If the number of people visiting Bell and Howell’s booth at this year’s National Postal Forum was any indication of the overall attendance at the annual event, then hosting it in Nashville, Tennessee, proved to be a good idea.
According to the NPF organizers, attendance was up significantly from recent years, including 30 percent who were first timers.
This is a U.S. Postal Service event, and as such the USPS used the platform to deliver an upbeat report on the status of their mail and parcel operations. The message from Postmaster General Megan Brennan was largely centered around their progress in various digital strategies. She dedicated much of her keynote address to touting the benefits of “Informed Visibility” – a supercharged information platform for businesses and marketers.
Brennan also stated that the New York test market for the USPS Informed Delivery initiative (formerly known as real-mail notification) was being well received with as many as 70 percent of subscribers using their mail delivery app every day.
Bell and Howell's Apex DM Sorter was featured at the 2016 National Postal Forum in Nashville, TN.
Most of the Bell and Howell staff in attendance are veterans of the Postal Forum, so I surveyed them to get their perspectives on the buzz around the event.
Here’s what I learned:
Nearly everyone thought this was one of the better (for Bell and Howell) Postal Forums in recent memory. But mailers are still struggling to navigate some of the idiosyncrasies of the postal system.
Roger Bergstrom, Bell and Howell’s vice president of Sorting Sales, was thrilled that he could help our customers, right there on the spot.
“I spoke with a few companies that didn’t fully understand the commingling process,” he said. “And I was able to walk them through the process on our live Apex sorting system which was tremendously helpful to the customers.”
This sentiment rang true with former mailer and sorting sales manager, Dave Bush, too.
“Mailers continue to look for technology to help with their challenges,” he said. “Control of the mail piece and reporting become more important every year.”
There were also a number of questions and concerns that attendees expressed to our team.
For instance, Bergrstrom mentioned that he was asked about the undocumented pieces and the Mailer Scorecard.
Mike Swift, Bell and Howell’s sorting general manager and vice president echoed this theme.
“Many mailers shared a number of concerns around Seamless Acceptance,” he said. “They were all calling for more and better tools.”
Swift also heard from a number of parcel shippers who were very concerned about how they will ensure address quality in light of new USPS requirements for “delivery point validated” addresses in order to avoid the resulting 20 cent surcharge.
“Shippers are concerned about the postal services’ insistence on including secondary address information such as apartment in their shipping file,” he said.
The growth in the parcel business was evident to John Jenkins, Bell and Howell’s sales executive.
“I was very surprised on how many vendors are competing in the parcel space specifically with smart lockers,” he said.
But Swift was quick to point out that, despite growth in their parcel shipments, the USPS was nearly silent on parcels, choosing instead to focus their rhetoric on the value of traditional mail.
The point was reiterated by others on our team, too.
“A handful of customers wanted to talk about our parcel solutions, but most were there to talk about mail,” Bush added.
Coolest prop in a booth
Victory Packaging displayed a life-sized corrugated cardboard replica of an airplane that dominated their space. They get our vote for having the coolest prop.
So, what does this mean for Bell and Howell?
From a Bell and Howell perspective, the event was a huge success. We had several hundred visitors to our booth and that gave us ample opportunity to share the news about several of our new innovations, including a new Data Protection and Recovery (DPR) service that we were unveiling at the show. We also received positive feedback on the two products we were quietly previewing at the event. We will share more details on those in future posts.
Interestingly during her talk, the postmaster general showed an impressive video depicting a consumer receiving a direct mail piece containing an offer, then using her smartphone to link directly to the retailer’s web site where she placed an order. The story ended with her receiving the product delivered by USPS straight to the mailbox.
“It’s great to see that we play a key role in each of those steps,” said Pete Jones, Bell and Howell’s business development executive.
And as expected, there was plenty of excitement surrounding our “March Madness” themed Bell and Howell stress balls, and our giveaway of two sets of tickets to this year’s NCAA final four in Houston, TX, was a big hit.
See more photos from the event on our Facebook page.