Corrections or additions?
This article was prepared for the November 14, 2001 edition of
U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.
Correction: The U.S. 1 Sneak Preview dated November 21, 2001 erroneously linked to this
story. Those looking for "Alcatel and Sarnoff Unveil DAMAN" should check this link
Life in the Fast Lane: Kickstart
New Yorkers — some wearing plastic gloves —
were interviewed recently by the New York Times about their new mail
opening habits. Asked about junk mail, one woman was quoted as saying
"Oh, I throw all of that away first."
Not so fast, says Paul Cerna, owner of KickStart! Mailing Services
at 741 Alexander Road. "Junk mail is the safest mail of all."
And he explains why. But first, he wants to make it very clear that
he isn’t terribly fond of the term "junk mail." Much of what
is lumped under that banner contains information people actually want,
he says, pointing to schedules of upcoming plays or YWCA programs
Moreover, the antrax threat seems to be subsiding. Tests at all post
offices associated with the Hamilton post office revealed only four
with even traces of anthrax. Those four — Palmer Square, Rocky
Hill, Villa Park, and Jackson — were cleaned during the Veterans
Day weekend, and remained open.
What’s more, the "slow but sure" Postal Service appears to
be more determined than ever to get caught up with its work. Residents
and businesses in Princeton reported deliveries on Monday, November
12, a postal holiday.
All Americans are more focused on mail than ever before, but few know
as much about it as does Cerna. A 1991 graduate of Rutgers, he started
out to build a computer consulting business, but quickly switched
to mail processing. Cerna got into the mailing business by offering
a friend the kind of bottom-line money-saving strategy he gives to
clients. His friend had a gutter cleaning business and was losing
money because, says Cerna, "he was wasting time between jobs,
driving 20 minutes this way, and 20 minutes that way."
Who knows route planning better than the post office? This was Cerna’s
thought, and so he went to the post office to find out how its
cover ground so efficiently. There he met Dean Frisch of the Kilmer
processing center. Frisch not only explained delivery tricks, but
encouraged Cerna to combine his computer expertise with mail bar
which was just being introduced.
Cerna’s 10-year-old business, like other mail houses, takes mailing
materials — maybe 100,000 advertisements for garden tractors or
60,000 donation appeals to theater patrons — stuffs them into
envelopes, and gets them into the mail.
This mail is safe from contamination during nearly all of its trip,
because right up until the moment it is tossed into a mail carrier’s
pouch, it travels only with its own kind. What’s more, it is encased
in plastic for much of its journey.
The bulk mail letter’s passage goes something like this, Cerna
"Letters are stacked in a tray," he says. "Stuck together
back to back." Sleeves are put on the trays and the trays are
stacked on pallets, maybe 50 trays on one pallet. Then the pallets
are shrink wrapped. Before fall of 2001, the shrink wrap was there
to protect mail from the rain and to keep the trays from sliding off
the pallets. Now, says Cerna, the tight plastic adds one more layer
of protection from any kind of tampering.
"There are degrees and degrees of removal," says Cerna. The
credit card offer or opera schedule headed for a householder’s mail
slot travels pressed on all sides by thousands and thousands of
exactly like it.
Generally, the shrink wrapped pallets carrying bulk mail do not even
go in the door of the same post office that handles birthday cards
to grandma — or anthrax-laden letters. Cerna describes a system
so specialized that the Reader’s Digest magazine has its very own
post office. So specialized that mail that is bar-coded goes through
one post office — Kilmer in this area. While mail that is not
bar-coded goes through another — Newark.
It is the mail consumers have always held in highest esteem, the
one-of-a-kind letter, that has the greatest chance of rubbing seams
with a contaminated letter. That is so because individually mailed
letters — unlike those processed by mailing houses — need
to be handled more, and need to pass through sorting machines with
a wide variety of miscellaneous missives. The mail KickStart! and
other mailing houses sends out most often does not need to be sorted.
It generally is marked with a bar code that indicates where it is
to be delivered. From the time it is loaded into a tray with its
to the time a carrier tosses it into his bag, it is not touched by
either a human or a machine.
The post office is so specialized, says Cerna, that one part of the
operation doesn’t even know what the other parts are doing. Maybe
a problem in the past, this separation can be a blessing now for
wanting to ensure pure passage for their bulletins and appeals for
donations. Mixing is verboten. "It’s against the rules to go from
a first class dock to a third class dock," says Cerna.
So, if anyone is going to toss anything unopened for fear of
anthrax, the letter that should go is the anniversary card from Auntie
Ann, not the bar-coded appeal from the animal rescue league.
It’s hard not to be weird about the mail," says
Scott Spruill, talking about opening up his mail box at home. "The
post office says they can’t say the mail is safe. That is
Spruill echoes the thoughts of millions of Americans, but he is more
intimately involved with the mail than most. His business, since high
school, has been the mail. After working in his brother-in-law’s mail
sorting business in Fort Lauderdale, he returned to Cherry Hill, where
he grew up, and founded Ad Mail with a partner, John Logan.
In June, he and Logan merged Ad Mail with Barton and Cooney, a
mailing company with offices on Lower Ferry Road. They brought
of their 50 employees, making Barton and Cooney a 170-person company.
Spruill, who assumed the position of executive vice president, sales
and marketing, says the combined company has annual revenues of $12
million. Logan, who had owned a photo processing company before
with Spruill to create Ad Mail, has become Barton and Cooney’s
vice president of data processing. The company is headed by CEO Pat
Barton and Cooney handles 500,000 pieces of mail a day. Its clients
include companies, non-profits, and universities. Mail outsourcing
is among its services. Outsourcing clients have all of their
send mail to a central location, where Barton and Cooney employees
pick it up, take it back to their facility, meter it, apply postage,
and bar code it for discounts. The mail then, in normal times, rides
in a trailer to the Trenton main post office, which is actually
in Hamilton, and has been closed since October 18.
Letters carrying anthrax passed through the Trenton main post office
on their way to Senate offices in Washington, a tabloid newspaper
in Florida, and NBC’s New York City studios. Several postal employees
assigned to the facility have contracted anthrax, and others are being
Barton and Cooney’s mail is still going on its way, through the Kilmer
post office in Edison, but the business has been affected. "We’ve
seen some backing off from campaigns," says Spruill. Now, some
jittery consumers are refusing to open any mail, and others are
only essential letters from well-known sources.
But some advertisers have to go ahead despite the anthrax scare.
of my clients promotes greeting cards," says Spruill. "This
is their big push. They’re mailing 200,000 pieces." The company
has no choice, he says. Selling greeting cards is what it does and
it has to send out its last-minute pitch for business. The mailing
Thousands of Barton and Cooney’s other mailings must go out, too.
These are bills, statements, and payments the company sends on behalf
of its clients. It can receive them electronically, but, for now at
least, these essential missives have to go out on paper, through a
post office. "What we mail is the life blood of these
says Spruill. It is also the life blood for Barton and Cooney.
"We spend $200,000 a day for postage," says Spruill. Most
of the money to fund that daily outlay comes to Barton and Cooney
in the form of checks from customers. Only a small percentage of its
customers send their payments electronically. The rest mail them.
Checks have been slow in getting through for nearly a month, and on
some days the company has gotten no mail at all.
Despite the slowness of the mail, the bills and statements it sends
on behalf of customers have to keep going to the post office. Most
of these businesses need the checks the bills bring as much as Barton
and Cooney does. The company is not yet set up to send the mail
and even if it were, companies can not address all of their customers
Perhaps that is one thing that terror by anthrax will change. Spruill
says his company had planned to offer electronic mailing well before
the first anthrax case. The public had been slow to accept electronic
receipt of its bills and statements, and Barton and Cooney figured
popular adoption was a good 10 years away. That time line may now
— Kathleen McGinn Spring
08618-1415. Patrick M. Doyle, president. 609-538-9200; fax,
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