A 46-year-old local company is softening the blow of the recent postage rate hike for its hundreds of clients as it continues to procure and pass along lower prices from the U.S. Postal Service.
Kent Communications Inc. (KCI) was founded in 1975 by Phil Quist and Joyce Vugteveen as a printing and mailing company serving greater Grand Rapids.
Today, the company’s ownership has passed to Brian Quist, the son of Phil Quist and current company president, and KCI now offers design, print, mail and e-marketing services for organizations across Michigan from its location at 3901 E. Paris Ave. SE in Kentwood.
“One of the things that we do is we pick up mail from about 300 different organizations in the western/mid-Michigan area, so from Muskegon to Lansing, and from Grand Rapids north to Fremont. Every day, we pick up mail from either government, schools, companies (or) nonprofits, and we mix it all together, (sort it) and get postage discounts” after delivering it to the postal service, Brian Quist said.
USPS offers rebates for companies that pre-sort and meter mail at volume. KCI typically can save customers about 4 cents per envelope by serving as a go-between with its quality pick-up, sort and process services. The price of metered mail rose from 51 to 53 cents as of Aug. 29, according to usps.com, but KCI customers only pay 49.4 cents, up from 46 cents prior to August, Quist said.
To prepare the mail for delivery to the postal service, KCI’s sorting operation is high-tech and has the look of something out of a movie. Its facility contains a huge, automated mail sorting machine that has the capability to sort to 160 different ZIP codes at a rate of 10 per second, or 40,000 envelopes an hour. As the mail goes through the machine, it reads the address, takes a picture and turns that data into a unique barcode via optical character recognition.
“It looks at that address and then finds it — we have a database of all the addresses in the whole country — and then it sprays the barcode to direct it to that house. At the same time, it’s checking if there’s a move update on file for that individual on the envelope, and if there is, we can print their new address and forward the mail to the new location,” Quist said.
The mail is then sorted into the appropriate trays according to location to pass off to USPS.
He said today’s technology allows KCI and the post office to be able to track each mail piece as it moves through the delivery process.
“When we hand our mail to the post office these days, we also hand them a digital file telling them every mail piece and where it’s going and what kind of a barcode it has on it, so they can see right into the system as to how the mail is traveling,” Quist said, noting that even as recently as 10 years ago, this was all done via printed paperwork.
The postal service then checks the mail by scanning the pallets and gives KCI a score each month. If the score were to fall below a certain quality threshold, KCI would then take a penalty.
“But we don’t have that problem,” Quist said.
KCI’s customers for metered letters include insurance companies, health care systems, small businesses and government entities, metering pieces such as bills, assessment notices and service notifications.
In addition to metered mail, KCI also is a printer that prints and mails advertising and direct mail for clients, including fundraising pieces and booklets for nonprofits, political candidate fliers and ballots during election years, coupon mailers, and so on.
KCI has about 65 employees who are drivers, mail processors, designers, project managers and administrative workers — many of whom have had to upskill over the years as the business has become more automated.
During the pandemic, KCI did some hiring, due to the influx of orders that happened when companies laid off or furloughed internal workers who had been in charge of producing mailings for their business. KCI was classified as an essential employer, and so it was all-hands-on-deck.
Up through July, KCI’s revenue was up over the same period last year, although because it’s an off year for elections, it may end up evening out by year’s end, Quist said.
He said KCI continues to add to its technology, including recently installing a printer that can do full color variable envelopes to print messaging on the outside of envelopes, coloring on the fly at the same time as the addresses are printed. KCI also recently installed a new inserting machine that can track the mail and do multiple inserts into the same envelope by reading a barcode.
Quist said he hopes companies that aren’t aware of KCI’s services will give them consideration in light of the USPS rate hike.
“If people are paying retail postage, and they don’t know that there’s a consolidator around that can save them on postage, people might be interested in that, because it’s kind of a strange business, and a lot of people don’t know we even exist,” he said. “Although, you may start noticing us if you’re in the Grand Rapids area — people probably recognize our vehicles on the road, because we have about 12 delivery/pickup mail vehicles.”
More information about KCI and its design, print and mailing services is at kentcommunications.com.