Stamp of Approval for Local Post Partner

It's no gimmick and there is no catch. An outsourcing measure by the USPS has clients like American Waste and Traverse City Area Public Schools paying three cents a piece less for first-class mail.

You just have to sign up.

"The USPS is losing on average $25 million a day due to legislative tie-ups [largely due to a health care pre-funding requirement]," said Linda Kniat of TC-based Maple River Direct Mail. "And they don't have the money they used to get from first-class mail."

Enter Maple River. In 2009, the U.S. Postal Service granted a multiple line optical character reader (MLOCR) license to the 26-year-old company, which is essentially a work share agreement that takes local businesses' first-class mail off of its hands.

"They don't want it," says Kniat, who worked for USPS for 13 years before joining Maple River in 2000 as its director of sales and marketing. "By Maple River doing the bulk of the work, the Postal Service saves money."

Switching to Maple River benefits businesses currently using an USPS postage meter to stamp outgoing first-class mail, which costs 46 cents. Businesses that sign up with Maple River are charged .433 cents, with pickup and delivery included in that rate.

Maple River has the only such agreement in the region that allows it to offer presort services to anyone – no minimum piece requirement – at discounted first-class postage rates.

Denise Owens, Traverse City's new acting postmaster, said having the mail already "broken down" by Maple River helps the USPS save on labor and wear and tear on machines.

Maple River's MLOCR machine reads addresses, assigns the mail a barcode, and sorts it by ZIP code. The postal service rebates a portion of the postage to Maple River in exchange for the work. As an incentive, Maple River shares a portion of this rebate with customers.

The company processes anywhere from between 17,000 to 20,000 presort pieces a night – resulting from three separate pick-up runs on any given day. The more volume it does, the bigger the paycheck.

In addition to TCAPS and American Waste, Northwestern Michigan College and several banks and credit unions use Maple River's services.

TCAPS closed its mailroom three years ago – in part because of its relationship with Maple River, says purchasing coordinator Ken O'Brien.

"Without them, we couldn't have done it," he said. "Our savings is in staff reduction, and it's a significant savings."

To date, Maple River has processed 12 million pieces through its presort service, Kniat says. Even so, she knows there are more local businesses that are throwing away money on postage.

"There are businesses in town that are overpaying in postage that will not listen to me," she said. "It just sounds too good to be true – just another sales pitch with hidden costs – and they won't hear it."

Businesses with lower volumes of mail can still benefit, whether through once-weekly or even monthly pick-ups.

"We will have an issue if we're only picking up one piece a day," Kniat said, "but you can always walk in and hand it to us!"