, and collecting ‘paper dues’ was mind-expanding.

The newspaper was 2 or 3 sections, and could lay flat on a doormat, or folded inside the screen door, or tucked between the door knob and the jam. Delivery was five days a week, no Saturdays or Sundays. Weekly fee: 40-cents.  I delivered the Expositor for a year, but I don’t recall ever reading beyond the headline.  My brain was just too small and overwhelmed, and less than curious about the world beyond our town.

Next year, I got to deliver the Toronto Telegram.  It competed handily against the Toronto Star.  I had 40 subscribers, a bright red Telegram newspaper bag, and a giant steel ring with green subscriber tickets on it, each punched ‘paid’ for the preceding two weeks.

The Telegram was big money for me, and opened my eyes and hands to the attractive feel of cash in my pocket.  I was getting a penny a paper.   Every two weeks I slid the funds across a magnificent marble counter at the post office and filled out a money order payable to the Telegram, at the corner of Bay & Adelaide Streets in Toronto.  My world was expanding to strange and exotic places in a city I had never visited.

But still, the adventure was the daily route.   The papers were dumped in a wire-bound lump at the town hall.   I broke them open using a notched steel washer.  One twist across the wire and the papers exploded with relief.  They filled the bag, heavily, and hoisting that onto my bike carrier, I wobbled to my first customer, Russ Christiansen, a jeweler at the corner of Main and Church.  Above his store was an apartment.  With care to fold the paper in its own sleeve, I learned to toss it to the top of the stairs where it would open flat at the door. This worked any day but Saturday when the extra sections could burst open five steps up, and that would require a major repair.

Up Main street, across King, I left a copy at the Delhi News Record offices and then headed east along King to the Belgian Bakery.  The breads and doughnuts there were not to my liking; they used granulated sugar and a lot of oil. But what they did offer, and I treasured, were aircraft cards.  These were trading cards, printed, black-and-white glossies of WWII fighter craft and bombers.  At a dime a pack, they were in my budget.

Several stops later, I dropped off at DorCliff Printers.  The owner, Cliff Whitehead, always smiled as I called him Mr. Dorcliff.  It wasn’t til years later that I learned the business was named for him and his wife Dorothy.   Crossing over James Street, which was Highway 3, I hauled up the Brantford Road to the top of Bell Street to leave a paper in a reader’s garage.  One snowy night in January I entered the garage and found a small cocker spaniel.  Stretching over to pet him, I pulled my hand back with a string of red streaming tooth marks as a reward for my gesture.

Across Delcrest, along Connaught, behind the high school and over the tracks, past Flemish Motors, I headed down to Pal Cleaners which was the southern corner of my route.  Mr. Bruder was a jovial man who always greeted me with a joke and a tease.  While the clothes hung in rows, the air was full of the hot smells of cleaning fluid and noises of driers and laundry.

Back behind Wills Motors and Smiths Lumber along Orchard street I had to pick up the bike speed to out-pedal an aggressive Boxer dog who looked forward to seeing me daily.  Twice I came home with a blue bruise on my thigh where he took a bite.  Why didn’t I take a different route?  Because it was the game we played.

Over on Imperial Street next to the tobacco factory I had two customers, and I can recall hiking up the stairs to one, finding their daughter wrist deep in flour, looking for newspaper money.  The aromas of vanilla, chocolate and warm cookies were tantalizing, and the event still remains vivid today, 60 years later.

Back along to Ann Street, and under the railway tunnel, my next stop was Dunn’s Variety.  They didn’t take the Telegram, but she sold ice cream.  There is nothing so exquisite as biting into a sugar-coned, peanut Drumstick in the middle of January.  With snow and slush covering the spokes of my bike, I pedaled, steering one-handed down William Street to Gilbert.  On the left was Maes Lane, where our customer was the Verspeetens.  Little did I guess then that this name would own probably a couple hundred tractor trailers that race along the 401 to Detroit every day 40 years later on.  I am proud of my association with Verspeeten, and tell my wife I knew them before they went big time.

Maes Lane opened up at the corner of Main and Spicers Bakery.   Spicers was the number one client on my list, and was also the source of the world’s best glazed doughnuts, expertly crafted by Mr. Palmatier.  Even today, in a crowded field of Tim Horton’s, Dunkin Doughnuts and Krispy Kreme, Mr. Palmatier’s touch remains unequaled.

North and east bound, I would head back, passing Luciani’s whose store was a robust vegetable display worthy of Rembrandt.  He is a plump, older gentleman with silvered brush cut hair and dark eyebrows.  He growls a friendly smile and places two apples into a used paper bag with strong, old, permanently tanned hands, and sends me up Main Street to the Kinsmen Hall.  Outside is a remarkable cherry tree that we would raid every summer.

My last delivery was on Queen Street to a house across from Mr. Hanselman.  He was a WWI vet who lost his arm in the war.   Across the street, I drop my last paper on the porch.  I won’t see this house again for many years until I get a job re-roofing.  On a rainy afternoon in the summer of ’69, I slide down their roof, grabbing the eaves trough on my way.  They find me on the porch, and pick me up, not realizing I had been there many times before.

Fast forward, 2019. Curious, I just checked the internet today, and find that The London Free Press, Brantford Expositor, Simcoe Reformer and Delhi News Record are all still in circulation, but owned by the same company, Postmedia Network.  The Toronto Star, and Globe and Mail continue to thrive.  Only my old employer, The Telegram, has hit the bin, being replaced by the Toronto Sun.   I wonder about USA Today and its future.

And the paper route? A youngster’s entree into life, society and work?  Truly a thing of the past.

Thanks for reading this Iliad.  Names like Doug Foster, Grant Smith, his brother Bob, Ken Antosuc and Barry Boughner come to mind as those news carriers who made the rounds, long ago!

 

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Culture, direct mail, Marketing, Media, USPS

More Change In The Mail

For you marketers, the latest USPS Revenues, Pieces and Weights was just released. It is a good indicator of the health of the economy, but also reveals just how we count on the post office in a different way than what Ben Franklin had in mind.

First off, the USPS jiggles their year-end to March 31, so the numbers I show you here have been adjusted to report a full normal calendar year, January – December, 2018 and 2017.

First Class mail continues its slow descent, losing 4% of its volume over the past 12 months. That is, we mailed 2.2 billion less pieces. The big drop is again in business and financial mailings, as more and more consumers opt for email statements and invoices. Anyway, First Class mail shrank by 119,000,000 pounds, or nearly 60,000 tons.

The USS Ronald Reagan: 103,000 tons.

Marketing Mail, otherwise known as Standard, grew by 258,000,000 pieces. The percentage growth is negligible, which is mind-boggling, but considering the minimal, steady slide over the last few years, this is a big deal. Direct marketers put more money into mail. Remarkably, piece-weights are down.   Down 133,000 tons in fact. Hard to grasp?  It is a lot. Let me remind you, the USS Ronald Reagan only weighs 103,000 tons.

Periodicals, fell 7% year over year, representing 363,000,000 fewer magazines and newspapers. Put into terms you may relate to, that’s equivalent to 30 million monthly subscriptions, cancelled.  While page counts are hard to calculate, the average weight of a single magazine shrank by 0.178 ounces, too.

The rising success in postal delivery however is packages and competitive parcel services. Overall, thanks to Internet, catalog and direct mail order, the USPS volume grew 8% in 2018, by 477,000,000 pieces, or just over 1 billion pounds. That’s 530,000 tons, or for you navy folks: five USS Ronald Reagans.

Conclusions:

We are always pointing to the USPS as a struggling giant.  But it is a terrific barometer and thermometer for consumer behavior.  Why? Because it is the only organ in the U.S. that still takes the pulse of over 150 million business and consumer addresses every day.  It does not sample and extrapolate.  It measures the whole body of the nation.

Understanding that, we see the real change in ourselves: we write fewer letters and cards to one another, and prefer to get our important mail electronically: email and website.  We also shun the retail experience in favor of direct order over the Internet, and through catalog and direct mail.  Lastly, we are steadily running away from browsing the printed page for news. Instead, we go to a screen or tablet.  Still Benjamin Franklin watches.

Thanks for reading!  If you would like to see the entire USPS report for October-December 2018, check it out here: Revenues, Pieces and Weights.

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Culture, Environment, Government, Legal, Wildlife

Butterfield: Where To, Now?

A group of 3 year-olds graze on the open space at 901 Butterfield Highway.

Driving down Butterfield last week we spied a herd of deer grazing in the snowy, white expanse of a field cleared in 2016. Among them were at least 4 bucks, with 3-point antlers. Around 2-1/2 years old. They would have been newly born in the spring before the Archdiocese of Chicago cut down 33 acres of sheltering trees on this scenic, colorful piece of woodlot on the west side of Libertyville.

The once colorful woodlot was viewed by more than 20,000 motorists every day.

The deer are a conundrum caught in a quandary. They have multiplied to 28 in number, primarily due to the removal of wooded habitat that housed their arch enemy, the coyote. Left unchecked, they face an uncertain future, either from lack of food, or an unlucky collision with an auto speeding along Butterfield Road. They must wonder, ‘What’s happening here? Where will we live next?’

We might ask the same question ourselves.

Cluster Housing: 148 homes planned for construction on 15.2 acres of land.

Back in August 2016, the Village announced an open meeting of the Plan Commission to present a housing development proposal to occupy a 40-acre lot owned by the Archdiocese of Chicago. The developer, it is now learned, had bid $15 million to buy the land for the purpose of installing 148 ‘cluster homes’ on the lot, plus two detention ponds and roads. 7 acres of woods would offer a treed park for walks.

The open meeting attracted over 100 residents who voiced their concerns and asked pointed questions that set the commission, and the developer, back on their heels. The meeting adjourned with a promise of refinements, and for a follow up, which was scheduled in January, 2017.

An astounding disregard for optics, and the local parish.

The machines made fast work of the Church’s order.

Then, in November, just before Thanksgiving, with an astounding disregard for optics, and an unconscionable dismissal of its local parish, the Church decided to spring into action. After receiving approval from the Village, it cut down 33 acres of mature trees which grew on the development site. The sheer sight of the woods coming down, so swiftly, leaving a naked field behind, shocked many in Lake County. More than 20,000 drivers passed the scenic woods every day.

By January, the development had surfaced all sorts of debate and before long, it became clear that the residents were pushing back. Their concerns ranged from traffic to congestion, from design to pollution. Ripping out the woods was the final straw. A summary of 19 specific concerns were circulated, and became talking points for review.

Looking north on Butterfield Highway, homeowners will enter and exit just left of the power line pole.

The Village Board became closely aware of the situation, and received a final proposal from the Plan Commission to halt the development. In a special March 2017 meeting, held at the high school auditorium, the Board of Trustees voted unanimously against the development as proposed. The pivotal issue was traffic congestion and safety.

Looking south on Butterfield, the commuters’ treks just begin.

It could have ended there, but a dose of reality was dispensed. Libertyville had just killed the Church’s $15 million dollar deal, and the Archdiocese, reputedly in search of cash, was miffed.

In June of 2017, the Catholic Bishop of Chicago filed a suit against the Village for its “capricious, arbitrary decision” which denied the Church its constitutional rights to sell the land. And so, it ended up in court.

The trial commenced in November 2018, and concluded December 7. The judge was buried under boxes of memoranda, reports and legal papers along with 10 days of procedural testimony. The sole subject: traffic safety.   Nevertheless, he offered a decision perhaps as early of January 31, 2019.

A portion of the 28 white tail deer that grazed on January 20, 2019. Not a coyote in sight.

We wait. But back to the deer. Where do they go? Ironically, their numbers swelled because the coyotes lost their homes in the woods. But what now?

As an FYI, the Lake County Forest Preserve is closed at night until March because they are thinning out the deer population. In their books, 15-30 deer can safely occupy a square mile (640 acres) of open land. Yet here we have 28 deer grazing on the corner of the 33-acre open patch. Maybe they hale from St.Mary’s and Pine Meadow golf course. Interestingly, on the Forest Preserve website I picked up their regrets about development and how it affects Lake County’s natural resources:

“Natural processes are disrupted. No harm was meant, but 150 years of settlement has greatly changed local habitat. The surface may look okay, but many habitats are not healthy. The gradual impact of people settling in this area has been astounding:

  • Prairies were plowed
  • Wetlands were tiled and drained for agriculture
  • Wildfires were suppressed
  • Predators and pollinators were wiped out
  • Invasive species were introduced and their populations exploded
  • Habitats have become islands in a sea of development
  • Streams are muddied
  • Prairies, woodlands and wetlands shrink smaller and smaller”

Three bucks in a quandary: where to now?

It’s all sobering to think about.  We wait for the judge to announce his decision.

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Culture, Environment, Government, Legal, Politics

Butterfield: A Look Back

Dear Reader: The following is primarily of interest to Libertyville residents. The 19 points below are a review of the concerns about a housing development on Butterfield Road in Libertyville, proposed in August 2016. A final court decision is due shortly.

For my many readers who may not live here, if you are interested in the potential impacts of housing development in your neck of the woods, read on! These were originally posted March 24, 2017.

“The proposed Planned Development at 901 Butterfield is not in keeping with Libertyville tradition, standards, or our treasured quality of life. Here’s why:

Density
1. While R6 zoning may allow as much as 232 dwellings on 40 acres, the developer’s proposal of 148 is not a salve. Indeed, those 148 homes are built on 15.2 acres, or approximately 9.7 dwellings per acre. This is an urban solution in the midst of spacious, open R3, R4, and R5 subdivisions.

Financials
2. The developer’s proposed sell prices for the homes are virtually unobtainable. The attached neighborhoods’ single family dwellings, have median sell prices of $550,000, vs. the $750,000 proposed for the tightly packaged single-family dwellings. The total property assessment of $109,000,000 is most likely unachievable. The more likely assessment will be $76,000,000, affecting tax revenues significantly.
3. Surrounding neighborhood values will decrease as a direct result of the removal of open space. The additional traffic and registration pressure on Butterfield School will also be a negative to existing property values.

Schools
4. An additional 104 students at Butterfield will require 3-5 additional classroom equivalents. Using the developer’s Fiscal Impact Study model, District 70 will be underwater financially when property assessments are realized at only $76,000,000, requiring incremental tax dollars.
5. School bus transit will be required for all students in the development, further stalling any LCDOT decision to add a signal at the development’s entrance.

Traffic
6. There will be an additional 300 cars in the immediate vicinity. Traffic on Lake Street will increase from 3,800 car trips per day to 5,000.
7. Commuters exiting the development during rush hour may incur accidents turning left, northbound, onto Butterfield in order to reach the Metra Station.
8. Commuters exiting the development during rush hour turning right, southbound, will use Ridgewood Lane as a cut through passage to the Metra Station, disturbing residents on Hillcrest, Sedgwick, Blackthorn and Paradise.
9. Left turn lineups on southbound Butterfield at Park Ave (176) will increase, causing illegal stacking of cars.
10. Pedestrian traffic across Butterfield is in severe jeopardy regardless of time of day, every day, especially drawn to the Butterfield School campus. 23,000 cars per day, average car speed: 47mph. There are estimated 150 school-aged children in the proposed development.

Butler Lake Pollution
11. Private contractor snow removal in a high-density subdivision leads to expedient salting practices. Chlorides are permanent, non-removable threat.
12. Butler Lake pollution is a real risk from indiscriminant use of chlorides which will be washed away by 20,000,000 gallons of storm water run off from the development, into the Bull Creek watershed annually. Libertyville spent $3,450,000 in taxpayer dollars to clean Butler Lake.

Design
13. The 6-foot-high, white vinyl fenced yards are minuscule, with limited opportunity for school-aged children to play near home. They will be lured to parks out of sight, or across Butterfield highway to the school campus.
14. Street designs are straight, encouraging dangerous car speeds.
15. Alley loaded homes are fraught with challenges: traffic, unsightly storage, litter, pet disturbances and fouling, parking, ambient pedestrian traffic , loitering, noise and unwanted gatherings.
16. The 1,000-foot long, 8-foot-high reflecting sound wall on Butterfield is a visual obstruction, and a road noise nuisance to Ridgewood residents and to Butterfield School. The wall will encourage driver speeding as well.
17. The design hides the development’s open space from Libertyville residents, tucking the park out of sight from commuters and local residents alike.

Zoning Compliance
We do not believe that the proposed development is in the best interests of the citizens of Libertyville. It is not a fair offer to be made to potential first home buyers or “moving down” buyers either. We ask all responsible to acknowledge accountability in respecting these considerations as stated in the

Village Zoning Code:
18. Planned Development approvals are subject to Libertyville Zoning Code Article 16-9.5 . This development does not adequately comply with our guidance for adverse impacts, interference with surrounding development, adequate public facilities, traffic congestion, destruction of significant natural, scenic features in the vicinity.
19. According to Article 16-9.5-c Special Use Permits are dependent upon meeting the standards of public benefit, assessing alternative locations, and mitigating adverse impacts. “

The Village and Archdiocese of Chicago are awaiting the final decision of 9th Circuit Lake County Judge on whether the development will go forward. The crux of the argument is traffic congestion and traffic safety. Decision is due on or around January 31, 2019.

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Culture, Legal

The Case Grinds Exceedingly Fine, And Slow

In our Village, we are seeing the end game take place between the Church and Libertyville about the disposition of a piece of Church property designated for a housing development.  Many of us feel it could have been settled with some discussion, but that’s not what’s happening.  As the saying goes, “See you in Court.”

Today was the fifth session of the Catholic Bishop of Chicago vs the Village of Libertyville case # 17MR00001013, Lake County 19th Circuit Court. Witnessing the event is a little like church, in that strange things happen up at the front, and the seats are bone hard down at the back.

Early on day 1, we watched as the opposing attorneys pushed sheaves of papers at each other, forcing the opening of massively thick three-ring binders to extract pages and replace them with others. Through it all, the judge kept a steady, grave face as he too had to change out documents in his own set of binders.  Keeping right up, he referenced exhibit numbers with the speed of a vigorous game of Whackamoley as the attorneys swapped pages before him.

After some additional scuffling about admissibility of late-arriving evidence, the attorneys finally got down to their opening statements.  For the Church, it was a clear cut case of capricious, arbitrary decision-making by the Village that infringed upon their constitutional rights.  They referenced the LaSalle Factors, which were a set of standards established by the Illinois Supreme court years ago about the rights of property owners.  At the base of it, the Church believes the LaSalle factors support them completely.  The Village decision caused the Church hardship.

For the Village, the argument throws the LaSalle Factors back at the Church.  The hardship was self-made.  Years ago, when they knew they would develop the land on Butterfield Road, they should have created a safe right of way, and they didn’t do it.

What is this debate all about?  Traffic safety, and the need for a set of lights at Lake and Butterfield.  Without those lights, and the connected access to the proposed development, it was a non-starter for the Village, which voted the project down.   For four days, the Church presented hundreds of documents testifying to the safety of the Butterfield access, and to the development process, supported by the consultants and officials who wrote them.

Now after five days and one sumptuous, turkey-laden Thanksgiving-week-long hiatus, plus a full-court snowstorm to kick things up a notch, the attorneys have returned to continue the debate before the ever-game judge.   The Village will now present the defense of their decision, again referencing their own bushel of documents testifying to the development process and to the non-safety of the access.

You may think it a simple case to sort out a simple highway safety issue, but then why would we need lawyers?

It was striking to see that there were only two attorneys for each side, but the real measure of intensity is in the volumes of paper presented.  The Church team brings in 13 bankers boxes of files every morning and spreads them across two rows of court benches.  They have two luggage carts.  There is a law clerk who is constantly running into the court bleachers to fetch another file folder.  The Village also has two luggage carts, but only about 3 boxes of files.  You can see who has the larger budget for photocopying.

The chatter in the room is between the judge and the two attorneys, while the witness gets to offer yes and no testimony.  Faithfully, diligently, the court reporter is forever typing her keys to create a transcript of thousands of lines of give and take.  It’s like recording the laying of a million bricks in an infinite wall of legalese.

Through it all, the judge is playing referee on the admissibility of every utterance.  He is patient, but not sympathetic with either side particularly.  His is not an easy task.   He is taking in mountains of detail about a subject he had no interest in, yet there he is, stuck in the middle of it.  The halting pace is interrupted by objections about admissibility, form, substance, relevance, foundation.

For instance,

Attorney 1: “Did a camel pass through the eye of a needle?”

Attorney 2: “Objection.  Foundation.”

Attorney 1: “Camel hair coats are sewn with #8 needles.  Would you agree?”

Witness: “Yes.”

Attorney 1: “Speaking of needles, did you see that camel?”

When the two sides finally close down this week, then the judge will take his numerous binders, thousands of pages, gratuitously thrust upon him, packed in his own luggage rack, and he will read everything again, and come back with a decision.

It makes me think of a parent being charged with the onerous duty to sort out a mess the kids made.

After watching these two sessions, and the grindingly slow development of the respective arguments, my advice to anyone who is at odds with another person: go figure it out.  Talk.  Find a way to avoid court.  I think the judge would agree.

This case will finish around Thursday this week.

December 1: The case has been continued to Friday, December 7, upon which day we will hear closing arguments.

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Culture, direct mail, Government, Marketing, Media, USPS

Somehow, The Mail Still Goes Through

Since we last looked, in August, the USPS has broken through another quarter, and published its latest report on Revenues, Pieces and Weights. For you marketers and mailers, here are some stats, and following that, another look at the USPS’s ironic, weird situation.

The good news: direct mail was up by 337,627,000 pieces, a 1.8% increase over Q4 a year ago.  The surge was due to the mid-term election mail, and if you are counting, in the last three months it delivered one additional piece of mail to every addressable soul living in the country.

The Princess Diamond..lost?

The bad news: full year direct mail was down 1.4%, or missing by 1,066,486,000 pieces.  In fact, the shortfall totaled 115,925 tons of mail.  That’s the equivalent of losing the Princess Cruise Lines’ Diamond, which by the way carries 2,760 passengers.  Imagine if it had gone missing.

The bright spot on the USPS horizon however is the growth of parcel delivery.  Package service mail and parcel delivery revenues are up 12% for the year, a happy indication of the robust growth of online ordering.

“Just leave it in between the doors.”

But just when you are feeling that the USPS has a rosy future in parcel delivery, be warned that companies like Amazon, Walmart and Target, the post office’s largest three customers, are now researching ways to do their own “last mile” deliveries.  Watch out, a robot may drop through your roof sometime soon.

Indeed, the parcel delivery business has its own costs, not the least of which are fuel, trucks, planes and drivers.  Did you know that there is a shortage of truck drivers?  USPS transportation costs in the past year were up 8.6% , or by $623,000,000.

Overall, the USPS reported nearly $71 billion in revenues from operations, placing it just behind Target (#39 on the Fortune 500 with $71.8B) as a business enterprise.  As the media enthusiastically reports, the post office missed its bottom line by nearly $4 billion, half of which is owing to pensions and health benefits accruals.

Which is a major source of consternation at the USPS.  Indeed much of the company’s 10K discusses the burdens of pre-funding according to federal government department rules, much different than the private sector.  As a result, it takes the expense on the books, keeps the cash, and adds it to its liabilities.  To date, the USPS must pre-fund $67 billion to employees’ and retirees’ health and pension benefit funds.

For your information, there are 497,000 career employees and 600,000 retirees to provide for. The USPS is the #3 employer in the United States, right behind Amazon, USPS #1 customer, which had 589,000 on the payroll.  The country’s top employer: Walmart, #2 USPS customer, with 2,300,000.

The bigger irony of the USPS is that it is a business, run by business people, but by government rules.  By law, it cannot make changes in products, pricing or service without federal approval.  Its wages, health and pension obligations are modeled on federal department standards.   And isn’t it rich then, that its Board of Governors is subject to Senate approval, and has been short four governors since 2014, the last time the Senate voted to approve them.  It cannot raise a quorum.

In return for federal oversight, it is granted monopoly rights to make door-to-door delivery of mail.  Only recently has its parcel service entered the competitive arena, where it is growing nicely.

Remarkably, despite the USPS financial shortfall of $4 billion, it receives no tax dollars.  Compare that to 18 Federal departments which are entirely tax-funded.  In terms of tax-funded budget, the USPS’s closest federal cousin would be the EPA with a budget of $5.7 billion….nowhere near the Departments of Education $68B, Energy $28B, Homeland Security $44B or Health & Human Services $65B.

Compared to these budgeted costs, it is distressing to see the public criticism the post office endures.    Fortunately, the White House has taken initiative to turn the situation around.

Still, the business continues to grow and manage.  Last year it added 1.2 million new addresses to its rounds, and processed 37 million address changes. It delivered, and picked up 148 billion pieces of mail, six days a week. All in, it drives and walks by 157 million addresses every day.

At a supposed cost of $4 billion, that’s not bad!

 

 

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Culture, direct mail, Fundraising, Marketing

It’s All In The Bag

A max-sized lumpy day-glo envelope from Disabled Veterans National Foundation

October comes around, and the non profits are making their first of several strong pitches for another discretionary dollar donation. I find my mailbox full, and refreshingly, with some new twists.

Kudos to the team at St. Joseph’s Indian School who have brought in some new creative to overlay their basic control kit.

St Joe’s gift vouchers go full color.

The Dream Catcher is the most unique gift of all.

As always, the Dream Catcher is a unique keeper. I have several, which make their way to the grandchildren. But the kits also deliver more colorful coupons. We’ll see if they repeat…or does the sterile, sober-looking appeal still trump happy colors?

As yet, St Joseph’s is not twigging to my male gender: I am getting stunningly beautiful foil labels with flowers and butterflies. I can’t use these, not even on my golf clubs.

The Post-It Note goes pointy for more attention.

Another St. Joseph first for me: a pointy Post-It note. It’s a little different, and catches my eye.

Certificates, suitable for framing deliver a message.

Plus, I have received a colorful, feather-imaged gold foil, embossed certificate of appreciation, on laid stock, no less!   Veterans of Foreign Wars sent me a similar recognition.

These certificates really are quite classy, as ‘thank you’s go. I am not going to frame them, but that doesn’t mean that someone somewhere else won’t frame theirs.

VFW targets the CD-player crowd with Christmas carols.

VFW also sent along a CD of Christmas carols! This may seem early to you, but actually is just in the nick of time: our new car no longer has a CD drive, but hey, it’s the thought that counts. I do have a cassette player in the basement, a.k.a., Santa’s Workshop.

Father Flanagan’s Boystown has sent me a Puzzles and Brainteasers booklet. You know, I mean to give it to the kids, but in an idle moment, I look at them too.

Beautifully designed gift bags are the pride of several organizations.

In an additional kit I was also treated to a colorful paper gift bag. These items show up across several charities, and I suspect there is a traveling paper bag sales rep who is shipping bunches of orders back to a printing plant in Shenzhen China.

The tote bag is a premium-with-donation offer from VFW.

Veterans of Foreign Wars has kicked the bag up a notch. They offer a full-sized  tote as a premium with donation.

DVNF throws in the bag and a T-shirt with their request for donation.

At the top of the pile however is Disabled Veterans National Foundation (not to be confused with Disabled American Veterans) which sent the whole bag, and a T-shirt, in a day-glo yellow max-sized envelope.

I am now thinking that there are regular flights for printing sales personnel from U.S. to Shenzhen.

St. Joseph’s vinyl totes are small, but classy.

Truly, the most impressive were printed plastic vinyl tote bags courtesy of St. Joseph’s, that aside from their modest size, sported quality designs.

Lateral Thinking

There is an artful expansion of thinking on applying postage stamps to the reply envelope.   Pasting real postage on a reply envelope is a riveting issue.   Donors shudder to waste the stamps, and I am sure the charity’s accountants aren’t thrilled about giving away postage.

But here’s the thing–you may remember in my book Many Happy Returns, the story of the fundraiser who coaxed the donor to please supply their own stamps. The reply envelope said, “Your stamp will save us money.”  In a manner of speaking, it did. Average dollar gifts rose 6%, but response rate dropped 15%. Go figure!

DAV fronts all of the postage on the reply envelope..50 cents worth.

Anyway, the pioneer in applying the full 49-cents (or so) postage was DAV. They primed the pump, and happily cashed our flood of checks. We Baby Boomer donors can’t see a stamp go to waste.

But now, there are some diversions in the path.

VFW fronts only 5 cents, but appearances count in their favor.

VFW provides 5, one-cent stamps to the postage paid BRE, and the USPS will charge the rest. The modest nickel cost looks like a lot of stamps–but it’s not 50 cents’ worth.  This effectively cuts VFW’s in-the-mail costs by $450 per thousand, while still appearing to offer the more expensive stamps.

St Joes includes a faux return address label with 3-cents postage.

St. Joseph’s sharpens their pencil a little more, and only provides 3 one-cent stamps, but adorns their BRE with a faux return address label in my name.  How can I throw this out?

Boystown decorates their BRE with zero-value greeting stamps, but they look great, regardless.

Not to be outdone, Father Flanagan applies 4 Greeting Stamps of no value whatsoever to their BRE, but they look great!

Who can deny the effort?

To date we have 46 greeting cards in inventory. Production quality is high.

Throughout all of the recent spate of mailings I have received, greeting cards still predominate. I counted 46, all high production quality, and which are now stored in one of those pretty paper gift bags.

We have a bucket of pens, but St Joe’s are the classiest.

As well, I have been issued with numerous writing pens…lots of them, and some very tastefully designed, courtesy of St. Joseph.

And speaking of writing, I have a mountain of note pads, some die-cut, none of which can be discarded.

A pencil case for the pens. A lunch box may be next.

They get used.  And when not, where do they go?  Into a pen and pencil bag, supplied by St. Joseph’s!  Wow, what’s next…a lunchbox?

There is an ongoing debate, stirred up by loyal donors about the exorbitant expense taken in these mailing pieces.  How can a charitable organization spend this much, and then ask for more money?

The fact is, the gift strategy works.  Especially if the gifts are exclusive and high quality.  When they are accompanied by personal, expressive letters, the efforts are rewarded by donors who are sitting on, or searching, for the summit of Maslow’s pyramid: self actualization.

Thanks for reading, and sharing.  If you wish to check on these charitable organizations, you can visit Charity Navigator, or the organization’s websites to see their financial disclosures and especially their direct mail fundraising performance.

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