81% fewer delivery problems

Amid concerns regarding consumer confidence and spending, catalogers can at least be thankful that Standard A catalog delivery has improved since last fall. “Delivery is as good as I’ve seen it in third class,” says David Hauser, president of Hicksville, NY-based Hauser List Services, which tracks catalog delivery among 350 titles in300 areas across the country.

The U.S. Postal Service reports an astounding 81% fewer delivery problems, such as overcrowding and undeliverables, this fall compared to last, and 50% fewer problems than in fall 1996.

Among the catalogs tracked by Hauser List Services, average delivery time from bulk mail centers (BMCs) during the third quarter of 1998 dropped two-and-a-half days, to 5.2 days from 7.7 days for the third quarter of 1997. More dramatically, delivery time from sectional center facilities (SCFs) dropped to 4.3 days from 7.4 days. And nearly 97% of the catalogs tracked by Hauser reached their destination, up from 92.5% last year.

“We’ve had fantastic delivery so far,” says Stephen Schofield, marketing director for Old Glory, an Old Saybrook, CT-based $3 million catalog of rock ‘n’ roll merchandise. Delivery from its printer to homes has been averaging 7-10 days, compared to 3-4 weeks last year, Schofield says.

General merchandise cataloger/ retailer J.C. Penney also has no major delivery problems to report. “Everything is going according to plan,” says spokesperson Stephanie Brown.

Nashville, TN-based Idea Art, a business-to-business cataloger of desktop publishing paper, is especially enjoying the improved delivery. “It’s much, much better,” says director of marketing Rebecca Pierce. “I haven’t seen any signs of it slowing down.”

“Our decoys indicate that delivery is better than last year,” says Chris Rebello, director of postal affairs for Colorado Springs, CO-based stationery and gifts mailer Current. But delivery isn’t flawless. About 20% of Current’s catalogs have missed their delivery window, Rebello adds, though that figure is far less than the 31% of books delivered late last fall.

Portland, OR-based multititle gifts mailer Good Catalog Co. also experienced a few speed bumps. “Delivery had been impeccable until early September,” says Barb Todd, president of the $30 million cataloger. “We had some catalogs that were delayed, partly because of the USPS and also because our printer had just brought out some new equipment.”

La Costa Products International, parent company of woman’s apparel catalogs California Style and Monterey Bay, also found that “fall mailings were very slow right after Labor Day,” says Danielle Savin, marketing director for the East Carlsbad, CA-based marketer. “But our holiday mailings are hitting homes right on target. “

No hindrances, some help Nick Barranca, USPS vice president of operations, credits the agency’s “Operation Reach Out,” which it implemented last fall, for improved delivery. As part of the program, the USPS meets regularly with a group of 250 customers and gives these mailers important information, such as which BMCs or SCFs are overcrowded.

The USPS has also added approximately 6,700 full-time workers to help accommodate the heavy influx of mail, typically during the second and third week of October, when Standard A volume swells 15%-17%, according to Barranca.

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