November 30th, 2021
By now, everyone remotely affiliated with the printing and mailing industries is well aware of the current issues we face … labor shortage, paper shortage, trucking shortage, envelopes with 12-week lead times, printers and letter shops with no available capacity until February, paper deliveries cancelled days before they are supposed to deliver and those are just the common ones. How about no reflex blue ink available?! That was a new one on me this week! One of our vendor partners is no longer drop shipping anything under 500m kits due to the labor shortage. And how about the great nickel shortage of 2021?!
Now let’s talk about costs. Postage is up again this year, plus we’re looking at two more yearly increases starting in 2023. Paper price increases are so frequent, they’ve become almost farcical. Other increased production costs represent the convergence of new Covid protocols and the nationwide labor shortage, which has caused some letter shops to raise starting pay for entry–level positions as high as $20 per hour … and many still can’t hire enough employees to fill a full shift. Darn you, Amazon!
What can we do?
Be proactive. Plan as far ahead as possible. Historically, we would quote jobs about three months out, provide art four weeks before the mail date, and provide data with final print counts three weeks out. We are fortunate enough to have great clients who understand the situation, so we are currently planning mail for six months out.
Be flexible. Can’t get 80# for that Mid-level mailing? Use 60#. Can’t get 8 pt. C-1/S for that bounce–back card? Try 7 pt. Maybe this year, mail a label kit instead of a card package, as many vendors with 15–station inserters are already booked.
Paper price increases are so frequent, they’ve become almost farcical
Be strategic. Recognize that vendor partners invest time and money into each quote the generate, so talk with them first. Cultivate a relationship. See what their available capacity is and be open to their recommendations.
Be understanding. If you have been working with your vendor partners for years and they suddenly can’t mail your kit on time, you can be reasonably sure that it’s the market conditions causing the disturbance — not a lack of customer service, or their prioritizing other clients over you.
Be patient. Things will settle down eventually (I hope). In my 30+ years in production management, I have certainly never seen it this … interesting. BUT it is the fourth quarter, at the tail end of an unusually trying few years. As more shots go into arms, more kids will go back to school, more people will get back to work — and more paper machines and letter shops will return to full operating capacity.
Until then, if you happen to be affiliated with a printer or letter shop that has plenty of paper on hand … or, say, press and inserter time available before Q2 2022? Call me. Please.
Blog written by Jon Cohen | Vice President of Production Services