From the December 1997 issue of Startups

Start-up entrepreneurs are notorious for trying to do it all, often because they have no choice. You have fewer resources at your command to help ease your workload. But you don't always have to increase your payroll to increase efficiency. These letter-folding machines, postal scales, postage meters and letter-opening machines can help you handle your mail quicker and better, allowing you to spend your time on more important aspects of your business.

Letter-Folding Machines

When you're preparing a promotional mailing, you may find yourself dealing with hundreds--perhaps thousands--of letters or brochures. Folding letters yourself can be time-consuming; it's also unnecessary.

What to look for when buying: Consider the volume the machine is capable of processing. Low-end equipment can process a few hundred pieces per hour; high-end equipment can operate at speeds from 1,500 sheets per hour to more than 4,000 sheets per hour.

You'll also want to consider the types of folds the equipment will provide. Some possibilities are c-fold (standard letter), z-fold (accordion fold), double fold, single fold, right-angle folds and brochure folds.

Sheets are fed either through a friction feeder or a vacuum feeder. Friction feeders have rubber wheels that pull the sheets through; frequent use can cause the feeder to wear out. Friction feeders can also smudge your newly printed documents. Vacuum feeders, while more sturdy and more effective for handling coated papers, can be substantially more expensive and are only available on the high-volume machines.

You may also want to consider a model that includes a batch counter or a total counter. Batch counters keep the machine from folding too many sheets together. Total counters will tell you how many sheets have already been folded. You'll find a memory setting useful if you typically produce the same types of jobs on a regular basis. The memory setting allows you to enter the instructions for processing a particular type of job once, then call up that job whenever you need to apply the same parameters.

You should also check to see how the equipment handles paper jams. Better-designed machines can release rollers for easier access to the problematic sheet.

Finally, you may wish to consider a model that offers an inserter, which will automatically insert your documents into envelopes.

Questions to ask the dealer:

  • How many pieces can it process per hour?
  • Does the machine offer friction or vacuum feed?
  • What types of folds is the machine capable of?
  • How many sheets of paper can it fold at once?
  • How effective is the equipment at handling stapled sheets? (Many are not able to do this automatically and will require hand feeding.)
  • What counter features are available?
  • What types and sizes of paper can it handle?
  • How should the machine be maintained?
  • What type of maintenance agreement is offered?
  • Does it have an automatic feeder?
  • Does it have a memory setting?
  • How are paper jams handled?

Martin Yale Model 959 Friction Feed AutoFolder
Manufacturer's Suggested Retail price (MSRP):
$2,695
Phone: (219) 563-0621
Description: A friction-feed folder that processes 18,000 sheets per hour with a maximum sheet size of 14 inches by 20 inches. Handles maximum fold lengths of 13 inches and includes a slitter/scorer/perforator bar.

Martin Yale Model 1501 (CV7) Auto Folder
MSRP:
$849.49
Phone: (219) 563-0621
Description: For the low-volume user who folds letter, legal and similarly sized sheets. Feed speed of 9,200 sheets per hour. Includes preset guides for the most common folds and adjusts easily to any fold dimension. Accepts sheets up to 9 1|2 inches by 14 inches and weights of 18-pound to 90-pound bond or equivalent.

Francotyp-Postalia Model 1001 Letter Folder
MSRP:
$995
Phone: (800) 95-NO-INK
Description: Handles any stock up to 60 pounds. Top-feed system for multipage projects. Folds up to three stapled or unstapled pages at a time, in single-fold, standard letter-fold or accordion-fold formats. Takes single sheets from a 150-sheet-capacity feed tray at up to 140 sheets per minute, including gloss-coated and carbonless sheets.

Francotyp-Postalia Model 2001 Letter Folder
MSRP:
$2,895
Phone: (800) 95-NO-INK
Description: Handles up to 500 sheets of almost any type of paper with sizes up to 11 inches by 14 inches (Model 200l-L works with paper up to 11 inches by 17inches). Variable speed setting adjusts from 45 sheets per minute to 130 sheets per minute, depending on the type of fold--single-fold, standard letter-fold, accordion-fold, brochure-fold, double-parallel-fold and half-accordion-fold.

Pitney Bowes FD30 and FD40 Folders
MSRP:
Call for prices
Phone: (800) MR-BOWES
Description: The FD40 can fold up to 20,000 8.5-inch-by-11-inch sheets per hour; the FD30 can handle up to 10,000 pieces. Both are easy-to-use, tabletop units that offer a variety of folding applications. Both can feed and fold various paper sizes and weights (from 14 pounds to 50 pounds), including NCR paper and laser-printed materials. Each unit has a variable speed control.
FD30 features: Processes material up to 9-inches-by-14-inche. Can store up to 15 sheets in feed tray. Self-centering side guides, fingertip adjustment for paper thickness and four folding options.
FD40 features: Programmable memory for up to 10 jobs, electronic adjustment for paper thickness, an easy-to-use control pad and five folding options.

Postal Scales

Postage costs can represent a substantial portion of your business's mailing expenses. A postal scale will ensure that you're not paying more than necessary for your outgoing mail and can easily save you 10 percent to 15 percent on postage.

What to look for when buying: Postal scales are available in both manual and electronic versions. Because manual scales require you to read the postage amount, they increase the chance for human error. While electronic versions are the most expensive, the digital readout will reduce errors and ensure that you're getting maximum value from your postal scale.

Depending on the type, size and weight of letters and packages that you'll be mailing, you may wish to look for a machine that offers you the ability to compare rates between various postal carriers, such as Federal Express, United Parcel Service (UPS) and the U.S. Postal Service. You'll may also want a feature that automatically converts a ZIP code to the proper zone for calculating zone-dependent rates for carriers such as RPS and UPS.

Consider ease of use if a number of people will be using the scale. Some models offer easy-to-read keypads and user prompts. Consider the size of the weighing platform and maximum weight the machine can handle to make sure it will be able to accommodate the types of packages you'll be sending. For shipments that exceed the weight capacity of the scale, look for a scale that will allow you to manually enter the weight for rate calculation.

If you need your scale to interface with a postage meter (see "Leasing Postage Meters"), you'll want to make sure the model you select is compatible with your metering equipment.

Questions to ask the dealer:

  • What adjustments will need to be made to the scale if postage rates change? What charges are involved?
  • Does the scale offer alternative pricing options based on various postal classifications?
  • Does the scale offer a password feature to help guard against unauthorized use?
  • What size and weight limitations does it have?
  • How should the machine be maintained?
  • What type of maintenance agreement is offered?
  • Does the scale offer rates for foreign mailings?
  • Does the scale offer rates for Federal Express and UPS?

Francotyp-Postalia FP-5Li Postal Scale
MSRP:
$495
Phone: (800) 95-NO-INK
Description: Connects to T-1000 postage meter for automatic postage setting. Calculates postage for packages as heavy as five pounds with your choice of domestic USPS rates plus letter rates to Canada and Mexico. Allows you to send mail using any special service: certified, registered, return receipt or insured.

Francotyp-Postalia FP-15 Postal Scale
MSRP:
$1,195
Phone: (800) 95-NO-INK
Description: For people who send packages as well as letters. Loaded with all domestic and international USPS rates, including ZIP-to-zone, Express Mail and all special services, as well as Federal Express and UPS rates. Capacity of up to 15 pounds.

Pitney Bowes Integra 2
MSRP:
Call for prices
Phone: (800) MR-BOWES
Description: 2-pound weighing capacity. Directly connects to a postage meter; positive touch keys; large display. One rate chip includes USPS rates (first-class, priority, standard, postcard, express and P.O.-to-addressee) and fees. (Certified, return receipt and nonstandard are included on a single chip.)

Pitney Bowes Integra 3
MSRP:
Call for prices
Phone: (800) MR-BOWES
Description: 3-pound weighing capacity. Directly connects the scale to a postage meter, ink density adjustment, resettable counters. Easy-to-operate control panel uses prompts such as "Check Meter Date" and "Clear Counters" to help ensure error-free processing.

Pitney Bowes Integra 5
MSRP:
Call for prices
Phone: (800) MR-BOWES
Description: 5-pound weighing capacity. All the features of the Integra 2 and 3, plus eight-line graphic display with menu selection, international rates with country name entry and UPS shipment capability.

Letter-Opening Machines

Letter-opening machines can greatly speed up the opening of mail; some models can process as many as 600 envelopes per minute.

What to look for when buying: There are two types of letter openers--chadders and slitters. Chadders open envelopes by cutting off 1|8 of an inch from the top. Slitters, while quite a bit more expensive (as much as $1,000 or more), will reduce the risk of damaging envelope contents by cutting through the top seam of the envelope.

Most models can handle the standard #10 envelope. More expensive models will accommodate different sizes and thicknesses of incoming mail. An automated feeder will send your mail through the machine; joggers will help settle the contents of the envelopes and help minimize the possibility of cutting off important materials; counters will let you count the number of mail pieces being processed. Another feature you may find handy is an automatic date-and-time stamp to help you keep track of when mail arrives. Because letter-opening machines are quite durable, maintenance contracts are not usually required.

Questions to ask the dealer:

  • Does the opener use a chadder or a slitter?
  • What sizes of envelopes can the equipment handle?
  • What envelope thickenesses can the equipment handle?
  • Does it have an automatic feeder?
  • Does it have a jogger?
  • Does it have a counter?
  • Can incoming mail be date-and-time stamped?

Francotyp-Postalia Model 4000 Letter Opener
MSRP:
$1,495
Phone: (800) 95-NO-INK
Description: Fully automatic machine opens envelopes of all weights and sizes with thicknesses of up to two-fifths of an inch. The self-sharpening cutting wheels can be adusted to vary the width of the cut strips up to nearly 1|4 inch. Handles up to 24,000 envelopes per hour (six per second) with a slitting operation. Cut strips are deposited in their own side of the divided receiving tray. Automatically shuts off if the cutting wheels are exposed. Easily accommodates unsorted envelopes of various formats and thicknesses.

Omation Model 2000 Letter Opener
MSRP:
Call for prices
Phone: (650) 966-1396
Description: A tabletop mail opener that uses the same milling cutter technology as the larger, high-speed Model 202C. Precision speed of up to 450 envelopes per minute. Ideal for mixed sizes of mail--requires no sorting or jogging. Available with an oversized-envelope support for flats and wide envelopes.

Martin Yale Model 62001 Letter Opener
Retail Price:
$1,495
Phone: (219) 563-0621
Description: Slits up to 17,500 pieces per hour. Handles a load capacity of 6 inches with a maximum envelope thickness of 1|4 inch. Dimensions are 36 inches by 10 5|8 inches by 12 5|8 inches with tray. Precision cutters can be adjusted to suit mail-flow requirements and to vary slitting width. Envelope and chip catcher are included. The unique cross-drive system automatically opens envelopes of many different sizes, without the need to sort.

Omation Model 202C Letter Opener
MSRP:
Call for prices
Phone: (650) 966-1396
Description: Processes up to 36,000 envelopes per hour with a milling cutter that protects envelopes' contents from getting sliced. Accommodates up to 250 envelopes in a feeder hopper and up to 800 envelopes with power conveyor/stacker. Handles all types and sizes of envelopes, including flat, oversized and thicker-than-normal envelopes. Envelope sizes may be mixed without presorting. Standard counter with five-digit LCD display. Optional date imprinter available.

Leasing Postage Meters

In addition to providing your outgoing mail with a professional look, postage meters will save you time you'd otherwise spend going to the post office.

U.S. Postal Service regulations require that the meter portion of postage meters be leased--not purchased--from a manufacturer. The base, however, which feeds envelopes through the meter, can be purchased. Because bases and meters from different vendors aren't compatible, you'll need to buy the base from the same manufacturer from which you lease the meter.

What to look for when buying:

The primary difference between bases is how letters are fed through the machine. The most inexpensive models require you to feed letters, one at a time, through a roller. More expensive models offer semiautomatic or fully automated letter feeding.

Options for the base include stackers, which stack your mail, and sealers, which automatically wet and seal each envelope as it passes through the base.

Questions to ask the dealer:

  • What is the difference in cost between purchasing and leasing the base?
  • Can the meter be refilled by phone, or will I need to go to the post office?
  • How should the machine be maintained?
  • What type of maintenance agreement is offered?

Francotyp-Postalia Conquest T-1000 Postage Meter
Price:
$31.50 per month, standard; $38 per month with unlimited reset rates (scaled pricing available)
Phone: (800) 95-NO-INK
Description: The Conquest T-1000 is totally electronic and uses nonimpact printing. Includes automatic date changes; preprogrammed, personalized meter ads that allow you to incorporate your logo or message on the stamp; an electronic scale interface and departmental accounting. The entire postage resetting process runs automatically through a built-in, self-dialing modem. Choose from three full-featured, electronic scales that directly interface with the T-1000.

Pitney Bowes Personal Post Office
Price:
$19.75 per month
Phone: (800) MR-BOWES
Description: A desktop, digital postage meter with a built-in modem for downloading postage online. Can be refilled in less than 30 seconds--24 hours a day--over a secure modem connection, and prints up to 10 envelopes per minute.