CEO of Earth Class Mail
The U.S. post office in Seattle’s historic Pioneer Square district can see the future coming. In fact, it moved in next door.
At least, that’s the bet Ron Wiener, CEO of Earth Class Mail, is making. His company seeks to transform a mail box at a fixed location into an digital inbox, like e-mails, that can be accessed on the Internet.
For a monthly fee, Earth Class Mail provides customers with a new mailing address. Letters and parcels sent to that address will be bar-coded, sized and scanned with the images uploaded onto the customer’s online mailbox.
After logging-on, the customer chooses what to do with that mail: open and scan, shred, recycle, archive or forward it to another location.
“Mail is the last analog form of communication, so we’ve taken that and made it digital,” said Wiener, who also uses the tongue-in-cheek title of postmaster general.
Similar to how mobile phones have made it unnecessary to wait at home for an important phone call, Wiener said Earth Class Mail will forever change the notion of checking the mailbox for letters or parcels.
Competitors like Mail Boxes Etc, and some start-ups can match certain elements of Earth Class Mail’s offering, but none at the same breadth or scale.
Earth Class Mail said it has “thousands” of customers including expatriates, military personnel, frequent business travelers and overseas businesses seeking a U.S. address.
Wiener, a career entrepreneur, said the idea for Earth Class Mail was born while spending large portions of his day driving around to various business post office boxes to check the mail. Often, he would only find junk mail sitting in the mailbox.
Earth Class Mail’s breakthrough came with the development of an automated mail handling system that not only sends the mail to the correct customer, but also executes that user’s wishes on what to do with that letter.
The company has a sorting facility, which is the size of a “football stadium,” according to Wiener, in Beaverton, Oregon where it handles most of the mail received by its customers.
The employees working at Earth Class Mail’s sorting facility are security screened before hand and the company bans all recording devices like mobile phones, computers in the mail handling area.
In February, the company opened its first U.S. store front in Seattle, located around the corner from its company headquarters and next door to a traditional post office.
Since then, it has announced plans to open retail locations in New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco, providing customers with the option of receiving packages from private express delivery companies like FedEx Corp and the option of using a real address in a major U.S. city instead of a post office box.
Monthly prices range from about $14 to $60 depending on the amount of pieces handled and pages scanned.
The monthly fees are only one part of Earth Class Mail’s business model. It sees a future when advertising may subsidize its service.
The company believes that its customers will be open to getting video advertisements, which will be targeted for the customer based on algorithms trolling through the contents of the user’s mailbox.
“You combine the best of online advertising with the best of direct mail,” said Wiener.
Google Inc delivers targeted text advertisements in a similar manner to users of its e-mail service.
Wiener argues that advertising subsidizes much of today’s mail service as companies pay substantial postal bills to send out direct mailings and catalogs.
Earth Class Mail also sees a future in licensing its mail sorting and scanning technology platform to national postal services in other countries. Four European countries are currently testing the technology and the company is in discussion with another 35 countries.
Since most people only read a small percentage of the mail they receive, Earth Class Mail sees an environmental benefit with its service. The company said the average person recycles about 20 percent of their mail, but its customers recycle at rate of more than 90 percent.
“We’ve all of a sudden been tagged a clean-tech company,” said Wiener.