Mailroom Merger

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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

www.princetoninfo.com/200111/11121f01.html

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

as examples.

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

carriers

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

coding,

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

explains.

"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

letters

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

hand-stamped,

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

fellows

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

mailers

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

contracting

anthrax, the letter that should go is the anniversary card from Auntie

Ann, not the bar-coded appeal from the animal rescue league.

Top Of Page
Mailroom Merger

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

terrifying."

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

35-year-old

mailing company with offices on Lower Ferry Road. They brought

one-third

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

joining

with Spruill to create Ad Mail, has become Barton and Cooney’s

executive

vice president of data processing. The company is headed by CEO Pat

Doyle.

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

departments

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

located

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

tested.

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

opening

only essential letters from well-known sources.

But some advertisers have to go ahead despite the anthrax scare.

"One

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

can’t wait.

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

businesses,"

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

electronically,

and even if it were, companies can not address all of their customers

electronically.

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

be shortened.

— Kathleen McGinn Spring

Barton and Cooney, 1440 Lower Ferry Road, Trenton

08618-1415. Patrick M. Doyle, president. 609-538-9200; fax,

609-538-8666.


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