Talco Direct Inc.
The ability of the Lake Image Systems cameras to read images at inserter speeds as the printed products move through the production process, of course, is the key to successful matching.
In 1986, Chris Talbot founded a small copywriting service in her home. Before long, clients began requesting additional services, and when Cheshire labeling was added, Talco Direct was born. Today the company specializes in high speed direct mail, using swing-arm Mailcrafter inserters. Clients also can avail themselves of two-color offset printing and digital printing for letters, but the Talco focus is clearly upon mailing. Jobs come to the company primarily through referrals from advertising agencies and commercial printers, and clients are about evenly split between nonprofits and for-profit
When he graduated from the University of Missouri in 1993 with a computer science degree, Greg Talbot agreed to give his mother a hand with her business until he found something full time. But that temporary job soon became permanent, and after more than 15 years he is still at the company, responsible for production and database management, with his mother handling customer service and administration. Together the two have made Talco Direct one of the most successful direct mail operations in the Midwest.
Since joining the company, Greg Talbot—now a Talco Direct vice president—has pioneered the application of mailing technology, and as a result the company has seen dramatic growth. Talco Direct doubled its production space in 2001, and is straining the bounds of its current facility. One of Talbot’s most significant technological acquisitions is a Lake Image Systems camera system with software features that positions the Talco Direct operation on the cutting edge of mailing services.
When he began searching for a camera and software matching system, Talbot’s goal was to produce direct mail products with no bar codes or other identifying symbols on either the mailing or the envelope into which it was being inserted. Talbot went from trade show to trade show, talking to vendors about his concept. While he found some systems that could match two or three identical alphanumeric strings, Talbot wanted to offer his customers the ability to match Mr. John Smith on a mailing envelope to a Dear Mr. Smith letter salutation, and to correlate these with an entirely different identification number on a return card or donation request. Calling on his computer science background, Talbot says: “I felt that complex matching problems like these—which require modifying the database used to produce printer commands should be available, but after an extensive search of what was on the market, I learned that none of the industry suppliers offered the combination of camera technology and database capability that we wanted.” Lake Image Systems agreed to make the software changes he desired, however, so Talbot contracted with the company to buy a complete camera system and software.
The Talco Direct specifications called for five Lake Image Systems cameras to be mounted on the Mailcrafter inserter. That, of course, proved to be the easier portion of the task. Enabling the database portion of the installation to match differing alphanumeric strings proved more difficult, however, and Lake Image Systems programmers found that complying with Talbot’s request required breaking new software ground. Says Talbot: “While it took a bit longer than we would have liked, the Lake Image Systems programmers ultimately were equal to the task, and by linking their software with our own database capabilities, we can offer clients the opportunity to match unequal alphanumeric strings in ways that virtually no one else can do. This permits Talco Direct clients to do mailings that are completely devoid of bar codes, symbols, or other artifacts that give the finished product that direct mail look they want to avoid.” Talbot continues: “The Talco Direct software concept requires creating new database fields by removing spaces from the alphanumeric strings, and using these new fields as the basis for matching. The ability of the Lake Image Systems cameras to read images at inserter speeds as the printed products move through
the production process, of course, is the key to successful matching.”
Before Talco Direct acquired the new capability, it was necessary for employees to visually match certain items to ensure that all portions of the mailing were correct. Talbot says: “Today, although the vast majority of Talco Direct mailings only require two- or three-way matching, our five-camera Lake Image Systems setup enables our clients to be more creative when they prepare their mailings, and do even more complex matching than they previously thought possible. We even set a camera at the inserter output to check that a stamp has been successfully applied to the envelope, thus reducing problems with the US Postal Service.”
Looking back on the acquisition of his new matching capability, Talbot commented: “It was a struggle at first for everyone involved, but Talco Direct ultimately benefited in three distinct ways. First, we are able to offer clients matching possibilities that formerly required laborious manual matching, which even then was subject to human error. Second, automating our matching capability upped our throughput, and today Talco Direct can run significantly more product through our existing hardware. And third, both Talco Direct and our clients have increased confidence in the entire mailing process. These new confidence levels are enhanced by the file audit reports produced by the Lake Image Systems software, which precisely document the matching process. And we are able to construct reports in the format which is easiest for each client to use for his purposes. The files even provide an exact image of what the camera saw on each item being matched.”
Greg Talbot is already thinking about how to push the mailing envelope even further with his information technology and database background. And the Lake Image Systems programmers are anxiously awaiting their next challenge.