Business Mailers Carry On Despite BioTerrorism Fears

June 21, 2002
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GRAND RAPIDS — As the turmoil within the air travel industry begins to slowly recede, local business owners are faced with a new threat. With a wave of recent bio-terrorist attacks by means of the U.S. Postal Service, the safety of the nation’s mail system has been put into question.

“The mailing industry is a huge part of the U.S. economy,” Kent Communications President Brian Quist said.

His company specializes in first class mail and direct advertising mail for West Michigan businesses. Direct mail for advertising purposes accounts for $46.6 billion dollars of the U.S. economy, second only to newspapers and magazines for yearly advertising dollars spent.

“Not only do we depend upon the mail for advertising, but more importantly we depend upon it for checks and invoices. The mail is responsible for much of our cash flow with paychecks, bills … If the mail system were to collapse it would be a disaster,” Quist said.

And while the U.S. Postal Service is grappling with the threat more publicly, that doesn’t mean there isn’t a trickle-down effect to others in the business.

“What we’re presently most concerned about is that we are a partner with the U.S. Postal Service,” Quist said. “We depend on them and it always hurts to see a business partner suffer. As far as business goes, they may incur some additional costs as a result of new security measures. We will see if this causes a rate increase.”

Quist said his company has yet to see any slowdown as a result of the anthrax attacks, only questions and concerns from clients. His greatest fear, he said, is that people will no longer read the direct mailings that account for such a large portion of his business.

“The general public is just getting scared to death by the media,” said Tim Higgins of Western American Mailers, whose company handles business-to-business and business-to-individuals mailings. “People need to be educated to the fact that normal envelopes are not susceptible. Most mail is produced and delivered locally; it never leaves Kent County. It just is not likely that it will ever come in contact with any contamination.”

Since Sept. 11, more than 20 billion pieces of mail have been sent through the postal service, 680 million each day.

“Twenty billion pieces, compared to the number of pieces containing anthrax — the percentage is so miniscule that there is no need for fear in the general public,” Quist said.

Rusty Williams is the general manager of three area Mailboxes Etc. franchises, which cater to the small business community with mailing, packaging and shipping services. His company works with FedEx, UPS and the U.S. Postal Service.

“We have seen no negative results in our business, even since Sept. 11,” Williams said. “And the only questions have been for our regard: ‘How do you handle the mail and are you scared of anthrax?’

“When it happened in Florida we did alert ourselves to the fact that we are in the mail business and to be more careful. When it happened in Washington and it became apparent they were targeting mailrooms and offices, we became more concerned.”

Employees of Mailboxes Etc. all have been educated on the symptoms and effects of anthrax, and the same 12-step plan utilized by the U.S. Postal Service was placed into effect. Employees are warned not to handle any mail that looks suspicious, but instead to isolate the piece and immediately notify authorities.

Of the 680 million pieces of mail delivered each day, nearly half of it is business related and sent through channels exclusive to companies like Mailboxes Etc. and Kent Communications.

These pieces, ranging in size from a postcard to a 70-pound package, are sent much deeper into the postal system and usually receive no contact with residential or street-side mail until within the ZIP code of destination.

Business mail is easily tracked, as all pieces are identified with a permit number or stamp. Also, all pieces sent along these channels must be presented in person to a postal authority, Quist said. Nothing can be sent under suspicious circumstances.

“Business mail is the safest type of mail available,” Quist said.

“People should be more worried about something like nerve gas,” Williams added.

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