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What we can learn from a 23-year old business
By Jim Kendall | Daily Herald Columnist
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Published: 9/2/2010 12:05 AM

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Ask Mark Herman how things are going at Mail 'n Stuff, and he'll tell you.

"Things are a bit down with the economy," Herman says. "We're down from last year, and last year was down from the previous year. My business customers, especially, are not doing as much stuff.

"It's not awful, but I've had to look at expenses and cut some. Relative to other pack-and-ship businesses, we're doing pretty well."

Today, however, doing "pretty well" is doing better than many - whatever the industry.

There seem to be two fundamental reasons why Mail 'n Stuff continues to be successful, even after 23 years: Herman understands his business and he uses his resources.

Herman and his late father, Leonard, opened Mail 'n Stuff Inc. in 1987. Located on the western edge of downtown Glen Ellyn, Mail 'n Stuff still is where area businesses and residents go to have Herman and his staff pack and ship items as bulky as car bumpers and as fragile as vases; send overnight documents; pick up and send faxes; and make copies.

"There's still a demand for hard copies," Herman notes. "Copying is a nice companion to our shipping business."

The best decision Herman may have made was to join the Associated Mail & Parcel Centers, a Rockford-based trade association. Joining wasn't the key; participating has been.

AMPC "is a great resource," Herman says. "Being independent, we're out there on our own. The association helps me stay current. If UPS changes its pricing policy, for example, I can go to an online discussion group and ask 'How are we going to handle this?'

"I can post a question anytime and get answers."

Mail 'n Stuff advertising isn't splashy, but it connects the business with its customers. "I've been in the AAUW publication" for nearly 20 years, Herman says an as example. "People mention they saw the ad.

"A lot of my customers are part of groups. Schools. Churches. Bridge Communities. Not for profits. If they have a program or event, a silent auction, I always try to do that."

Coupon mailings are part of the Mail 'n Stuff mix. So is some newspaper advertising, although Herman is well aware that traditional hometown "newspapers are changing. Coupons aren't so effective. And do people still use Yellow Pages?"

It shouldn't be a surprise that Herman says he tries "to listen to my customers and figure out how to give them what they want. And I'm lucky to have long-term employees who complement my skills."

Successful entrepreneurs always say those things.

• Questions, comments to Jim Kendall, JKendall@