Catalog Spotlight: Fighting for Catalogers’ Futures
It can be easy for a catalog, or really any type of retail CEO, to overlook things. After all, especially with a catalog operation, there are so many factors that go into running a profitable business, right? Unless you’re a small mom-and-pop shop, wherein you personally oversee everything from soup to nuts, if you can comfortably rely on someone else to properly tend to a matter, you let them handle it. One thing off your plate!
However, there are some wild cards you just can’t ignore. The American Catalog Mailers Association (ACMA) was founded nearly 10 years ago, right after the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) singled out catalogs by jacking up their postage rates in excess of 20 percent. This occurred primarily because catalogers didn’t have anyone advocating for their interests.
The ACMA has spent its first decade building credibility, establishing strong relationships with key policy makers, and working to reduce or improve external financial drivers that impact catalogers’ bottom lines. Turns out, these externals can influence catalogers’ financials more than just about any other aspect of their businesses.
Back when I was a journalist with this publication’s predecessor, Catalog Success, and the former Catalog Age magazine before that, I often wrote or edited articles about catalogers and the USPS. More often than not, when I’d interview catalog CEOs about the subject, by the time they’d get through complaining about erratic service and exorbitant rates, they would tell me to talk to their printer for the real details. “My printer handles all that.”
With our membership nearing 150 companies now, one might surmise that our members that gain the most from us would be those that assume “the ACMA handles all that” about matters like postage rates and internet sales tax. Actually, it’s the reverse. Our members don’t just sit back and let us handle it, and they don’t rely on their suppliers to handle such crucial bottom-line matters either. They get involved in our work. They take a seat at the negotiating table and they reap the benefits of us helping them improve these enormous issues directly impacting their bottom lines.
Although the ACMA started out primarily to help contain catalog postage rates, it has expanded to other crucial bottom-line issues like internet sales tax, which has been heating up for almost four years. All told, our members have saved millions through actions we’ve taken on their behalf.
Here’s a snapshot of what we’re doing right now for our members:
- About a year ago, we launched an aggressive campaign with top officials at the USPS to develop a comprehensive catalog strategy that solves several longstanding problems catalogers have had, including establishing a growth-oriented discounted postal rate for catalog mail designated for prospecting. Called “Growth for Both,” this effort is on the verge of bearing fruit.
- Simultaneously, the ACMA produced a comprehensive industry analysis to identify the unexpected consequences of the Postal Service’s 2015 introduction of premium-priced flats sequencing system (FSS) rates. As a result of intense ACMA work, the USPS recently announced its intention to roll back the FSS pricing structure in 2017 — pending approval from the Postal Regulatory Commission (PRC) — creating a very significant price reduction for catalog mailers. If our member companies had not been able to provide the resources and hard data necessary to conduct a comprehensive analysis, this huge shift wouldn’t have been possible.
- By educating policymakers and promoting catalogs, the ACMA has successfully lobbied the USPS to increase the weight limit for standard flats from 3.3 ounces to 4 ounces (again, with PRC approval).
- ACMA, along with the True Simplification of Taxation (TruST) Coalition we co-founded four years ago, is leading the catalog/e-commerce industry challenge to states’ efforts to bypass the Quill v. North Dakota sales tax collection precedent. We’ve been working closely with the staff of the House Judiciary Committee chairman to help produce a bill that will provide a much fairer solution to the remote sales tax collection problem. This new bill will be a better option than either the Marketplace Fairness Act or the Remote Transaction Parity Act, both of which are unworkable for catalogers and e-commerce merchants, and could set them back significantly if either were to be passed into law.
The ACMA’s accomplishments have been unprecedented. I recall a time when the USPS increased catalog postage rates by over 40 percent. There’s no way that would happen today — the ACMA would be there to make sure the powers-that-be in Washington know better than to do such a thing. The accomplishments noted above bear witness to that, but our work can only be sustainable into the future with far greater catalog industry support.
Paul Miller is vice president and deputy director of the American Catalog Mailers Association, a Washington advocacy group for catalog mailers.
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