Most small businesses wrestling with $5.50 gallon of diesel fuel are dealing with heavy-duty new-age business concepts like online office processes say, Google (GOOG) Apps. But there is a much smoother road to innovation and saving that most smaller businesses seem to avoid: the basic -- but crucial -- process of mailing your business letters.
Bulk mail solutions that send out thousands of letters once were strictly big-company options. But they're far less complex and pricey than before. Even heavy-duty mailing equipment supply companies like
offer powerful bulk mailers that can fit on a desktop and handle thousands of pieces of mail per hour. And pricing is reasonable: An Addrex bulk addresser, for example, lists at about $2,500, which for a marketing or mail firm is easily financed.
Even small businesses with less intensive mailing needs can expect to find plenty of innovation. I like what I am seeing in entry level, all-in-one weighing and postage systems. The names here are Hasler,
. These units, like the
Hasler PostLink (approx $25 per month rental fees but rates vary by region and you will need to work with a local sales rep) can place postage on about 20 letters per minute, have their own internal scales and let you download postage.
The downside with these units is the monthly rental fees, which can add up. And you still need to address your envelopes, which either ties up your office printer, which can be a royal pain on some printers, or forces you to invest in an address labeler. So you spend more.
A Little Dymo
However, the most interesting end of the new mailing environment is the low end, desktop mailing solutions. Stamford, Conn-based label printing outfit Dymo, a unit of
( CHX), makes a neat line of postage systems and labelers. My assistant Nick and I have for the past few weeks been testing one such unit: the Dymo Label Writer Twin Turbo ($189). This small printer and postage machine is easy to fit on your desk and in your business.
can hold two different size label rolls that let you print nice-looking address labels and professional postage stickers at roughly the same time. Slick.
The Twin Turbo is far from perfect -- you have to get past the fact you are paying nearly $200 for what is basically a label printer, and for bulk printing, the Dymo is just too sluggish -- but the tool is a very nice little system.
First off, the Twin Turbo is scaled just right for the self-administered remote worker or home-office business market. The unit is about the size of a loaf of bread and is fairly easy to unpack and set up: Load some software, plug in the universal serial bus connector and off you go. Nick and I set it up in about an hour on our test
iMac. And we found two relatively easy-to-use applications for the systems: Dymo Label and Dymo Stamps, done in partnership with Web postage outfit
These two applications present decent, if a bit bland, interfaces that offer the ability to easily enter and import addresses and lists of addresses, set up postage accounts and create address labels and postage stickers quickly.
Postage rates on the Dymo are roughly in line with United States Postal Service rates, though you will pay more for some forms of postage. Label rolls run about $20 for 300 to 350 labels, which, again, is pricey for a bunch of sticky labels, but still affordable compared to other postage options.
And there are limits to the Dymo: If you handle different-size or weight items to be mailed, you will need a scale. Dymo sells a printer and scale package for about $240.
A big note on mailing: The postage business is not a business you want to get into. The rule around in this little digital world is if it's a 42-cent letter, use the Dymo or a stamp. If not, drop it off at a
. Both of these businesses have plugged into the market of mailing for the smaller enterprise. And I have found it is faster -- and cheaper -- to put my mailroom in their room: You should do the same.
In the end, the Dymo will probably not provide a monster productivity gain that will turbocharge your business. For crying out loud, we are talking stamps here. Rather, it is a modest way to print a professional label and postage that can keep your people from running down to the post office all the time.
And in these uncertain days, what is wrong with that?
Jonathan Blum is an independent technology writer and analyst living in Westchester, N.Y. He has written for The Associated Press and Popular Science and appeared on FoxNews and The WB.