Smithsonian Puts Spotlight On AutoMail

Smithsonian Puts Spotlight On AutoMail
Harry Herget

A northeast Arkansas company, AutoMail, has been added to a new virtual exhibit by the Smithsonian Institution’s National Postal Museum in recognition of technology it developed in the 1990s that helped community banks save money through manifest mailing.

The exhibit is focused on the partnership of the U.S. Postal Service and private industry.

Automail is both the name of the business owned by Trinamic Corp. of Jonesboro and its flagship manifest mailing software. Trinamic also owns print-to-mail service provider Document Output Center.

Manifest mailing is the process of presenting bulk mailings to the post office in the same order that it would be delivered by a carrier, saving the USPS the middle step of sorting, according to AutoMail owner Harry Herget. The savings on postage can be as much as 25 percent, and banks were traditionally the largest users of first-class bulk mail.

AutoMail’s relationship with USPS began before the flagship software and company were thought of, when Herget and his partner, Steve Smith, were certified by USPS in 1994.

At that time, Herget owned an advertising agency and Smith owned a business that acquired mailing lists, printed, addressed and mailed materials for its clients. The year before, the two men had become involved in helping banks use a new technology called check imaging to convert the around 70 billion paper checks into digital copies.

So banks were already Herget’s and Smith’s main customers when they became certified business partners with the USPS, and their job as such was to encourage companies to use manifest mailing.

Aside from the discounts, another benefit of manifest mailing was accurate addresses so that each piece of mail actually had a delivery point, Herget said. That meant the companies who participated in manifest mailing not only paid less for it but could be more confident that their mail would be seen by the target audience.

But, when Herget and Smith tried to convince their bank customers to use manifest mailing, banks asked for a product that would do that. And there was the rub.

“The post office got ahead of itself,” Herget said.

One company, Group 1, sold programming language. The average price was $200,000, Herget said, and that was just the start.

“How many banks, you know, had developers on staff that could take programming language in and know exactly how to write interfaces? … It’s not going to happen,” he said. “Well, you’re not going to sell that to anybody but huge customers.”

So Herget and Smith decided to develop an affordable solution that every bank could use — AutoMail.

The software counts pages, weighs material to be mailed, allows for inserts into any given bank statement, codes addresses and sorts the items of differing weights. It eliminates the need for stamps by placing a specific imprint on the mail, Herget said, so banks also save on special inks and metering equipment.

AutoMail is still the only solution of its kind and has been used to process four to five billion pieces of mail since it was developed, he said. It has also saved banks over $1 billion in postage, mailroom labor, equipment and consumable costs. Herget added that 1,400 banks use AutoMail, including 16 or 17 of the 25 largest banks in Arkansas.

The company offers a return-on-investment pricing model, documenting for banks how much savings AutoMail creates and basing its fee on that. Herget said 10 months of postage costs equate to the licensing fee for the software.

Even with the stunning lack of competition, AutoMail has had its struggles. The Great Recession reduced the number of banks through failures and consolidations. Banking was no longer a growth market for AutoMail, in part because banks were ready to outsource the mailroom function.

To get in on that market, Herget and Smith in 2009 added a print-to-mail business called Document Output Center. They approached banks that had been using AutoMail and many signed up for the DOC service that has grown by an average annual rate of 146 percent in the past five years and processes more than 18 million items a year, Herget said.

Bank of the Ozarks Inc., the publicly traded bank that is the largest based in Arkansas, is the DOC’s largest customer, but DOC also provides print-to-mail services to utilities and medical billers.